Why My Cup Holder had to be Australian Made and Owned

by Kate Stewart

I wanted Stay tray to be designed in Australia. To me, most importantly it also had to be Australian made and owned. While I was at it, I wanted to ensure that every reusable tray was actively reducing single use plastic waste.

I believe sustainable development and sustainable business hold the key to the future of our planet. Little did I know, like most things worthwhile, it wasn't going to be easy.

When I first had the idea to start Stay tray, I didn’t want to create just another product that was designed in Australia but made overseas. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it how I wanted it to be. 

With so much single use plastic going into landfill each year, Stay tray had to be made from recycled plastic. It had to be sustainable design. A reusable solution to the single use cardboard drink trays available at every coffee shop near me. I want Stay tray in every café nearby and every coffee house across the world.

Stay tray Cup Holders

WHERE DO I START WITH SUSTAINABLE DESIGN?

Okay great, I wanted sustainable design but I didn’t know where to start. I had my great idea for a sustainable, reusable cup holder which would challenge the culture of single use cardboard cup carriers. But what now? How did I turn my idea into reality?

I had so many questions. Do I have to design it myself? Can someone help me with this? Where can I get it made? My head was spinning. I didn't know where to turn to get the answers I needed.

It was my husband who suggested that I google product design in Melbourne. So simple right! I'm learning, sometimes you need someone close to you to point out the obvious.

I spoke to a few different design consultants. It all seemed to click though when I met with Hone Pd at a café in Melbourne. They were extremely knowledgeable in product design and genuinely nice people.

It took at least six months to get the design right. It had to be simple, yet stylish and of course sustainable. One of the best parts about having a designer so close was I could jump in the car and meet with them personally. I could sit next to them when they talked me through the design. I could touch and test the prototypes right away. I could work directly with my designer to identify the best way to solve any problems as soon as they arose. Something I could have never done if I designed Stay tray overseas.

Designing Stay tray right here in Melbourne was so straight forward. It made me decide that I would strive to develop all aspects of Stay tray locally. I developed some sustainable development goals which included product design, engineering, designing a website, business branding and manufacture. Could I do it all within a 60 km radius? I didn’t know if it would be possible! In the back of my mind, it had been something that I had been thinking about from the beginning.

FINDING MANUFACTURING IN AUSTRALIA

Once I had a sustainable design nailed down it was time to think about engineering and manufacturing. Can I find somewhere close to home I remember thinking? After some searching, I found a plastics manufacturer in Melbourne’s South East. I was so excited. It had been six months of design. I was so ready to get cracking and introduce Stay tray to the world.

Stay tray Drink Tray

 

CREATING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

I dragged my husband along to the meeting. I wanted a second opinion of the facility and the people who would be bringing my Stay tray to life. We stopped at a café nearby for a pre meeting, meeting. These are my 5 non-negotiables I explained.

  1. They must have a great facility.  
  2. They must have a great workplace.
  3. They must have great relationships with their workforce.
  4. They must be able to manufacture here in Australia.
  5. They have to pass my genuinely nice person test.

 

We got to the real meeting and the owner of the business showed us his facility. The first thing I noticed was the relationship he had with his staff. As we walked around, he went out of his way to talk to everyone. You could tell that he really cared for them. It was obvious that they cared for him too. Tick, I thought. They made amazing products, some of them in the coffee industry I was trying to break into. They had so much capacity and the ability to utilize recycled plastics. Tick, Tick, Tick. I was so excited. I had found an amazing facility right in my backyard. The owner also passed my genuinely nice person requirement with flying colours.

We sat down to talk to the contract engineer who would develop the steel mold I would need to subsequently manufacture Stay tray. We were deep in discussions when the engineer said something that stopped me in my tracks. He mentioned the steel mold would be designed and managed by him in Australia, but it would be manufactured in China. My heart stopped. I felt a wave a panic and anxiety roll over me. I had to ask the question point blank to make sure I had heard correctly.

So, you wouldn’t manufacture it here in Australia? 

No, was his response. He assured me that it would all run smoothly in China. He had done this many times before. He used to have a business in Melbourne that would manufacture molds locally. However, he had to close it down as more and more Australian businesses moved their manufacture overseas.

I left the meeting feeling beaten. I was so disappointed. I had found an amazing manufacturer with great people. But the tool would be manufactured in China. It didn’t sit right with me. It didn’t pass my gut test.  They had told me in the meeting that it would cost double the price to manufacture the mold here in Australia. I didn’t care, I had to do this the right way. I wanted to support Australian designers, engineers and manufactures.

If I learned anything from that meeting, it was that there were really talented designers and manufacturers right here in my backyard. A lot of their other clients had moved their operations and manufacturing to China. Here was my opportunity to help.

I needed to find an engineer In Melbourne who could manufacture my tool. The credibility of Stay tray depended on it.

Stay tray Drink Tray

 

 

AUSTRALIAN MADE AND OWNED

I spent the next 6 months scouring Melbourne for an engineer who could produce the tool locally. I wasn’t having much luck. I found a great option in Brisbane, but it just wasn’t close enough. It was at this point I spoke to my product designers who said they might know someone.

I went out to a factory in Melbourne’s east to meet the owner. He was amazing, so helpful, so knowledgeable. He passed all my tests. Great facility, tick. Great leader and great relationships with his employees, tick.  Can manufacture here in Australia, tick. He also passed my genuinely nice person test.

I toured his factory; everything was going amazing. I was so nervous towards the end of the meeting. There was only one more question. Do you produce tools in China, or can you do it locally? To which he answered, we can produce tools in China and manage the entire process from here. My heart sank. Or, we can produce them right over there.

He walked me over to the other side of the factory. This is where we produce our tools he said. 100% Australian made, all under the same roof. Engineering and manufacture

I felt like running around the factory squealing in excitement. Somehow, I managed to hold myself back. I had done it. I had reached my sustainable development goals.

I could undertake all design, engineering and manufacture within a 60 km radius of my home. I felt such a sense of accomplishment. It would cost me twice us much, but it would support the incredibly talented designers, engineers and manufacturers right here in Australia. In fact, those right in my back yard.

Stay tray was coming to life. It had been really hard work, but I want my business to stand for something.