As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Isabel Aagaard.
Isabel Aagaard, 29, is a Co-founder and Designer at LastObject. Isabel graduated from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Architecture, Design, and Conservation in 2016.
Her mission is to create durable and well-designed products that are reusable. When she and her team discovered the harmful effects of single-use cotton swabs on the environment, they started working on a solution to fix it. In April 2019, they launched LastSwab, the first sanitary, reusable alternative to cotton swabs.
LastObject’s newest product, LastTissue, aims to bring the handkerchief back and stop the waste caused by single-use tissues.
In addition to her work with LastObject, Isabel co-designed a project called “Chemo to go, please!” which aims to improve the experience of home chemotherapy treatment for leukemia patients. The chemotherapy bag is reusable, unlike the majority of bags that are disposed of after treatment. The bag is now used in all hospitals in Denmark that offer chemotherapy.
Isabel lives in Copenhagen, Denmark with her husband with a baby boy due in June 2020.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Weare three independent designers that wanted to create designs that help our planet. The idea for LastSwab came to us when we were researching which single-use items are the most harmful for our planet and the cotton swab was surprisingly high on the list. We found that one of the biggest issues is that people don’t discard them properly, mainly because they are so small. If flushed down the toilet they often don’t get caught by filtration systems and are dumped directly into the ocean, and later end up in the stomachs of sea creatures. We felt that by solving this problem, we would create an impact on marine life as well as single-use pollution.
All three of us have experience in solving issues with design, so this is our main approach.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In the beginning we talked about the product in depth, what it was made of, how strong and durable it was and why this would make a huge difference for one’s carbon footprint. And all the feedback we got was, “how do you clean it?” We would explain that it can be cleaned with just soap and water, but people were still confused. “No no no, but seriously, how?” We found that all this talk was secondary. It was so so important to talk about the function of cleaning it, and explaining that it was reusable because you just cleaned it with soap and water.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The 4-hour workweek by Tim Ferriss — For working smart and not overworking. It taught me so much about creating the work environment that is sustainable for me.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our vision was to replace the need for cotton swabs. Our vision now is to replace multiple single-use items overall. To be part of a huge and powerful purpose means everything. Coming from different companies and projects, I can indeed feel the difference between having a meaningful purpose than running after something generic.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
“Is this really sustainable?” is the question that guides us in all aspects of our business. From the materials we use in our products to atomizing essential aspects of our business. We don’t want to create an unsustainable company that isn’t healthy all around. And by making sure it grows organically and atomizing processes, we can create a company that can live for centuries and really make a difference on the planet.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Change can be confusing. And it’s safe to say, we’re all a little confused right now. We’re doing our best to stay sane at home — but kids and pets exist. And the news never stops. Planning has not really been the way to go in this period. Personally, being agile and changing up my habits in a fun and joyful way has made a huge difference. Being pregnant there has been a lot of fear and this has been really important to address. We cannot live fearful in our everyday lives. So it’s been important to take precautions but also manage my own level of fear so it doesn’t take over everyday life.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We, like many businesses, have not had many sales during the outbreak and have had to be creative with the way we work. Quite quickly we saw a spike in our like conversions on Facebook, as many people were now home and had time to explore interests. We decided to invest time and money in our community and created an in depth report about the biggest environmental problems that we have today — helping people to make sense of the numbers. We found that now is the time for depth, people have time to sit down and really understand our environmental crisis.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We have had to be very isolated for a period of time, which can feel very lonely. The best things we have done is to be reflective and joyful of the time we have with the immediate family, while also exploring distance activities like live yoga classes online, the wonders of group video calls, and organizing the home. And as I mentioned before, being cautious but making a decision not to live in fear and worry.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Having everybody sit still has had a positive effect on the environment. Traffic and production have reduced significantly. Mentally I think it’s been a healthy time for reflection. This has pulled most people out of their day-to-day routine, giving them a chance to pause and evaluate.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think we’ll be washing our hands more regularly, which will hopefully lead to less common colds. Having more pandemics could also be a new reality. But my guess is as good as anyone else’s… We will know much more in a year.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Our main goal has not shifted. We have found that being an agile little company with a healthy economy is very beneficial in times like these. How our world will change post Covid-19 will be very interesting, and we may see changes in our product launches. If we solve toilet paper there may not be a need for hoarding that.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
We are focused on creating and developing reusable objects that will lower our waste, we only hope to see that people continue exploring a sustainable lifestyle and want to create a world with less trash.
We would always recommend people to build healthy businesses that can withhold difficult times like these. It won’t be the last.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Look at life in terms of what can be changed and do something about it. Crying about things that you cannot change is a sure strategy to remain at status quo. At least once a month, consciously look at this and identify one small thing about yourself that you want to change.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow us on social media @lastobject or @lastswab.
You can also sign up for our newsletter on our website and be up to date on new product releases and offers. www.lastobject.com