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Greek-American Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks and Earth Friendly Products Featured in Forbes

The National Herald Archive

The Ecos Award. Photo: Courtesy of Manatos & Manatos

CYPRESS, CA – Greek-American Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, CEO of Earth Friendly Products (EFP) was featured in Forbes Magazine for her company’s Ecos brand of soaps, in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

Vlahakis-Hanks said, “Skin is your largest organ, if you’re washing it 20 times per day you want something that’s not going to irritate. If you have harsh products, you’re not going to want to use them, and that makes you more susceptible to getting ill,” Forbes reported, in explaining “why people are snapping up cases of her Ecos brand soaps ($12.49 for 225 ounces) faster than Amazon, Walmart, Costco and Sam’s Club can restock them.”

According to the Forbes article, “it’s not just Ecos, every soap maker seems to be enjoying a coronavirus demand bubble.”

An Executive Vice President at Costco, Tim Rose, told Forbes, “We’ve seen panic buying before, but nothing can beat this. We’ve never sold as much soap.”

Soap “is the most basic and effective anti-virus countermeasure — its amphiphillic nature means that one end of a soap molecule is hydrophillic (likes to bind with water) while the other is hydrophobic and prefers to bind with proteins and lipids, like those protecting and encapsulating viruses and other pathogens,” Forbes reported.

“Ecos and many of EFP’s other products are certified ‘Safer Choice’ by the Environmental Protection Agency,” Forbes reported, adding that “they’re biodegradable, with no petroleum-based surfactants. Instead the company uses coconut oil sourced from sustainable plantations – Vlahakis-Hanks recently visited one plantation in the south Pacific islands of Vanuatu.”

“We’re PH-balanced,” she told Forbes, which added that “the Ecos dish soap has an ingredient to treat eczema”

“You don’t want the skin breaking down. That makes it more vulnerable,” Vlahakis-Hanks told Forbes.

When the orders began coming in during the coronavirus lockdown, EFP which is based in Cypress, CA, had “its factories in California, Illinois, Washington, and New Jersey declared essential businesses,” Forbes reported, adding that Vlahakis-Hanks had to add second and third shifts to keep up with the demand.

The National Herald Archive

Left to right: Christina Ashby, Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Mike Manatos, and Alexsia Hanks. Photo: Courtesy of Manatos & Manatos

“Even so, they had to inform an e-commerce partner that they wouldn’t be able to fulfill the flood of 5,000 soap orders per day,” Forbes reported, adding that “as a family owned company, EFP doesn’t disclose financials; Forbes estimates annual revenues to be in the neighborhood of $150 million.”

Vlahakis-Hanks’ father Eftychios Vlahakis, called Van, founded the company in 1967. Born in Crete, Vlahakis “lost his father in a World War II concentration camp, and in 1953 at age 18 immigrated to Chicago,” Forbes reported, adding that “he studied chemistry at Roosevelt University and after school got a job formulating cleaning products.”

“Exposure to harsh chemicals used in his work caused him headaches and skin irritation, so Vlahakis (who died in 2014) set out to make his own kinder, gentler cleaning products,” Forbes reported.

Rick Fully, who met Vlahakis in the 1990s and has served on the company’s board, told Forbes, “He was way ahead of his time. Van understood that chemicals can be very powerful. You need to use the proper chemical at its proper strength.”

“The philosophy behind growing Ecos was simple,” Forbes reported, adding that Fully said, “What else can we clean without messing up the environment and hurting everybody.”

Rose said of Vlahakis, “He was not the typical loud businessman. He cared. About skin, and about people,” Forbes reported.

Green Story, a 2013 film, recounted Vlahakis’ life story with Malcolm McDowell as a villain trying to force the Vlahakis character to sell his company. Daughter Kelly was portrayed by actress Shannon Elizabeth. Vlahakis-Hanks’ husband, Eric Hanks, said the film “captures the essence” of his father-in-law, “who wasn’t interested in parting with the enterprise he had spent nearly 50 years building, and certainly wasn’t interested just in making money,” Forbes reported.

Vlahakis-Hanks was groomed to take over the company for about a decade, Forbes reported, adding that it’s almost seven years since the company went “carbon-neutral and installed solar panels on their roofs,” and “now that the systems are paid off, they get free, green electricity.”

The company’s employees receive grants for installing solar panels at their homes or if they choose to buy electric cars, and bonuses for those who live closer to work, Forbes reported, adding that “starting pay is $17 an hour.”

The company also trains its workers, Vlahakis-Hanks told Forbes adding that “we want to keep people. We’re proud of our corporate memory.”

Forbes also reported that “to keep the family connections alive, in 2018 Ecos opened a new manufacturing plant in the Vlahakis homeland of Greece to serve the European and African markets.”

The company’s factories are “running at 30% faster rate than previous peak and making up for social distancing requirements by running third shifts” Forbes reported, adding that “last week the company did shut down operations for a day to do a deep cleaning and give workers a chance to rest.”

Ecos’ baby-friendly detergent is now in high demand in China, and the company’s new soap innovation, a dehydrated laundry soap that weighs next to nothing, will help lower the cost of freight, Forbes reported, adding that Ecos is now working on a “cleaner, gentler hand sanitizer.”

Vlahakis-Hanks told Forbes, “We’re hoping that once this is over we will end up with customers we never had before.”