Kirpal Bharaj '02

Course studied:
Economics

Kirpal Bharaj ’02 is co-founder of Stay Sixty, an award-winning brand of beautifully crafted, reusable water bottles. He studied Economics at Oxford Brookes and chatted to us about his time as a student, and the inspiration and philosophy behind Stay Sixty.

Kirpal Bharaj

Kirpal first came to Oxford Brookes’ Wheatley Campus to visit his older brother, Rajpal, who was studying Economics and Accounting. But he did his own research before deciding to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

“I wasn’t too sure at first,” he recalls, “but it was a university on the up and getting really good accolades. And of all the universities I visited it had the best feeling and atmosphere. The people I met and spoke to were really good, so it just clicked.”

As well as studying Economics, an important grounding for his future business career, Kirpal thrived socially at Oxford Brookes.

“That first year at Wheatley was just a great year,” he recalls, “I turned up, aged 18, apprehensive and a little scared, not sure what to expect and not knowing anyone. Luckily on my very first night, I met some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life and we’re still good friends.

“We all went to the Student Union bar at Wheatley. Everyone was in the same situation and we felt like we were part of something. It was exciting meeting so many new people at once. I really, really enjoyed it.

“After our first year on campus we moved to Cowley Road. It was very different to the being out in a bubble on the outskirts of Oxford in Wheatley. We were in the centre of everything and felt more a part of Oxford as a City. Thankfully, most of our Friends all moved to the same area, so it felt like a little campus away from the University."

After graduating, Kirpal built up experience working in advertising and media planning for a range of brands, working up the ranks, before launching his first business venture – a social media platform.

“It was before Pinterest came out and was really quite similar but with a review element so you could create lifestyle boards where you review things like music, films, places to eat. It was good but we didn’t have investment, we just did it ourselves and it ended up sinking money so we had to stop.”

As a business venture it hadn’t quite worked out but it was a valuable experience to draw on. Kirpal believes that persistence is essential to achieving long-term success, and that short-term setbacks shouldn’t deflect you from your ultimate goal. He returned to media work, rising to the level of director, before launching Stay Sixty with Rajpal. The inspiration for this venture came from a hitherto untapped passion combined with turning adversity into opportunity.

“Even though I studied Economics, I’m a designer at heart,” he explains, “I look at things and think ‘how can they be made better’.

“But also I became so dehydrated that I couldn’t take a routine blood test. They couldn’t take any blood from my veins so they told me to go away, drink a lot of water and come back in a couple of days.

“So after that I told myself, ‘you need to hydrate’ and started drinking a lot of bottled water and in-turn using a lot of single-use plastics. But I thought all this plastic probably wasn’t a good thing – this was before Blue Planet came out – and so I researched it and realised how bad single-use plastic was.

“I looked for a brand of reusable water bottle that was high quality, but had the aesthetics I look for in the products I invest in. And I couldn’t see anything I’d want to carry around with me. There was nothing focussed on the design aspect, a real designer brand. So I thought, ‘okay, we should do something about it,’ and we took it from there.”

The first iteration of the Stay Sixty bottle was distinctive for its design quality and won Best New Brand at a trade show in London Olympia and the A’ Design Platinum Green Award. It also earned the brothers an appearance on Dragon’s Den which gave their brand a great publicity boost.

Since then other brands have followed their lead and the market has become more competitive. So for the second iteration, launched at the end of 2019, the emphasis has been on improving the technology, and it has already been nominated for Best Product Design in the Dezeen Awards.

“The cap is receiving really great feedback, which is important for us as it took 2 years to develop. We managed to feature in the likes of GQ magazine, Wallpaper magazine, Stylist, the Guardian twice, the Times… and a more coming up. We’re really happy that people have backed us. So far, so good!”

Stay Sixty is continuing to develop and they are planning initiatives, later this year, aimed at helping clear up plastic waste in the oceans and making the product carbon neutral. Kirpal is also looking forward to maintaining his link with Oxford Brookes and sharing his experiences with today’s students to help them become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

Visit the Stay Sixty website