Here's the story of how the brand grew from a small seed of an idea to the thriving business you see today.
We know how important community is. With simple storytelling, we aim to create a space where like-minded people can connect and inspire each other. There are millions of ways to live more sustainably, and this is just our story.
Where did the story of Ecopots begin? How did the idea for the brand come about?
The story started from our childhood - my brother Nicolaes and me. I mean.. I am convinced that our parents and their parents planted the seeds of business in our minds. On my mother's side, my grandfather was a house builder in his village. It was a small company, but they were famous for their quality. He took us to see the foundations of the houses he built and said, "You can build it another way, but if you do it this way, the houses will last forever." He taught us that the walls have to be thick - that stuck with me because when I was looking for my first house I measured the thickness of the wall! He also taught us how important it is to do things calmly and with quality; it was the exact opposite of what we saw happening around us. It was all about speed, consumption and waste. "Don't compare yourself to others," he said, "do your own thing and others will follow. If something is of quality, it speaks for itself."
"Don't compare yourself to others," he said, "do your own thing and others will follow."
On the other hand, my father's family from Holland were great art lovers. When we were kids, we were taken to galleries and museums. We understood the value of aesthetics and beauty. Whether it's a painting, a statue or an antique, we learn that beautiful objects are timeless.
Quality and timeless beauty. If you combine these two, you have company. It's in our DNA. Later came an ecological perspective and these seeds became the 3 main pillars of Ecopots.
How did these three seeds grow into the Ecopots we know and love today?
As for the actual establishment of the company and how it happened, the formula was very simple. I had my first job in a company that distributed chemicals for crop protection. Not very ecological I know. There was a new CEO who realized we needed to update the product and do something different. We switched from mass sales to expert advice and acquired information so that we can teach farmers about the responsible use of fertilizer in their crops. My manager was my mentor in terms of ecological vision, and it's not about sanctity. We still need plant protection in the fields and harvest from the ground. Otherwise, people will not have food. However, we started advising how things could be done better by using only the necessary amount of fertilizers and plant protection agents and being smarter.
The consumer gardening and retail business grew quickly and I got excited about it. However, the seasonal nature of our operations meant that we had to expand our operations with other products. We already had a strong customer network supporting us, so we wanted to build on that new one. When I came up with ideas for what else we could offer to the public, I got the idea of decorating the home. I personally don't understand decoration without function. We wanted our products to have a purpose. Plants need a pot, so we decided to make them.
I took responsibility for the purchase. The acquisition would be focused on either Europe or Asia. I made my first trip to the Southeast in 2003 and what I saw really shocked me. I saw child labor, people working surrounded by chemical fumes or too close to fires where they were making pots. When I went there I was a young man. I witnessed people doing business in this market, running factories and trading, it was really horrible. The quality of the products, conditions and places where they were manufactured. It was shocking!
It was an underdeveloped market with a lot of opportunists, companies that went bankrupt and then bounced back, etc. We had a great idea to create quality pots with a beautiful aesthetic timeless design and made from ecological materials where possible, but we just couldn't do it right away. We wanted people to understand that you don't have to buy poor quality. If you buy poor quality, it was probably made in poor conditions as well. On the other hand, there are excellently managed factories in Europe, but they produce a lot of disposable plastic. We needed a solution.
Despite the terrible conditions, a big advantage in Asia is craftsmanship. People make amazing things with their hands and are real artists! We decided to locate in Vietnam, but appointed European management to the factory to ensure good working conditions for our employees. The first version of the brand was called POTS. The red O in our logo represents our intensity and passion. The "O" looks like the fine edge of the pot when viewed from above. Our first slogan was "Best in quality". Back then, we didn't really focus on the ecological side of things. We just wanted to make something that would last forever and you wouldn't have to throw it away right away. It is already environmentally friendly in a way. Initially, the first pots were made of polyester, which is not the most ecological, but very strong in quality.
The pot where it all started is still durable and strong.
When we started, the price of our product was very high - it took 3 days and 7 people to finish one pot. Can you imagine! For example, we sold to Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Dubai, etc. However, we didn't want to be too high-end. In our opinion, the design should be affordable, and not only accessible to the upper income class. We hoped to reach more people all over the world with our product and vision. And that's how Ecopots was born.
Where are the pots made now?
Ecopots are made in China. Then for our new brand we were looking for a pot that could be made by machine, but with a handmade finish. China turned out to be the most suitable for this. Our factory in China is run according to high European standards because we believe in fair treatment and fair pay. Most of the employees in our factory are women who are at least 45 years old. In total we have about 250 employees and they earn double the salary compared to their men! They are proud of their work, appreciate craftsmanship and have a good life. It's special to see the authenticity and how hard these women work at the table and do everything by hand. We are so proud of this.
The environmental aspect came a little later in the brand's journey?
Yeah. We are not Greenpeace. We are people who believe in sustainability and quality products. Until 2010, we are looking for material that is more consumer-friendly and environmentally friendly. Plastic is a great material in many ways, as it holds water, but is light and doesn't break down easily, etc. That's where we started our proper research into recycled plastics. We wanted a high-quality product, and the market for recycled plastics was not yet very strong at the time. We had universities helping us here in Belgium. After three years, we were almost ready to give up! It was the University of Antwerp that finally helped us build the right formula in plastic. By 2014, we had it!
Ecopots headquarters in Evolis Business Park, a business park for sustainable development and international companies
"Today's trends are tomorrow's waste."
When we had found the right formula for using recycled plastics, there was a belief in many markets that the products would be of poor quality - so we had to fight our own side of the issue. Suddenly, everyone jumped on board with the idea of recycled plastics...
In what ways is sustainable development included in your personal everyday life?
The answer to this question is quite simple. I don't buy poor quality, be it food, clothes or consumer goods. I'm not sensitive to trends and the "hot" products of the moment. If you want to live a more sustainable life, use your common sense. Start by buying things that you won't throw away after a while. This is why there are no fun colors or patterns in our Ecopots collection. Today's trends are tomorrow's waste.
Your brother Nicolaes is an architect and applies the design principles guiding architecture when designing pots. Why do you think this is an important part of the brand?
The way Nicolaes designs really takes time. He is never on time! If something is not 100% right, he is not happy with it. He is a perfectionist. He sees things that others don't and he communicates through his designs. I have a little bit of ADHD, I'm very hyperactive and like to get things done quickly. But I am balanced by my brother, who is really slow and precise in his approach.
Good design calms the mind. I have flower pots that I really like. I can watch my favorite and it calms me down. Design has an important function and it must also cover functional use. There are small subtleties in the design. By changing the shape of the line just a little, people either like it or they don't.
Why are pots named after cities?
When Nicolaes designs a pot, he gets inspiration and thinks about the feeling he gets from looking at the architecture of a certain city. Our first image had photos of recognizable architecture in each city and a picture of a pot next to it. They should match the feeling you get from the design.
Who else is behind the Ecopots brand?
There is a third person in our team who is very important. I have ideas and I can implement them, but I wasn't doing the last step of quality control and I was missing details. My brother and I, we were stuck just the two of us.
My wife Delphine joined in 2013 and it made a huge difference! My wife is good at checking the last details. He is very creative himself. For example, he created a coaster with wheels. He didn't study art or design, he studied accounting, but now he designs and creates products, which is amazing. He works well with my brother and we are a good team of three!
However, we couldn't do it all without the amazing team we have here in Europe. Twenty people from sales to operational and marketing to administration make up the Ecopots family that we are today.
Family is everything, and I believe that durability should also be present in your relationships. We have partners worldwide and in each country we only cooperate with family businesses. Massive companies that brag about selling billions of dollars of this and that. I refuse to sell with them. They're just not on the same page as us. We have never been greedy for business, If we don't know it, we don't work with these people.
Do you have any advice for business owners, especially those who would like to be more sustainable but aren't sure where to start?
Listen to your team. The older generation of business people know they have to do something, but they are often afraid of the cost. You don't need to pay top environmental consultants €200 an hour to tell you how to run your business. Listen to your team and accept small suggestions step by step. Start sorting waste. Use your common sense. It's not that complicated. Entrepreneurs my age and older don't know everything. My advice is to hire the young, the elderly, the rural and the disabled. Diversity brings solutions!
For startups, I would say. Believe you can do it. That's it. I want to inspire younger generations. Everything is possible. I think younger entrepreneurs inherently know what they need to do to make their business good. At the age of 18, I had the opportunity to talk with a big businessman here in Belgium. He was over 2 meters tall and I was quite small and shy! I looked at him and asked him what qualities do you need to become a successful businessman. He told me, "Heart, will and brain!" Good advice, right?
I don't think I was a businessman when I was younger. I believed in the idea that businessmen had to be dishonest crooks who always took from others. It didn't suit my character. I thought I was too soft. However, I have found that this idea is wrong. Emotions and empathy can work in business. We do our thing and try to find people who like us.
Many thanks to Emmanuel! We hope that writing this has given you a better understanding of the Ecopots story and our mission as a company.