Meet Frankie Layton, the clever Melbourne mama behind The Dirt Company. All grown up and juggling motherhood with a growing business now, but the idea for The Dirt Company, an eco-friendly laundry detergent company, started when she was just 18. We chatted to Frankie about how it all started…
I grew up in Melbourne’s inner eastern suburbs. At 18, when I finished high school, I spent a gap year working as a stewardess on super yachts in Europe, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the South of France to the Caribbean. This was an incredible experience because I loved the sea. I’m an ocean baby at heart. But it was also here that I first developed an itch to create a business focussed on sustainability.
One day, whist at sea, I walked to the back of the boat and saw our deckhand throwing bags of rubbish overboard. Shocked, I asked him what he was doing and he explained that this is where all trash at sea goes. To my horror it was completely normal. This was 2007.
There would be schools of dolphins at the front of the boat and they’d just be chucking trash over the back.
Even when we were so far from shore that even helicopter rescue was not possible, you’d see trash in the sea. At the time it was perfectly normal to dump whatever you wanted, so long as you were 12 nautical miles or more offshore, however this law was amended in 2013 and it’s now illegal to dump certain waste, including plastic, but still not everything.
It got me thinking very hard about rubbish and waste. Until then, in my mind trash had always just “gone away” but now I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
But at that time I also couldn’t stop thinking about a lot of things. I wanted a degree. I needed a job. I needed to eat and pay rent.
Searching for the fastest way to get a degree, I ended up completing a Bachelor of Arts from Monash University then after I wound up in advertising. Here I was surrounded by great people, but I was doing work where I often felt a job well done, was a poor result for the things that made me happy. I’d lost the connection to who I was and I had no idea how to find my way back. I cared about the ocean. I was plagued by consumerism and trash.
I was when I moved in with my best friend that I was standing in the supermarket aisle one day stumped about which laundry detergent to buy. My best friend was easily irritated by detergent and I wanted a buy a product that washed well but was sensitive to her skin and the environment. This was an impossible brief.
I was also noticing other faults like excessive packaging, high cost per wash, hidden ingredients that were not good for you. The list went on. I realised that sustainability, whilst big in other areas, had clearly not yet hit the laundry aisle and it was time for me to step in and to try and do better.
10 years after my time at sea, realising I needed to do something more for the planet and for myself, my product was launched. It took two years to develop Dirt, getting the formulation just right and the packaging and website ready.
Dirt is a liquid laundry concentrate jam-packed with natural and organic goodies. It’s most impressive feature is the sustainable, user-friendly, beautiful packaging. The glass dispenser bottle, with silicon bumpers, pumps out your exact dosage with one hand, and zero spills and to reduce plastic packaging further you can fill your empty bottle with their recycled ocean plastic refill packs which can also be sent back to be reused again and again.
Beyond conquering the laundry detergent aisle, Frankie is now conquering motherhood! Frankie and her partner welcomed their first child in February, called August, or Augie for short! Whilst she admits she still hasn’t quite worked out what all his different cries mean, he seems to be a very happy baby for the most part. Frankie had planned to take time off from work until the end of May, but her maternity leave replacement was from Yorkshire in England and chose to return home due to Coronavirus before they got stuck here long-term. This was 5 weeks after she had Augie.
Frankie’s partner has been taking a day a week paternity leave to mind Augie and her mum has him another day so she can work two full days. She’s very mindful that she doesn’t do too much work on the days they are home together but unfortunately when it’s your own business, the issues don’t only fall on those two days.
When asked how Coronavirus has affected the business, she laughs about how they ran out of detergent at the start of the pandemic. Turns out laundry detergent is like toilet paper and everyone was stocking up for the unknown! While this pandemic is such a tough thing and has hit so many people, Frankie thanks her blessings that it was a cleaning product they started three years ago, something that everyone still needs to buy.
Of course when she started out in 2017 she still had her advertising day-job and they were only selling 1 or 2 products a day. She recalls flying from Sydney to Melbourne one day and looking at all the houses and thinking
“I just need one house in every street to buy my product. That house, and that house, and I’ll be ok.”
Without the funds the business never had a proper launch and they rely heavily on the power of social media for promotion. In fact their actual launch was accidentally leaving the website live while working on it and making a sale. So they just left it live and the rest is history!
You can find The Dirt Company at thedirtcompany.com.au
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