The distinctively packaged Cheeky Panda portfolio now consists of 20 products in four categories available in 23 countries.
“We are showing the big guys that they don’t have to use plastic,” Forbes asserts.
From the Top to the Bottom
Forbes and Chen founded Cheeky Panda in 2016, when Chen was looking for a more rewarding career.
“I was running an online shoe business, and I had taught myself a lot about digital marketing and social media,” Chen says. “I always want to do something bigger and more meaningful. Shoes are shoes, and they are my passion, but they aren’t that meaningful.”
She started designing packaging for a brand that would be rooted in sustainability, with bamboo as the primary raw material source; launched a crowd-funding campaign; lined up production capacity; and secured a spot on Amazon’s Launchpad, a platform billed as a place where shoppers can “discover big ideas from small brands.”
Cheeky Panda certainly fit that bill, and Forbes shared his wife’s vision enough that he walked away from his career to help build an innovation-focused, authentic company intent on disrupting a mature category.
“I was running a global executive search business working with financial services firms and hedge funds, so it was a bit of a change for me, stepping out of financial services to selling toilet paper,” Forbes notes. “I went from the top end of the market to the bottom end. We started with toilet paper; then people said, ‘Can you do facial tissue?’ and would ask about other products. If there is a market for it, we run with it.”
That’s what’s good about being a small brand, according to Forbes, who describes himself as an “environmental entrepreneur.” Cheeky Panda has the ability to make decisions very quickly and take risks, which has enabled it to grow its brand portfolio to 20 items across four categories available in 23 countries. It also helps that the company, like many small brands, stands for something.
“We are a purpose-driven, high-quality lifestyle brand focused on sustainability,” Forbes says. “We are also a fun brand.”
The fun, playful nature of the brand belies a fairly dramatic growth story with even bigger potential. Available in the United States for less than a year, Cheeky Panda has secured major distribution deals with such notable companies as Rite Aid and United Natural Foods.
“We have the capacity to manufacture 100 million pounds in our current supply chain,” Chen says. “That is a reasonably good size, but the market is so big, it is a fraction of the market. The combined categories we are in are valued at about $50 billion.”
Products are currently sold under the Cheeky Panda brand in categories such as household, which includes toilet paper and facial tissue; baby; beauty; and professional services, including janitorial products.
A Toilet Twin
Giving back is a key aspect of any values-driven brand, and Cheeky Panda is no exception. It supports three main organizations, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the World Land Trust, and Toilet Twinning. Then, to secure organizational support, it created Team Ocean, Team People and Team Earth among headquarters employees to align with the respective groups.
Toilet Twinning is the most novel of the groups, and is a great fit with Cheeky Panda’s flagship product. The organization uses donations to help build toilets in areas of the world that lack them, increase access to clean water and promote hygiene principles. Those who donate become a “toilet twin” with the one they helped build, and even receive an image and the coordinates of their toilet counterpart.