May 15, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: Gold House and Garnier award sustainability grant to The New Norm and August

side by side photos of two Asian American women

Lauren Choi, founder of The New Norm and Nadya Okamoto, co-founder of August. (Photos: Madison Choi, Lucy McDonald)

Garnier, part of beauty giant L'Oreal, will announce the recipients of the brand's first-ever Gold Green Grant on Wednesday, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The awards — designed in partnership with Gold House, an organization focused on elevating Asian Pacific cultures — are aimed at helping Asian Pacific entrepreneurs strengthen their sustainable businesses and at promoting a group of leaders who can be misjudged by investors.

Between the lines: Winner Lauren Choi, founder of plastics-to-fabric recycling upstart The New Norm, and runner-up Nadya Okamoto, co-founder of sustainable period care brand August, will receive a combined $30,000 in funding from Garnier as well as marketing support from Gold House.

  • Okamoto will also receive mentorship from Amy Whang, president of Maybelline New York, Garnier, and essie.
  • Three Garnier executives and two Gold House members selected Choi and Okamoto from among roughly 100 applicants, according to Alexander Wang, brand marketing director for Garnier USA and the brains behind the grant.

What they're saying: "The fact that Lauren is working to not only improve recyclability, but taking plastics that traditionally are not recyclable and turn it into clothing or … usable materials was really impressive," Wang tells Axios about what made The New Norm stand out.

  • And August's larger mission of destigmatizing period care "was really inspiring," he adds.

Zoom in: Both Choi and Okamoto, who are in their 20s, tell Axios that they set out to build sustainability-focused companies from the start and face a similar challenge in changing perceptions.

  • The textiles industry is "an ancient" one that needs to be convinced of sustainability at times, Choi says, as startups drive materials innovation.
  • And in order for sustainable period care products to take off, "people have to be a lot more comfortable with their period blood," says Okamoto, who wore a sheer dress to Gold House's gala over the weekend to show off her menstrual pad.

Zoom out: While consumers across age groups are concerned about sustainability, they have trouble identifying environmentally friendly products.

  • As a venture-backed and mainly direct-to-consumer business, August is really focused on scaling retail and expanding its community, says Okamoto.

Our thought bubble: Sustainability is most often used to describe the operations or goods of a company, but I wondered if young entrepreneurs have been applying the concept to startup hustle culture.

  • Choi says she thinks about that idea a lot and describes her current relationship with The New Norm as "sustainable" — a state that's taken four years to achieve.
  • "I think I've finally gotten to the point where I am me, and then the startup is the startup and I work for the startup, but they are separate entities," she says.

What to watch: Choi plans to use her $20,000 grant to conduct trials in the next few months that will improve The New Norm's recycling, yarn production and 3D knitting processes. The company's core model has been to sell to apparel brands.

  • August will put its $10,000 award toward developing more sustainable period care products, according to Okamoto.
  • There are currently no confirmed plans for a version of this grant for next year.
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