Julia Washbourne, BAMBOA, Hong Kong

Creating sustainable bamboo lifestyle products and growing bamboo in Nepal to fight climate change and to support local rural communities.

Julia founded BamboaHome in 2008. www.bamboahome.com


" Never stop believing in yourself"

BAMBOA actively promotes the use of the most sustainably resourced bamboo by designing attractive, high quality and practical home and lifestyle products that are made in rural communities across Asia. All of the products are made on a fair-wage basis as a stable source of income, thus helping to alleviate poverty in less-fortunate regions.



Hello Julia, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wonderful story of a life where the passion and engagement for the environment and sustainability were forged already in your young days. We’re very excited to hear about your journey towards creating your own business and why you choose Asia! During our talk before the interview, I really felt your energy, your passion and commitment for everything you do: learning languages, amongst them Chinese, traveling around the world, your fight for a cleaner world, creating objects for the benefice of our health and the planet and setting up your own business. What an inspiration for all of us..can’t wait to share your story!


Lisbeth: You are born in England, but moved to Freiburg in Germany when you were 12. Later you moved to Taiwan and since 2008, you’ve lived in Hong Kong. Now, you have moved back to Europe again. Where is HOME to you?

Julie: I could write pages about the word and definition HOME. I find it challenging to give a simple answer as I feel home in so many of the places I have lived: Taiwan and Hong Kong, England, Germany, and France. I have a base in Hong Kong, Germany, and France and therefore I feel my home is in all three places. I don’t mind adding a fourth home too ;-).I am perhaps a human version of the migratory bird, the flamingo.

Lisbeth: Tell us about your childhood / teenage years and how the move from England to Germany influenced the rest of your life?


Julie: We moved from the outskirts of an industrious city in England to an idyllic university town, Freiburg, nestled in the Black Forest bordering France and Switzerland. It is one of the most eco-friendly areas in Europe, even in the world. Everyone rides bikes to school, to work, the town is largely car-free, solar energy and wind power have been used in full force since the 80s. My parents installed solar panels in both homes in Germany and France very early on. So having lived in an environmentally friendly place and having parents who support environmental-friendly practices, has definitely shaped and defined me, and made me want to protect our planet even more. From age 16, when I attended a private boarding school, I was labeled a “hippie”. It never bothered me.I always replied: if it’s to protect our planet, then you should consider becoming one too!”

My passion for environmental protection started when I was 13 years old and I knew that I had to do something in this field later on. And now, I feel very much true to myself doing what I always wanted to do to — help protect our precious planet.

Lisbeth: Your father played an important role in your love for languages. Especially Chinese … Please tell us about that?


Julie: My Father, being a linguist, taught himself Chinese in order to be able to use it or recognize a few symbols (characters) when traveling to Taiwan for work. He shared his passion for Chinese with me by teaching me Chinese characters in a fun way. I think I am artistic, so learning beautiful characters just seemed right for me. During my last year of school I spent one month living with a Taiwanese family and attending daily Chinese classes, which convinced me to start an M.A in Chinese Studies at the University of Cologne, Germany.

Lisbeth: You told me during our discussion before this interview, that Chinese for you is like a “lifetime partner” ….it never leaves you and evolves all the time. Each character has a story to tell. Like a person. The language has had a huge influence on your way of thinking and the choices you have made in your life. It is very fascinating. Please tell us about that.


Julie: Doing the degree in the Chinese language (besides learning all about politics, history, economics, etc), learning over 5,000 Chinese characters (symbols) taught me discipline, perfectionism (eye for detail), tenacity, patience and to see the process of learning a language as a journey instead of a race. These have helped me to create Bamboa, build it, and sustain it at the same time. In the same way I wish to keep Bamboa going as long as possible and as long as I love it. For me it has been a priority to enjoy and have fun with the business and work that I do. It has never been about making a quick buck, but rather as a journey to be enjoyed. I suspect that I could have had a successful corporate career with my language skills and fascination with business. Yet, I would never trade in Bamboa with the freedom and creativity it allows me for a larger paycheck.

Lisbeth: What were your working experiences before getting the idea to create your company and what lead you to open your own business?


Julie: My work experience was in project management, product development, product design, quality assurance, and people management. I learned how to get things done efficiently under very tight deadlines. I worked as a project manager for a U.S electronics firm in Taipei, then I was sent to Hong Kong by a German mail-order company to manage their household purchasing department with over 5000 different home and personal care items. Having to visit endless factories dotted all over China, carrying out quality inspections, developing new products, I could no longer support this rat race of producing low quality, unsustainable products, having to always find ways of producing them cheaper, so that the retail stores in Germany could stay competitive and maximize their profits. Sadly, when you squeeze manufacturers to produce at a lower cost, the quality and eco-friendly methods and practices fall out the window. I no longer wanted to be a part of this troubling chain, sending hundreds of container loads of eco-hostile products to Germany. The consequences are irreversible, starting from the resource, throughout the production process, to the end of the product life. Again, I could write pages about this, as I passionately want to raise awareness of the cycle cradle-to-grave environmental harm. Therefore, it was my mission, and my biggest goal, to create a business, a brand promoting home and lifestyle products, that are eco-friendly from cradle-to-grave. I started Bamboa in the Summer of 2008, just after the financial crisis hit — not the easiest of times to start a new venture. However, I was determined to make it happen and to create sustainable, attractive and useful products made by rural Asian communities living close to bamboo forests, whilst at the same time promoting the wonder-plant, bamboo, and its advantages. For me Bamboa achieves three goals: use of a sustainable resource; economic help to impoverished rural areas; and increased production of bamboo, which does not require fertilizers or irrigation and consumes carbon dioxide.



Lisbeth: Your company BAMBOA is entirely selling products made of bamboo. Please share your fascination and your love for this resource? And how did you discover the diversity of this fast-growing plant?


Julie: How much time do I have? Lol Again pages and pages can be written. The first time where I really became aware of bamboo was actually on a field trip through Ivory Coast, West Africa. I was helping a friend with a sustainable coffee and cacao plantation at the time (in 2004,2005). We were traveling along dirt roads with huge craters. All of a sudden, I saw what appeared to be a tunnel in the distance. How could that be? When we reached it, I could see that gigantic bamboo was growing on either side of the road, creating beauty, shade, and relief for travelers. I felt a majestic and protective power of these gigantic plants. Something I will never forget. This natural tunnel continued for tens of kilometers. Amazing! Then, after arriving in Hong Kong in 2006, I was awed by bamboo scaffolding that encased and enveloped enormous skyscrapers. This is where bamboo shows off its many fantastic characteristics: being resilient, harder than steel, yet flexible, light and durable — and of course wonderfully sustainable, unlike steel and aluminum which are wasteful and require a toxic production process. Bamboo can survive a typhoon and is easy to cut on the spot. This is where my fascination with bamboo started. I just researched the hell out of this amazing resource to get more insight and soon found that bamboo can be made into thousands of different useful products.

Lisbeth: For those who are not familiar with the virtues of bamboo, please lighten us up ?


Julie: Bamboo has been a fascination in Chinese literature and art for thousands of years. You will often see bamboo in Chinese paintings. There are many poems on bamboo. The reason is as described above. It is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet. Through its intricate root system (rhizomes), it holds the ground together, preventing soil erosion. It has been used to write with, to write on, to sleep in, to ride on, to sit on, to cook in, to cook with, to fan with, and even to eat. This gives us a sense of the incredible variety of bamboo products that have been made by hand for thousands of years in China

Lisbeth: What is BAMBOA ’s mission?


Julie: Bamboa’s mission is three-fold: To offer attractive, useful and durable eco-friendly home and lifestyle products whilst providing rural communities an income and at the same time to promote growing the bamboo. Since bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than trees, grows three times faster than trees, it is common sense to help promote it to help balance the CO2 and combat climate change.


Lisbeth: You have a wide range of very cute products for babies and kids. Why is bamboo fabric the perfect choice for the little ones?


Julie: Due to its natural anti-bacterial properties, Bamboo fabric protects babies’ fragile skin whilst at the same time being incredibly soft and making babies and their parents feel cozy, peaceful, and protected. It is also great for allergy-prone skin or excema.

Lisbeth: Do you design the products yourself or where do you find the products you sell in BAMBOA? In which countries do you produce?


Julie: I design 80% of our products myself and the rest have been developed by my suppliers. We produce mostly in Vietnam, China, Thailand.

Lisbeth: You love to travel and have been to several places amongst them Laos and Africa to find inspiration for BAMBOA products. Tell us about how bamboo is used in other countries?


Julie: I love to discover and source traditional handcraft bamboo items from rural communities across the world and to see handcraft practices. In Myanmar they make beautiful bamboo umbrellas/sunshades, traditional temple urns, baskets, and delicately hand-painted bowls that are given its lustrous color through a native tree lacquer. Vietnam is famous for making spun bamboo bowls, the ones you see on our website. China has the most bamboo plantations in the world and wherever bamboo grows artisan communities are handcrafting so many different kinds of bamboo products.

Lisbeth: I hope it’s ok, that we reveal that one of your customers is “Buckingham Palace”? It’s very impressive! How did you get in touch with them?


Julie: I can’t really get into that but obviously it took a great deal of hard work and a bit of good luck. We are also very proud of our relationships with some of the world’s best-known luxury hotels

Lisbeth: You started BAMBOA in 2008. What is your role in your organization now? And which part are you most happy to work with?

Julie: I am the Director and CEO, as well as creative director, coming up with new products and collections. I also oversee the marketing and digital marketing. I am most enthusiastic about coming with new products and designing then including the packaging, which is always using bamboo fabric or recycled cardboard, avoiding any plastic.


Lisbeth: Did you find it difficult to start up a business in Hong Kong as a woman?


Julie: Hong Kong is perhaps the easiest place to start up a business for anyone. It took me a week or two to set up a limited company. In general, I find that gender equality in Hong Kong has a lot of room for improvement. As my field is in the home and design sector, I think I have it easier than those in finance or perhaps the legal sector. I generally believe its just as easy or hard for a male or female to set up a business.

Lisbeth: BAMBOA actively support Mother’s Choice in Hong Kong , which is a local charity serving the many children without families and pregnant teenagers in Hong Kong. Tell us about how you engage with them?


Julie: Hong Kong, being the most expensive city in the world, is a very tough place for many to survive, particularly a young Mother without the necessary means. Education plays a huge rule to combat poverty and also to increase gender equality. Mother’s Choice makes a meaningful impact in supporting disadvantaged young Mothers. So I felt compelled to support it. Bamboa is a sponsor of prizes and gifts for their various fund raising events. We have also provided hundreds of bamboo kiddies dining ware to their childcare centers.

Lisbeth: What were some of the toughest moments or decisions you’ve had to make on your journey? And how did you tackle them?


Julie: In tough times, I nearly gave up and threw in the towel. However, being surrounded by supportive friends, I have always been able to retain my passion for what Bamboa stands for. I had to find the patience and positivity to simply tackle through hard times and believe that better times were there on the horizon. I have been practicing yoga for 14 years, which has helped me get through the rough waters and to see the bigger picture, instead of transient hardships. Meditation and listening to positive and uplifting podcasts and YouTube videos helped me tremendously.


Lisbeth: What were some of the happiest moments on this journey?


Julie: One of the happiest was landing a huge order from a well known international retailer in Spain. That really helped me launch the first Bamboa collection in 2009. It also enabled me to move into my own office space on Wellington Street (a main shopping street in Hong Kong), where I also could create my first retail outlet. We had a beautiful roof top terrace too, which I utilized and turned into a Bamboa garden, with bamboo decking and bamboo plants all around. It was a dream come true. Then, when business was tough in 2015 and I was about to quit, out of the blue — and actually on my birthday — in came a lucrative order for a significant project in Macau. It would keep my business running for at least another year, without any other income. At times, we may have had to consider pulling the plug. I am extremely glad I never did, especially after investing so much time and money.



Lisbeth: What inspires you to continue?


Julie: I still believe in our mission, I love my own products and know that our customers love them too. There is nothing better than happy customers, who love your products and service. This is what makes me continue.

Lisbeth: Who are the women and men that stood behind you?


Julie: My parents were a huge moral support. My best friends have been great supporters too. And the biggest support I have received is from my partner over the last 8 years. He has been my rock. Without him Bamboa wouldn’t be what it is now.

Lisbeth: What do you attribute your success to?


Julie: My previous product and project management experience has helped me to get things done in a timely manner and stick to promised deadlines. I am also a problem solver. Wherever there is a problem, there is a solution. I am also creative which has helped me build and execute a brand without having to pay external companies for it.

Lisbeth: What are your resolutions for people who want to live more eco-friendly and sustainable?


Julie: Before grabbing a product, whether from a food aisle in a supermarket or a fashion, home, or daily use item, ask yourself: Do I really need this? Is it healthy for me and the environment? Or does it create waste that doesn’t biodegrade? How is it packaged? What is the durability of the product? We should slow down and think before making a purchase and avoid impulse shopping. There are also so many things you can easily make at home: hand sanitizer, face creams, face masks, house cleaning products… I make these myself at home creating little waste. So have fun making your own things at home!

Lisbeth: What’s the next step for you ?


Julie: I have started the “Grow Bamboo Initiative” where parts of our proceeds go to growing bamboo in impoverished rural areas to help create a bamboo cottage industry and economy.

Lisbeth: Looking back on this journey, would you do it all over again?


Julie: I don’t have regrets and am proud of what I’ve created. However, there are so many interesting professions nowadays. It would be a lie to say I wouldn’t want to try something else.



And then some quick questions to get to know you a little better:


Lisbeth: How do you prepare yourself for the day?

Julie: It depends where I am. Mostly I go for a run or a workout to start the day. When in Europe due to the time difference I tend to start the day with breakfast, followed by catching up with my team in Hong Kong and working with Asia. Then in the afternoons I do my creative thinking, along with sports and workout.


Lisbeth: What are some of your favorite things to do on a day off?

Julie: I am a huge fan of water sports and have been doing outrigger canoeing, surf ski, and stand up paddling on a competitive level, attending races all around the world. I was a Women’s captain in our paddle club and I love to encourage women to get into this sport. I also love cross country skiing, a new passion of mine in the winter months. So, on my off days, I will either be hiking or skiing in the mountains or paddling on the ocean. I also love musical instruments and play the cello, piano, and also a bit of guitar, so I like to practice these instruments and just goof around a little and improvise.

Lisbeth: As a child: What was your dream job when you got older?

Julie: My dream job was to be a jazz singer. I still love jazz and sing for myself mostly. I have also composed a few tunes.

Lisbeth: What is your education? And did it match your childhood dreams?

Julie: My education was an M.A in Chinese Studies, so it doesn’t really match becoming a jazz singer. Maybe I can eventually link them both and will write a song about bamboo! ;-0

Lisbeth: Did you have other passions or projects before you found your vocation?

Julie: Sports, music and lots of travel!

Lisbeth: If you should describe your life with just one word, what would that be?

Julie: :” Formidable!” ☺ Seriously, its been a wonderful life so far and I feel extremely blessed with being a visitor on this incredible planet and having a great family and friends.

Lisbeth: Do you have a motto or a saying that guides you?

Julie: Live life to the fullest and in the NOW. Travel as much as possible, learning about different cultures. Never dwell on past mistakes or let regrets stand in your way..

Lisbeth: Who is the most inspiring woman for you?

Julie: Angela Merkel - she’s tough, blunt yet compassionate and gets things done


Libeth: Julia, After we’d finished the interview, you asked me to add a special tribute to your mum and I find it perfect to add your loving words here:

Mum is my hero and inspiration. She is the most giving, compassionate, and kind person I know, who will always go out of her way to serve or help others. My mother also came in 2014 especially to Hong Kong to help me with the opening of my 2nd store in the beautiful heritage center PMQ (Police Married Quarters). Mum has also accompanied me on purchasing trips. Besides being such a great supporter and partner, she truly is a trooper who keeps and holds our family together. She gives me this strength of being grounded and always thinking of how my business can benefit others.

Lisbeth: What is your absolute favorite book or film?

Julie Book: The Art of Happiness (An interview with the Dalai Lama)

Film: The Big Lebowski

Lisbeth: What are three things you are grateful for?

Julie: Health, freedom and our wonderful planet Earth

Lisbeth: What is your best piece of advice for people who want to live out their dreams?

Julie: Never stop believing in yourself


Lisbeth: Is there anything you would like to share before we close that we didn’t touch on?

Julie: I think it’s most important to find meaning in whatever you do and do it with a good conscience without harming our environment, animals, or people. I wish that all newly founded companies can incorporate these three principles, which are quite basic really – one would think!

Lisbeth: You do some incredible work for others, so is there anything we can do to help you?

Julie: I would like to offer a special discount FF2020 code to WOMEN FOR HUMANITY followers so they can experience our wonderful products through our online store at www.bamboahome.com and follow us on FB and Instagram! That is already a huge help! Thank you so much for this opportunity.

Thank you so much Julia!

…..for sharing valuable advice and explanations on why we all should work towards protecting our beautiful planet….and ourselves.

…..for your enthusiastic and honest story and especially your beautiful words to your mother…it is very important that we recognize and also express the love and respect we have for each other. Perhaps one of the most important things we learn from the crises we’re in right now.

…for your wise words to our community about Never stop believing in yourself!

….and for your generous offer to The Femmes Formidables community.

We wish you lots of continuous success and happiness in your life …


PS ! Please read about Julia's new initiative, yet a long time dream " Grow Bamboo" on her website.....

www.bamboahome.com

Instagram:@bamboahome

www.motherschoice.com


Recent Posts

See All