The sunny climes of the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, California and the bucolic small town environs of Highland County, Ohio may seem to be worlds apart. But for one self-motivated entrepreneur from Mowrystown, Laura Yochum, the lessons she had learned about becoming less wasteful after having been raised in a rural community coalesced with broader contemporary cultural trends about living sustainably, and gave rise to the idea to start her own refill company, doing business as prostainable.
It’s “a word that I made up and trademarked,” Yochum said.
She said that her desire to “live in a sunny place with loads of culture and career opportunities” dates back to her time at Whiteoak High School, when she wrote her aspirations in a class biography. Unlike some kids whose dreams get shuffled to the wayside, Yochum pursued hers relentlessly.
“I moved to Cincinnati,” she said, to attend the University of Cincinnati and “by my sophomore year was accepted into the Design, Architecture, Art and Planning College” at the university. “I was determined to earn a fashion design, product development degree because it is a top design school in the country.”
Yochum’s resultant internships took her all over the country to New York City, Fort Myers, Florida and Washington, D.C.
Through an internship with Aveda, “an environmentally conscious beauty brand,” Yochum realized her values lay in product development that catered to higher ethical standards such as “environmental commitments” and said her work in the beauty industry and exposure to incorporating these ideals resulted in an epiphany. “This is what I wanted to do in life,” she said she realized.
Yochum said that after earning a design degree and cosmetology license, she really “wanted to start my career in Southern California,” but that things didn’t initially happen as she’d hoped.
“I applied to 60 jobs,” she said, “but I never received as much as an email back.”
Frustrated, she “told my family that the only way I could start a beauty career in California was to move there, even though I had never been there.”
So, with $1,200 and a dream, Yochum set a date to move to California. She said she was terrified but very determined and that her parents were very supportive.
In an ironic twist, once Yochum moved to California her first big opportunity “that would change my professional life” came in the form of none other than Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. She said that, “The man who interviewed me in L.A. was a University of Cincinnati alumni.”
Yochum’s subsequent work in the salon professional division of a P&G subsidiary provided her a corporate career that she’d wanted.
“You would think that my dreams had been answered,” she said.
But the fast-paced business world that she now inhabited — such a contrast from small town life and ostensibly all she’d ever wanted — wasn’t the answer to everything that it might have appeared to be from the outside.
“I realized that successes and promotions also brought frustration” and other demands and constraints “that were beginning to make me unhappy,” she said.
Yochum said that she found solace and inspiration in nature.
“Each year that passed in California, I spent more and more time outdoors,” she said. “I would go backpacking in the Eastern Sierra Mountains for many miles and days at a time with our dogs.”
Yochum said that communing with the natural world and stepping outside the hustle and bustle of corporate life proved epiphanous, ultimately pushing her career, and her priorities, in a divergent direction.
Yochum then decided to start her own company, built on the premise of creating less waste, called prostainable (lower case is intentional).
“I had started becoming less wasteful in my own household by composting, DIY cleaning products, and growing our own food,” she explained, illustrating that the new buzzword — sustainability — that was on the collective tongues of “forward thinking” customers of “refill stores” wasn’t so much a new idea. “Mind you, this is how I grew up,” but an idea that was finally being championed in different sociocultural spheres.
Yochum said that her eventual journey to entrepreneurship was by no means easy.
After pitching the idea of a local refill shop to the “people who operated our weekend farmer’s market” in the San Fernando Valley, Yochum said that while still working at her corporate job, she woke up early every Saturday and Sunday, hauling, “gallons of products to farmer’s markets and introduce this refill idea to a community of millions of people.”
Like many others, Yochum said that the unexpected onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic derailed and delayed her plans for being able to leave her regular job and devote all her time to her new business, but finally, “I was able to leave my lucrative career and open the first refill shop in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.”
“Since being an full-time entrepreneur, I have been able to educate thousands of people on how to create less waste at home,” Yochum said.
Yochum said that more than being a personally successful endeavor, that in its three years in business, “prostainable has diverted 15,000 single use bottles” from being wasted through its refill services.
More information about Yochum’s company, prostainable, can be accessed on its website at www.prostainable.com.
Juliane Cartaino is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.