When Brigit Blair began dabbling in creating gentle, natural skincare products at her kitchen table in Christchurch more than 30 years ago, she could not have known that those dabblings would evolve into the successful global skincare company that Linden Leaves is today – or that despite its international success the business would remain such a family affair.
With her middle child, Juliet, one of Linden Leaves’ key players as marketing director, and husband David Blair on the board, even the inspiration for the business comes down to the family's two other children, Catherine and Chris.
The former school teacher explains, “Both my oldest and youngest had infantile eczema. We had to use soap substitutes that were unpleasant in texture and pungent-smelling creams... I decided this regime was not a long-term option and began an interest in gentle, natural, healing, restorative, soothing ingredients.”
While Brigit can’t say she found a cure for eczema and sensitive skin, she at least found comfort in knowing she was creating skincare products sourced from gentle ingredients.
Daughter Juliet can’t help but see the irony in the fact that she was the only child in the family that didn’t suffer from eczema, yet the only one of the three to join the business. (She believes it was because she was born in England that she escaped the childhood eczema – in that era there was a lot of crop dusting done around the outskirts of Christchurch where the Blairs lived, and some of those chemicals such as DDT have since been banned.)
It was at the age of 21 that she joined forces with her mother.
“I had actually gone into architecture and then TV and film. At that point we were exporting quite a bit and I was travelling anyway so Brigit asked me if I could go and see the products in market. I went and then wrote a really long synopsis of all the things I thought we could do better, so Brigit said, ‘Would you like to come and do them better then?'"
Both believe that keeping it in the family has given the brand a lovely point of difference.
"We’re one of the few skincare businesses out there that is still family-run," says Juliet. "It’s a very personal brand and a lot of people have met my mother or can relate to the story or like the idea that they’re not dealing with a massive corporation. We're really invested in what we’re building and have a real emotional connection to it."
An inherent part of the family's approach is "being as environmentally friendly as possible and running an ethical business", she adds.
When Juliet, 41, was younger she worried that others would judge her for working with her mum.
“I thought everyone was going to think that I can’t get a real job, but then I moved to Europe and found they had a much different perception of family companies. They were like ‘why wouldn’t you work in your family company?' so it’s quite interesting how culturally the thinking can be quite different… I guess we’re quite a young nation and have that do-it-yourself mentality. There are also not many people who come from a multi-generation family business situation in New Zealand.”
Not every mother and daughter could work so closely together but the pair believes it’s their differences that make them a tight team.
“Mum’s really methodical and very detailed,” says Juliet. “I’m a bit more ‘inside-outside’. I’m much more interested in the concept and the vision, the look and feel and that end of things. We definitely have different opinions about stuff but I think that’s a good thing.”
There are pros and cons to keeping it in the family of course.
"The challenge is ensuring the business does not consume our every breath," says Brigit, who is a doting grandmother to Juliet's two children, aged 18 months and three.
"There has to be time for family - grandparents, children, grandchildren, birthdays, holidays, celebrations and for ourselves and our friends. But we have become much better at separating work and family time over the last decade!
"And the biggest plus is that we can keep to our values and brand anchors. We do not always agree but we have a common goal and an inbuilt understanding of where we want to go and what is non-negotiable."
This was brought to you by Linden Leaves.
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