For the past six years Cathal O’Reilly has worked as a management consultant with PwC. However, in June of this year he took a leap of faith and left the security of the big ship to concentrate on developing Narcissips, a sustainability-focused social enterprise he started in a small way back in 2019.
At the consumer-facing level O’Reilly’s company produces a range of insulated stainless steel reusable water bottles and coffee cups. But behind the products is a broader social purpose which is to educate consumers about sustainability and make it something they can relate to by encouraging small changes in consumption patterns. For example, substituting refillable water bottles for single-use plastic ones.
The third strand of O’Reilly’s business is philanthropic with 10 per cent of the company’s profits being donated to two Irish charities (Concern and Wells for Zoe) to help provide education and fresh drinking water for children in developing countries. As a former scholarship student, O’Reilly is passionate about giving educational opportunity to others.
“So many of the issues around sustainability are behavioural and linked to our daily habits and while it’s good that companies are promoting products that can help the environment, what we really need is a means of changing our habits. It’s no good providing a beneficial product if it isn’t being used,” he says.
O’Reilly first had the idea for Narcissips a few years ago when he went to buy a reusable water bottle and was horrified by the prices being charged by the big brands. He felt this was counterproductive as it put reusables beyond the reach of many – something he has addressed with his own products which retail for about €25.
“So many people I talked to said they felt powerless when it came to sustainability because it’s such a vast area and they didn’t know where to start,” he says. “This made me realise that precisely because it’s so vast meant we could literally start from anywhere and small things will add up. With over one million single-use plastic bottles purchased every minute, offering a sustainable alternative seemed like a good place to begin as there is no reason why everyone shouldn’t have a reusable water bottle or coffee cup.”
O’Reilly sources his products from China and Germany, which are major producers of reusable drink containers. “There isn’t the infrastructure to have the products made in Ireland and the cost would be off the scale so I buy from exactly the same manufacturers as the big names in the business,” he says.
With sales continuing to grow, O’Reilly now outsources order fulfilment to a company in Galway. He is working full-time in the company and employs two contractors to handle the website and social media.
“Initially, I thought of Narcissips as a short-term project and something that would test my business experience as well as doing something positive for the environment,” O’Reilly says. “But rather than slowing down it has been gaining traction with interest from individuals, companies who have begun using the bottles and coffee cups as corporate gifts with their branding and sports clubs who wanted individual bottles for players engraved with their names because of issues around sharing bottles with the Covid situation.”
O’Reilly started Narcissips on a shoestring budget of €25,000 from personal savings and he has also had support from South Dublin LEO in the form of an online trading voucher. His next step is to put some time into the UK market where he already has sales and to focus more on expanding the educational side of his agenda. Specifically, he is writing a handbook (which will be sent out with every order) that will offer practical tips to consumers on supporting sustainability goals through making simple changes such as cutting down on plastics and food waste.