Meet Monique Garraud Kofsky, founder of Butter & Lye

Meet Monique Garraud Kofsky, Founder of Butter & Lye, Black-Owned eco-friendly company based in Brooklyn, New York that delivers high-quality natural soap while ensuring environmentally friendly business practices.

Jhánneu Roberts

October 8, 2020

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Kat Hoelck

had a chance to sit with Monique Garraud Kofsky, Founder of Butter & Lye, Black-Owned eco-friendly company based in Brooklyn, New York that delivers high-quality natural soap while ensuring environmentally friendly business practices. We all have business ideas that we don’t actually follow through on. Speaking with Monique makes it seem possible to create a successful yet sustainable business.

What’s your origin story?

"I'm a biochemist and an entrepreneur based out in Brooklyn, New York, but prior to launching Butter and Lye, I worked in a lab and during the time I thought a lot about chemicals and the way they interacted with the human body. I've always been an avid label reader, but it was usually for foods--things that I was putting in my body. That all changed when several years ago, I had a bout with adult onset acne, and I tried so many products and attempted to get rid of it.

So I tried all these products and it kind of changed the way I looked at the chemicals I was putting on my body a little bit more, because now I'm reading labels. Now I want to know, okay, what sort of medicines does this acne wash have? What sort of chemicals and molecules does this have in it? I used my background in biochem to better understand what I was putting on my body and after reading all these labels, I quickly realized that a lot of these molecules are just derivatives of chemicals that you find in nature. And so I took that knowledge and I set out to create a company or a brand that used all natural, no frills ingredients to make soap. And that's pretty much how Butter and Lye was born.

The name Butter and Lye is an homage to the traditional soap making practice, because soap making has been around for thousands of years. Back when soap was first made, you would just take a fat--and back then it was usually an animal fat, but since we're a vegan brand, we only use vegetable fat and vegetable butters like the shea butter, mango butter, cocoa butter, or an oil, any fat at all--and you mix it with lye and that's how you get soap. So the name Butter and Lye is my way of paying respect to that ancient tradition.

When did your interest in sustainability begin?

I went to Cornell University for undergrad. And during that time I took a few courses on sustainability and that's when I first started thinking about it. There were little changes that I made, like becoming vegetarian because I heard about the amount of carbon released through the factory farming process. I was just very conscious with the things that I bought, but it's hard. It is very difficult to be 100% waste free in this current system. Even when I was working with different businesses to try to get samples of their eco friendly products that I could use as part of my brand, they'll ship it out to me in a plastic mailer, or it'll come in like a Ziploc bag and I'm like, "I can't even recycle this."

So there are just little things, especially if you're saying that you're eco-friendly, that I wish that those businesses would think about. And even sourcing things, sometimes it's hard to source it in the United States. I had these little dish brushes that I love. They're made from bamboo and coconut husk for the pot brush and the actual dish brush is made from bamboo and sisal so it's completely natural. They last me a really long time. I use these every day, but I can't source them in the United States. So now I have to worry about the extra carbon going into the atmosphere from overseas shipping. There are a lot of things that I wish were different.

There were little changes that I made, like becoming vegetarian because I heard about the amount of carbon released through the factory farming process.

How are you thinking about sustainability as a brand?

So I would say that as I was developing my brand, I wanted to make sure that all of my business decisions were sustainably minded. Like, everything. And I'm very passionate about it. Sometimes I'll just sit and think about all the little choices that I've made. And I think about the impact that those choices are going to have on not just the earth, but the people as well, because I think they're both very important to think about. So for example, my packaging is cardboard and I know that you've seen the packaging design, but for those who haven't seen it, it's very minimal. I use white ink. It could even be a little bit hard to read sometimes, but that's all done purposefully because after you use my soap, I want you to be able to take that package, put it in your garden, dig a little hole and cover it up and that package is going to be gone in three months.

So it's completely compostable. It's made from recycled paper. It's recyclable too if you don't compost. Very minimal ink. So you don't have to worry about toxins, nontoxic ink as well. When I ship the things out, I use plastic free mailers. The shipping itself is carbon neutral. I partner with a company that offsets all of the carbon by donating to various organizations that help the environment, both in Australia and the United States. Even the products that we sell, they help replace common plastic pollutants, like we sell a shampoo bar. Now, most people use liquid shampoos and they have to come in plastic bottles. It's kind of hard. You can't really put liquid shampoo in a paper box, not yet. So I sell shampoo bars. And I also, well, now it's sold out so I'm very thankful for that, but I did sell a solid dish soap.

I wanted to make sure that all of my business decisions were sustainably minded.

Solid dish soap is something that you don't really think of--almost everyone uses liquid dish soap in a plastic bottle. There are no alternative options out there. There are few solid additional options, so saying no is not quite accessible. There are a lot of conscious consumers out there who are looking to lower their waste, and it would be nice if there were more companies out there that give them that option. Butter and Lye strives to be that option.

What inspires you?

This may sound a little cliche, but I have to say my parents. My folks are Haitian immigrants. They worked really hard. They came here as kids, but they worked really hard throughout their lives so that when they had a family and had kids, we would have the opportunity to succeed. They taught us a lot of great things growing up that I utilize to this day. For instance, I remember, growing up-- I grew up on Long Island, New York--we would have yard sales all the time dnd my older brother, my younger sister and I would be in charge of the iced tea stand. We made the iced tea and we always made sure to add a little bit of lemon juice and a little splash of vanilla extract. That was our secret ingredient.

When people would come, they would drink and they were like, "Oh my God, this is so good." And I noticed that we'd have repeat customers. Every once in a while, we'd even have someone drive by just so that they could get their little 25 cent cup of ice tea and then drive away. It's just something they needed to have, that little flavor in their soul. And so what that experience taught me is the importance of the ingredients that you use. If you provide your customers with something high quality, you will build customer loyalty. We didn't have to spend the extra money to add the vanilla extract--it was actually the most expensive ingredient in the iced tea, but we knew by doing so, the customers would keep coming back.. We didn't have to spend that extra money, but we knew by doing so, that the customers would come back. And so one thing that I strive to do with Butter and Lye is to make sure that the ingredients are on point.

What do you see as the future of Butter and Lye and what kind of world would you like to see moving forward?

Going back to when I had my bout with acne, even though some of the things that I used on my skin cleared my acne, I had to keep using these products in order for my acne to stay away. I quickly realized that these companies weren't really trying to help me have healthy skin--they were pretty much just putting a bandaid on it. And the reason they did that is so I could keep coming back and buying more. And I get it, we live in a capitalistic society. You're trying to make your money. I get it. With Butter and Lye, what we strive to do is just care for the people and care for the earth with our business decisions and not just the bottom line. I want to use my platform to convince businesses that there are more things that you need to care about than the profits: think about the environment, think about the people, think about your community, especially. If I could influence people to start thinking that way, then it doesn't matter if I sell another bar of soap; I already did my job. That would be wonderful."

Shop Butter & Lye Here

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