The sign of a true entrepreneur is someone who can look around and say, “Wait a minute, then there must be a better way.” This approach worked well for contours‘ founders, who are facing the little sexy but very serious recycling problem of shower curtain liners. The company has just closed a pre-seed of US$ 1 million per Social Impact Capital to ensure that the giant sheets of plastic that prevent water splashes that are present in most of the 128 million homes in the US are recycled sustainably, rather than being put in landfills.
“I moved from London to New York about six years ago. Like all New Yorkers, I moved into an old apartment that required me to have a shower head – one of those plastic curtains. Coming from Europe I was very used to a door or a plexiglass screen in the shower, or a separate shower. I was caught in this constant dilemma; I would get my shower liner, three or four months later it would be slimy and disgusting,” explains Outlines co-founder Luke Barkley Young. “I was in a very awkward position where I wanted to buy a new one, but I had this plastic guilt of throwing it away. I was used to being able to recycle everything and I just hated this constant pain point.”
Long story short, Young and his co-founder Megan Murphy decided to solve the problem in a very elegant way. The duo developed a shower curtain system where the curtain top, weights and shower curtain hooks are made from strong, durable materials, and the shower enclosure itself is made from easy-to-recycle plastic. The company has developed a business model where it can return shower liner and recycle it responsibly as it ships replacement shower liners in regular rotation.
The company started as a project called “Drip”, where the duo found 2,500 early adopter customers who, in addition to being paying customers, gave a lot of feedback about their needs as consumers. After a while, the company decided that there was almost certainly a sustainable market there and created the company Outlines to further explore that direction.
Of course, a single-product company rarely offers a big investment opportunity, so I pressed the founding team about what could happen in their product portfolio.
“We still haven’t fully decided what our second product will be. What interests us is to market links to a much larger audience. We have some ideas. Things like loofahs, potty washers, dishwashers, those things that just by the nature of what they do, are possible products for us. Nobody wants to wash their dishes with the same dishwasher forever,” explained Young. “So we’re working to really understand our customer base, to determine what we should release next. We definitely hope to do that in the first half of 2022.”
On the one hand, the cynic in me is asking “wait, are we giving VC funding for shower curtains, now?” But on the other hand, if 10% of US homes replace their shower curtain liners once every two years, that’s still 6 million sheets of plastic that need to be treated every year in some way. Ensuring it’s recycled responsibly doesn’t sound too bad. Still, I was left wondering if a washable shower liner wouldn’t make more sense than sending recyclable plastic sheets around.
“First, transportation in general – especially in the US – is becoming less carbon intensive. So if you look at all the major couriers, they are adding more electric vehicles to their fleet. So the carbon cost of shipping stuff back and forth is going down, which is much higher than constantly shipping new stuff from the Far East, where these plastic products are normally made. Also, when you recycle in the US, there is a lot more legislation and regulation on how recycling can happen compared to overseas. The other point about this is when we throw items away, they go to landfill. As they decompose, they release methane, which is a much heavier greenhouse gas than CO.two round-trip transportation,” argues Young. He further explains that washable solutions are not really an option: “Washable, reusable plastics would be a dream come true, but there are two problems with this. First of all, many plastic-based materials that are waterproof, like polyester, when you put them in your washing machine, the friction of that actually releases millions of microplastics. Municipal water systems simply cannot get them out of the water supply. And then, if you use a natural fiber, they’re covered in what’s called a Durable water repellent (DWR). Over time, because of the heat of a bath, it really corrodes. When this happens, your shower liner won’t work. So for this use case, plastic is by far the best material to use.”
The company announced today that it has raised its $1 million round, and I’ve wondered what’s possible now that wasn’t possible before closing the round.
“We just closed the $1 million round ahead of our launch, which was very exciting. We’ve done a lot of development up to this point, both on the product and the product design, on the website and the entire online experience. But we are very excited to invest in our digital tools. The first part is part of responsible replenishment, it’s about serving you a plan highly customized to your needs. Obviously, what we’re trying to do with this is not ensuring that we’re not sending you more than you need, but you’re also getting enough so you’re not standing next to mold every morning,” explains Murphy. . “We are investing in this piece to ensure that we are as smart as possible and that we are creating something genuinely valuable for you as a customer. We are also very excited about product development. As Luke said, we’re already starting to work on the second product, but this is a big category with a lot of room for innovation. So we are investing in future product development to ensure we are releasing new products at a relatively fast pace.”
You can learn more about Outlines at LivingOutlines.com.