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Holly Robson

May 3, 2023

Meet the owners of The Refillery – Joburg’s plastic-free, planet-friendly grocery store

While travelling the world working on yachts, Sam Moleta and her husband Dom were shocked to see the beauty of nature destroyed by plastic pollution. This inspired the couple to start a plastic-free grocery store that’s as easy on the wallet as it is on the planet.

Based in Johannesburg, The Refillery is a planet-friendly grocer that offers a convenient, plastic-free “weigh-and-pay” shopping system. Which means you can stock and re-stock your pantry with high quality, ethically sourced products – without the wasteful packaging normally associated with a trip to the grocery store. Plus, all their prices are on par with South Africa’s local grocery chain stores – debunking the myth that sustainable shopping is only for the wealthy.

We caught up with Sam, to find out a bit more about their sustainability journey.

Tell us a bit out about yourself

My name is Sam Moleta, co-owner of The Refillery, along with my fabulous husband Dom. I’m 33 years old, mum to two little hell-raisers, an entrepreneur at heart, day-vibe fun seeker and an avid fan of catching up with my friends over a glass or two of wine. I am also passionate about doing something that I love that will make a difference. I want to leave something positive behind that my kids and grandkids are proud of – or at the very least leave a lighter footprint behind when I'm gone.

What inspired you to start The Refillery?

Dom and I travelled the world working on yachts. Seeing the world from that side was amazing and eye-opening. There is so much beauty out there but also so much damage and destruction. We saw islands of plastic floating in the sea and white sandy beaches covered in rubbish. We always wanted to start our own business. This is something we are passionate about and we wanted to find a way to create a more sustainable shopping experience for people. Something that will make a difference at the end of the day. Small actions leave big impacts.

What does a day in your life look like?  

Things are always changing, as we open more stores and our kids grow older, but I’m usually up at 5.20 AM for gym. Dom and I then alternate the school run and head straight to work at one of our branches. Then it’s meeting new suppliers, collecting stock, sometimes doing our own deliveries, planning the month ahead with our team, and everything and anything else that’s required. We fetch the kids by lunchtime and then either work from home or head back to the office for some extra admin. I love to cook so I spend a lot of time cooking and meal prepping for the next day, as well as baking snacks and treats for the kids’ school lunches. Early dinner for us and then either watching TV on the couch with our cats or a book in bed before switching off for the day.

What does “sustainability” mean to you.

Sustainability is a “something”. It can be a physical product, a mindset, or a thing you do that has the ability to carry on, evolve or live forever without a negative or detrimental impact. A product that you use on a day-to-day basis that is a “forever” product is worth its investment and saves you and the planet in the long run. Having a sustainable mindset when it comes to your purchasing decisions leads to choosing reusable over single-use, local over imported, small business over big corporate.

What advice would you give to someone looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle?

Start slow and with things you can manage in your personal life, both financially and in a realistic personal capacity. You don’t need all the gadgets to live sustainably, and you don’t have to do it perfectly either. Use what you have until it can’t be reused, refilled, reinvented or recycled further. There is greatness in imperfection.

What would you say one of the biggest misconceptions is when it comes to shopping sustainably?

That it is only for the wealthy. Products made to last a lifetime will inevitably cost more than a single-use item – look at as a long-term investment. Shopping for what you need at The Refillery means nothing sits in your pantry wasting away or waiting for you to pick up “that” cookbook again. You buy what you need, consume what you need and leave little to no waste behind. This way of living is inevitably more cost effective in the long run.

What are your favourite sustainable SA brands?

The beauty of sustainability becoming more prominent can be seen in the amazing new products that keep popping up.  I have always been a fan of Spaza Store products as they embody a full South African vibe that combines sustainability, community work and stylish products that everyone can use. The bowl covers are my go-to product and gift idea. I adore Lello’s Beeswax Wraps that are hand-painted by a friend of ours. They are handy and gorgeous.

We also love working with The Grainery. Their black rice and cacao granola are huge sellers in our stores.

What is your advice for someone wanting to start a sustainable brand?

Make sustainability a key focus from the start without allowing it to ruin your viability. Many brands create a product – not a very green or sustainable one – and then later move over to a more sustainable option at a price that isn’t affordable to consumers, making it unsustainable. If you incorporate sustainability at the very beginning things will go in the right direction from the start.

I still live by a phrase my very first boss told me: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with STYLE.” If you do it, then do it right on all fronts.

What are some of the biggest lessons you and your team have learnt while managing a business during a pandemic?

Never say never.

If you are passionate enough about it and your customers share your passion, then even through the darkest times you will get through anything.

Despite all your planning and preparation sometimes you get thrown a curve ball (like a global PANDEMIC). You have to adapt, pivot or cut your losses quickly. Faking it ‘til you make it is truly a skill to add to one’s resume.

What sustainable items do you never leave home without?

My water bottle (I drink loads of water and need to have it on me at all times), my coffee cup (which I take to work in the morning), my refillable sanitiser (oh hey Covid) and a mesh shopping bag. Quick and easy items that I use daily.

Photographs: @Life.With.Lorna

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