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Nada comes from nothing

18 April 2022
Robert Coleman and James Hanafin, founders of Nada cleaning products

These entrepreneurs want to make an impact on people's pockets, homes and environment. The new Nada range of cleaning products do all of that. Words Anna Wallace

The neighbours must have wondered what was going on in James Hanafin’s garage. He and his business partner, Robert Coleman tinkered away in that Bryndwr garage for months, with safety glasses and lab coats on, white powder everywhere.

“We never told the neighbours what we were doing, it must have looked quite suspicious!” James jokes.

Even now, two years later, James’ wife still can’t get her car in the garage, as all the paraphernalia and ingredients from their latest venture’s birth remains stored there.

In November last year, the Christchurch entrepreneurs launched Nada, their suite of environmentally minded cleaning products that aims to remove single-use plastics from Kiwi homes.

“We’d been thinking about packaging waste in our business and I’d been considering how I could make more conscious decisions personally,” recalls Robert. “I was feeling uncomfortable when I saw all the plastic in my own pantry and recycling bin.”

The pair cite New Zealand as being ranked 10th globally for municipal waste generation per capita, with 941 plastic bottles and containers consumed annually per household (41 per cent of which could have been recycled but that go to landfill instead).

That’s where the idea of a concentrated cleaning tablet came in.

“If you have a reusable bottle at home that’s made of glass or aluminium, it’s environmentally positive. Every tablet is one bottle not bought – that’s a cool metric for us.”.

What’s so dirty about typical cleaning products?

“Most cleaning products contain 90 to 95 per cent water,” explains James. “…you’re basically just paying for a plastic bottle, water, and a small amount of actual ingredients.”

Last year, a Consumer NZ test of 29 multi-purpose cleaners found 17 of the products scored only between one and three per cent higher than using plain water.

Then there’s the murkiness of recycling policies; each council operates differently, with some containers able to be recycled and others not, which can be confusing for people.

“Any object comes from somewhere and goes somewhere – and in between, we’re stewards of that object,” explains Robert. “Even if that object ends up in recycling, it’s still an overhead that our community has to get rid of. If you don’t produce that amount of packaging – you cut out the problem.”

Simone Anderson in front of the Nada cleaning range
Published author, motivational speaker and wellness influencer, Simone Anderson, is Nada's brand face and business partner.

From photos to e-commerce to cleaning

The pair have a successful commercial track record. James’ parents (Lawry and Jacquie Hanafin) own camera and photo shop Hanafins, and in the early noughties James was working in operations at the Christchurch head office when he recruited Robert. They got on well, had complementary skills and shared a similar philosophy. In 2007, they started their own business – Etailer, an online retail platform inspired by the American website, Woot.

“We were quite ahead of our time, as daily deals was a new concept. You can’t imagine it now, but we’d have one product on the website and it would be so unique it would sell out!” James says.

The earthquakes hit the heritage Hanafins building on the corner of Hereford and High Streets hard. After five temporary premises in nine months, Robert and James headed to Auckland.

Sustainability has been a journey for them. They started by partnering with couriers who were managing their carbon footprint and had progressive packaging.

“There’s been a shift from customers wanting cheap plastic stuff to becoming more discerning,” observes Robert. “Even with our larger wholesale customers – there’s more of a push to meet ethical and environmental standards.”

Fifteen years on, and they were  looking for a venture that would have an impact on people’s pockets and the environment. Two years ago, inspired by businesses like Who Gives a Crap in Australia, they thought they’d give it a try.

“Good intentions and ambition are not mutually exclusive,” James reckons.

Luckily, Robert knew someone who knew someone; a chemical engineer with a few PhDs and experience in health, beauty and cleaning product development overseas. He would send recipes through and, now back home in Christchurch, the pair would make up the formulations.

“We had to prove the product to ourselves,” admits James.

Creating something from nada

Being an innovative new product, ChristchurchNZ opened up a few doors for them. Callaghan Innovation and the Chamber of Commerce were helpful with IP protection.

Family, friends “and hangers on” were initial testers, receiving samples and recording their findings – everything from how fast the tablets dissolved to what temperature of water worked best.

The efficacy of their product was front of mind throughout.

“Nada wouldn’t have got to market if it wasn’t up to my wife’s standard!” Robert jokes.

A woman using Nada hand wash

As explained on their website, the goal of NZ-made proved tricky. Desperate for a local manufacturer, they engaged with factories but couldn’t get it to work. They hope that one day they’ll be able to move their Chinese production domestically.

Nada is Spanish for ‘nothing’. It’s apt in that there’s no nasties, no single-use plastic in the range.They offer kitchen, bathroom and laundry cleaning products, including reasonably priced starter kits. There are plans to grow into more categories and scents. Unsurprisingly in this era, their handwash is a hit.

As well as reusable aluminium and glass bottles, Nada uses a paper-based, recyclable wrapper for moisture-sensitive items like dishwasher tablets.

Profit for a purpose

The pair aren’t into guilt-tripping or green-washing customers.

They talk about “product that has a purpose and profit that has a purpose” which is evident in their climate-positive business model. An impressive 50 per cent of Nada’s profits goes to local charities like Sustainable Coastlines and Trees That Count.

James admits it’s easier to make the decision to commit such a large proportion of profit to charity at the start of the process.

“At that point any profit is fictional, it doesn’t yet exist. Once you’ve built the business up it’s a harder conversation to have,” he reflects.

“But we’ve built our philosophy around this principle. It’s our reason for existing, and we think that’s a message worth sharing.”

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