We want to make the world a better place
Three owners of New Zealand eco-businesses talk about the inspiration and drive that got them up and running in a highly competitive market.
They're not hippies. Running a business employing a fair number of staff puts paid to any notions of vague earth people with wild hair. But Jacob and Georgia Faull from Nature Baby are passionate about planet care and have been committed to an organic, eco-friendly lifestyle since the time when such activities were definitely "fringe".
Soon after graduating from university, when the couple were doing "not much", they went to London for six months, returning to Auckland before the birth of their first child. Disappointed not to find the organic cotton nappies that were emerging in the UK, they began sourcing their own - Kushies - from Canada ("people thought we were crazy").
But Georgia and Jacob wanted to swaddle their children completely in organic garments as well and, as the market 14 years ago had little to offer, this led to them making their own .
Like a lot of things they did for Nature Baby, it was all by trial and error. They sourced ancient patterns for old-fashioned baby gowns, came up with kimono styles for babies as well as soft elastic-waisted merino pants. They now supply stores around the country as well as in Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Sweden Australia, America and Japan.
"We wanted to have a full offering of things for babies - mattresses, furniture, footwear... Over those 14 years we set about finding it all and found that we had to make a lot of it ourselves," says Jacob.
But one of the most important things was sourcing organic cotton and that involved a trip to India, a place they'd already fallen in love with. The cotton garments that Nature Baby lovers buy come from self-sufficient organic farms where people are paid fairly and the processes for producing the cotton are not poisoning the land or the people who work there. These are farmers who did adopt conventional growing methods, using pesticides, in the 1970s and 80s. But there came a time when the pesticides cost too much so they returned to the old organic ways. Because of this, they have managed to create a sustainable business when many other Indian farmers have gone to the wall, and even committed suicide, because of the high costs of producing non-organic cotton.
The couple still travel to India once a year to check on production of garments that have a distinctive classic style and soft, muted colours.
"We don't so much look at baby fashions, we want our clothing to be comfortable for babies and easy for mothers to use," says Jacob. As a former student of the Elam School of Fine Arts, he's responsible for the unmistakable look of Nature Baby.
And, yes, the couple were pretty busy when they started, and still are now. But the hard work has always revolved around, and involved, the children, either as the inspiration for their work or as the guinea pigs who tried everything on.
Their children are now 14, 10 and five - the wide age gaps probably testament to their parents' busy lives.
At home they prize their locally grown, seasonal organic produce and Georgia has two worm farms. They like well-designed old furniture and good-quality products from yester-year that still "have an intrinsic beauty".
They used cloth nappies for all three children so they know it's hard. But they recommend doing just what you can, without getting anxious over what you can't do."
"We still buy tomatoes in winter - we're not perfect!" says Jacob. "And we never try to rationalise that kind of thing - it would do your head in."
Their contribution to making the world a better place has been in supplying the market with ethically produced baby products. And yes, it's expensive and Jacob and Georgia know there are cheaper options on the market but they try to make good quality garments that will last so they can be passed down from child to child.
"It can end up cheaper in the long run. And very often you don't need as much as you think you need," says Georgia.
And if you take into account the cost to humanity and the destruction to the land caused by non-organic growing methods, then organic products definitely come out cheaper, says Jacob.
They say motherhood changes your perspective on the world and Sarah McKim would agree wholeheartedly. Eighteen months ago she was on maternity leave from her job as an accountant for a construction company and was tending to her precious twin boys in NICU who were born prematurely. They were doing well, but the products being used in the hospital on their precious newborn skin was rubbing it raw.
"They were in immense pain and I was trying to find another product, one that didn't have all the synthetics in it and was as natural as can be."
She tried many natural and organic brands, but it wasn't until a friend in Australia sent some product from the Little Innoscents certified organic range that she found that wonder product and a new business idea.
Sarah and her brother Craig Blunt launched Nature Group, a business that imports and distributes products that are based on eco-friendly principles.
A year and a half on, the business and the twins are thriving. Sarah spends four days a week in the office, one day at home in Auckland's Howick with her darling twins Rainer and Cayden, and employs some 30 sales staff around the country. Most of them are mothers, like herself, who work part-time and are equally passionate about the products in the Nature Group stable.
The first brands Sarah and Craig secured were the Australian Little Innoscents and NATY biodegradable nappies, which are both sold exclusively through New World supermarkets.
She says part of her job is educating people that there is a better, more holistic way that's good for their bodies as well as the earth. She says, "It's really taking off as people become educated and swap their products and realise there are huge benefits."
She says she's happy to personally vouch for the products.
"My husband always had very bad eczema so we were always careful about what products we used, and we haven't had any problems with the boys' skin irritations since using Little Innoscents."
In recent months Nature Group has added eco-friendly tampons and an all natural and organic tanning spray.
The tanning spray is another product that's close to Sarah's heart. A week before Christmas she was diagnosed with melanoma.
"I had an itchy mole on my shoulder that I'd had for as long as I can remember," Sarah recalls. "I said to my GP, 'Can I get that removed?'
"And he said, 'You'll be left with a big scar, it's probably nothing to worry about.'
"I said, 'Well, I'd like it removed anyway for my own peace of mind,' and when they did the biopsy they realised the mole was the initial tumour."
The melanoma was right across Sarah's shoulders and down her bicep. She's had three surgeries since to remove it and is now having full body scans every 12 weeks to check the cancer hasn't returned.
She has a few decent scars to show for it now, and a renewed belief in the initial goal behind the family business: "A passion to find something better for the littlest members of our family."
Karen Murrell has a dream job - she creates beautiful, nourishing, natural lipsticks that give women a little lift and brightens their day.
And the woman who started supermarket brand Skinfood when she was only 26, is already pottering in her lab to come up with more natural cosmetics - foundations, lipliners etc, as the technology catches up with demand.
"I'm just a natural Kiwi tinkerer," says the super elegant Karen from Te Awamutu.
And now science has made the necessary advances for high-fashion natural cosmetics to be up there with the big-name brands. The ingredients are more stable, have a longer shelf life and the colours last longer.
Even so it took Karen a full year to create a lipstick that meets modern expectations as well as boasting ethical credentials. She can show a paper trail back to the source of each wax and oil. The box is made from recycled material and the PLA canisters will start biodegrading within 100 days of being thrown into the compost.
It's all a far cry from the days when whale blubber and coal tar were common ingredients in lippies.
Of course, some of the KM brighter pinks and reds do require synthetic pigments but those pigments are the only synthetic ingredients in the range of 15 lipsticks.
It wasn't easy though. The PLA canister alone had an eight-month lead-in time with rigorous testing and so on. The lipsticks have all been scientifically tested and Karen did her own personal test to make sure they wouldn't melt in hot weather - she left them in the glove box of her car at the height of an Auckland summer. Now she knows they're good for Australia.
The former cosmetics counter assistant was inspired to launch Skinfood because she spotted a gap in the market and just went for it.
Back in 2002, she says, it was the first natural, paraben-free New Zealand-made product on the shelves here. The brand shot to prominence, selling in 700 New Zealand outlets.
"It was pretty amazing," she says now. "And we had a really good run.
"The great thing about doing business in your twenties and thirties is that there's a bit of naivety in there. Now I'm a little more gun-shy."
Karen left the Skinfood company in 2008 after a "re-direction in the company philosophies".
But having done the hard yards in the business world, Karen then spotted another gap in the market. Into its third year of operation her lippies are in 250 stores in New Zealand and 70 in Australia.
"But nothing's guaranteed. You have to be a little bit of a gambler when you start your own business. Nothing's going to be perfect."
At the same time she loves it: "How could you not have a lovely life if you make lipsticks for a living?"
And the bits she most loves are when women prone to allergies write to tell her they can now wear lippy for the first time, thanks to her natural creations.
Photo of Jacob and Georgia: Fiona Tomlinson (www.fionatomlinson.co.nz)