Austrian born Hong Kong resident Petra Schweiger was frustrated by the lack of interest in sustainability in the fashion industry she worked in, and then she discovered sustainable drinking straws and her life took on a whole new direction.
What’s your story?
Growing up in Austria, sustainability has been deeply ingrained in me from an early age. Even after moving to an urban centre like Hong Kong, my love for the outdoors and the ocean brought me to live in a small village on a beach. Seeing first-hand the scale of plastic waste in the ocean, on our beaches and everywhere else, made me even more passionate about taking care of the environment. And when in 2015 I stumbled across innovative sustainable drinking straws made in Germany, I knew this was an opportunity.
What excites you most about your industry?
My background is in fashion sourcing, and I left the industry years ago frustrated just because sustainability was not a topic brands were interested in. Even when I launched my business to sell sustainable drinking straws in Asia years before the plastic straw became the poster child of plastic pollution, people would look at me weirdly. But now, finally, businesses and consumers see the importance and urgency to make conscious decisions. It is exciting to see new approaches, ideas and business models. It’s high time governments join the movement.
What is your connection to Asia?
Working in textile sourcing, buying and manufacturing brought me to Asia almost 20 years ago. I spent years in China and Bangladesh before moving to Hong Kong in 2010. Once hooked, you will never get “rid” of this continent.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is a great “trial market”. It’s concise and small enough to clearly define your target customers, being able to observe them to adjust your strategy. And it’s big enough to set up well functioning operations to expand from. I was able to grow my business out of HK appointing regional distribution partners to cover all of APAC.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Keep eyes and ears open, be open minded and listen to people. You never know how who you meet or which opportunity you come across will impact or change your life. I stumbled across the sustainable drinking straws in 2015 when having lunch while attending a fair for sustainable fashion – which was my actual interest at that time.
Who inspires you?
The brain behind our German straw manufacturer Bio-Strohhalme GmbH. Managing Director Ms Gessert was incredibly visionary when in 2010 she thought: well, one day the world will need an alternative to a plastic straw. 10 years later her company offers the most innovative range of completely biodegradable and quickly compostable drinking straws fully certified in the EU. And there is my mum who taught us from a young age to live a rich yet sustainable life.
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
In many countries around the world, petroleum companies and plastic producers receive tax benefits or subsidies. When people say bio based plastics or sustainable alternatives to conventional plastics are too expensive, why not ask: how come fossil based plastics are so cheap, why do their prices not reflect costs for waste management or even pollution, are these prices true to their actual costs?
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m not someone who regrets or mulls over past decisions. I very much believe in listening to your guts, in going at your own pace – fast or slow – and at the right time.
How do you unwind?
Outdoors. I am happy hiking, mountain biking or just walking instead of taking the MTR. Or just lazily lying on a beach or sitting on a rooftop.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love Hong Kong with its hiking trails, mountains, beaches, villages. My weekends usually feel like mini holidays. Apart from that, I am no longer able to pick a favourite. Asia’s too exciting.
Everyone in business should read this book:
I am very interested in Design Thinking nowadays. There is plenty of literature but I recommend joining workshops as they are very hands-on, and it’s fun to team up with people from other industries with all kinds of experiences and ideas which can really broaden your views and business approaches.
Shameless plug for your business:
Both our German partner manufacturer and our APAC wide company 100% specialise in sustainable completely biodegradable and quickly compostable single-use drinking straws. No distraction. Of course we are the best and most innovative. All our materials are researched, developed, certified, tested and produced in the European Union.
How can people connect with you?
Social Media Links?
To hear how entrepreneurs around the world overcome their challenges, search your favourite podcast platform for ‘CallumConnects‘ to hear a 5-minute daily breakdown.
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built, and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder and CEO of MBH Corporation PLC. He is the author of three best-selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’, ‘Agglomerate’, and ‘Entrepreneurial Investing’.