When Blueland was named one of Amazon’s Products of Tomorrow winners, co-founder and CEO, Sarah Paiji Yoo wasn’t expecting it. Yet, it wasn’t the first accolade for the sustainable cleaning products company. Discover how Blueland is making a difference in the world, and why they’re getting recognized for it.
Blueland co-founder & CEO Sarah Paiji Yoo learned that her company had won Amazon’s Products for Tomorrow awards during a meeting in late 2022, causing a minor stir.
“I got a text from Paul [Kim] who heads up our Amazon channel,” she says. “It was such a distracting message to receive, because I was so excited. I remember the people in the meeting being like, ‘Is everything okay? Is this related to your children or is this an emergency?’ I was like, ‘No, no, it’s great news.’ It was such exciting news for us, especially as a small business.”
Sarah and a former classmate, John Mascari, whom she met at Harvard Business School, co-founded Blueland in 2019 with the goal of creating eco-friendly cleaning products that help reduce plastic waste. The company produces water-free cleaning tablets which, when added to water, turn into household cleaners and soaps. Their cleaning tablets are paired with “forever” bottles and vessels, so customers only have to buy a container once. According to them, their products reduce the carbon footprint generated during shipping.
Blueland began with cleaning products such as spray cleaners. Since then, they’ve expanded their product line to include personal care items such as laundry and facial soap. Even so, entering the awards was intimidating.
“Blueland is my baby, and I believe what we’re trying to do has the potential to change the world,” Sarah says. “From that perspective, we were thinking, ‘Okay, they’re going to see what we see,’ but obviously, on the other side, we’re also very well aware how large of a store Amazon is and how many brands and products are sold there.”
Blueland was inspired by an actual baby—Sarah’s now five-year-old son. Her journey to founding the company began when she became a new mother and began researching what type of water to use for her son’s formula. Her research revealed that both tap and bottled water in the United States contain hundreds of microplastics per liter, and that humans consume about a credit card’s worth of plastic every week.
“That stat is staggering, “ she says. “This was the first time I started to connect the dots between all of the single-use plastic that we’re using as a society, how much of it is entering our waterways and oceans and breaking down, and now it’s showing up in the food we eat, and the water we drink.” Sarah was home cleaning one day when she had an epiphany:
I looked at my multi-surface cleaner, and I was like, “It’s bananas that we’re shipping all this water around when we all have water at home. We’re paying for water and a new plastic bottle every time when plastic was designed to last forever,” That’s when I was like, “Oh my gosh, people should reuse their cleaning bottles, and we should take the water out of the solution.”
Turning liquid into a tab
Sarah quickly discovered that removing water from cleaning products was not going to be easy. When the two co-founders approached existing manufacturers with the tablet idea, they were met with skepticism.
“They looked at me like I had three heads,” Sarah remembers. “They’re like, ‘Everything’s liquid here. We don’t even have tablet machinery. In fact, the ingredients are delivered to us as liquid, so I don’t know how we’re going to turn that into a tablet.’”
Determined to make their idea a reality, Sarah and John scoured LinkedIn for potential chemists to help them create the formula. Eventually, they were able to recruit the former director of a large natural cleaning brand. Despite this breakthrough, the journey was far from over.
The co-founders also encountered obstacles in finding a manufacturer who could package the tablets in paper, as most packaging machinery is designed for plastic. Even after finding a machine in Europe, they had to purchase it and transport it to the United States.
“That’s the part that almost derailed us at the end,” Sarah says. “It was a whole thing that we didn’t expect, and that was another almost year-long journey.”
Sarah and John persevered and were able to bring on the right team members and machinery to see their dream through—Blueland debuted on Earth Day, April 22, 2019. They named their new company ‘Blueland’ as “a nice, strong nod to the planet and our oceans.”
In the months following their launch, a series of fortuitous high-profile events provided the company with the kind of boost many brands crave. In October 2019, Sarah appeared on the show Shark Tank. Then, Drew Barrymore gave the brand a shoutout on Instagram, and celebrity and influencer Kim Kardashian, who happened to watch the Shark Tank episode later that year, tweeted three times about Blueland’s cleaners, bringing the brand to the attention of millions of her followers. Blueland, it appeared, was on its way.
Climate Pledge and what brought Blueland to Amazon
Blueland started selling in Amazon’s store in 2022, drawn by Amazon’s leadership role in the establishment of the Climate Pledge, a commitment to create a cross-sector community of companies, organizations, individuals, and partners working together to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
“When Amazon launched Climate Pledge, we were immediately impressed by the certifications the program was championing,” Sarah says. “It was also a powerful market signal that Amazon was sending, that all these brands coming into the store would receive extra love for prioritizing these critical sustainability priorities.”
Blueland is committed to being single-use, plastic-free, even in their direct-to-consumer experience. They were thrilled to move all their eligible SKUs into Amazon’s Ships in Product Packing program because the program ensures their products are shipped without additional packaging.
“We are so excited to work together with Amazon on the change that we want to see,” Sarah says.
Amazon’s Products for Tomorrow awards program launched in the summer of 2022 and assists small businesses that provide innovative, high-quality products created with sustainability in mind. Selected recipients received a grant of $20,000, as well as access to mentoring, and selling opportunities.
Products for Tomorrow includes other benefits in addition to the grant. According to Sarah, Amazon’s discoverability assistance has provided significant support for Blueland’s business growth. The company has been featured in several featured Amazon stores, including the Shark Tank store, and on the Amazon homepage with a Products for Tomorrow feature in January 2023. Sarah says the features helped to raise awareness of Blueland and their mission among Amazon customers.
What’s next for Blueland?
Sarah’s entrepreneurial journey has been filled with highs and lows, but she wouldn’t trade it for anything. She had previously found excitement and challenge in launching new brands as a serial entrepreneur, but eventually, she felt a need for something more.
“After doing it enough times, that wasn’t enough,” she says. “At that point in my life, I just felt like I needed to truly believe that I was making a bigger difference in terms of making the world a better place. There were many points along the way when I thought to myself, ‘Okay, we’re done. We came a long way. We gave it our all, but I think that’s the end of the road.’ But then we got some sleep, woke up, and said, ‘Nope, we’re going to keep at it.’”
As the company marks its fourth-year anniversary, Sarah is driven by her vision for a world where sustainability is a top priority for businesses and consumers alike.
“One of our main goals is to move our industry and business in general in the right direction, to make sustainability look so good that other businesses want to do the right thing and prioritize the planet,” she says. “We want to be the case study for a company that can be incredibly financially successful while also demonstrating that it does not have to be a trade-off. And we want to raise so much consumer awareness about the practices that we do, and the practices that we believe businesses should espouse in order to drive consumers to demand better from businesses.”
Shop the 2022 winners on Amazon’s Products for Tomorrow storefront.