Tan Yet Mee spent five years finding the right formula that is safe for the environment and sensitive skin. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
PETALING JAYA, Jan 13 — Let’s face it, the cost of eco-friendly products can sometimes put many off from fully adopting a green lifestyle.
This often includes household cleaning products that we use daily to maintain a hygienic living space, particularly during the pandemic.
In Malaysia, most eco-warriors have limited options and that sometimes means paying twice the amount on imported brands.
But one Subang Jaya-based businesswoman is determined to create affordable yet effective eco-friendly household products for Malaysians.
Having been in the cleaning products manufacturing business for over a decade, Tan Yet Mee started looking at the integrity of manufacturing six years ago, wondering if all her favourite brands were as clean as they claimed to be.
“Coincidentally, two years ago my skin started to develop some sensitivities and was constantly flaring up,” she told Malay Mail.
“I became really paranoid and I was very conscious of brands and the ingredients when I was buying items for my own use.”
After studying the ingredients on labels, Tan realised a lot of the brands were using harmful ingredients yet called themselves eco-friendly.
So she decided to make and sell her own eco-friendly cleaning range and that’s how Ecominim was born.
Her mission was simple — to offer a range of products that are safe for people and the environment, have good efficacy and are easy to use at affordable prices.
“We didn’t come out with a product that was super expensive like Method, we wanted to make it affordable,” Tan said.
Ecominim is proudly Malaysian-made using plant-based cleaners and is 100 per cent biodegradable. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Plant-based and 100 per cent biodegradable
The brand offers a complete range of products including laundry powder and liquid detergent, dishwashing liquid, glass and multi-surface cleaner, floor cleaner, bathroom cleaner, hand wash and hand sanitiser that are priced between RM13.90 to RM26.90.
Tan became user 001 and her own guinea pig when she was formulating Ecominim, testing every sample on herself until they found the magic formula.
“When we were testing products, my skin would react whenever we used the wrong ingredient,” she said.
Today, Tan will proudly tell you that her products are gentle enough to be used even when she’s experiencing a full-blown eczema flare-up.
She has also received the same feedback from customers with similar skin concerns.
Tan knew she was on to something when one out of 10 people she spoke to know someone with sensitive skin.
It’s also a condition that affected many throughout the pandemic when good hand hygiene remains crucial to prevent Covid-19 from spreading.
A study this year found that more than two-thirds of the public experienced hand dermatitis due to frequent hand washing and alcohol-based rubs during the pandemic.
“We did see a surge in sales during the pandemic as consumers geared towards gentler cleaning products that were still efficacious,” said Tan.
That attention, she said, can only mean that they are on the right track.
Changing the way we clean
In place of nasties like SLES, SLS, formaldehyde, paraben, bleach, phosphates, sulphates and phthalates, Ecominim formulates their products with certified organic decyl glucoside, a cosmetic grade plant-based surfactant that is gentle on sensitive skin.
Using cosmetic grade surfactants has its plus points as the cosmetics industry is more regulated than the cleaning detergent industry which has a heavy environmental footprint.
Like most people with sensitive skin, Tan reacted badly to sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), the foaming agent commonly found in everyday cleaning and bath products.
Both SLES and SLS are banned in the European Union for being a possible carcinogen and environmental pollutant.
Tan tested every sample on her skin to see if the ingredients would trigger her eczema. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Tan and her team of two chemists prefer using food grade ingredients like citric acid and baking soda, and their ingredients are also Ecocert-certified by Sirim.
“We’re very proud of the fact that whoever uses it benefits from it,” she said.
It’s just a matter of changing mindsets that more bubbles doesn’t always mean cleaner.
“If you now have a better alternative, shouldn’t we all change to the better alternative?
“It’s also a social responsibility of the manufacturer to use the better ingredient for a little bit less profit perhaps,” Tan said.
Malaysians are becoming more environmentally conscious
Back when Tan started working on Ecominim, there weren’t many ingredients in the market for SLES-free formulations in Malaysia.
It took the team five years of trial and testing, going back to the drawing board many times before finding the right formulation.
“Seven years ago, going green was just words, people talked about it but really the market and whole environment wasn’t ready for it,” she said.
Today, everyone is on the green bandwagon.
“Malaysians are ready but there still needs to be more education because there’s a lot of greenwashing going around,” Tan added.
“But by and large, Malaysian consumers are quite environmentally conscious, that’s why all the zero waste shops are doing well.”
A small business that understands the big picture
Tan wanted to make sure her products wouldn’t harm aquatic life so the team measured every ingredient on the material safety data sheet and would remove it from their formulation if it was toxic to sea creatures.
Ecominim does not contain SLES, SLS, formaldehyde, paraben, bleach, phosphates, sulphates and phthalates. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Consumers are made aware of that through small icons of sea life on the back of the bottle, further reinforcing the fact that everything we use has an impact on our natural environment.
The brand may be new in the market but they are determined to make sure sustainability principles are practised every step of the way.
This includes shipping out orders using reclaimed cardboard which Tan and her team cut by hand.
Customers are also encouraged to recycle their used bottles at the Ecominim office in Subang Jaya as part of their Return & Reward programme that offers a cashback scheme.
“We try to come up with our own little system to help them recycle but internally where we can, we reuse up all our bottles,” Tan said.
“We’re trying to clean up our own act.
“Part of the circular economy is putting back what you took from.”