Entrepreneurship graduate puts eco-consciousness at heart of new business venture

Alex Stewart sat on a step

BA Management and Entrepreneurship graduate, Alex Stewart is co-founder of a new eco-conscious luggage brand, OneNine5. OneNine5 has this year launched a unisex & eco-conscious travel wash bag, to minimise the number of single-use plastic liquid bags required by millions of passengers at UK airports every year.

Alex explains: “The ‘Attenborough Effect’ has had a hugely positive impact on reducing single-use plastic bags in the Retail industry, but the same concern for single-use plastics hasn’t been prioritised in UK airports. Whilst we accept that security is paramount, passengers are still encouraged to grab single-use plastic bags while passing through airport security. The threat of plastic to our planet is unequivocal, yet established brands and airports persist in their failure to recognise consumers’ concerns and help them confront the plastic crisis.

OneNine5 has created a wash bag that’s stylish, practical and helping the modern traveller combat the war on single-use plastic. Partnering with Terracycle & reGAIN App, the company has also created an industry first for luggage brands by offering UK customers a free-of-charge scheme to recycle or reuse the materials from their well-used OneNine5 wash bags.”

The company has a clear mission to reduce single-use plastic at airports and create more environmentally sustainable luggage for consumers. This is just step one.

“Existing luggage and fashion brands aren’t doing enough to combat this fast-fashion culture and it’s concerning,” says Alex. “90% of Millennials prefer to buy from brands that have environmentally sustainable practices[i] so beyond the wash bag we’ve got big plans to design more eco-conscious products that make modern travel hassle-free.”

Career Journey

After graduating in 2011, Alex joined IBM’s graduate scheme in a sales role within their software division. After two years, he had his first taste of working for a smaller company during a 12-month secondment to one of their business partners, Northdoor, based in central London.

After three years in a very corporate setting, Alex found that he wanted to experience the work culture of a smaller and less corporate company. In 2015, he joined Dropbox based in Dublin, Ireland where he was tasked to develop and implement their sales strategy for Dropbox Enterprise customers in the UK & Ireland. During those first 12 months, he recalls feeling extremely lucky to experience working in a tech company going through hypergrowth. He stayed with Dropbox, but moved back to London in 2016.

OneNine5 was born in spring 2018, during a period of recovery from surgery when Alex had some spare time on his hands. He explains: “The concept behind OneNine5 came from several areas of inspiration. It was a combination of my own passion and experiences of travel, the shock I felt after watching Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II and an article I read in the Financial Times.

Between these three, I felt there wasn’t a luggage brand to represent and reflect the needs of the modern traveller. Central to my ambitions to build a luggage brand was an aspiration to also ‘do my bit’ to help tackle the problem of ocean plastics.”

LUMS impact

“My BA Management and Entrepreneurship degree had ignited a spark and I’ve always had the passion to take on the challenge of running my own business. I had a great relationship with the team in the Entrepreneurship department and the practical element gave me an insight into the broad skillset needed to go it alone.

In particular, the Innovation module run by Mary Rose & Mike Parsons really flipped my mindset to consider how products or processes could be incrementally improved. One quote in particular from that module still sticks in my mind and it certainly rings true: ‘innovation occurs at the boundaries of knowledge’. The biggest value from my days at Lancaster University is the network of friends I’ve built who have helped us along the way with OneNine5.

I didn’t know it at the time but the friend I’d watch football with in Lonsdale bar would help us with our SEO strategy, my old housemate would become our Trademark Attorney and that random person you spoke to in the Sugarhouse would offer you help on negotiating with fashion buyers.”

Alex’s tips for anyone wanting to create their own start-up

  • You’re doing everything for the first time – things will take longer than you expect and you’ll face delays along the way that you can’t plan for.
  • It’s an emotional rollercoaster - when it’s going good, it’s the best feeling but when you’re having a bad day, you feel it a whole load more than a bad day at work.
  • Seek out sources of inspiration – whether that’s a podcast, a mentor or another brand you admire. When you’re having one of those rough days, use this inspiration as a source to keep you positive and your perseverance levels high.
  • Learn from other people’s experience (and mistakes) – it’s impossible for you to know everything when setting up a business so don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek out advice. 
  • Go with your passion – setting up your own business is tough, it requires a lot of sacrifice and hard work. If it’s something you’re genuinely passionate about, accepting all this is a lot easier.

Alex is soon to join the LUMS network of Entrepreneurs in Residence, a scheme that is home to 50 owner-managers who provide valuable insight and student guidance.

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