Sustainable bathrooms are not a bust; not with Kankan anyway. The London label’s sleek packaging design is making sustainability sexy and less single-minded. Tackling the idea that using environmentally friendly products means settling for dusty, drab casing, Kankan doesn’t require consumers to compromise. Gone are the basic body washes we’re so often stuck with and in their place sits a pretty little recyclable metal can with a detachable, bespoke pump, filled to the brim with natural product. Simple but pretty ingenious, the London-based brand is cracking open a cold one to combat the onslaught of single-use plastics which populate the beauty industry.
Founded by Eliza Flanagan and Mary McLeod in 2019, the main impetus for their products was making life easy. As their website aptly puts it, their “‘why’ is simplicity.” Speaking on the origins of the label, Flanagan notes, “we were really frustrated by the lack of action for simple switches.” The pair noticed that although refillable products were great and all, when the customer couldn’t be bothered to return the packaging, the whole point just dissipated. Strong believers in the idea that, if someone wants to make more sustainable choices, they shouldn’t be faced with roadblocks along the way, Kankan was born.
Staying true to their original mission statement, these brilliant businesswomen have really hit that simplicity nail on the head. Speaking on their plastic pump head, Flanagan highlights, “We decided to use the most common plastic because it is easily recyclable.” All the head’s replaceable components – pump, cap, cover and screw – are also all made of the same stuff, so there’s no fiddling about trying to decide which parts can go in the recycling and which can’t. Thinking of the whole supply chain and not just what happens after – the plastic used is all, of course, completely recycled.
The brand’s identifiable soda can design slots into this easy-breezy ethos nicely. Finished your product? No problem, just unscrew the can, pop it in the recycling bin and send it on its way to be melted down and live its next life. This wasn’t a knee-jerk decision for the tag-team either. “The main reason for [choosing metal] over biomaterials or other materials is simply because globally there are waste streams that are well used, well established, and metal is high value regardless of its use.”
Well-versed in easy-peasy problem-solving, Flanagan and McLeod applied this same energy when it came to standing out on the shelves. Speaking on the decision to amp up their soda can design, Flanagan noted, “redesigning and repurposing something that was originally in a different category, was sort of like a little nudge to the world to say that look, we have been using cans to move liquids around the world forever, we love the iconic design of the can just aesthetically, it is a beautiful shape, so we were kind of just being a bit playful with that exploration and storytelling, and it has been very impactful for us, because it is a real eye-catching visual, and it is one that we can own. So, there’s a real sort of, again, purpose of standing out and being different whilst being very recognisable at the same time.”
Standing out from the crowd is something Kankan is pretty intent on, and its dedication to circular production does just that. Another key element of its ethos, Flanagan supposes that circularity is “the thread that goes across everything.” Extending beyond the packaging, the ingredients that make up their nourishing cleansers, washes and creams are as much a part of the orbit as any. “The ingredients inside the can are waste materials”, notes Flanagan, with one of their key ingredients, Genencare, being a by-product of the sugar industry. Kankan also utilises hydrolats – the natural waters that are collected when plants are distilled – to create scents that are truly organic.
Clean and eco-friendly, yes. Weak and ill-smelling, absolutely not. Having products that smell and feel as luxe as non-sustainable alternatives is of the utmost importance to the founders. “Performance is really key,” states Flanagan, “the products have to work, they have to be elegant.” This dedication has clearly paid off, with the label building up a steady fan base who describe their fragrances – which have been crafted using essential oils – as “divine”, regularly singing their praises in the reviews. With no sulphates, silicones or synthetics, the ingredients are – as their website notes – “99 percent plant-powered”, completely vegan and never tested on animals. If that wasn’t enough, with each product purchased, the soap savants plant one tree, in partnership with UK-based start-up Treepoints. If that’s not the definition of guilt-free goodies, we don’t know what is.
Sustainable partnerships are a key element to Kankan’s continued growth. Its polished bottle design was created in collaboration with conscious design consultants Morrama and Two Times Elliot, with the former taking charge of the recycled plastic pump and the latter developing labels that encapsulate the brand’s simple but fun aesthetic. The choice to partner with these specific brands wasn’t a throwaway one either – pardon the pun; Hackney-based Morrama funnels all of its design solutions through a desire to meet changing planetary and societal needs, whilst Two-Times Elliot works with a roster of brands that are using innovative approaches to foster positive industry shifts. Clearly, this pickiness has paid off, with Kankan currently being on the shortlist for the sustainable design category of the Dezeen Awards 2023.
Always looking to replicate its core ethos inside the bottle as well as out, the entrepreneurs partner with manufacturers in Somerset to create its signature scents. Speaking on this particular collab, Flanagan highlights that the perfumiers “are also off-grid, so they have got a biomass… they’re conscious of their impact beyond the actual products they’re manufacturing.” Highlighting why it is so important for them to embark on such meaningful partnerships, she states “We know that our product is offering a really scalable solution, so we know there is so much breadth we can go into, so rather than working on our direct to consumer, and retail or wholesale channel, we are also looking at ways of partnering with like-minded brands. Our mission is to make a genuine impact.”
It’s this passion that seeps into every aspect of what Kankan does and makes it the most exciting new kid on the block. Flanagan and McLeod are game-set on telling a story of sustainability, one that engages conscious consumers from start to finish and doesn’t cut any corners. Their process is considered and truly kind to the planet – an approach we need more of these days. Stylish, unique and eco-conscious, Kankan is truly making the world a better place, one warm shower at a time.
Photography courtesy of Kankan