There is always something more than meets the eye: The story of Sunny and Sarah
This is the story of Sunny Escobar and Sarah Delaney, the Co-Founders of 9 elements. Frustrated with the long lists of chemicals in cleaning products, Sunny and Sarah created a line of laundry and home care products powered by vinegar that contain only 9 or less ingredients in every bottle. Well, where did the 9 elements idea come from? Sunny and Sarah had very different life paths, which were brought together six years ago by the desire of creating products that would improve people’s lives.
Sarah’s story begins with a rather hairy situation (in a good sense!). Her interest in science began during her childhood, when she would spend time at her mother’s salon in Pensacola, Florida. “It was inside her salon that I started to be interested in formulating products, as I would often read ingredients and help my mom create hair color formulations.” Her passion for science was carried through college, where she decided to major in Chemical Engineering. After her undergraduate studies, Sarah decided that working at a consumer goods company was the best fit for her. She joined Procter and Gamble in 2006 as a Process Engineer, and now she is a Formulation Group Scientist. On top of a busy professional career, Sarah is also a wife and mother to four children.
When on maternity leave after having her fourth child, Sarah’s baby was diagnosed with moderate to severe eczema. Her baby’s skin would sometimes become irritated with products Sarah used or clothes she wore. Her biggest concern relied on the idea of hazardous chemicals getting into her baby’s body through the irritation. “As a mom, this made me feel upset and guilty because it was my responsibility to take the best care of my baby, and the thought that something I was unknowingly doing was affecting her hurt me deeply”. As a chemical engineer who formulates products to solve problems, who was now experiencing a problem that needed to be solved, Sarah did what comes naturally to her: “I started looking at labels, reading blogs, and researching ingredients. Learning that eczema is not curable, but it could be managed, I knew I had a job to do, so I began to make my own products at home”. During her home experiments, Sarah witnessed the gentle benefits that exist with powerful chemical solutions like vinegar and citric acid. Sarah then started her lab experiments when she got back to work from maternity leave and continued to “explore ways to create an impactful product that could be a solution for so many that suffer from skin conditions.”
Sunny grew up in an immigrant family, with very limited means, so she would turn to school and books as a way to cope with the struggles of life. Out of all the things she learned, science was the one that fascinated Sunny the most. “There was so much to create, so much unexplained, so many breakthroughs waiting to be discovered, and so many opportunities to build a better world! In a way, science gave me a vision of purpose (to serve) and hope (to improve other’s lives and my own).” In college, Sunny pursued Biomedical Engineering with the hope to go to medical school and become a cardiac surgeon. However, we have seen during our whole Chemists Invent Green campaign that life can surprise us in several and different ways.
When Sunny was 21 years old, her journey took a very sudden turn. She started to suffer severe heart conditions. “Afraid that I would die in my sleep from insufficiency, my team of cardiologists told me the ultimate solution was getting a pacemaker. I knew well what that meant and how it would alter my life as I knew it. Without much other hope, I took my aunt’s advice and saw a homeopathic doctor.” Sunny’s doctor suggested her to take natural selenium supplements and follow a modified diet for at least two weeks. “All I can say is that those two weeks transformed my life. I was cured! What no medical test could understand, and no prescription could fix, natural alternative medicine did, and it saved me from a difficult fate” This is when Sunny decided to make a promise to live a life of research and solutions. “I made a promise to myself that I would dedicate my life to help the world benefit and understand the power of nature. I hope to validate, reward, and empower all the moms, young adults, and men who believe in that same power. To me, 9 elements is a tribute, and in a way, a commitment to that promise.”
Inventing with empathy and inspired by nature
When asked about the valuable traits for success, Sarah discussed the importance of empathy, curiosity, and tenacity. “I believe that to create products that solve real problems, you must really understand and KNOW the pain you are solving for. Beyond understanding the pain, you must be curious to solve or approach the problem in a different way. Finally, solving a tough problem a different way than it’s usually solved requires incredible tenacity”.
Sunny also highlights the importance of intuition and explains how her experience at 9 Elements helped her to embrace this trait: “In this journey, I have learned in how much strength there is in staying connected to our vision and inspiration, as well as my own intuition. Because in moments when there was no more data, no more facts, no more open doors, there is always that X factor, that gut feeling.” To Sunny, the true inventor is their consumers, that make their own recipes, test ingredients, and incorporate natural remedies and solutions in hopes for wellness alternatives into their lives. “To me, that is science and invention in its purest form, inspired by intuition and the desire to improve and care for their lives and their loved ones. A very wise man once told me that, sometimes, the most disruptive innovations are born at the seams, where knowledge, need, technology, and visions overlap. That’s where we stand, to give the world solutions, maybe in ways nobody ever thought before, but in a way that empathetically reaches consumers”.
9 Elements and Green Chemistry
The 9 Elements ideal of creating products that never include more than nine ingredients is far from easy. As Sunny highlights, the 9 ingredients contained in the products include water and even fragrances, which is one of the company’s main challenges. “As it turns out, a lot of fragrances can include dozens to hundreds of independent raw material ingredients, all to make just ONE fragrance. But because of our promise to be transparent and do the right thing, we had to look across dozens and dozens of materials and essential oils that would provide a delightful fragrance, but that would also be minimal in ingredients. On top of that, they had to be compatible with vinegar.” However, Sunny and Sarah stay true to their purposes, and always keep in mind their goals of influencing the new generation of girls in STEM and helping their consumers to make a massive impact on the environment and in their daily lives with 9 Elements products. This mission is where Sarah and Sunny get their strength to overcome the obstacles of the inventive process. As Sarah mentions, “We share the same vision, the same dream, and the belief that there is something special we can do for others that makes us wake up every day and want to do a little bit more, be a little better and move a little faster.”
Green chemistry plays a very important role in the entire innovative process at 9 Elements. “Our natural resources are not limitless, and therefore, we will all need to adopt a scarcity mindset”. This mindset drives 9 Elements and their focus of using only ingredients that are necessary, deliver powerful performance, and are plant-based where possible. “We also understand that some of the biggest ways to reduce our carbon footprint at home is in the heating of the wash water during the laundry cycle. Delivering great cleaning even in cold water is a core design requirement for us. Similarly, providing consumers with great cleaning products that minimize their waste generation by preserving and extending the life of their belongings could mean up to 70 lbs of waste being saved from landfills every year!” Sunny and Sarah also look after the community through the 9 Elements Impact Fund. It donates 33 cents of every individual product to a charitable cause. “We knew we could not just be a brand, a line of products, or a new start-up. We wanted to not only care for the families that buy and use 9 Elements. We wanted to care for the world we both cherish so much.” The 9 Elements Impact Fund lets you choose where your donation goes, so your money can go towards the causes you care about. More information about this amazing initiative can be found at https://nine-elements.com/pages/causes
"The 12 principles of Green Chemistry offer a framework for innovators to truly step change of how we formulate and use products of the future."
-Sarah Delaney and Sunny Escobar