The Maker City monthly blog takes a look at locations where makers are found in The Maker City and features some of Knoxville area’s outstanding makers – artists, crafters and so much more. In recognition of Earth Day, this month’s blog features zero-waste personal care and household goods company KnoxFill, and soapmaker Mel Mullins of Knox Girl Soap.
Featured Maker: Michaela Barnett of KnoxFill
How did KnoxFill get started?
I'm a waste researcher and sustainability scientist. When I started KnoxFill, I was a PhD student studying problems with our waste system and why we create so much of it. The problems of plastic pollution, overproduction, and the failures of our current waste management system were overwhelming and depressing. And as someone in academia, I was frustrated with the length of time it could take for my research to make a change in these big problems. I started KnoxFill to make change in my community.
It seems like we're hearing a lot lately about cleaning and beauty product companies that offer ways to go zero-waste. Why is that important?
Honestly, I think big companies are quaking in their boots! They've been polluting the planet for far too long, and their customers are waking up and starting to demand accountability. I find it ironic that some of the biggest personal care brands in the world are creating small, zero-waste solutions while continuing to be the largest plastic polluters globally. Of course, it's important for these solutions to scale, and I am glad to see larger companies embrace these models because they need to be our future if we're going to have a healthy and livable planet. But they need to do more!
There are several well-known zero-waste subscription companies that have the same philosophy, like Blueland, Clean Beauty, Dropps, etc. What sets you apart
Companies like Blueland and Dropps are often suppliers for smaller refilleries like mine, and I think that's great! These are companies founded with our same mission - to reduce unnecessary packaging waste and tackle single-use plastics.
But we are different from those companies because we are invested in our local community. We're hyper intentional about our suppliers and choose local makers whenever possible. When you're shopping with KnoxFill, you're reducing waste AND investing in dozens of small businesses - many are woman-owned - run by amazing makers with top-notch products. What could be better?
Where are your products found?
For online shopping and a calendar of popup appearances, visit knoxfill.com
Michaela Barnett (aka “Dr. Fill”) is the founder and owner of KnoxFill, East Tennessee's first zero waste refillery. An award-winning sustainability scientist and behavioral scientist, Michaela advocates for a guilt-free approach to sustainable living and a focus on system change. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Instagram at @wasterenegade, and learn more about KnoxFill at KnoxFill.com.
Featured Maker: Mel Mullins of Knox Girl Soap
How did Knox Girl Soap get started?
In 2019 I got fired from a job I loved and was devastated and humiliated. I had been making soap for fun and my friends liked it so I decided to try turning it into a business. We’re starting year four. I just brought on a partner, Anna Bogle, and with her help the business is growing so well! Now I’m so grateful I got fired because it led me to this!
Does Knox Girl Soap practice sustainability?
Yes, all our soaps have zero packaging, and all our containers are plastic-free. All extra soap is donated to Eco Soap Bank, a nonprofit that re-batches soap and sends it to developing nations to teach children lifesaving hand washing skills. We reuse all packaging we can, and if it can’t be reused we recycle it.
Your products consistently get five-star reviews! What makes Knox Girl Soap products so good?
I think it’s because our soap feels great on your skin and smells wonderful! Making great skincare products isn’t hard; you just have to always choose quality over profit and be kind of obsessed with perfecting the formula.
Where are your products found? knoxgirlsoap.com/
Originally from Northern California, Mel Mullins’ story is one of true transformation. She moved to Knoxville in 2008 with very little success under her belt, having dropped out of high school, struggling with a drinking problem. She soon turned her life around. “With the support of this amazing Knoxville community pretty soon I was sober, enrolled in college, married with a family, and now - 13 years sober - running this amazing business! I’m as excited to make soap today as I was the first time I made a batch in 2015. Today my full-time job is running Knox Girl Soap and wrangling my 5 and 8 year olds and I couldn’t be happier.”