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Inspiring Conversations with Shannon Sweetwood and Whitney Wagner of Refill Emporium


Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannon Sweetwood and Whitney Wagner. 

Hi Shannon and Whitney, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Our names are Shannon and Whitney, two lifelong friends who co-founded Refill Emporium in January 2021. We are both very passionate about environmental conservation and reducing our carbon footprint. We want to leave this planet in a better state for our children and future generations, and that can’t happen if we continue to use plastics and single-use disposables at our current rate. 

Our main goal in starting Refill Emporium was not only to offer quality zero-waste products to consumers, but to engage them in leading a more sustainable lifestyle. A lifestyle where we reduce unnecessary items and waste, reuse what we already have, and refill our bottles and containers instead of buying new ones. 

We started as a pop-up, attending local farmers markets and events, and quickly grew a following of eco-conscious customers. At that point we wanted to carry a wider variety of sustainable and refillable products – more than we could possibly offer with only being a pop-up. So, in January 2022 we opened the doors to our first brick-and-mortar store, located in St. Clair Shores, MI, becoming Macomb County’s first refill store! 

We always knew if we had the opportunity to open a storefront that we wanted it to be located in St. Clair Shores. This is the city that we were born and raised in and where we became friends at Harmon Elementary in first grade. We wanted to give back to this great community that gave us so much growing up. 

We currently carry over 65 refillable options and have a wide range of sustainable products available. All of the products we carry are either made in the USA or Canada. We also have a handful of companies that we partner with who are located here in Michigan, making it easier to maintain a closed-loop system. We take the time to ensure that the brands we carry are eco-friendly, cruelty free, plastic free, refillable and reasonably priced. We believe that sustainability should be convenient and affordable to everyone. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It’s never easy starting a new business, especially one that is somewhat of a new concept here in the Midwest and even more so during a Pandemic, but we have been very fortunate to have had such a great response from our community. 

Has it been a smooth road? No. From day one, Shannon was a new mom, struggling with post-partum depression and all the anxieties that come with being a first-time parent. Whitney is an epileptic and had just had breakthrough seizures in November 2020 due to the pressure of her high-end retail job and long hours during the pandemic. Six months into starting our business, Shannon’s father passed away from COVID and the day we were supposed to have our first pop-up was his funeral. While all businesses have obstacles, some of ours were more than just “average” right out of the gate. 

Onto our current struggles… 

One of the biggest struggles we’ve had is finding products that are actually manufactured in North America. We could offer so many more products from US and Canadian companies, however, we’ve found a lot of these products are actually manufactured and shipped from Asia. Since our main goal is to reduce our carbon footprint this is not a feasible option for us. So, while you may see other refill stores have a larger selection of retail items, we’ve been very selective because of where they are manufactured. 

Another struggle that we are slowly overcoming is how to offer a closed-loop delivery service. In a time where convenience is King, our type of business does not always fit into that mold. We are actively trying to solve this problem where customers will be able to order refillable products by the ounce and have it delivered in a zero-waste setting. 

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
We are a low-waste refill shop. We allow customers to bring in their own, clean and dry, containers and refill them with a variety of our refillable products. Our refillable products include cleaning and laundry supplies, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, hand soaps, lotion, baby products, and more. We also offer low/zero waste retail items as sustainable swaps to things you would typically throw away after a single use (i.e., paperless paper towels vs. paper towels, or reusable silicone food bags vs. plastic disposable bags). In addition, we carry items handcrafted by local vendors such as sage sticks, crystals and candles. 

What sets us apart from your average retail store is that we give customers the choice to buy as little or as much of a product as they need. Since all of our refillable products are sold by the ounce, you can buy a sample of that product instead of having to buy a full 8-16oz bottle. Customers can also bring in any container to refill with – a wine bottle, sour cream container, laundry jugs, honey jars, etc. – we love seeing the creativity of repurposing a container and keeping that plastic out of a landfill. 

Additionally, what sets us apart from other refill shops is that we make sure all of our products are manufactured in North America, with many being made right here in Michigan. When we buy from Michigan companies we support as many small businesses as we can. In addition, we believe in having a diverse selection of suppliers. We proudly support women-owned business, LGBT+, and minority owned companies. 

We also personally make a variety of our products, including: scouring powder, solid dish bars, stain stick removers, reusable napkins, reusable sponges, reusable makeup remover pads, washcloths, burb cloths, bath bombs, bath elixir, lotion bars, solid fragrances, and recycled crayons. 

Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
There will always be people who want to shop small and there will always be people who want to shop convenient. We believe that there will be a growth in refill shops across the US, due to the fact that many people are seeking out sustainability. While we currently see big box companies, like Target, marketing refill pouches for beauty and cleaning products and labeling it as a “sustainable” option, the reality is that these pouches are still just small single-use plastics that make people feel better about their purchase. Truly refillable options can only exist by reusing what you already have. Once these big box stores have actual refill stations and allow you to refill, we will all be much better for it. Until then, we are here! 

Pricing:

  • Our pricing is per ounce for all of our refillable items and varies depending on the product.
  • Better Life Dishwasher gel = $0.18/oz.
  • Carina Organics Shampoo = $0.92/oz.
  • Yaya Maria’s Hand Soap = $0.59/oz.

Contact Info:


Image Credits

Kristen Doetzkies Photography

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