For more than a decade, Samantha Moleta and her husband, Dom, worked in the yachting industry and got to explore some of the most beautiful and remote locales in the world. What they also discovered, sadly, was that even the most unspoilt destinations weren’t exempt from human interference.
“We would be out at sea, weeks away from land, and there would be rubbish floating everywhere,” Moleta explains. “We would set up the most beautiful picnics for our guests but would spend an hour beforehand cleaning the beach of rubbish. It always felt so pointless having somewhere so beautiful tarnished by people being careless.”
Once they hung up their boat shoes, they settled in New Zealand with their kids for a few years, and it was here that they were introduced to Plastic Free July – a global initiative that started in Australia in 2017. The idea is to eradicate (or at least reduce) your plastic usage for the month of July and find alternatives where possible, hopefully cultivating a new approach to waste in the process. Moleta and her family completed the month-long challenge and decided to continue their new-found habits, but quickly realised that grocery shopping and single-use plastic were synonymous. Having encountered plastic-free grocery stores on their travels, they decided that they wanted to create something similar and bring the concept to the South African market. They packed up their family, sold everything they had, returned to South Africa and launched The Refillery.
As the name suggests, the concept is to fill (and refill) reusable containers with staples such as grains, pulses, nuts and cereals — products that would usually come packaged in plastic in a regular grocery store. Although the concept is simple, getting it off the ground wasn’t.
“Sourcing suppliers was incredibly difficult. Being new to retail and starting a concept store that no one understood and had difficulty wrapping their minds around was challenging. Every day was a learning curve,” she says.
But perseverance and passion paid off and what started as an online store in January 2019 as a way to get their name and concept known has now grown into five brick-and-mortar locations throughout Johannesburg.
Plus, Moleta says, they now call many of their suppliers friends — about 85% of which are small to medium (often family-run) enterprises — which is not surprising, considering their shared goals and wanting to improve how and what South Africans consume.
“It still is the best part of this start-up adventure for me,” Moleta comments on finding the right suppliers. “Meeting phenomenal people who are as passionate about their product(s) as we are about our brand and what we wanted to create”.
As for the future and what she would still like to achieve in South Africa, she says: “I would love to see environmental sustainability being more of a core focus. From it being taught in schools, to businesses, organisations and the government taking a more proactive approach and focusing on the smaller, more attainable steps that can be achieved daily.”
Moleta adds: “We put everything we had into The Refillery and to see it being received in such a positive manner by so many customers makes me proud of what we’ve created.”