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How homegrown brand BROS pioneered BPA-free water bottles without even knowing it

You’ve likely seen them on your classmate’s desk, as a gift at events or parties, in most department stores, in Popular bookstores, and the list goes on.

It’s probably a lesser-known fact that BROS—yes, the water bottle brand—is a homegrown Malaysian business.

BROS got its start when founders Terence Lee and Zoe Au were on an expedition to start a business. While scouting for ideas, they got thirsty and wished they’d brought along some water. 

It got them thinking about bottles that were portable, refillable, and reusable. Under their company, Living Wing—which is also behind home and lifestyle brands such as Flipper, Envirosax, Propaganda, Mini Beanie, and Zense—they launched BROS in 2004.

Soon after, they began adding inspiring messages to the bottles through fun-filled words and art to encourage good habits of drinking water. 

Image Credit: BROS

When BROS was launched to the market, the founders were fortunate that the business grew steadily. There weren’t many competitors in the affordable reusable water bottles scene in Malaysia at the time.

But it wasn’t until the brand was seven years old that everything changed.

The tipping point 

Remember the fiasco 10 or so years ago when parents became concerned over the safety of plastic water bottles? 

BPA was accused as the main culprit.

Briefly, BPA stands for Bisphenol A, a chemical used in the production of certain plastics. BPA can leach into food, especially when exposed to high temperatures. Exposure to BPA is a concern because of the possible health effects on the brain and prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children.

Image Credit: BROS

Most major local media reported the issue, and the public became aware of only buying water bottles that were labelled BPA-free.

BROS was at the forefront of this paradigm shift. 

Coincidence? Probably not.

BROS’ team admitted to Vulcan Post that they had yet to create water bottles using BPA-free materials at the time. 

However, they discovered a huge spike in sales for BROS water bottles in 2011. Turns out, the bottles were being tested by laboratories overseas, which proved that their polycarbonate bottles had no indication of releasing BPA into drinking water. 

That was what its founders cited as BROS’ turning point.

All BROS products are also made with raw materials that comply with FDA (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and LFGB (German Food Commodity and Feed Law) standards. They have also been tested safe by qualified and recognised international laboratories. 

In 2012, BROS successfully produced and launched one of their largest capacity (1,600ml) BPA-free water bottles on the market. 

“That was one of our proudest achievements because, during that time, there were only a handful of companies internationally that can accomplish this, and we were one of them,” claimed Terence.

The CAPA 2,000ml / Image Credit: BROS

Five years later, with stringent planning, the team introduced their BROS CAPA 2,000ml series. 

The products were once again well-received. Subsequently, the BROS CAPA 2,000ml became the brand’s trademark of sorts, and has stood the test of time, according to the team.

A steady flow of ideas

When I was younger, I was attracted to BROS’ fun bottle designs. But now, I’ve become more minimalist (or just plain boring), and prefer sleeker, basic bottles as my go-to.

I’ve been out of touch with the brand for a while and didn’t think BROS catered to this demand, as the products I’ve seen in stores mostly carry bottles with vibrant prints.

So scrolling through BROS’ website, I was pleasantly surprised that they do have plain bottle designs, some of which look relatively modern too. Other than plastic bottles, they also have glass and thermal bottles that you could liken to more contemporary brands like Hydro Flask.

“In BROS, we always encourage our team members not to be afraid of exploring new things and ideas, be it the designs on the water bottles, out-of-the-box marketing strategies, or unconventional sales strategies,” explained Terence.

Image Credit: BROS

Being the heads of Living Wing, Terence and Zoe continuously expose themselves to different trends around the world, taking note of what’s happening around them.

Terence shared that the team’s primary inspiration comes from the people around them, especially families and friends who consistently provide honest and constructive feedback. This is something they seek out from customers too. 

“We constantly do our best to create and provide [customers with] safe and reliable products,” Terence assured. “Our record of quality issues complaint rate is always below 0.01%, this is one of the best achievements that we always [strive] to accomplish.”

Crossing oceans

It was the brand’s step into the e-commerce world in November 2013 that opened it up to its international distribution to Singapore, Indonesia, and China.

Thanks to some international fans, the brand formed partnerships with them to sell BROS in their own countries as well.

Terence stated that anyone who drinks water is a potential customer of BROS. He added that the company is able to sell an average of 300,000 reusable water bottles in one year.

In the next couple of years, BROS is hoping to provide more personalisation of their products to customers. 

“Years ago, we transformed plain water bottles into colourful and fun-filled ones that inspire people while staying hydrated,” Terence reminisced. “Soon, customers can choose to turn their BROS products into something unique or memorable for their loved ones or themselves.”

Expressing his gratitude for the success of BROS thus far, Terence said, “Of course, we work very hard to achieve what we have today. So, we’ll continue to work harder, bolder, with more fun in mind. What’s life when there’s no fun and excitement right?”

  • Learn more about BROS here.
  • Read about other Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.

Featured Image Credit: Terence Lee and Zoe Au, co-founders of BROS

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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