What do you do when you see coconut husks being burned continuously on the Vietnamese streets? Labeled as ‘waste’, but actually still of so much value. Jan has now turned it into a business together with his brother. Namture is the name and they make sustainable and, above all, useful products for everyday use from natural products.
Nuts about… Namture
A few years ago, Jan traveled from Ermelo, Gelderland, to Malaysia during a study period. The Far East fascinated him and ensured that he continued his journey to Vietnam. There he fell in love and the rest is history. While he earned his living as a financial professional in the Netherlands, once he had settled in his new home country he had the itch to start his own business. His new work was literally there for the taking. What's up with that? “Everywhere I walked during a trip to Bến Tre in the Mekong Delta, there were coconuts on the street,” says Jan. “They were ready to be burned. It's a shame, because there's nothing wrong with them! There had to be something to be done about that, right?"
And he soon found out that that was certainly possible. He started looking into the possibilities and... fast forward Namture is now a well-stocked online store of natural products coconut containers to coconut candles and bamboo products. “And cutting boards will soon be added,” Jan adds. “Because we can not only give the coconuts a second life, but actually the entire tree. When the trees are 60 to 70 years old, they are 'used up' and are burned, because the local population cannot use the wood. After doing some research on my own, it appears that in a certain way enough beautiful things can still be made from the wood.”
After Jan set his sights on upcycling coconut husks (and now the entire tree), he started looking for factories where people are treated well. “Contrary to the stories we know, coconuts are not pulled from the trees here by monkeys. At one point I went to sleep on the plantations myself to see whether the people were actually treated well (which turned out to be the case), but also to better understand the entire production process (from picking the coconuts to polishing the the bowls) and to build a strong bond with the owner.”
Once the basic idea was in place, brother Marinus got involved in the story. As a firefighter, he often works 24 hours straight, after which he has two days off between shifts. Marinus: “I wanted to use this time usefully, which is why I joined Namture in the Netherlands. We want to further roll out our company here.”
Worldly impact. Local initiative
Just after corona, the men joined forces. They have been working on it for about a year now. What drives them to run Namture? “For me personally, it is most important that we make a big impact in Vietnam and therefore worldwide,” says Jan. “By reusing 'waste' - coconuts - we not only create jobs, but we can also do our part when it comes to raising awareness about the use of plastic among the local population. In the supermarket they often double-wrap a product in plastic and then put it in even more plastic (read: plastic bag).”
And it turns out that plastic is not limited to the supermarket. “The locals prefer not to drink coconut water directly from the coconut, but they pour it into a plastic cup with a plastic bag around it and a plastic straw in it. That can be done differently!”
Marinus adds: “Because we have our products produced in a sustainable way, we have an impact on the local population. And Namture has an effect worldwide, because we make makers in Vietnam aware of the need to reduce plastic consumption and thus we reduce plastic consumption in the Netherlands. There is still much to be gained. Just think of a sustainable household without plastic packaging. Taking big steps in a short time is what we aim for in collaboration with the local population.”
Being sustainable for entrepreneurs does not end here. “We donate part of our proceeds to charity to support and encourage the local population to live more sustainably. My girlfriend comes into play here, because she knows exactly where there is a need for extra (financial) support in Vietnam,” says Jan.
What appeals to the undersigned about Namture's story is that the gentlemen literally bumped into their business idea on the street. And that has had an impact on their way of life. Until then, Jan and Marinus – raised in a traditional family of six – were not concerned with sustainability. What does the process towards a more sustainable lifestyle look like for men so far?
Jan says that he started living more consciously when he crossed over to Vietnam. “Admittedly, in the Netherlands I always had the feeling that living more sustainably by pushing certain people down your throat - pardon my French – was pushed. These same people often did not even live that way themselves and, in my opinion, they had no idea what was happening in the countries where the products were made. And I got the feeling that they often don't care what happens in the rest of the world, as long as we do it the way it 'should' be done in the Netherlands. That's exactly what caused me resistance.”
After Namture took shape, he also started to think about his daily life, including home, garden and kitchen products. “When I now see how I have changed by using our products and how the makers of our products live with zero point zero plastic, I am proud.”
Furthermore, Jan now eats vegetarian much more easily. “In the Netherlands I always ate potatoes, meat and vegetables. However, here in Vietnam it is a paradise for vegans, which is why I have started to see less and less of the importance of meat. So I no longer eat meat every day by a long shot.”
When asked whether Jans' Vietnamese girlfriend thinks sustainability is important, he says that he notices a positive difference in generations. “Her generation is much more open to it than her parents' generation. They see that things have to be different, but they often still live in survival mode; they must first get things right themselves before living a more sustainable life becomes a priority. Nevertheless, I see large groups at universities starting to use sustainable products and awareness is growing.”
Sustainability had never really played a role in Marinus' life either. That has changed quite a bit since Namture. “I can say that I am now much more aware of the products I buy, eat, etc. It is all the small steps together that allow you to make a difference as an individual. You could actually say that I have become a much more conscious person from scratch. Nowadays I have a good sustainable basis.”
He adds that it is not perfect. “As an individual, it is better to do things well and inspire people with products and stories than to do everything 'perfectly' and not inspire people. At Namture we encourage consumers and companies to choose that first route.”
Entrepreneurial lessons from Namture
Like many other 'we're going green' entrepreneurs, Jan and Marinus also received the comment in the beginning: 'Good luck, you won't get that off the ground'. But the men continued to believe in it. What are the lessons they want to pass on to other sustainable entrepreneurs? “Don't be guided by the lowest price. In some factories we would have to pay less for materials, but then employees would be treated worse. The employees therefore figuratively pay the lower price. If you sell a sustainable product, we believe that production must also be sustainable and socially responsible.”
Marinus adds to his brother: “If you are a starting entrepreneur, make use of the subsidies available for starting sustainable entrepreneurs. There are more than you think! For example, we ended up with the subsidy from 'De Startversneller'. They have this subsidy in the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel. You can register for this, after which your company will be assessed and you will receive € 1,000 to receive coaching as starters. And there are many other funds to which you are entitled.”