We love working with Phill and the team at Fill, they were one of the first innovators of refills in the U.K. with a mission to have a completely circular supply chain using safe and trusted ingredients that families love. Our two favourite products they make is the Fig Leaf hand soap, it smells like a rustic garden and the Neroli laundry liquid, its super concentrated and makes your clothes look and smell amazing.
If you ever get a chance to meet with Phill he's an absolute pleasure to be around and a real inspiration. Here's a little behind the scene's with him and insight into his day to day ...
So fill is a family business, can you give us a brief background on how it all started?
Yes, it is. I grew up seeing my dad testing cleaning products in the neighbourhood - cleaning graffiti off the bus stop & washing football kits at home. He likes solving problems. I guess I’ve inherited that maverick spirit, although we’re trying to address different problems nowadays. Most importantly, my dad is a wonderful man & it’s a pleasure working with him. He’s given me an unbelievable amount of freedom & respect to build a brand around refill & to try & keep making everything we do better.
Were you always planning on joining the business or did you have another plan in mind initially?
No. But I did always want to make, write, design or paint things. I definitely didn’t have a plan… but, I try to give anything I do, everything I’ve got. I worked for a music magazine for a while and managed a band, so cleaning & laundry products is the logical next step, right! I always liked a Leonard Cohen line from ‘ladies & gentleman’ that stuck with me … “my path is infinitely wide but without direction’.
“my path is infinitely wide but without direction"
The Fill cleaning and laundry range is a bit newer, was this your idea? Can you tell us where did the inspiration came from to create your own brand?
Yeah. I guess we’d had the idea of supplying in screen-printed refillable glass bottles for a long time. I started to get excited about seeing printed milk bottles down at the boot sale & always liked the idea of returnable soft drink bottles when I was a kid. So, we definitely wanted to make something that looked good, felt more permanent & made refill intuitive. Something we’d like to use. Something we could be proud of and available to everyone. The logo was something I set down originally just messing around but it made sense right away. It was my friend Eleonora who made it look beautiful. I’m really proud of what we’ve done since. The fact that the name sounds like mine is just a nice coincidence I guess.
You seem to be ahead of the curve on refills, can you tell us how many years in the making? And how long did it take to start taking off?
I don’t know. It feels like forever. We had supplied detergents in returnable bulk vessels on reclaimed pallets from the start, for economy more than anything! That’s where our idea about supplying in 200l drums came from. Sometimes things don’t need reinventing. It must have been around 2011 that I became interested in the idea of refill, but it honestly took until 2015 to get it to launch in a way that you might recognise today. We couldn’t give away the first 1l glass bottles but then (slowly) people just started to find out about us & word spread. We’ve never gone out & sold fill products really & we don’t advertise. People that find us just seem to get it. It only started to gather momentum in 2018 after Blue Planet, as more zero waste, low waste & refill stores opened up.
What do you think was the biggest factor to accelerate the refill & reuse model?
So many things. Firstly, the very real threat of climate change & the message starting to get through… because of Blue Planet, Extinction Rebellion, activists like Greta Thunberg, the war on plastic & all the incredible & inspiring people in the zero waste community who have been taking things into their own hands! We all know (although some might choose to ignore) there’s a cataclysmic crisis heading our way (that goes way beyond the one we’re already dealing with) so it’s as much out of necessity as anything. If we can build our business around an idea that helps even the smallest of changes take place, that’s good.
"If we can build our business around an idea that helps even the smallest of changes take place, that’s good."
Out of your range what is your favourite products and favourite scent?
We’re pleased that we make everything unscented too… but our fig leaf hand soap is pretty special. That fragrance was always on my mind for fill. It reminds me of summer holidays visiting my grandparents in Cyprus as a child. If we could make everything smell like that, we would… but not everyone loves it. Some folks reckon it smells of green beans… or camping! We’ve just made a new scrub powder that’s very satisfying to clean with. It’s fragranced with clary sage essential oil & made from waste chalk from marble production & a few other things. It can easily be turned into a cream cleaner, a hob scrub or a powerful oven cleaner paste. It’s simple, but it works great. Don’t talk to me about dish wash powder though… We won’t stop until we make it brilliant for everyone! We’re on version 6 now. It could become a life’s work!
Do you have anything new and exciting being released later this year and would like to share with us?
So much stuff. We’ve been very busy this year, despite being closed for a month. We formulate, develop, test and make everything ourselves so things can take a long time. We’re most excited about the new fill body range dropping early in 2021. People have been very patient with us on that.
Can you give us some insight into your day to day?
Well, I speak to a lot of people & we get a lot of messages… I’m totally over zoom & having to identify fire hydrants & parking meters before apologising for being late to a call. I’m lucky to have an amazing team working on fill & I really enjoy speaking to them. I also like catching up with our stockists.
Outside of work, I like an early morning run, watching the river flow, listening to records, hanging out with my wife and our son & eating good tomatoes. The last seven months has seen me wearing a groove in this chair though... I remember seeing an old man watching people playing boule in a village in the south of France who had sat for so many days, weeks, months and years- in-a-row that he’d worn his hunched shape into an outdoor plastic chair. He was sipping Ricard at 9am. That’s me, without the pastis (for now).
What’s your favourite part and what do you put off as long as possible?
I really like working out design ideas with Eleonora (our in-house illustrator/artist/designer) or preparing the words for things. I’m also really into getting involved in new product development in the lab with Vicky, Alex & Lucy… especially when there are new samples to try. I get excited about that. I don’t enjoy pricing & logistics isn’t something that comes naturally, but we have some geniuses in our team who do all that way better!
Do you have a soundtrack you listen to while working?
I usually put on a record when fixing a drink, making lunch or I might let Spotify roll in the background if I’m doing some mails. Sometimes I get an uncontrollable urge to play a record to other people, so might share a track on stories. I guess it’s the equivalent of turning up the volume and rolling your window down – hopefully a bit less obnoxious! If you want a short n bleak soundtrack for a wet autumn day, here’s what I’m listening to right now
- Bill Evans Trio - Polka Dots & Moonbeams
- Captain Beefheart - My head is my only house unless it rains
- Neil Young - Motion Pictures
- Nico – I’ll keep it with mine
- Bob Dylan – sign on the window
- Thelonius Monk – Pannonica
- Them – Don’t look back
- Gerry Mulligan – Night Lights
Any learnings or sage advice on the back of covid (still ongoing)?
Still learning! Be nice. Be cool. Be patient. Be grateful. Don’t be greedy. Work hard. Wash your hands.
We’ve felt very much a part of a community through this all and most folks have been so patient with us whilst the factory was going slow & we couldn’t get raw materials in on time. I definitely won’t complain because we know how much tougher it’s been for many others.
Now a bit on the lighter side…
What’s something feel good you’ve recently read about or listened to?
Nothing I’ve read has made me feel good recently. We watched ‘When Harry Met Sally’ during lockdown though. I also really hit the records hard during lockdown & have been listening to New Morning-era Bob Dylan a lot.
What was your last feel good moment?
When my son bounced home from nursery & told me he’d missed me. We sat down together with a hot chocolate & he told me all about his day.
Favourite spot to hang out in the uk? Why?
I like wild, rugged & un-manicured places with not many people around. We also like rain. My wife & I have a playlist for the rain. We both knowingly nod & smile when the heavens open. It’s as good as going in the sea.
Any hidden talents?
Not really. I try to use what I’ve got, the most I can! I like painting, making pots or choosing the right song. I’m good at finding cool old stuff at the boot sale, if that can be called a talent?
What’s your favourite quote to live by?
I guess my dad told me that a good day is when you can look yourself in the eye at the end of the day and be happy with how you’ve treated people. I used to quote him on that before I found out he didn’t exactly come up with it! Either way, it can be as simple as work hard and be nice to people.
Coffee or tea or other?
I like acorn coffee & bitter cocoa. Hard to find but tough to beat on a cold day.