The COVID-19 pandemic has pulled our attention from another global crisis with equally devastating effects: climate change. Azra Hajdarevic and her sister Amra are small business owners who have made it their mission to raise awareness about and innovate solutions to climate change. With their company Terra & Co. the businesswomen create and sell oral care products that are sustainable and simple from the ingredients to the packaging.
Terra & Co.’s line of sustainable, clean and ergonomic products are making waves, not only for their earth-friendly characteristics but also for the quality and “eco-luxe” aesthetic of their products. Terra & Co. has won the Men’s Health award for the best dental floss in 2020 as well as bagged Elle Magazine’s Green Beauty Award in 2020. As Bosnian refugees, the sister duo is dedicated to social justice and aid. Proceeds from purchases go back to organizations like the Los Angeles Downtown Women’s Center.
In this interview, Azra Hajdarevic speaks passionately about their line of products, the power of small businesses to make an impact on the destructive practices of corporations, the heartbreaking impacts of pollution and the day to day actions that we can all take to contribute to the “big picture” of climate change reversal.
I recently took a class on environmental studies, and it was eye-opening and sobering. In terms of your business, what strategies are you using to fight climate change and promote sustainability?
Yes, my sister and I started a business. [Speaking of environmental studies] I don’t know if you know, but there’s this conference, it’s supposed to be in LA this year. It’s called Sustainability Deep Dive. It’s a great place to learn about developments in sustainability. I’ve learned about what people in Denmark are working on, what people in Tel Aviv and here in California are working on. It was really interesting to see how many people are passionate about sustainability.
I really do think [the climate crisis] is one of the major issues that we face right now. Unless we modify the way we are living, we are not going to be here for very long. We live in a linear way right now. We think that once something is used, it is out of our way. But it’s still with us on this planet; it is just going into oceans and landfills. We need to switch to a circular approach towards the materials and resources we use, everything from furniture to food.
For my sister and I, our idea for this business was to create sustainable everyday use products. There was a gap in the oral care industry in terms of sustainability. We realized that oral products are used by everyone so the potential was immense. Most people use disposable toothbrushes, and most toothpastes are filled with harmful chemicals.
We started with a small brand. I’m a make-up artist in New York who’s passionate about sustainability. My sister comes from the skincare industry, where she helps a few start-ups work and she [helps] with the business side of [things]. So we put our forces together. People were interested in charcoal toothpaste, so we started there. We wanted to use plain ingredients and sustainable packaging. Our tubes are made with sugar cane plastic; bioplastic is still plastic, but we are working on materials that use less transportation and water as well as fewer plastics.
Then we added a toothbrush. Our toothbrush is made from bamboo and is biodegradable. Now we’re thinking about using materials that are already in the land, recycling and making toothbrushes [that way].
Creating mouthwash without chemicals and preservatives presented a challenge. Ayurvedic remedies have been using oil and coal for thousands of years for oral health, digestive health, and detox. So, we decided to go with oil pulling. The product is one of our best sellers, one sip kills bacteria and viruses in your mouth, which is important, especially in terms of Covid. Regular dental floss ends up in landfills and oceans and could harm marine animals. Our floss is made of bamboo fibers and activated charcoal. It is completely biodegradable.
We’ve built this business over the past three years, and now, we are hiring people and expanding. We’re businesswomen, but we are also highly passionate about the cause–our customers understand that. We’re not about hopping onto the next trend; We’re here to disrupt and change oral care with sustainability as our main focus.
Terra & Co’s site mentions that when your sister Amra was pregnant, she realized that more than 232 chemicals are absorbed by the baby, which sparked the innovation of toothpaste made with natural ingredients.
Labels on toothpastes and mouthwashes warn against ingesting the products because they are poisonous. When my sister was pregnant, we realized that no one was questioning the sheer number and toxicity of chemicals in these products. That’s how we started.
What else are you interested in incorporating into your existing business model?
Packaging is an issue every sustainable brand or business is facing because any kind of packaging uses energy and resources. Through the Sustainability Deep Dive, I learned that people are using a variety of different materials for packaging; mushroom, pineapple products, cacti, agave. The main idea is to stop using fossil fuels or plastics. Our goal is to find the most sustainable products available right now.
You mentioned that we need to start moving away from a linear process of production and towards a circular one. Could you spell out the benefits of more businesses adopting the same sustainable models and practices?
Information is really the key component, the more we know, the more we can change and improve. Small businesses like ours have a more holistic approach, and people are paying attention. Big corporations, which are the main polluters, are losing innovative power to smaller, emerging brands.
Large corporations are also making changes, perhaps only for the trend aspect, but I’m excited to see these brands bringing on bamboo toothbrushes and cleaner ingredients in toothpaste. If we, as game-changers, can influence these bigger companies, then we can make a difference on a larger scale.
Unfortunately, I think Covid has pulled us back. It breaks my heart to see all the plastic being used by restaurants in New York. Before Covid, we were making progress with banning plastic bags in NY and banning straws in certain states. Now, people are focussed on their health, and as a result, environmental concerns are taking a backseat.
Yeah, while greenhouse gas emissions have decreased due to Covid-19 related travel and production restrictions, the drop is temporary and miniscule in comparison to the years worth of carbon emissions in our atmosphere; it will have no lasting effect on climate change.
The only lasting change can come with renewable energy innovation and carbon-neutralizing technologies. It starts with everyday actions. But it really does come down to, like you said, these smaller brands leveraging their power and innovation to try to get these bigger brands to cut out those destructive habits.
Yes, as individuals, we can play our part by recycling or eating plant-based food, but our impact is limited. We’re forcing corporations to make these changes, which is exciting, but they remain our biggest polluters, and they have continued to operate during the pandemic. That doesn’t even include oil spills and other issues. It’s heartbreaking, but we have to try our best to make a positive change.
The fact that your product is offering an actual solution to this issue is amazing.
On the individual level, what are some everyday actions that could help create a healthy environment and a healthier lifestyle?
Plant-based food is so important. We must consider the sheer amount of resources (land, water etc.) used by the meat industry. As long as we as consumers create a need, they will keep cutting forests and raising cattle.
James Cameron’s wife, Suzy Amis Cameron, is passionate about the subject and began investing in schools and teaching kids about the food that goes into their bodies, focusing on the younger generations who are often more receptive than older generations. She started the One Meal A Day For the Planet initiative, where you eat one plant-based meal a day. It’s such a simple initiative, and it makes a huge difference.