SUSTAINABLE BEAUTY - WHAT DOES IT MEAN ?

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There’s a lot of talk about sustainability and conservation at the moment. Have you noticed or is it just me?

To that end, over the last 12 months I’ve been working with the Taronga Conservation Society in raising awareness of the incredible work they do for animals, their habitats and their efforts to protect it for the future. From top to bottom, they are committed to a greener future with sustainable practices and policies embedded in the core of all their activities. Even recognised by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (yes, Harry and Meaghan) during their recent trip to Sydney ….and Y-E-S I was very grateful to meet them. I have to say that it’s incredible to witness the work of so many dedicated, passionate people in this field, the need of which is only driven home when you watch distressing videos like the turtle with a straw up its nose, rhinos left to die so their horn can be removed or even the smuggling of our native birds (the list can go on and on). Horrendous!

Although conservation differs from sustainability, I’m just starting to learn more about the impact the beauty and fashion industry is having on our world.

So, I’ve just had a busy two months of travel. First, I went to India to see animal conservation work in action (to witness the work around saving the Bengal tiger and Indian rhino from extinction). Then I went to Ghana in West Africa to look at fair trade and sourcing sustainable beauty products. Now I have so much more understanding of why it’s critically important we take both topics seriously.

I really wanted to share a few of my insights about sustainable beauty because I think there’s some confusion. I think explaining it to you in my voice will make more sense, so I have interviewed myself…which I realise sounds ridiculous, but just go with it.

What does sustainable beauty mean to me?

Tash: That the products you use on your body are just as important as what you put into your body.

What initially sparked your interest in the sustainable beauty movement?

Tash: Last year was a big year of reflection for me and part of that was around my choice of career, being in the fashion/beauty industry. For 20 years, I have been a retailer and consumer, and I just felt a shift needed to happen for myself personally and my business. I felt that I needed to become a conscious consumer and educator in a world and industry filled with a lot of noise and waste that I felt needed to slow down. I also began working closely with animal conservation which although is different to sustainability, it goes hand in hand.

 What terms and ideas do the concept of sustainable beauty include that we might not be aware of?

Tash: Having a ‘social responsibility’ – this might sound like a fancy marketing tool or a fad – but so what?! If more people and businesses are socially aware of the impacts our industry is having on our world, then the better off we’ll be. Many of us think if something is ‘organic’ or ‘green’ or ‘natural’ these fit under the term sustainable, however many facets have to be considered i.e. environmentally friendly ingredients and eco considered packaging, internal operations, distribution, marketing and even what the brand is doing in the community to give back.

How have you transformed your routine into a sustainable one? What was the process like and how long did this transition take you?

Tash: It was mainly because my body was crying out for me to change my beauty regime. After having children and the aging process (don’t we love it?!) I became allergic to products with strong chemicals or fake additives, especially scents. As soon as I stopped and simplified the process my skin changed and is the best it has been in my whole life. I also stopped doing things like obsessive fake tanning and could actually see the effects it was having on my pores. I now spend time giving back to my skin rather than abusing it.

From what you’ve learnt on your journey, what actually makes a beauty product sustainable?

Tash: The packaging, the simpleness of ingredients, the scent, the message and how my body reacts to it.

What labels or logos should we look out for when shopping sustainably?  

Tash: I think you have to be very vigilant because ‘sustainable’ is a bit of a buzz word and some brands are using it when they probably shouldn’t. Read about the history of the brand to understand why they use words like eco, vegan, organic, ethical and green etc. Check the ingredients! Just because the packaging looks ‘eco’ doesn’t mean the product is. Also, the ‘no animal testing’ logo and other ‘eco language’ changes country to country. So, if you are buying online, check they meet our strong Australian standards.

Sustainable beauty obviously goes beyond just how a product is packaged. What have you learnt about the entire production line that really opened your eyes?

Tash: I was recently in West Africa in the villages of Tamale in Ghana with The Body Shop. This was to see first-hand the entire process of a true, environmental, sustainable and fair-trade product, from sourcing ingredients, manufacturing systems, marketing, education & giving back socially. I wish more people could experience this – as some don’t realise how much work goes into sustainable beauty. The Shea butter is conveniently packaged and affordable at $29. So many factors are considered which is why buying these products is so important. The impact is bigger than just our environment; it impacts people’s lives and future generations.

How can we do our due diligence to ensure the products we buy have a sustainable production line from beginning to end?

Tash: If a brand and the product are truly sustainable you will be able to read about the process. Most brands document all the work that goes into the process because it's not just about the end product – it's about the journey.

What questions should we be asking from the brands we shop to ensure they are meeting sustainability standards?

Tash: I think you need to get educated on what you find important from a brand. Don’t let the brand just tell you – ask people around you what they use, and try products yourself. It is so easy to google questions to find out more about products and brands. Also reading reviews can be helpful – if you read reputable source

A lot of people only think ‘environmental impact” when they think about sustainability. Could you speak to the other benefits you’ve seen firsthand when visiting the communities in Ghana where the Body Shop sources their shea butter? 

Tash: It was such an incredible, life-changing experience visiting this part of the world. A product (the only product) the villages have been using for centuries as an intensely enriching hair and body moisturiser, made from a nut from a wild Shea tree. This part of the world is incredibly dry and hot and remote, yet the women’s skin and hair are beautiful. Now, Shea butter is being shared with the rest of the world because The Body Shop worked out how they could trade with the community over 25 years ago.

The women in these regions didn’t have a voice, living in a male-dominated society where women were ‘seen and not heard’. Sourcing Shea is ‘women’s business’ only. They are allowed, culturally, to collect the nuts and make it into butter. It is the sole income for women in the village, and now they earn even more than the men (oh yeah!). The Body Shop trade directly with these women, bringing in cash flow to help their families. In addition, the money from the Shea butter allows these communities to allocate money to help build schools and health care facilities and to source safe drinking water. This butter is now referred to as ‘women’s gold’ – not only is it a historic natural beauty treatment, it has changed women’s social standing.

Trade from The Body Shop effects 40,000 people, in 11 villages, has built 7 schools for 1,200 students, sourced safe drinking water, built health care facilities and commissioned the replanting of 18,000 trees. That’s pretty impressive! I now think of all of this each night when I apply Shea butter on my body and think ‘hell yeah!’.  It really works!

What are some simple things we can all do to help spread the message of the importance of sustainable beauty?

Tash: We just need to talk more about sustainable beauty and the impact it has in our world, we need to buy/support products and brands that fit this ethos. We need to change the conversation and really think about what being ‘beautiful’ is.

Why is it importance of shopping sustainably?

Tash: I started with reading up about it. I bought one product, and it just built up over time. I don’t think being 100% sustainable and conscious is achievable overnight. But if we start considering making small changes, over time we’ll make a huge impact. We are the consumer, we have the power where we spend our money, this can make big business, make changes. Also, do it for yourself.

If you want to start looking into sustainable products, I suggest you go into a store or use a brand you can trust. Like The Body Shop - and this is not because they have asked me to say this. It’s because they have been producing sustainable products for over 25 years, so it’s not a marketing gimmick, it’s the real deal. They went off my radar for a few years, but after re discovering them again, I think you will fall in love again too. Some of my other favourite sustainable brands creating wonderful products are Aveda, Aesop and Votary. Even just you reading this article is a start of changing the conversation. I feel much better about the choices I am making now.

Don't forget to make a comment below....I love reading your thoughts. 

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Tash Sefton6 Comments