Anna Addicoat &

Andrew Brown

Founders of people for plants 

Settled on the family home verandah and over tea and nibbles, we chat with the inspiring couple behind the certified organic skincare range People for Plants. Discover the story behind the range, their favourite products and what gets us on our soapbox. 

Andrew: One of the guiding principles of our brand was to try to democratise the choice for organic. So we've made our brand really affordable and readily available so we're into 1200-1500 stores and we've got nothing over $30 and at a really high level organic, so that was part of that democratisation of organic. Jamie, our partner is right on the page with that too, he's all for that. His whole point has been trying to connect people with plants his whole professional life, so he sees this as an intimate way that he can do that.

Anna: I also believe it's important for women. The average price they had available to buy skin care five years ago was $50 a month, whereas now they're spending $25. That's a change in the finances that you see in households with women going to work and the husband going to work, there's just not the money to go around. So we wanted everyone to be able to afford it, not just the elite as has been the case previously.

With regards to the potency, it's all about the ingredients, all about the best certified organic ingredients and if you get that, you then get the potency of the ingredient and the benefits from it.

Andrew: But it's not just the price, it's the availability. So we're in all the Priceline stores and the Terry Whites and Healthfood stores. So it's important that if I want it, I can go and get it. So not only is it affordable and it’s not just online, you can go to your local Terry White Chemist and get it.

Jo: Just talking about your ingredients; you are very transparent on your packaging in highlighting the percentage of your organic ingredients. What makes up the rest of the ingredients?

Andrew: So we made the conscious decision that if we were going to be organic, which we decided a long time ago, that we would be upfront and put what the percentage of organic ingredients was on the front. So not only are we certified, we hope it becomes the industry standard that if you want to say you're organic, tell us what you are.

So we went for the highest level of certification, which was the ACO, which is the highest one you can get in Australia, it's a lot more rigid than Ecocert and some of the others. So we went for the highest level of certification and then decided to be up front with our customers and tell them what's on the front. So we're anywhere between 87-99% for all our products, for our first 22 products in the range. The rest is all natural. So for instance, Kakadu Plum that we use is wild harvested from trees that are hundreds of years old and have never seen a chemical, but because they're not certified as organic, they can't be counted as a certified organic ingredient. So if it's not a certified organic ingredient, which is a very rigorous process from the moment it's planted to when it leaves our warehouse, there's literally six steps along the way. But if it's not certified organic, it's still natural. So we don't have any uncertainty and there's none of the nasty chemicals in our products. We try and get as many certified as possible, but as I said with the Kakadu Plum example, not everything can be certified.

Anna: And there are some ingredients out there that are really incredible. We want to do more wild harvesting. Andrew was talking about the Kakadu Plum, which is picked up in Darwin across Western Australia and they collect it in four wheel drives and they bring it in.

Andrew: This is a local aboriginal community who wild harvest this.

Anna: They remove the seed because it's poisonous and give us the pulp. It's got 18% purity by concentration of the actual ingredient and 50 times the Vitamin C of an orange in every Kakadu Plum. So it's a beautiful ingredient and a beautiful story. There's some other ones. It was really funny when Jamie would tell me these stories when we were talking about some of the ingredients. One was Rose Otto and he started by saying that you've got to get it from Bulgaria, it's got to be picked at a certain time of the day, it's got to be picked before sunrise and I sat there and thought “Right, Jamie, you've got to be kidding me.” When I looked it and when we researched it, that was absolutely the case. That is the best time to get it, because it's the most potent ingredient at that time. They've been doing that for hundreds of years, they know that. So there's a reason for it.

Jo: So that basically means that you can hang your hat on the ingredients that you use. The reason I say that is because there is so much greenwashing and particularly with skincare. The average consumer needs to be a chemist to read the ingredients.

Andrew: Not only that, there's so many different types of certification. It's confusing and it's deliberately confusing so that they can greenwash that. So we've tried to be as upfront as possible by showing our certification on the front, our level of organic and our ingredients on the back. All the ingredients are either natural sourced or organic sourced. So we've got nothing to hide and we're hoping that becomes the industry standard. Anyone can say organic or natural, I mean even oil is natural. If you're dousing yourself with petrochemicals, they're natural.

Anna: Yeah, we also put all the “nos”. So everything that's absolutely not in the product is also listed. We've tried to get every element on there. More importantly I suppose, when you go through this, that's a guarantee that you're getting an organic product, but separately we're doing this because of your skin. Women want this, we all want to look younger, it's all about age, it's all about giving us back the benefits. We can't help ourselves. When I was younger, any spare money I had would be spent on labels that were marketing to my requirements. So we're saying that you don't need all that big money anymore as you can get all these benefits; the anti-inflammatories, the antioxidants, the omegas. That's what ageing is all about.

Andrew: I suppose a question that comes up regularly for us is what's the difference between organic and natural? if I choose natural, why do I need to go to organic? Being a farmer, I suppose the easiest way to explain it is that something can be natural, so it could be a natural vegetable but it's loaded up with insecticides and stuff. So I suppose you can consider organic as the super charged version of natural. So this aloe might be natural, but it's been doused in stuff and chemicals during its processing. Whereas organic removes all that, so it's the pinnacle of being natural. So for us, organic is taking it that step further. Then I suppose from just being organic, you then have being certified organic. So this involves having an independent regulatory authority telling you that this has been certified from the moment it was planted through every step of the process to when you get it.

Anna: Yeah, it took us an extra year before we could go to market, but we thought is was worth it. This is because there's as you say, such a greenwash, there's such a perception there. We knew that if we were going to be serious about skincare we had to make that choice. We happily did it. 

Jo: So has it been difficult trying to source some of those organic ingredients for use in your products?

Andrew: Yeah, it is, because a lot of this stuff depends on the vagaries of weather and harvests and stuff as they're normally from small producers. So for instance, the aloe that we use in a lot of our products, there might be a problem in Mexico where we get it from and then we have to find another independent source that grows it organically and that's certified by our certifier. So yes, consistency of ingredients can be difficult. Then with a lot of the bigger multinational moving into the organic or using part organic to claim they're organic, they're coming in and will put a handle on five years worth of the aloe from that farm. This makes it a lot more difficult for us. So consistency of ingredients is a difficult thing. Having said that, there's a big movement towards organic and so a lot of these farmers are trying to shift and grow production and the technology in organics is moving at a pace. So we're looking at products now that have a high surfactant, so you'll get a bubble for shampoos and things which have always been the holy grail of organics as this is really difficult to do. The technological changes in organic preservatives and stuff are moving really quickly and so we're on the cutting edge of that. So for us, it's taken a long time to develop our products, but it has been good because we've been able to use those new developments in organics.

Anna: So those surfactants that he's talking about are natural. So you get them from a soap nut tree. So it comes natural. The preservative we use in most of our products is rosemary, which continues the preservation of the product when it's actually made, but prior to that when we're actually making the ingredients we use elderberry and radish fruit.

Andrew: I don't know if you've seen it. I was going to post it on our website and it's called the history of cosmetics. It's done by the Environmental Working Group, AWG and in this video this lady talks about how they can x-ray and do chemical analysis of a newborn baby and they found huge levels of lead and BPAs. You're born with it, so you can't avoid it these days and it's all about the toxicity of the cosmetics used. There's some frightening statistics, like the average woman will have 500 chemicals in her cosmetics before she leaves the house. The average man uses about six products, the average woman uses about 12; under arms and perfumes and lipsticks and moisturisers and stuff. So you're getting 500 different chemicals on your body before you step out of the house in the morning. In Europe there is 1100 chemicals that have been banned from cosmetics, but in America there's 10. So it's just a free for all, they don't have the time, the money, the effort to do an analysis of all these things and so you can put whatever you want. For example, propylene glycol is what makes things greasy and is an emollient and is what you put in your car radio, that green stuff, that's propylene glycol. That's also in all the cosmetics.

Anna: It dries your skin, it doesn't actually help your skin.

Andrew: Lead. The more expensive the lipstick, the more lead it's got in it. There's no lead in pencils or paint or petrol, but you end up with 4kg of it over your lifetime in your belly, not of lead, but of lipstick. There's lead in that lipstick and the more expensive the lipstick the more lead it contains, because that's what holds the colour. There's all these nasty things in cosmetics. There's so many nasty things in there and the consumer just goes on their merry way without knowing.

Anna: What we were saying is that we're the first generation to have all of our fruit and vegetables covered in pesticides, we're the first generation to be tied to a mobile phone that's giving us small doses of radiation. We're the first generation to have artificial colours, flavours and preservatives added to all commercial food found in supermarkets or a lot of them. Nobody is talking about what that's doing and we all hope that they're doing the right thing. We all hope they're good for us. I'm concerned. That's why we came up with the idea to do skincare that doesn't have all these horrible things in it.

Jo: We're effectively just the guinea pigs generation really. What's to say in 30, 40, 50 years time, what's going to happen.

Andrew: When I was a kid, there was no one was allergic to nuts. It's like you can't take peanuts to school, they can't have peanut butter, they can't have chocolate at school, because every second kid is anaphylactic. Where is that stuff coming from? There's allergies and resistance to stuff that are being built up to the things that we're putting on our body and the food we're eating that have literally just crept up on us in a generation. These didn't exist before.

Well that's the issue when the cosmetics companies say, “But they're in such small amounts that they're ineffectual”, but it's the compound effect that all these products over this time may have. What is the effect of that? I mean they already know that phthalates and stuff that they're taking out of a lot of cosmetics these days are inhibitors of hormones and they're having effects on men's semen and so sperm counts are dropping.

Jo: So what's the public perception been like in terms of people understanding the value of certified organic?

Andrew: It's an education process I think. Our products are doing really well in healthfood stores, because people get the message and they go in there looking for that stuff. It's slower in the general populace, but we always saw that as part of our mission above and beyond democratising the choice for organic is educating people. It's what we do with our packaging, what we do with our message, what we do with our marketing as part of that. So it's educating people to make the healthy choice.

Anna: Everyone wants to be healthy, healthy is a reflection of beauty. I think that now they just want to have that Friday night with a glass of wine and a pizza. They want to be more healthy, but not necessarily all the time and I think it's education that's lacking. I know that when people talk about the product and they understand it, they love it and once they start using it.

What’s really strange is that I often get this question of, “Okay, well I'll try it for a week.” It's like health. You can't go to the gym for a week and think that you're going to be healthy overnight, it takes months. It's the same with your skin, it's actually 90 days for someone over 40 or 50, it takes 90 days to see a change from that development. But everything is now, everyone wants to see an instant reaction to what they're using and it's not like that. So it is an education process.

Jo: So what would you say on that topic, if you could tell people just three things; if you made these three changes to the way you shopped, it will accumulatively have a positive effect; what would be the three things that you would suggest?

Anna: Read the label, grow your own little patch, either in your flat on the window sill, be in touch some way with what you are eating as it makes a huge difference. And using certified. They'd be my three. Absolutely certify, knowing that it's coming without the chemicals is key.

Jo: Just touching again on being certified, there are a lot of small businesses out there who are doing everything by the book, but there's just that cost inhibitor to becoming certified. What would you say to them? Would you say that it's worth it, take that process?

Andrew: It's a lot more long winded and there's a lot more regulatory control that you need to be conscious of, but for us it's like a stamp of approval. So it's a validation of what we're doing and it's also a validation to the consumer so that they can say that they went the extra yard and got the certification. So I think it's important, because we're independently validated by someone else. It's not us saying it. Some of these greenwash cosmetic brands have their own certification or they'll say 100% active organic stuff. So 1% of the stuff is 100% active, whereas as I said before we try to be up front about it. So definitely certification I think takes organic to that next step, so the consumer can be satisfied that we did everything possible.

Anna: What about the bigger claim, what about our kids. We can't keeping standing up and saying that someone else can do it. We must do it, we must make this change. Change is happening too quickly as we're all being too blasé about it. We talked about the frog issue. If you put a frog into a bowl of hot water he jumps out, he's smart enough to jump out of that hot water. If you put that frog in that water and you bring it to the boil, he will die. Are we going to wait for that moment? Are we going to actually sit back and wait to be fried? We all need to make that conscious decision. Yes, it maybe a more costly situation at this moment in time, but we've got to start somewhere.

We are losing our properties here where we are today. Next door, I told you that last summer he lost his crop of beetroot, because we had too much rain and they grew too big and the customer doesn't want to buy them that size, they've got to be a certain size for them to want to buy them, they've got to look good. We've got to stop all that, we can't be picky and choosy anymore and when he stops making money, someone will come along and buy his farm and turn it into a hobby farm or a turf farm or a polo field and we've lost that. We are in the Hawkesbury, we're the feeding ground of Sydney and yet it's happening every day and no one is doing anything about it. We're all trying to make that extra buck. Something needs to change, government really needs to change. It needs to be more accessible. Is it that much more? I don't know. There were 96 orange orchards here not long ago, there are now four. No one will buy their oranges, they're $10 a box of 80 oranges, is that too expensive? No, we've got to work around this. I am passionate about it. So many things are happening just on my doorstep and I think that we just need to think about it a bit more.

Andrew: I've spoken to Bruce, the guy that's got the orchard. A 20 acre orange orchard isn't going to compete with 100,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest they cut down, because it's cheaper for them to pick the oranges, pack them and put them on a ship than it is for him to just pay someone to pull them off the trees and so they can't compete.

Anna: We need to look at those alternatives, we need to be getting our fruit and vegetable boxes sent to us. It's something we need to be serious about.

Andrew: Now we haven't tried to second-guess nature, because we consider that nature provides all these gifts to us. Unfortunately the cosmetics industry have tried to synthesise and improve on nature. So we think that nature is our medicine cabinet where we've got our ambassador, our partner Jamie who roams the world and comes back to us with what's the latest, greatest ingredient, because he's always travelling around the world.

Anna: Or the oldest, greatest ingredient..

Andrew: We're not trying to reinvent the wheel, so for us that's our guiding philosophy.

Jo: What would be you favourite part of the creation process? Is it the actual harvesting or being in the lab and developing these products? Or is it the whole process that you enjoy?

Andrew: Well I like all of it, but I like the development of new products, coming up with a range, looking at what's available. We're considering a whole load of new products at the moment, we've got 22 out on the market and we've got a big innovation pipeline. We're looking at some haircare products at the moment, which has always been a difficulty in the organics space. But working with the new technological changes, I'm now about to look at a whole range of Australian native ingredients, wild harvest ingredients. There's an untapped wealth of ingredients out there. Kakadu Plum is one we spoke about before and it's 60 or 70 times what the vitamin C of an orange is. It's 30 times what a goji berry is. So there's this amazing wealth of things right on our doorstep that we want to start looking into that have a utility in cosmetics. So for me it's discovering those things, seeing how we can apply them, seeing what the need is in the market and what we can create.

Anna: Women and men are so different. Look, feel benefits, touch. I get so excited and so does Catherine who I work with. We're like, “This is great, this is perfect” and this is a great scrub and smells divine. And then the reactivation when you finally have it in its container as on the shelf and you walk in for the first time and you're seeing someone put it on and you're watching their reaction. You've done it hundreds of times, you've gone through a formula and you've tweaked it. You've got experts telling you what's the best thing and why and you've finally got it; to see that is the moment for me.. It's cool, it's great. 

Jo: So do you have a favourite product?

Anna: Right now, I do. It’s the mist toner. It's got the Rose Otto, the wild harvest Rose Otto. It's a scent thing, the moment you smell it you just get this lovely euphoria and then there's the benefits of it. It's got the Kakadu Plum with the huge amount of vitamin C. I love it; I use it on the plane. I spray it maybe 10 times a day, but that's because I'm trialling it all day. I also love the oils. There's a new one, which is the argan oil, often used in hair products.

Andrew: Or Moroccan oil as it's often known as, because it's from the argan tree, which is exclusively found in Morocco.

Anna: And it's got pomegranate in it. It's got loads of antioxidants. Because it's winter and I get very dry, I've been using it day and night. It takes away any sort of dryness. So they're my two favourites. Andrew?

Andrew: I like the hydration gel, which started off life as an after sun product. It's heavily based on aloe and cucumber, which is what Cleopatra used to use, that was her beauty secret and so we're not reinventing the wheel as it's 5000 years old. The aloe is such an amazing plant and we use it in a lot of our stuff, but keep it in the fridge so it's lovely and cold. Then you can use it as an after sun product, so it's just that cool soothing feel on the skin, but the way we've developed it, we changed it a little so it's not an after sun product, because there's not a huge market for that. It's surprising the aloe isn't blue inside, it's clear. The blue stuff that you're used to has just got colour added to it, aloe is clear. So anyway, the aloe gel we've got is lovely for aftershave. So it's an aloe based product.

Anna: Aloe is just so hydrating and nourishing. So for women it's great for any spot, just any repairing you need. I use as a mask on a Friday night when I've been in air conditioning and under the lights all week. I put it on and I leave it on and it just soaks in, it's just really nice for that reason. But the men like it for shaving. Also if you're having your legs waxed, it's great for that. So it's actually a multi-tasking product.

Jo: Are you looking at developing a specific men's range?

Andrew: Yes, at some point in time. Yes, we would like to. Being the founder of the thing and being a man, I would like to have a men's range product. It's in the pipeline to do, we're working on a couple of other products before that, but yes, at some stage we will come out with a range of men's products.

Anna: The problem is we can help women with their face, but if they're using surfactants in their hair products, it just doesn't work. So obviously, yes, he wants men's. But women are our target audience at this moment in time. So we're really pushing for that and there are major breakthroughs as Andrew was saying in surfactants right now where we can get high percentages of organic in a haircare range that would work.

Andrew: In terms of organics, there's very little if any in haircare products as it's a really difficult thing to do. There's lots of natural, but there's next to no organic and if there is it's very limited. So haircare is something we would like to open up. The market for shampoos and conditioners.

Anna: Then it complements what we're doing. We can safely say, “You know what? If you really want help with your face, start with your hair.” I always say that. When my own niece and nephews come here and I can say that they're going through that hormonal change, that is natural, there's very little you can do about that. They're creating their own oils, all you can do is try and help them with that. But I always say to them, “What are you using in your hair, because that will affect your face enormously.” So a sulphate will remove 40% of the oil from your skin, it's that high. Then it's open for problems to occur.

Jo: I've got a last question. We spoke about educating people about the fact that healthy and preferably organic choices needn't be expensive or hard. Do you have any final thoughts on that?

Anna: Yes, I go to a coop here and we're very lucky that there are three or four around here. So they're accessible to us. All I say is cut down and whenever you can make the choice, make the choice. And always be mindful of the fact that when you do make that choice, you are making a better choice for the environment as well.

Andrew: I think it's consumers that drive markets. The suppliers provide things that consumers want and so when consumers make the conscious decision to change then supermarkets and suppliers sit up and take notice. Just in our business, in the cosmetics business, we've noticed over the last eight or 10 years there's been this movement to remove the nasty things. Even the big multinationals are. They're also putting some natural stuff in, then they're putting organic stuff in and some are moving to certified organic. So it's consumers that are driving this change. So if the consumer wants to go out there and choose healthy lifestyles, effectively they're helping themselves because the price will come down. I mean Coles and Woolworths and stuff that have big organic natural sections in their supermarkets now. Anna alluded to the fact that something like Whole Foods in America is the fourth biggest grocery retailer and they're all natural and organic. They're primarily on the West Coast and East Coast, but when consumers decide to change then the shops will come on board. So make the organic and natural choice and you'll find that the suppliers will be there to provide the need.

Anna: It's also really important that they might find that it may help them in other ways. Everything from stress levels, your own hormones, how you operate on a daily basis is actually what you're putting in. That all affects you. How your body works, how you're feeding it. It affects all of those things. If you're having problems with your health, I always say look at what you're eating and what you're doing, look to how you're reacting and that is an absolute best start.

Jo: Perfect, thank you.

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