Words by Circe Hughes

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a multitude of zero-waste innovations – from recycled knife handles to spirits made with repurposed offcuts from fruit – so, we want to kick your 2023 off with one you may not have heard of yet. Handwash. Well, you’ve heard of handwash – but you’ve never seen it like this.

Martina Schwarz, founder of sustainable handwash makers Blackmarket, was a longtime builder of brands who’d worked with the likes of Unilever, P&G and Coty before deciding to branch off on her own. Having spotted a low-waste-handwash-shaped gap in the personal care market, she turned her focus onto perfecting a method of producing handwash that required significantly less packaging and could be easy and accessible to use. After all, we all want to be that little bit greener and we all use handwash (hopefully).

“This realisation was catalysed by the pandemic, I spent lockdown 1.0 developing a prototype for Blackmarket, as I realised there was a great demand for hand hygiene but few sustainable solutions for liquid handwash,” says Martina. So, Blackmarket was launched in 2020, selling a range of soap concentrates that produce no waste and can be easily mixed at home.

“Hand hygiene isn’t very sexy, but that is a great starting point to innovate for greater sustainability.”

The Blackmarket refills come in a range of scents, including Garden Dream (with wild lavender, rosemary and sage), Morning Glory (with grapefruit, sweet orange and bergamot), Super Alpine (with peppermint, verbena, lemon balm and chamomile) and unscented (if you’re not a fan of essential oils), and in sachets that dissolve when they come into contact with water. To turn your concentrates into good ol’ handwash, all you need to do is place the entire sachet into your container with warm water, shake the bottle and (preferably) leave overnight. Come morning, you’ll have something better than that Carex you’d been using before.

By now, most of us are well aware that our dependence on single-use plastics is leading to an unsustainable amount of waste produced year after year. Plastic pollution has become one of the foremost environmental issues, and a significant amount of the plastic used in toiletries isn’t recyclable. Statistics show that 120 billion units of packaging waste are generated by the personal care industry each year, and with a major portion of that ending up in the ocean, scientists predict that we could have more plastic than fish in the sea by the year 2050.

And those of us who’ve been in on the low-waste game for any amount of time know that bars aren’t always the best solution. They can be fiddly, often require an extra soap dish (taking up valuable counter space), and – crucially, for anyone with sensitive skin – tend to be quite drying. Blackmarket’s refillable capsules are easy to use, can be used in a hand soap container you already have and are made with carefully selected ingredients so that they’re gentle on your hands as well as the planet.

Making this user interaction as seamless as possible was crucial to Martina when creating Blackmarket’s soaps. “Good design is critical in creating more sustainable solutions,” she says, “because it ensures a product is appealing, easy to use and can be recycled, reused or repaired at the end of its life, in line with circular economy principles.” And this does not only apply to the surface appearance of a product and appealing it is aesthetically, but how it performs as a whole. As Martina puts it, “good design is about all aspects of how a product functions and how a user interacts with it throughout its lifespan.”

But Martina’s journey hasn’t been entirely seamless since launching Blackmarket just over two years ago. “Running a business is hard work,” she says, “I think I didn’t realise how much time I would spend working on making sure everything works smoothly. There is a lot of juggling.” But after only one year, Blackmarket won the 2021 UAL Creative Enterprise Award in Innovation, an accolade that acknowledges that the business’ product addresses a clear market need. “This happened early in my journey and gave me a boost of confidence when I really needed it,” says Martina.

And they’re showing no signs of slowing. “There are so many exciting things planned for Blackmarket in 2023,” says Martina. “First up, will be the launch of new fragrances for our handwash. I’ve learned that scent is incredibly personal and we have had a lot of requests for more woody fragrances.” Martina would also love to work with artists, designers, brands or shops in the future, having recently worked with candlemakers NATA to create their signature scent of jasmine, neroli and orange blossom. “We are on a mission to remove single-use plastic packaging from your bathroom, so that is the focus of everything we do,” says Martina – we can’t wait to see what’s next.


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