Business & Environment

Eco-Laundry Ball Aims to Tackle Environmental Issues

Harboring a passion for sustainability and helping to create a better world, eco-entrepreneur Sam Mengsopheavan has developed an environmentally-friendly alterative to laundry powder and fabric softener
Laundry ball or washing ball
Laundry ball or washing ball

Disturbed by the impact doing laundry has on marine life and people’s health, young entrepreneur Sam Mengsopheavan has developed Cambodia’s first eco-laundry ball to tackle environmental issues.

The 22-year-old is a founder of Kong Vong, an eco-friendly startup that sells wheat mugs, steel straws and laundry balls that are softened and dried for environmentally-friendly use. The idea for the business was born out of his passion for sustainability and photography.

The journey from self-passion to self-awareness

It was during his studies from Year One until graduation that Sopheavan discovered his passion for sustainable development while volunteering with various organizations. Despite studying how to code in tech-related fields, his heart was firmly rooted in humanitarian issues and he was keen to come up with solutions to make a better environment.

While involved with a sustainability project with his team, he conducted research and read multiple articles regarding innovative ideas for solutions, focusing specifically on marine life. During his research, he discovered the way people do their laundry has negative impacts for both humans and animals.

“We have done research on the production of wool and we tried to think about what else we can do besides using a mug instead of a plastic one to promote the environment. We shifted our focus onto marine life that is affected by detergents and fabric softener liquid because there are many toxic chemicals that can affect the source of water. So, we shifted to a laundry ball to solve this issue, which is our product,” he recalled.

“At that time [researching business ideas], I read about 60 articles related to ocean, marine life and laundry ball research. In other countries, they [laundry balls] are popular, but in Cambodia they are not. Whenever we read about sustainability, business materials and trends, we collected many ideas during researching to create this startup,” he added.

Sopheavan reflected that starting up his business concept was risky because he did not even have enough money to pay his school fees. At the time, he was in his second year at university. However, he did not let this stop him from starting the idea he discovered after a long run of research.

“I’m not from a rich family, it’s quite a low- to middle-income family. In year two, I didn’t even have one dollar in my pocket. It’s a giant risk for us, because at that time we didn't even have money and wanted to do such weird things,” he said with a laugh.

“We were young and dumb, but we were positive. So, our optimism sort of carried us along the way. If we had negative thoughts and worried that other people wouldn't like our idea, then Kong Vong would not happen,” the young entrepreneur said.
Sam Mengsopheavan
Sam Mengsopheavan

What is a laundry ball?

A laundry ball, or washing ball, is a product promoted as a substitute for fabric softener and good-smelling liquid. Made from wool and cotton, it can help reduce friction while clothes are washing in the laundry machine, reducing the wrinkles on clothes.

Traditional fabric softener often contains chemicals that accumulate in the body, and much more. Fragrance mixes can cause allergies and skin irritations, such as dermatitis, difficulty breathing, and potential reproductive harm, according to a recent report by the Environmental Working Group organization in Washington DC.

Technology advancement a barrier for eco-startups

“The journey was hard, because in Cambodia no one has used a laundry ball before. But we always believe that if we believe in our ideas, people will be interested,” he said.

Even though the materials and ideas are clearly identified, a lack of technology in the country proved to be a challenge for this eco-friendly startup.

“The reasons that we cannot do it in Cambodia is because we have limited resources and, in our country, we have the limited advancement of technology,” Sopheavan said.

He added that using locally-sourced materials to produce his products is top of the agenda, but because of the cost of products and limited resources in the local area it is not currently possible.

However, he still believes that when the sustainability movement grows, it will spawn the advancement of technology and sustainable products in the country will develop.

“We always want to localize products, but when there is no initiative on sustainable products for our survivors then the advancement [of tech] will not happen because we don’t have demand for technology. So, slowly but surely, we believe that Cambodia and the world as a whole is advancing in the direction where this kind of technology will be available. Even though it's not now in the next three to 10 years we never know, it is going to happen at some point,” he said.

Wheat mugs are produced in Hong Kong due to its advanced technology and manufacturing.

Sopheavan mentioned that nowadays the eco-mugs are more in demand than the laundry ball that he created as few Cambodians understand its use and the advantages it provides in the laundry sector.

Currently, he has to work on many freelance jobs in order to sustain his eco-friendly business idea.

“Kong Vong is the main thing I do. Besides that, I do many freelance works for videography and cinematography, basically to make Kong Vong survive. In the long-run, when I talk with my partner it is not about the money or the profit we make, that is why the products that we have are about sharing the concept and idea [of sustainability],” he said with enthusiasm.

Support from customers by spreading the message on social media has sparked other people’s curiosity and kept his team motivated to continue working on this small startup during the Covid-19 until today.

He added, “[Through] my passion for photography and my passion for sustainability, I want to showcase that [sustainability] to the world. Kong Vong is like my channel to share my creativity with the world.”

Furthermore, he believes that being self-aware and living life in a sustainable way not only tackles environmental issues but also promotes self-discipline in life.