Jon Tse and Kevin Garcia co-founded paper company Karst back in July 2017, creating stationery material from recycled waste stone.
With the low supply of hand sanitisers in the market, Karst is now meeting that need through a collaboration with newly formed collective, Rescue, founded by people who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rescue co-founder Nick Benson reached out to Tse and Garcia about creating the products.
Inside FMCG: How did the Rescue initiative begin?
Kevin Garcia: Nick’s existing company (E xD) is a technology platform that utilises domestic and international supply chains to fulfill personal hygiene products. These supply chains often take 12 – 18 months to secure, and so when he noticed a few friends had lost their jobs from COVID-19, within hours he had set up a company called Rescue Brand that in the space of a week had employed 14 people to assist in the execution of getting much needed critical products (like hand sanitiser and masks) to Australians in a time of severe shortage.
Inside FMCG: Can you tell us some of the stories of the members of Rescue who lost their jobs?
Jon Tse: The 14 staff are highly skilled workers who have had their income-affected from the current health pandemic. These workers are from a wide variety of industries including hospitality, transport, FMCG, construction and even banking. One particular member had recently been let off from Qantas, and with a new mortgage and young family had to quickly mobilise and try to find a way to continue being able to provide for his family. These people come from a wide variety of backgrounds in areas like web development, sales, fast-moving consumer goods and finance.
Inside FMCG: How it is working with each other on this project during the coronavirus pandemic.
JS: It is a very strange and uncertain time indeed that none of us have ever experienced before. This initiative was quite similar to the way in which we launched Karst – we saw something not being done when we felt strongly compelled that something should be done. As a collective, if we came together we could mobilise our skills and resources to quickly execute where a lot of other businesses and even government agencies could not. Coming together quickly for a greater good has really been a once in a lifetime experience for us all and knowing we are all supporting each other through the ups and downs of business for a greater purpose brings an immense sense of pride for us all.
Inside FMCG: What’s the process of creating hand sanitisers?
KG: Our partners at Rescue do all the production and have come together using their collection of available resources from bottles, labels, packaging, and ethanol from all over Australia and Asia to create essential products. There’s particular a shortage of ingredients within Australia at the moment so we felt strongly compelled to try to do what we can to help. However, the bottling for is being completed in Bayswater, Melbourne.
Inside FMCG: Is it costly?
JT: With the global shortage of the supply of key ingredients like ethanol, there has definitely been a rise in prices, which does present a tight margin for selling a 500ml bottle of Karst Hand Sanitiser for A$22. We pay a little bit more for our products too utilising our partners at Rescue but we are more than happy to do so and ultimately will look back and be proud that we could step up when we had the chance to and try to make a difference in flattening the curve of COVID-19.
Inside FMCG: Do you plan to sell them to retailers or will only focus online?
KG: At the moment we are only selling them online so that we can give equal access to this critical product to as many Australians as we can (particularly ones that might have a harder time trying to access this in stores).
Inside FMCG: Any other products do you plan to produce to meet the demand in the market during the outbreak?
JT: If you had asked me if we would ever go into producing hand sanitiser two weeks ago I would have laughed. Fast forward two weeks and here we are. For us, hand sanitiser is so far from our core stationery business line that it is crazy to think we have launched this. But business is not normal anymore and no one really knows when things will return closer to normal so never say never, but I can say that we are not really looking at producing any more personal hygiene products.