The wonderful thing about New Zealand is that businesses can literally be launched from the family kitchen table and grown to become successful global enterprises.
This has certainly been the case for natural skincare company Linden Leaves, who were recently named 'Best New Zealand Brand' at the Best in Beauty awards.
Established in 1995 by founder Brigit Blair, Linden Leaves now serves communities in Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the US, the UK, Switzerland and most recently, Brazil.
Linden Leaves came to be because two of Brigit's three children suffered from severe eczema and the Christchurch-based mum struggled to find skincare products for them that were not pungent-smelling or unpleasant in texture. She began creating her own - from the kitchen table - and while she didn't discover a cure for eczema and sensitive skin, Brigit found comfort in knowing she was creating skincare products sourced from gentle ingredients. Linden Leaves was born.
More than 23 years on, the business is still very much a family-oriented one, with Brigit at the helm, daughter Juliet (ironically, the only one of Brigit's children to have not suffered from eczema) in charge of product development and marketing, and husband David on the board. They have a loyal band of staff, many of whom have been with the company since its inception.
"We're one of the few skincare businesses out there that is still family-run," says Juliet proudly. "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."
While managing to retain its family feel Linden Leaves has grown from strength to strength to become a strong global brand.
Brigit says of its recent expansion into Brazil, "We are so excited about this market, who have just received their first shipment of products after a nearly five-year assessment, planning and registration process.
"The Brazilian social media pages are already showing growing interest - people are curious and keen to discover effective products from New Zealand built on ethical principles and with premium, pure ingredients."
Linden Leaves prides itself on its commitment to ethical and sustainable practice; it's no accident that Brigit knows where every one of her products' ingredients come from.
Ingredients are sourced in New Zealand - some even gathered through foraging in Canterbury. Brigit shares, "We will only go beyond New Zealand if you literally can't get it here and then we'll look for an ethical supplier overseas."
The company gained NATRUE certification four years ago, which heralded a giant leap forward for Brigit:
"You need to provide a very, very detailed trail from how your ingredients are grown to how they're extracted to the finished product. But to me it's very important because I think in skincare there is a lot of green washing which creates confusion for customers. We've gone to the lengths and the cross lengths because we wanted to give our customers the confidence that what we say is true.
"In skincare it might be that someone is allergic to an ingredient or they might just not like it but they should be able to know exactly what's in the product."
Brigit is the first to admit "we are by no means perfect" but the company continually works on ways to improve its sustainability. Some of the measures that have been integrated into Linden Leaves' approach include:
- Vegetable-based printing inks for boxes, requiring less solvents and chemical nasties during the production process
- Pop starch packing, made from extruded vegetable starch which is 100 per cent compostable and dissolves in water, replacing polystyrene which is usually discarded, yet not expected to decompose within 100 years
- Recyclable packaging, local production and growing as many of the botanicals and ingredients as possible
- Clean electricity - Linden Leaves' head office and warehouse is based in Christchurch where they are lucky to have access to clean power generated by hydro-electric facilities
- All except two products of Linden Leaves' current range are Vegan - its Lip Balm contains Manuka Honey and its Foot Massge Cream contains beeswax. The company is firmly against animal testing and has chosen not to take the instore route to market in China until they make changes to their import requirements, which at the moment require products to be animal tested
Business in Brazil is currently lagging a little behind on the global sustainability wave and the company has found it difficult to source some of its ingredients, such as locally made pop starch.
However, Linden Leaves Brazil in-market representative, Kesiane Zeni, says, "Linden Leaves Brazil is committed to emulating the sustainability practices we follow in New Zealand, and to be part of growing the brand internationally in a sustainable, people-centric way... We are excited to be part of innovating new and better options both here in New Zealand."
Linden Leaves products will initially be sold online in Brazil, giving equal access to all Brazilians. The focus in Brazil will be reaching the many women there with sensitive skin, who are looking for trustworthy, effective products made from natural ingredients which do their job gently.