Surf Soap Stories | On Courage, With Jess Blasko

When an email came through my inbox from another busy mama trying to leave this world a littler better than she found it, I couldn't have guessed what our exchange would bring. The ReFill Station is our first mainland stockist, stocking our Dawn Patrol Collection along with many other eco-friendly and refillable household items in their gorgeous little store along New Hampshire's coastline. Check out Jess's story of courage to change, and courage to make a change in the face of a pandemic. Cheers! - Kayla

 

Tell me about your upbringing, and how you came to land in Portsmouth? 

I grew up in New Hampshire. I was fortunate to grow up in a household where the natural world was always a focus. We composted, had the family garden, recycled (thinking we were making a difference), we salvaged fixed and mended things and tried to reuse and repurpose instead of always throwing away and buying a new one. We spent a lot of time outside, living in an old farm house my parents had renovated and restored, we had fields and forests around our house that I would explore with my brother and cousins. Beyond our neighborhood we hiked the White Mountians of NH, canoed the lakes and rivers, explored the ME coast, camped all over the east coast and into Canada. 

 

When I graduated high school I left Concord (the city I grew up in) and went to Boston where I earned my doctorate degree in Physical Therapy. I spent 10 years in MA either in Boston or the Northshore. I always knew if I went back to NH I would want to be along the seacoast if I could. The ocean resonates with me on some inexplicable level (I am sure you can appreciate that). Portsmouth is a vibrant little town, right on the ocean and at the mouth of a river. I had friends here and it was just a good fit for me on many levels. So I came back to NH and started a PT practice. I also bought a foreclosed house that my family helped me renovate and restore. Eventually I met my husband and built and nurtured my “grown-up” life I now am grateful to have. 

Refill Station Portsmouth NH

How Did the idea for The ReFill Station Come About? 

The ReFill Station was an answer to a question I had for a long time. What can I do to help the environment on a bigger scale beyond daily personal steps I was taking?

I had a hairdresser who told me she used to go to a place on the west coast where she could refill her shampoo and conditioner. That got me thinking why don’t we have a place like that here in Portsmouth? My thought initially was more about household products and all those big plastic jugs ( i.e laundry soap, dish soap, dishwasher detergent). It took a few years because I started really thinking about moving forward with this idea right about the time we found out we were pregnant with our second child (our daughter was almost a year old).

So after having our son and continuing to think about if and how we could move forward with this idea of a refill store; we decided we would try and started to pursue it when he was 2-3 months old.

We started to look for spaces, create a business plan, figure out how we would initially finance it, etc. Some of those pieces started to come together and our goal was to open in the late winter/early spring of 2020 and then the pandemic hit.

We eventually got ourselves open (about 6 months after we had intended to) opening on a limited basis because that was what we could manage in a pandemic with two small children.

Once we did we recognized people had a real interest in personal care products too and we realized we needed to offer plastic free or plastic reducing options for those items as well. Which had always been a possibility as the store grew but become a priority much quicker once the doors were open.

Refill Station Portsmouth NH

What Challenges Did You Face When Starting a Low Waste Retail Store? How Did you overcome those challenges? 

I think our biggest challenge was opening during a pandemic. It created challenges on several levels; our space is small so we are limited in how many people can be in the shop at once. We wanted people to feel safe if they chose to come in, but we also wanted to give the options of curbside or delivery if people were shopping that way. Pre-pandemic those options would not have been such a focus, if a consideration at all.

Personally we had challenges with childcare we felt safe about. We ultimately opened just three days a week (which is how we still operate to this point) because it was what we could manage and feel safe with from a family perspective.


Now that we are open other challenges include continuing to get the word out that we are here and educating people on what we do. A lot of people think we are related to gas or more industrial or chemical based products (maybe having “station” in our name); or if they understand a little about what a low waste store is we have heard people express being intimidated by how a refill store works. So helping them understand it is easy and fun is a priority.

Refill Station Portsmouth NH

How do you balance being an entrepreneur and having a family? 

This is one of the hardest things for me. I had kids a little bit later in life and I want to be present to watch them grow and help them learn to be good people and citizens of the world. However, working and contributing to my community and the greater good is important to me also. A low waste/refill store felt like an important thing to offer to my community to begin to address this plastic problem we have. In addition to that, a big part of my motivation for opening The ReFill Station is my children and the desire to leave them (and their children) a better planet (or at least one that isn’t continuing to deteriorate). I think one of my most effective tools to finding balance for me is trying to be present in whatever I am doing. So when I am at the shop- I try to keep my focus there and be present for customers and things I am working on related to the shop and our bigger mission; and when I am home with my kiddos I put my computer away and my phone down and try and just be present with them.

Ocean

What are some ways we as consumers can lower our waste in our households? 

Some easy ways to lower waste include:

  • Consider a Compost: There are lots of ways/containers now to allow people to have home composts. We have an old fashioned pile in our backyard but I have friends who have tumblers or boxes and containers that can make it easier for households that have smaller yards or live in tighter spaces. I have even heard about an appliance that you will be able to have on your counter that will plug in and compost things right there. There are also more and more commercial composters starting up that will offer residential services or many cities/towns will take compost at their transfer stations.
  • Reuse and refill containers: Whether you refill one item in your house or twenty you are making a difference! Beyond low waste and refill stores, health food stores, grocery stores, coops, general stores and even some hardware stores can have options for buying in bulk/refilling.
  • Be creative: Lowering your waste can be fun and get those creative juices flowing. With a little time and imagination we have turned old containers into fun gift packaging, office supply containers, household storage, art, etc. And if you can’t think of something to do with an item, google it. I have been amazed at what people have come up with for ways to reuse items. 
  • What are your 3 top tips for reducing our plastic footprint? 

    Refill Station Portsmouth NH

    This question piggybacks on the last one, but if we focus on plastic specifically easy ways to reduce your footprint include;

  • Again, Refill containers you already have. We all know plastic is not going away but if we could start to impact the production of new plastic that could have a huge impact!
  • Say no to plastic silverware/straws/cups/etc. I know this is a little trickier during a pandemic but there are lots of great options out there to make it easy for you to say no to these items. For example, Conscious Cutlery makes a great little hemp bag that comes with a metal fork, spoon, knife, chopsticks, straw and brush cleaner. Have that with you so the next time you grab food from one of HI’s great food trucks you have all your utensils with you! (They have a kids option too). Also you can support those businesses that are offering biodegradable take out containers and utensils.
  • Consider a plastic free option. Surf Soap makes some great products that more traditionally would come as a liquid in a plastic bottle. There are lots of talented people out there making great products that may look a little different than what we are traditionally used to whether it is; bar shampoo and conditioner, or a dish washing block, or a solid lotion, or wood conditioning butter, or a deodorant puck, or a toilet bomb. They all do the job they are meant to do and come without any plastic required.
  • I would offer a fourth suggestion which is one that I have been working on more recently. Think about making your own rather than buying the store bought one in a plastic container. I have been working on improving my hummus recipe recently. My kids love hummus and I want to encourage and support that but I struggle with all the plastic hummus containers. So I am trying to develop the recipe I have so even if it doesn’t taste exactly the same as the store bought version they will like it and eat it and we can eliminate that plastic. You could do that with one of your favorite foods or if you are really motivated a personal care product or a cleaning option. There are so many resources out there.

  • How Can Our Locals Support You and Your Mission?

    For all of you living in Oahu and those beautiful Hawaiian Islands I would ask you to support your local refill stores and the companies who are focused on producing products that don’t harm and work to protect our planet.

    Refill Station Portsmouth NH

    The way we are successful here in NH and achieve our mission is everyone doing whatever they can wherever they are. In order for us to be truly successful (and I mean that as a global community) we need all the people we can get to be on board with shopping and spending their hard earned dollars in this way. We need to tell the larger market this is a priority for consumers.

    "We need to become the standard not the niche. That is how we will create greater change."