All it takes is one. By refilling or repurposing one plastic bottle, we can potentially eliminate one cubic foot of plastic waste per year. If we did this as a community, it would add up pretty quickly to a sizeable impact. This is why Kelly Hawaii and her husband Parosh launched their business, Lufka Refillables Zero Waste Store. It’s not just about selling people environmentally safe products, but also about educating the community and showing how we can make a difference by making small changes and eventually, big ones.
The Hawaiis opened their Seminole Heights store in the summer of 2019 and the South Tampa store in November 2020. We met up with them at their South Tampa store to learn more about the part they play to protect our planet and all of us who call it home.
TBP: Let’s start from the beginning! What inspired you to open your Lufka Refillables Zero Waste Stores?
Kelly Hawaii: Our two stores are a culmination of the journey of my life, my husband’s life and our lives together. When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I lived overseas. I was a teacher. Living in Asia really inspired me because I learned about recycling and how they repurpose and reuse on a mass societal scale.
In South Korea, Japan and even in a lot of parts of China, they have no what we consider garbage or trash because everything has a purpose for them, even food, so they compost all of their food. It really inspired me and got me thinking about the way we live in the United States and the way that we live this luxurious, disposable lifestyle. I wanted to do something to tie in my teaching with my environmental passion and that’s kind of how the store came to fruition.
Then I lived in Europe … and visited a lot of zero waste stores with my husband. That’s how we got the inspiration to open these stores.
TBP: Zero waste stores are common in Europe, but you’re one of a handful in the United States?
KW: We are unfortunately one of a handful and because of that we are a pioneer. We are making all of this up as we go which is exciting because there is no manual on how to have a zero-waste store. We get to use our creativity every day. And another great thing about out store is that all of our products are hand crafted here in Tampa. We just want to make people aware of ingredients they should avoid and ingredients they should embrace. When you come to a Lufka store, you know that every single ingredient is a good ingredient; we put all of our ingredients on the front of the label because they really matter to us.
TBP: As a mom, do you feel like you have a different set of standards when it comes to what you sell and buy?
KW: Absolutely. I’m thinking about my son, all of the ingredients that touch his body, food that he eats, so to be a healthy person it’s got to be all encompassing and holistic. So, eat organic food, have natural products touch your skin—even laundry detergent is so important because we wear our clothes 12 hours a day. Those chemicals stay in that fabric and then your skin absorbs it, so we offer a laundry detergent here that only has six ingredients versus your average commercial detergent which has over 200 ingredients.
When you come to one of our stores, all of our team members are really knowledgeable, and you can come away [with] so much knowledge and so many things to think about.
TBP: It’s not intimidating, right? Is it simple to make the transition to refillable products?
KW: I tell people, the first time they come in the store, just look around and see what we have. Think about the containers you have at home that you want to re-purpose and what you want to keep in your life for like a year. Because if you refill one product for one year, that’s one cubic foot of plastic waste—think about all of that plastic and trash you would be preventing from even going in your recycling bin.
And then the second time people come, they start bringing their containers. We start raising your mental awareness as a customer about ‘What can be reused in my life?’ ‘What can be repurposed in my life.’ When you step inside one of our stores, even all the furniture is either made by us or we repurposed everything, so every part of the Lufka experience is about environmentalism, healthy products, solutions [and] alternatives, and we make it really easy for everyone.
TBP: As we look around here, it seems like you have something for every part of the house.
KW: Absolutely—I say we have everything you need for your modern existence, minus the single-use plastic, minus all those toxic ingredients.
TBP: And it smells amazing in here!
KW: Oh my goodness, it smells so much better. Personally, I can’t even go down the aisle in a store that has all of these synthetic fragrances. We only use essential oils which come from nature, so those smells are what nature intended.
TBP: Do you have containers for purchase?
KW: If you don’t have a container, we have some grab and go products that are already packaged, already labeled and in a reusable container. Then you can bring that container back and refill it, and the next time it’s cheaper because you’re not paying for the container.
TBP: Is it expensive to do this?
KW: No-if you refill all of your household cleaning products, laundry, all of those products, you would spend the exact same amount of money as you would at any normal store you would go to. Our price points are super competitive because we want it to be a no-brainer. Just come to the Lufka store [and] refill your products. You get the same products, and you get better quality products.
TBP: To be on the forefront as a zero-waste store—are you surprised? Maybe we just haven’t gotten to the point in our country yet to understand how much waste we put out?
KW: I feel like we haven’t gotten to the point yet because we don’t really have anyone pushing us to be more environmentally friendly. A lot of communities don’t even offer recycling because it hasn’t been profitable. We have to on a societal level make it a priority, otherwise individuals aren’t going to be incentivized to do it.
TBP: Is it okay to bring the kids in?
KW: Absolutely! We are a kid-friendly place, and your kids can come in and actually make a product or make candles with me. I love it when I have little visitors come because I’m a mom, I love kids and I love their energy. They already know about plastic … they know a lot of things that we as parents didn’t know when we were kids. They’re the future, so instilling this in them now is a great way to ensure that beautiful future.
TBP: Let’s talk about the pandemic. It happened not long after you opened for your first store, and then you opened up your second location here in South Tampa during the pandemic. What has the experience been like for you?
KW: So many people have been at home [that] it’s really raised people’s awareness. A lot of people now are into minimizing. This is totally part of a minimalistic lifestyle and it’s so aesthetically pleasing having just one beautiful aluminum container inside of your shower versus having five different plastic bottles. Also of course we have beautiful hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays and beautiful hand soaps, so all of those products really became a big priority —especially hand sanitizer. We offer an organic hand sanitizer that has a cosmetic grade ethanol alcohol that comes from cane sugar. Your skin actually wants to absorb that alcohol versus isopropyl which comes from a synthetic source. Our hand sanitizers are really popular right now.
TBP: What inspired the name?
KW: Our Lufka washcloth—when it’s open, you can wash your back with it. It’s a total body exfoliation and they’re all handmade in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, so we have 20 women who make Lufkas for us who live there. All of the benefits and proceeds go to those ladies. [A lufka] will last you at least one year. It cannot get moldy or grow any bacteria so when you want to replace it you can just compost it. Plant it in your garden; it’ll just go right back to the earth. This Lufka embodies the values of our company: good for you, good for the planet, good for the people who make it.
At our South Tampa store, we have a little garden in the back. I’m making it into an actual herb garden and we can do classes out there. We really want to make this a space for our community, for like-minded people to come together to create something and find that creative spark within them.
Where to find a Lufka Refillables Zero Waste Store:
Seminole Heights: 4222 N. Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33603
South Tampa: 4217 W. Bay to Bay Blvd. Tampa, FL 33629
*Photos by Laura Byrne