Real Life

How I live: Linden Leaves founder Brigit Blair

Brigit Blair talks to the Weekly about her lifestyle running her skincare business Linden Leaves.
Linden Leaves Brigit Blair

Brigit Blair (65) is the founder of natural skincare range Linden Leaves. The Kiwi skincare pioneer lives in Christchurch and marks 20 years in business this year.

“I didn’t set off with a big master plan to create a skincare range – it was really out of necessity because two of my three children had severe allergies, eczema and very sensitive skin.

“Back in the ’90s, there weren’t many options. It was mainly steroids, horrible cold tar cream and a soap substitute that didn’t dissolve in the bath. Everything was in ugly white pots and didn’t smell very nice. My daughter Catherine  would be teased at school, and when she and my son Chris brought friends home to play, they’d rush to hide the pots in the bathroom.

“I was teaching part-time at their school and I remember thinking, ‘My children’s skin is a bit like a car. Would it go better if I oil it?’ While facial oils are everywhere now, back then the only oil you would see was in massage parlours! I’m not very scientific, but I knew there was a market for natural skincare products that were kind to sensitive skin.

Brigit’s children had eczema when they were young.

“Luckily, my husband of 44 years, David, is a dentist, so he did dentistry by day and helped me with my skincare range by night. We settled on sweet almond and apricot kernel oil. While we could have just bottled that, we wanted to make it beautiful, so we freeze-dried roses, lemons and tamarillos. It became a real labour of love – I really feel putting that handmade goodness together with care and affection transfers to the person using the product.

“It wasn’t always easy. There were tough times. As we became more commercial, we decided we needed more products and I was pretty hands-on. I didn’t have great computer skills and I did the production, bookwork, order taking and the packing. Our greatest challenge came early on when we opened a new store in Korea and disaster struck shortly after opening. We didn’t have time to get insurance before the Sampoong Department Store, where our shop was located, collapsed in an earthquake, and more than 500 people died. But we picked ourselves up and carried on.

“Over 20 years, we’ve gone from one facial oil to products that cover the whole body. More natural ingredients are available and we’re now meeting tough criteria to carry the highest rating for being 100% natural. For me, it’s never been about success and money, it’s about helping people and just trying to think differently than just going to the doctor and getting something pharmaceutical.

“My youngest daughter has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and we had so many ambulance trips from restaurants because she’d always say, ‘I’m allergic to peanuts’ and they’d say

‘Oh, yeah, yeah’, but I don’t think they realised how severe those problems were.

“I’ve recently hired a CEO so I don’t have to travel so much. I’ve become an old-age pensioner so it’s time to enjoy my grandchildren, who live in Auckland, and I have an amazing 95-year-old mother to spend time with.

Brigit started her company from scratch and used to run it out of her garage. These days she exports to more than 18 countries.

“Every year, I say I’ll cut down my hours, but I’m still working five days a week. Why would I retire? I’m still so passionate about it and I’d probably still be poking my nose in if I did retire. Looking back at the past two decades, it’s not the big things like winning awards that have truly mattered. It’s the letters from people taking the time to say how much the products have changed their life because their skin is settled and they’re feeling much more confident.

“I get such a thrill when anybody emails – it’s fantastic. As for my first customers – my children, I wish I could say I found a cure, but I didn’t. What I did was help them to manage it. My son Chris’ skin became better as he got older. My eldest daughter Catherine now knows what triggers her allergies and reactions. My youngest, Juliet, who’s now our Linden Leaves global marketing manager, has never had a problem with her skin.

“My son and daughters have partners from Germany, the Caribbean and Japan, all with lovely complexions – and my gorgeous grandchildren’s skin is just great!”

As told to Anastasia Hedge

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