Aimee Charlotte and Jenny Cavanugh-Bond opened their Kirkgate Market store in November's national lockdown, when the entire market was a 'ghost town'.
The Morley pair stood firm during a tricky few months and have been delighted to see an uptake in old and new faces visiting the store.
Aimee and Jenny, both 33, hope their plastic-free alternatives to food, beauty products and cleaning supplies will help shoppers re-think what they buy - and throw away.
“The business started when I was getting into baking and trying to go zero waste, but I couldn’t find any of the ingredients to buy weigh-and-pay," Aimee told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“I used to tell my friends that someone should set up a zero-waste shop in Leeds and suddenly I thought, ‘why don’t I do it?'"
Aimee closed her first zero-waste store in Kirkgate Market just before the pandemic, after getting friend and former co-worker Jenny on board.
The pair used the first lockdown to refurbish and rebrand the business, spotting a growing market for plastic-free products and weigh-and-pay food.
Aimee added: "When we reopened we thought it would all be over soon - that it would all be fine. But it wasn’t fine, it was really scary.
“It’s a terrible time for small independent businesses at the moment. We’ve watched other smaller shops close down and I’ve never seen the market as quiet as it was over lockdown, it was like a ghost town.
“But because of the pandemic, everyone has been reflecting on how they used to live and their choices, the things they might not have been doing in the right way.
“We decided to be ready and waiting for people when they started coming back and thankfully we’ve seen it pick up.”
Competing with online shopping has become an increasingly difficult task for small businesses, with home deliveries rocketing during lockdown.
Aimee and Jenny have watched other independents close down during the pandemic, but their friendly advice and personal service have kept their customers coming back.
"Shopping has to be about the experience, there has to be a reason to come out," Aimee added.
“Cutting back on packaging is a massive thing, but we’ve also adapted by offering advice and a personalised experience.
“There’s a satisfaction in bringing in a container and getting just the right amount to fill it.”
Aimee hopes Panda Refills will make sustainable shopping more accessible and she encourages people to start small with eco-friendly swaps.
With new suppliers pitching their plastic-free products every week, she is excited to keep expanding the shop's offering.
“Even the shop just existing makes people a little more mindful, or helps them to think twice about what they’re throwing out," Aimee added.
“I hoped the shop would start conversations and show different possibilities - and it really has.
“As soon as you start cutting back, you find swaps and changes everywhere and it starts to turn into a hobby.
“It can get overwhelming, but just do what you can. We’re not precious or judgmental, we want to show everyone that it’s actually quite fun.”
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