Inspirational Woman: Mahira Kalim | Founder, Spruce

Mahira KalimMahira Kalim, 37, founder of Spruce, is an ex-tech executive, turned entrepreneur.

She launched her conscious homecare brand Spruce after realising there was a gap in the market for an honest brand that offers eco-friendly, single-use plastic-free and non-toxic products without engaging in greenwashing marketing tactics. In just a little over a year the brand, and Kalim herself, have won multiple awards and been recognised for their honest commitment to people and the planet.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role as Founder of Spruce

I am Mahira, the founder of Spruce. I lived and worked mostly in Silicon Valley after graduating from Stanford University and built a successful career in tech. After starting a family and being inspired with my personal journey as a consumer, I made a massive career shift and launched my own eco-friendly brand. 

The idea for Spruce came from my own decade-long struggle with health problems. Many reinforcing moments and advice from doctors led me to move to a non-toxic, “clean” lifestyle. I realised we are surrounded by hidden toxins and microplastics in everything, from our food, to our personal care routines, to our cleaning products. I also became more aware of my household’s plastic footprint, which was significant despite considering myself eco-conscious.

When trying to change this, I found a lot of sustainable swaps were expensive, inconvenient or just didn’t work very well. That’s when I realised the need for products that not only tackle the issue of plastic-waste, but that are also non-toxic and safer for a person’s health. I wanted Spruce to be an alternative for busy people like me who want to make conscious choices without any added stress.

In 2021 we launched a range of refillable cleaning sprays that are non-toxic, single-use plastic free, vegan, cruelty-free and made in the UK.  Since then, we’ve had the most incredible response from our customers. They love that Spruce is effective, ethical, and not to mention the spa-like scents from natural essential oils.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Sure, I made plans, but they are forever changing along the way. I worked in tech for many years so if you had told me back then what my life would look like now, it would have come a bit of a surprise! But it’s taught me to be resilient and adapt quickly to face new challenges.  

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes – and I challenge you to find any business that hasn’t! The pandemic hitting just as we were preparing to launch was something I’m sure many other start-ups can relate to.

Founding Spruce after my previous experience being in technology sector was also a challenge. My network had to expand, and fast. It took some real searching to find a manufacturer and partner that’s ethos and values aligned with mine.

But there are always going to be challenges when running an ethical and sustainable business. Often behind the scenes we are making decisions that are better for people and the planet that customers can’t see.

We are on a mission to prioritise purpose over profit and commit to running an honest business. Because if we didn’t challenge the norm, there’d be no reason for us to exist.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

At Spruce, we’ve been so lucky to win, and be shortlisted for, many incredible awards, even though we just launched last year. Winning “Best Eco-Friendly Cleaning Brand” at the Marie Claire Sustainability Awards was definitely a big ‘pinch-me’ moment.

Another big achievement I am proud of is becoming a Certified B Corporation just last month. It really solidified our commitment to people and the planet. With only 600 other B Corps in the UK, I’m so proud to be among the select businesses using their force for societal and environmental good.

I have to say I feel the happiest and most satisfied when I hear a 5-star customer review of someone who has switched to planet-friendly products that are better for their family’s health.

Do you have any advice for those looking to start their own business?

Starting a business can feel daunting and it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s too difficult to achieve. My advice would be to not let the magnitude of task put you off pursuing your ideas. Sometimes half the battle is getting started.

Breaking down your big goals down into realistic deliverables makes it easier to visualise how you’ll succeed. Celebrate small wins instead of being so focused on the end goal that you miss how good the journey can feel. 

You also have to be okay with every day looking different. Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster, and I’ve found you have to make peace with the fact there will be many setbacks. But nothing worth doing is ever easy.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

It is no secret that the start-up world and funding is especially unfavourable for female, and especially BAME founders. It’s no wonder why imposter syndrome is so common among successful female entrepreneurs. Recent studies say less than 1% of institutional funding in the UK goes to female founders. This absolutely needs to change.

On a positive note, there are some VC’s and investors out there who are on a mission to bridge the gap and support female founders. And the female founder community is a great support. However, there is still a long way to go, and a lot more needs to happen before the start-up ecosystem becomes favourable for women entrepreneurs.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Probably to never be afraid to take risks and step outside of what is expected of you. Because when you step outside familiarity, that’s when the magic happens!

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

At Spruce, we are currently working on expanding our range of planet-loving products to eliminate the many toxic chemicals and plastic waste from our daily routines.

Ultimately, I want to make it easy for people to adopt the low-waste and toxic-free options in all aspects of their everyday lives without compromising on efficacy or style. And continue to put out premium quality alternatives to single-use products.

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