“Share your ideas.” With Penny Bauder & Isabel Aagaard

It’s really important for us not to sit on our ideas and think we know best. We shouldn’t be afraid of changing things along the way, to the very end. We have the same mentality throughout the company. When working with manufacturers, marketing, sales — it’s all about having people involved throughout the process and […]

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It’s really important for us not to sit on our ideas and think we know best. We shouldn’t be afraid of changing things along the way, to the very end. We have the same mentality throughout the company. When working with manufacturers, marketing, sales — it’s all about having people involved throughout the process and constantly improving.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure to interview Isabel Aagaard.

Isabel Aagaard, 29, is a Co-founder and Designer at LastObject. It is her mission is to create durable and well-designed products that are reusable. When she and her team discovered the harmful effects of single-use cotton swabs on the environment, they started working on a solution to fix it. In April 2019, they launched LastSwab, the first sanitary, reusable alternative to cotton swabs and raised over $1.3 million through Kikcstater.

LastObject’s newest product, LastTissue, aims to bring the handkerchief back and stop the waste caused by single-use tissues. Her team’s next product comes out in August 2020 on Kickstarter.

In addition to her work with LastObject, Isabel co-designed a project called “Chemo to go, please!” which aims to improve the experience of home chemotherapy treatment for leukemia patients. The chemotherapy bag is reusable, unlike the majority of bags that are disposed of after treatment. The bag is now used in all hospitals in Denmark that offer chemotherapy.

Isabel lives in Copenhagen, Denmark with her husband with a baby boy due in June 2020.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Thank you for being interested in LastObject. Yes of course, I grew up in a little town outside of Copenhagen in a family of design entrepreneurs. We have a family business that we’ve all been involved in at some stage of our lives — parents, siblings, uncles, cousins, grandparents etc. So starting LastObject with my brother came very naturally to me.

I earned my Master’s degree from the Royal Academy of Design in Collaborative Design, and my Bachelor’s degree is in Digital Media and Design from the IT university. I worked for a few years in the hospital segment designing everything from bags for patients to take their chemotherapy treatments home, to a maternity ward. Personally I’ve always been very interested in waste reduction and sustainable design solutions on a big and small scale.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

We are three designers that joined forces last year to make a difference to our planet. After finding out the huge toll single use items put on the environment we decided to create a sustainable option. Our main mission is to eliminate single use items by creating reusable sustainable alternatives.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

LastSwab became the first flagship product in a series of products under the banner LastObject. LastSwab is a reusable cotton swab that eliminates the need for the single-use variety which pollutes our oceans and wildlife.

The idea for LastSwab came to us when we were researching which single-use items were the most harmful for our planet and the cotton swab was surprisingly quite high on this list. We found that one of the biggest issues was that people didn’t discard them properly, mainly because they are so small. If flushed down the toilet they often don’t get caught by filtration systems and are dumped directly into the ocean, and later end up in the stomachs of sea creatures. We felt that by solving this problem, we would create an impact on marine life as well as single-use pollution.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

We have never been afraid of getting our crazy ideas out there and love to get people involved, probably the reason we launched our product on Kickstarter. I think our “aha moment” was in the design process. We prototype a lot. The product, the packaging, the content — everything is made and edited hundreds of times while constantly being tested. We try to get our designs in our hands even though most of our work is on a computer. When we had the final version in our hands and it actually worked, this was when we thought this could really get big.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

It’s really important for us not to sit on our ideas and think we know best. We shouldn’t be afraid of changing things along the way, to the very end. We have the same mentality throughout the company. When working with manufacturers, marketing, sales — it’s all about having people involved throughout the process and constantly improving.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I have done a lot of different projects, worked in different companies, met important people, won prizes… but nothing compares to the feeling of running this company. For the first time in my life being able to work on something that I’m not just passionate about, but that can actually make a huge difference — that’s one of the most crazy feelings. When that happens, there is no limit to your energy or drive. It’s not an individual story but more of an everyday feeling.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

We made plenty of mistakes. I don’t think that any of them were particularly funny 🙂

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

We stand on top of giants that made it possible for our product to have a place in people’s minds. Lauren Singer, the woman behind the blog Trash for Tossers, has paved the way not only for our mentality, but many others too. FinalStraw was one of the first colorful mainstream zero waste initiatives that inspired us a great deal.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

To be honest coming from a family like ours has paved the way to really understand business, design and leadership.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Voice the huge problem we have polluting our planet unnecessarily, showing how we can reduce our waste and creating systems that support these initiatives.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each

  1. You will get copied — Kickstarter is a haven for copycats because the inventors are so fragile releasing their product in this early stage. Don’t let it stop you, it doesn’t have to matter, but be aware and take precaution.
  2. This is a marathon not a sprint — when you are passionate and successful at the same time, you will start running. The issue is just that you don’t know for how long. So if you really have hit a nerve and your idea will become huge, you need your energy for not just the short runs but also the long runs.
  3. People will not always believe in you — We have had multiple people that didn’t believe in us or our cause. Don’t let that affect you — 1 out of 10 can’t be the majority.
  4. At the office we call it the banana-mango-situation. Some things are like a banana easy to carry with you, peel and eat. And some things are like a mango hard to cut up, messy to eat but tastes so good. There are always gonna be some bananas and some mangos.
  5. Constantly outsource yourself — once your company grows, so will your tasks, so outsource yourself and try to automate as much as possible. Your business can very quickly become complicated and less is always more.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Our overconsumption is taking a huge toll on our planet. And the crazy thing is if we each just make a little difference it can have a huge impact! So look at your habits, you can make a really big difference exploring a sustainable lifestyle and creating a less trashy world. Maybe that is not cotton swabs because you don’t use them, but maybe it’s the to-go coffee cup, your fondness of straws or need for tissues everytime the grass emerges.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Yes. One of my biggest inspirations in the way I live my life is Gabrielle Bernstein, the author behind The Universe Has Your Back. She would be absolutely amazing to have breakfast with.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram @lastswab & @lastobject


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