With Barry Firth of Biokleen, a family-owned and operated company that offers natural, safe and effective cleaning products.
Savvy Rest is very curious about sleep—and about people, too. From time to time, we ask interesting folks these questions to give you a peek at how others sleep…even what they’re dreaming about.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I make espresso. I discovered a little metal contraption when I was travelling in Mexico and fell in love with it because it made the best, strongest espresso I’ve ever had. I actually started out with a really small one, then bought the medium, and now I have the really large size. Probably not the best thing in the world but I start my day off with about four or five espressos.
Would you say that you’re a morning person?
I think I’m in between. I kind of like the routine of watching the news and drinking espresso for about 30 minutes. I like to be doing something as a I wake up. I’ve been studying Spanish for a few years. I like to watch the news in Spanish while I’m drinking espresso so my brain just slowly comes to life. It gets my mind going. I run in the morning three or four times a week and I prefer that over the evenings. People would probably consider me a morning person. I don’t seep in on the weekends.
Do you have a favorite food that you like to eat in the morning?
I have a few backyard chickens and they make the best eggs in the world. My favorite is just eggs scrambled or boiled but I like them fresh and then I like an apple.
If you could change one thing about your bedroom, what do you think that would be?
I would probably put my bed on stilts and have a ladder so I could have a giant bunk bed and you could also utilize the space underneath. I think it would be fun. I had a bunk bed when I was a kid.
Do you remember the best sleep you’ve ever had?
That’s a good question. I think last weekend I actually had a morning where I woke up and felt 100% rested and I think a lot of that is when I get the timing of everything right, like when I go to bed early and read for awhile, that really helps me fall asleep.
I battled with sleep for years. I was an insomniac for a large part of my life but I have much better routines and rhythms now so it’s easier to manage but I find that when I don’t sleep well, I don’t sweat it. I’ll catch the sleep eventually. It’s not like I’ll never sleep. So if I find myself waking up in the middle of the night because I’m thinking about work or I had coffee way too late, I give myself 20 minutes and if I don’t fall back to sleep in those 20 minutes, I go downstairs and do something and make use of my time.
Biokleen started in 1989 with a vision of creating products that were safe yet effective for the home. Jim Rimer, your father-in-law, started the company because he was aware of how many chemicals were lingering in average cleaning products. Were you always passionate about natural products or did you learn about their benefits over time?
I think I’ve always been interested in doing the right thing and not harming other people. It already fit in with my values. Jim started BioKleen but Cindy, my wife, has been here for 20 years. She’s taking a break right now but she was a big part of my introduction to natural products. It really hit home when we had kids. I think it’s a natural progression for people to care more about their kids than themselves. Now I’m at a point where I care about myself too so I really pay attention to what kind of lifestyle I live, what comes into my house and what goes into my body. Kids have such a greater sensitivity to toxins than adults but in the end, when they say “warning: pregnant women and children should not consume this,” it’s probably safe to say that adult males shouldn’t either.
In college I probably used the cheapest laundry detergent I could find but there also wasn’t the same type of availability back then. In today’s world, the younger people are way more aware of the need of this type of chemistry than people were back then.
How would you describe the company’s overall values?
We’ve always tried to do the right thing and that started with Jim. One of the good things to look at is our laundry detergent. If we just watered the product down, used a bigger cap and a bigger jug and make the consumer think they’re getting a better value, we’d be a much bigger company than we are today. Same with our powders. If we just put more salts in and used a bigger scoop, people see the big box and think they’re getting a great deal but concentration reduces packaging and shipping. It’s also a better value for the consumer because they’re paying for active ingredients instead of just packaging. Then you look at the waste and how many bottles are going into landfills.
Jim started this company because he was concerned about human safety. He actually didn’t plan on going into natural product retailers. He thought that it would be a product that janitors and housekeepers would use because he found out that these people’s hands were splitting open and they would have a sore throat at the end of the day. Every carpet cleaner knew a carpet cleaner who had cancer. Human health and safety is one of our key attributes. That’s the foundation of the company.
Along with that, conscious capitalism comes into play too. We want to manufacture something that’s worthwhile. To do that we have to make enough money to stay in business. At the same time, we don’t want to rip off the consumer. There are lots of ways that companies have cheated the consumer, such as selling a product that doesn’t work. You can have all plant-based ingredients but if the product doesn’t clean your clothes, you’re ripping off the consumer. We’ve always made sure that we have effective products. If something doesn’t work, we don’t sell it.
How do your products positively impact people’s health and the environment?
We have a mantra here that less is more. You’re saving more water with the packaging reduction that results from our concentrated products. There’s really no great way to make plastic so if you abuse the system and use more plastic than you need, that’s harmful to the environment.
And you offer an eco-bottle for some of your products.
Yes, we do and that’s a great product that we’ve launched in the past year. It’s a compostable, plant-based shell that’s made out of recycled content. It’s not a plastic elimination but it’s a plastic reduction so that’s the key there. It’s still a concentrated laundry product so not only do you reduce the plastic but you’re shipping less.
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What types of chemicals do you all avoid in your products?
Synthetic fragrances is a big one. There is a theory that people with allergies and sensitivities are actually just better at detecting toxins and carcinogens. A lot of people can’t go down a mainstream laundry aisle in a grocery store because they’re overwhelmed by the perfume; those people may just be better at detecting chemicals that we should not be ingesting.
Our ingredient selection process is pretty simple: Is it plant or mineral-based? Is it safe? Does it work?
I heard you all won an award from the state of Oregon for Recycler of the Year. That must have been exciting to get that award.
We’ve won a number of rewards over the years. That award was when we were manufacturing in Oregon. We’re in Washington now and one year won the Governor’s Award for Pollution Prevention and Sustainability. That was a big one too. We’ve won a lot of consumer awards because people fall in love with our products.
Biokleen also recently introduced a line of pet products.
It’s a recent evolution. We have a product called Bac-Out and it has really taken off. It’s primarily used for stains and odors. My house at home is very typical. The hierarchy goes my wife, her pomeranian, the kids, me, cat, chickens, turtles. So, I know I’m ahead of the cat and the chickens but I’m way below the pomeranian. Pomeranians are notorious for not wanting to go to the bathroom outside. That’s where Bac-Out comes to the rescue. Bac-Out is a probiotic formula that actually digests the stain or the odor in the carpet or wherever they have the accident. People are very pleased with it.
Biokleen is family-owned and operated in Vancouver, WA. Why is it important to you that the company has that local aspect?
It’s a good feeling to be manufacturing your own products. At the same time, we can control what comes into our plant. We only manufacture plant and mineral-based products. We like that we get to practice what we preach.