Not one for sitting idly, Steve Banks is making moves to revolutionise the industry of beauty packaging
Steve Banks is a career chameleon of sorts. As a young teenager, he displayed an aptitude for golf which won him a scholarship to study psychology at the University of North Alabama. Golf, however, was not the path he was destined to take—and neither was psychology. After he graduated, he went on holiday with a friend to Ibiza where he ended up staying for two years. The friendships and connections that he made during this time went on to shape the rest of his life. From putting on music events for the likes of American hip hop act The Sugarhill Gang, Ibiza’s Circoloco and his own Asylum parties in Leeds, to setting up his own electronic-inspired clothing label Electronic Poet, to working as a consultant in branding, design and packaging for some of the biggest and exclusive global brands and names in beauty and fashion, it’s safe to say that Steve doesn’t shy away from moving outside of his comfort zone.
His latest foray is into the world of recycling with long-term friend Tom Murgatroyd—who he also met during his halcyon days in Ibiza. Together, they have launched Handle, a recycling company for the beauty industry that also creates a range of sleek handmade, sustainable products using materials previously considered as waste.
Dialing in from Naples where he is holed up with his family for the next three months for some sunshine, seafood and seaside air, Woodberry Life spoke to Steve about the inspiration behind Handle, his hopes for the future and how he likes to unwind in Stoke Newington when he’s not cooking up another plan to rule the world…
How did you come up with the idea for Handle? What was the inspiration behind it?
I’m always looking for new ideas, inspiration and opportunities. I work in the beauty industry and lots of brands were telling me that they wanted to use recycled content in their packaging but couldn’t get hold of any. Manufacturers were also saying the same thing. It got me thinking, there’s a problem here and I want to help solve it. Tom and I also became fathers recently and have been keen to create something meaningful for some time. We were definitely intrigued by the idea of launching a business with the vision of driving positive change for future generations.
What is the philosophy of Handle in a nutshell?
We’re committed to sustainability and trying to limit, if not stop, the volume of used beauty packaging from going down the route of incineration or landfill. Every year, up to 20 billion pieces of beauty packaging is consumed in the UK and the vast majority of that is not being recycled properly. Consumers would be shocked if they knew how much goes to waste. The sad thing is, plastic has a bad reputation but I don’t believe that it’s a bad material. When people put a plastic product in the bin somewhere, it doesn’t suddenly sprout legs and make its way into the ocean. It’s the way in which it’s disposed of that’s the issue. Used beauty packaging isn’t waste, it’s a raw material with the potential to be repurposed, which we’ve demonstrated through the making of our sustainable products. We want to educate consumers and businesses and give them an opportunity to play a part in responsible packaging disposal, and work with them towards creating a longer-term solution to how we dispose beauty waste.
What was the process for bringing the concept to life?
Initially we asked family and friends to collect their empty packaging and send it back to us and that got a lot of traction. Then we received requests from friends of friends and people were sharing it on social media—from that point, it really snowballed. We also ran a pilot with 30 salons in East London, collecting waste from them. Once we sourced our materials from the used beauty packaging, we sorted through the plastics and did two things: made our first set of Handle products, and sold the sorted materials back to the packaging businesses so that they could repurpose that into new beauty packaging.
What were the challenges of launching Handle?
It was difficult to engage with the big waste management companies —they just aren’t interested in speaking to start ups, so we’ve had to find our own way to make things happen. But I don’t see this as an obstacle that can’t be overcome. More and more brands and retailers have expressed that we need to be doing more about recycling. Consumers want this too, and the brands are listening to the consumers. I think that people are becoming increasingly aware of the way they consume and are more conscious that they want to buy, follow and / or interact with brands and retailers that are ‘doing good’. Eventually these big waste management companies will have to listen to the big brands, but everyone needs to pull in the same direction first to make that happen.
What personal attributes have helped you in launching Handle?
A lot of my drive and ambition comes from playing golf. If you’re playing sport professionally or semi-professionally, you’ve got to be dedicated and focused. You’ve got to have that desire and grit, the will to make things happen and win. I think this early discipline has helped me in my career.
What’s next for Handle?
We are working with a few partners at the moment to manage the recycling but the plan is to have our own East London depot so that people can come and learn about the process; everything from washing and shredding the materials to seeing us making the Handles. We’re also about to sign with a few big retailers, which will help with the amount of waste we can collect at a national level. We want to try and collect as much of that as we possibly can.
When you’re not toiling away on one of your projects, how do you like to spend your time unwinding in / around Stoke Newington?
My wife and I have two small kids so we generally like to go to a park, which has got a bakery or somewhere you can get a nice coffee or a sausage roll. We’re fans of Clissold Park and Abney Park because they’re on our doorstep. The Wetlands are also beautiful and we’re fond of London Fields, Broadway Market, Victoria Park and Hackney Downs too. Occasionally, we’ll take our bikes and just cycle around the parks. People don’t often associate East London with greenery but we’ve got so much green space around. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like you’re in London because it’s so peaceful.