Jun 24, 2020
Over the last couple years, I’ve
been on a slow but steady journey of becoming somebody who is less
wasteful. I may not get to the point of being able to fit all my
trash from the month into a mason jar, but I have been making slow,
intentional choices to reduce and use less waste. Along this
journey, there have been certain items that have made me wonder,
“Could there be a zero waste option for this?” Especially for
bathroom products like Q tips and tissues. There have not been many
options on the market…until today! My guest this week is Isabel
Aagaard, founder of Last Object, a Danish design trio who have chosen
to tackle some of the least sexy objects out there like cotton
swabs and disposable tissues. They are addressing the problem of
single-use items and looking past the highly visible culprits like
plastic bottles and straws. Last Swab is the reusable alternative
to cotton swabs, which replace the need for the 1.5 billion
single-use Q tips produced daily, only to be thrown out after one
use. Last Tissue saves 2 liters of water per tissue and has become
wildly popular on Kickstarter. Prior to founding Last Object,
Isabel designed the first reusable chemotherapy bag to reduce waste
in the medical industry, and it is now being used all over Denmark.
I was fascinated with this conversation with Isabel and know you’re
going to love learning about these unique designs that’s changing
4:22 - The Isabel 101
- Isabel was born and raised in the
beautiful city of Copenhagen, Denmark. She has an IT background and
obtained a master’s degree in collaborative design. That background
brought her to where she is today, along with her passion for the
environment and startups.
- All of Isabel’s focus combines
sustainability with collaborative design efforts. She loves
exploring how to create and make things that are usable in
collaboration with the people who will be using them.
- Isabel’s worlds meet at the
intersection of anthropology and collaboration and is referred to
as Co-design. It’s a field that’s grown in the last few years and
has started to spread through other countries.
- As an example, when working for
hospitals, instead of looking at patients and creating a design
solution for them, Isabel creates tools to help patients design
their own solutions. It takes people, interactions, and their
abilities into account, instead of being a designer who decides
what they think is best for the design.
8:29 – Last Object
- Last Object’s mission is to create
an alternative to single-use items. They started with Last Swab and
Last Tissue as the first two products.
- There are three designers (one of
whom is Isabel’s brother). When Isabel was working in design for
hospitals, the idea for starting a sustainable design business
started over lunch one day with her brother and a designer named
- In doing various research on the
contributing facts to pollution with single-use items, they found
that Q tips were one of the 10 biggest contributors to waste on the
planet. They also knew they wanted to tackle issues that have not
been tackled already (like alternatives to plastic straws). They
also wanted to look at single-use items that are frequently used,
so that cutting down of those products would make a huge
- Last Object starts the design
process by thinking of the simplest way to recreate a reusable
product. It has to be something you would know how to use just by
looking at the design.
- There are many iterations that
happen before a final product comes to fruition. The team continues
prototyping, using different forms, scaling up, scaling down, and
testing with 3D printing, and experimenting with paint
- Last Object debuted in April 2019.
The initial reactions in the marketplace started about 50/50 on
social media. Some loved it, others thought it was gross, but the
most important thing that happened was people were talking about
16:40 - Speaking of Questions, “How
Does it Work?”
- Last Swab is made of a durable
core plastic, and the ends are made of TPE, which is a plastic that
has a similar feeling to silicon. The tips are melded together to
be sure they don’t come apart. Each swab also comes with its own
carrying case that keeps it hygienic to carry with you or store in
- One swab is a version for cleaning
your ears with a textured surface to help clean. Another version if
for makeup application with a soft, pointed end to use for detail
or removing excess makeup. Both swabs can be washed easily with
soap and water.
- Last Tissue is sort of like a
modern-day handkerchief. It’s six small handkerchiefs in a
hypoallergenic box. Isabel describes it as if a handkerchief and a
tissue box had a baby. That way you can keep your handkerchief in a
hygienic place instead of stuffing it into your pocket.
- Environmentally, the swab and
tissues help cut down on waste.
21:17 – Collaborative Design for the
- Last Object is looking at some
more complicated design processes for future products that replace
single-use products, but plan on staying on the bathroom objects
side of design.
- Toilet paper isn’t at the top of
their next design plans, but it’s still on the list! It’s just more
of the “holy grail” of design. Isabel says if they figure out the
toilet paper design, they can go ahead and retire.
23:07 – Get Your Hands On Last Swab
or Last Tissue!
- Last Object has a system of
testing and love to try out everything they make. When they
launched their Last Swab, they did so on Kickstarter. They have a
website where they sell their products but always release them on a
crowd funding site first.
- Last Tissue just finished a
campaign on Indiegogo and will launch on the website soon. You can
enter your email address to be informed when they’re in
- The next brand new product launch
is planned for the end of this summer, so stay tuned!
25:00 – Reducing Waste in the
- When Isabel was in design school,
her department was contacted by the local hospital asking if there
were any designers interested in helping find a solution to create
reusable chemotherapy bags in order to be able to allow patients to
receive chemotherapy at home.
- It started as a school group
project with four other co-designers, and when Isabel’s group
completed their design, two of the members went out to figure out
how to actually produce it. It took about a year, but they were
able to get the bags produced and all the hospitals have since
bought into the reusable chemotherapy bag!
- You can find Last Object and
follow their work on Instagram (@lastswab and @lastobject) where
they’re always updating about new products.
27:11 – Getting to Know Our
- Find out what Isabel is learning
about herself during Covid-19, who she’d most like to sit next to
on a 16-hour flight and why, what she would do differently if she
knew no one was judging her, what she’s reading right now, and the
question I ask all my guests, “What does it mean to you to run a
business with purpose?”
13:27 - “We wanted to tell you what
the product is doing by just design. That’s why we want to refer to
how it looks or how the single-use item looks.”
16:00 - “It actually created a
conversation, and that’s exactly what you want when you’re
designing something. You want people to question it.”
20:52- “We wanted to take the
convenient, modern side of the tissue pack and then really
incorporate making it into something that could actually be good
for the environment.”
22:12 - “I can tell you that we’re
going to stay in the bathroom area because that’s a really fun area
to be in. We’re gonna make some more ‘ew’ products.”