Learn how EQUO helps shoppers find sustainable products using Amazon Ads

EQUO wants you to fall in love with using straws again

March 26, 2024 | By Jareen Imam, Sr. Content & Editorial Manager

Nothing ruins a refreshing drink more for Marina Tran-Vu than a wet, soggy paper straw.

As the 35-year-old entrepreneur stands in front of a coconut vendor’s stall inside the famous Bến Thành Market in Ho Chi Minh City, she fishes the limp straw out of her coconut water.

“This is not what you want in your drink at all. This is a bad experience. This is a nightmare,” she says, examining the disintegrating paper straw before tossing it into a nearby trash bin. Then she rummages through her purse, pulling out an EQUO straw. It’s creamy beige and speckled with brown and black flecks, colors that come from natural fibers. The straw is thick like plastic. Only it’s not made of plastic. It’s entirely chemical free and natural—made from the pulp of sugarcanes.

“Having a sustainable option that also doesn’t get soggy, that’s what our straws provide,” she says.

Tran-Vu is the founder and CEO of EQUO, a small business that specializes in creating sustainable and compostable products such as straws, utensils, and stationery. The company’s goal is to help reduce the use of single-use plastic throughout Vietnam and around the world by giving customers products that are compostable—meaning they degrade naturally into the earth without any chemical waste or by-products, while also being sturdy and reliable for customers.

The company, which she started on her own, has now blossomed into a business with 15 employees in just three years. When EQUO first started, it offered four products—straws made from sugarcane, coconut, coffee, and grass—and they only sold on Amazon.

As EQUO saw growth and increased sales, they started expanding their business and product offerings. Beyond generating sales, the company was focused on building brand awareness on Amazon using advertising solutions like Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, and Sponsored Display. By doing so, they have been able to reach customers in the U.S., Canada, and locally in Vietnam.

“We launched our business on Amazon in 2021, and I would say that was the biggest turning point. That really made our entire year in sales,” she says. She attributes her company’s success and growth to using Amazon Ads solutions.

But how she ended up in Vietnam—starting a company and developing a passion for the environment—was through an unexpected life event.

The Canadian native grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had been working as a marketer for a decade when her father was diagnosed with cancer in 2020. Her family needed Tran-Vu to travel to Vietnam to help manage some family business. While in Ho City Minh City, now the headquarters of her company EQUO, Tran-Vu didn’t know a soul.

“I spent a lot of time alone in coffee shops,” she recalls.

There was one she particularly enjoyed—a tiny café squeezed between shops on a busy street with an outdoor terrace covered by a canopy of thick trees that tucked customers away into a quiet oasis. When a server set her drink down at her table, she noticed there was something unfamiliar sticking out of her juice. She took a photo of it and did a reverse-image search, and discovered that her drink was served with a grass straw.

She marveled over the product, wondering why she’d never seen something like it in Canada.

“Countries like Canada are supposed to be very forward-thinking when it comes to sustainability,” she says. “My initial reaction seeing this grass straw in Vietnam was, ‘Why hadn’t I seen this solution before?’ It just made sense. It’s natural. It’s better than a paper straw. Why not?”

Later that evening, those questions kept bugging Tran-Vu, leading her down a rabbit hole of research. She tried to learn everything she could about grass straws and discovered that they were popular among Vietnamese farmers who worked in the fields. Whenever it was hot outside, the farmers would pluck a hollow piece of grass that grew natively in the area and stick it into a young coconut, making it easy for them to enjoy a refreshing drink. Once farmers were done with the grass straw, they could simply toss it to the earth, where it would decompose.

Then she thought: What if she could create durable, compostable straws that were made from natural ingredients?

“I wanted to create a straw that you could throw into your backyard and it would break down in a few months rather than a few centuries,” Tran-Vu says.

Shortly after, she started talking to manufacturers across Vietnam and East Asia, found product designers who create straws from natural ingredients, and formed a business focused on producing compostable single-use products that consumers and businesses could easily purchase and use.

After Tran-Vu launched her product line, she discovered a new challenge: telling customers about her compostable straws. She needed to quickly raise brand and product awareness. Just three months after she started selling products on Amazon, EQUO started working with Amazon Ads.

Sponsored Brands and Sponsored Display helped EQUO stay top of mind for shoppers who were considering single-use straws, cutlery, and stationery. The brand also created detailed product listings on Amazon and showcased their high-quality product photos to help shoppers better understand their offerings. They organized their product listings, photos, and brand story in their Brand Store, which helped them tell their story and convey the mission of the company.

Marina Tran-Vu amd people

Marina Tran-Vu and her team at EQUO used Amazon Ads solutions to help shoppers discover compostable straws and utensils

“The entire process was essential to helping our customers believe in what we’re selling, which are products made sustainably. And leveraging ad solutions like Sponsored Display helped us get our products out there and build awareness with shoppers,” Tran-Vu says.

In the company’s first year, 95% of EQUO’s sales came from Amazon, Tran-Vu says.

“The growth trajectory was just amazing within our first year. That really helped our business, and it helped us basically stay afloat,” she says. “Amazon also helped validate our business to consumers. “Being on Amazon gave us trust and credibility as a business, and the customer reviews really helped as well.”

Since the brand’s launch on Amazon, Tran-Vu’s vision for the company has continued to grow. Now, EQUO products are not just globally available for consumers to purchase, but they are used by popular cafés and restaurants across Vietnam. Tran-Vu has received recognition for her work in creating a sustainable business, such as being named by Sustainability Magazine as one of the Top 50 Global Women in Sustainability in 2023, and has appeared on Shark Tank Vietnam as a contestant, spreading further awareness of EQUO’s mission and products.

What motivates Tran-Vu to keep pushing to grow her small business is her interest in reducing plastic waste in the environment. The more she has worked on building EQUO, the more she’s learned about the climate crisis, and she wants to do her part to help the planet.

“I want to build a better, more sustainable world for my nephew and niece. And I think EQUO can do that not just by selling compostable single-use products, but also through educating consumers about climate change and ways to help the environment,” Tran-Vu says. “I’m very hopeful. As long as consumers want sustainable products and solutions and care about what we’re doing, then there’s a future for EQUO.”