Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How We Built It: KeepCup co-founder and managing director, Abigail Forsyth

  1. Give us the elevator pitch. Tell us about your brand.

KeepCup has been on a mission to eliminate single-use plastic since launching the world’s first barista standard reusable cup in 2009. As a certified B Corporation, living wage employer and member of 1% for the Planet, donating at least 1% of global revenue to environmental causes, KeepCup is credited with leading the reuse revolution.

KeepCup has sold more than ten million reusable cups worldwide. With warehouse operations in Australia and the UK, in addition to hub operations in the US, KeepCup meets growing consumer demand for more sustainable living in more than 76 countries. 

  1. What inspired you to set up your company 

The idea for KeepCup began when I left my job as a solicitor in 1998 to start a café business called Bluebag, in Melbourne, with my brother Jamie. Around this time, coffee on-the-go in disposable cups was rapidly becoming the norm, and the amount of single-use plastic cups being thrown away was staggering. I was determined to find a solution to help tackle the waste mountain and make it easy for customers to make a small change at an individual level that would add up to make a massive difference for the planet.

The idea turned into reality in 2009 when we officially launched the world’s first barista-standard reusable cup. We were able to revolutionise the way customers drank their takeaway espressos, by creating a reusable cup designed for drinking pleasure, whilst empowering people to be more sustainable in their everyday lives. 

  1. What was your biggest challenge in year one?

As KeepCup products are designed for coffee lovers and coffee makers, we understood the importance of securing the endorsement of baristas to not only help shift customer behaviours and make the change in convenience mindset more accessible, but to encourage and give them ‘permission’ to reuse their cups in cafés.

Attempting to gain the endorsement of the gatekeepers and key influencers didn’t come without its challenges. 

But to be successful we needed baristas to help remove that feeling of awkwardness that we knew customers might have felt when they first took a KeepCup into a café. 

Our persistence eventually paid off after I received a phone call from Campos Coffee, which were leading the independent coffee scene in Melbourne at the time. They wanted to place an order for 10,000 KeepCups – I couldn’t believe it! This was a watershed moment for the brand, and we haven’t looked back since.

  1. What would you say has been your biggest marketing success?

The biggest marketing success is having a product that people love and want to use, when you get this right your customers do your marketing for you. At KeepCup, we are completely committed to reducing our environmental impact in all areas of the business, whether that’s our supply chain operation or the materials we choose. When it comes to design, we’ve always known we have to make products that are ‘sexy’ too if we were going to draw people in.

This approach led us to design Brew Cork, which is a tempered glass cup with a cork band, made from the by-product of wine cork production in Portugal. Not only does Brew Cork break the linear flow of waste to landfill, but it’s also a cup that customers really want to be seen with. And it’s lovely to drink from – lid on or off.

We’ve recently expanded our reclaimed materials range with the launch of Brew Wood, which is made from upcycled timber manufacturing waste. Customers are not only drawn to the aesthetic of the product, but also and increasingly, the circular design story. 

Fast forward to 2022, I am extremely proud to say that KeepCup users successfully divert millions of disposables from landfill every year and reuse and reducing consumption is now mainstream.

  1. What has been the biggest mistake you made?

The pandemic had a significant impact on the reuse movement, especially due to cafes across the globe refusing to accept reusable cups when so little was known about Covid. 

We’ve just launched the KeepCup Bottle, which marks the first time we’ve ventured beyond the reusable cup. Looking back, had we been able to launch the Bottle during the pandemic, we could have continued to strengthen the case against single-use plastic during that time. However, unforeseen design challenges, compounded by the supply chain and shipping issues faced by so many businesses, prevented this from happening. 

That said, I now feel extremely optimistic that the pandemic has taught people how intrinsically linked the health of our planet is to our own health, and the desire to make changes at the individual level is now greater than ever.  

  1. Tell us about your plans for the future

The future is looking pretty rosy for KeepCup. We continue to push our own sustainable boundaries, with our recently launched KeepCup Bottle – the first in our new Helix range. Its modular, twist-fit, easy clean design makes it even easier for customers to stay hydrated and make greener choices every day.

This is just the next step in our mission to help people across the globe be more sustainable in their everyday lives and better protect the environment for generations to come.