Woman of the Week is Stylist’s weekly celebration of women who are making a difference to society. Here, we talk to Saasha Celestial-One, co-founder of the world’s first food-sharing app.
Raised by hippies in sleepy small-town Iowa, Saasha Celestial-One’s upbringing was less than conventional. Her surname, for a start, was made up by her parents who simply liked the thought of their daughter’s name framing her as a celestial being.
She would spend weekends skip-diving with her mum, rummaging around for treasures others had binned and collecting perfectly good food thrown out by grocery stores. Often they would fix up their finds – broken furniture, bits of wood – and lay them out for sale on their front lawn.
While this made Celestial-One cringe as a child, it no doubt set her on the path to co-founding the world’s first food-sharing app, OLIO.
“My childhood really gave me an understanding of how much we just throw away,” she tells Stylist. “Giving things a second chance is in my DNA. I hate waste.”
Two years after its launch in 2016, OLIO now has over 350,000 users. The idea is simple: when you have food that you’re not going to finish before it spoils, you upload a notice to the app and other users can come and collect it.
At the time of writing, the app has facilitated the sharing of over half a million portions of food. It’s proved particularly useful in bringing communities together and encouraging local bakeries and restaurants to make use of their leftovers.
But Celestial-One’s path to entrepreneurial activism wasn’t a clear one. “Because my upbringing was so unconventional, I just wanted to be normal,” she explains. “Right out of university I moved to New York and went to work for an investment bank.”
She ended up as Vice President of International Partnerships at American Express. “I got to the point where I had this bulletproof CV. I knew that I could always provide for myself and my family, but I still felt like a fish out of water.”
It was while on maternity leave in London in 2013 that Celestial-One got her first taste of entrepreneurship. Inspired by her own urgent need for a babysitter, she set up the UK capital’s first pay-as-you-go flexible childcare service.
“I knew instantly that I was never going back to work [at the bank],” she says. “I wasn’t making any money but it was the most fulfilling thing I’d ever done.”
A year later, Celestial-One’s friend and business partner Tessa Cook came to her with the idea for OLIO. “She was moving house and couldn’t get rid of all the food she had before leaving,” she says. “She wanted to put it on neighbours’ doorsteps, but it just seemed like such a weird thing to do. It seemed silly that there wasn’t an app for this.”
However, it wasn’t as easy to convince others that OLIO was a good idea. “People were sceptical,” Celestial-One admits. “But the reality is we’re moving from a planet with abundant resources to a planet with less than enough. We have to come up with clever ways to make the most of what we have.”
By 2025, she hopes that OLIO will be an international force for tackling food waste, with 350 million users around the globe. And she has a word of advice for other women who want to change the world: “When what you want to do feels overwhelming, find the smallest version of it, and then expand, expand, expand.”
The Woman of the Week series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. Find out more about the campaign here, and see more Visible Women stories here.
Images: Annabel Staff