We are always on the look out for new organic products, and its in East Anglia where we find the home of the organic brand, Austin Austin. Mixing sustainability; almost all products are vegan, and visuals done by artists, their products will sit well on your shelf. In a moment where consumers are questioning the ethics behind their consumption, Austin Austin is devoted to producing skin and hair care products that are made consciously, and of course with style. Å Journal spoke to Richard and Bessie, the father/daughter duo behind Austin Austin on its inception and the current shift in attitudes to our environment.
Words Vanessa Dos Santos
Photography Thea Løvstad
Interview (Richard Austin, RA / Bessie Austin, BA / Å Journal, ÅJ)
ÅJ: This is more a question for Richard, but how did you become involved in producing organic products like your other brand, toothpaste?
RA: I started a wholefood shop in 1976 and then a wholefood wholesale warehouse a few years later. The logical progression was to start a brand of my own and with Bessie’s birth imminent in 1988 I thought that I’d better do something to earn a little more money.
There was an American toothpaste brand selling in our shop in Norwich but, even with our staff discount, my colleagues and I could not really afford to buy it. So I wrote to Tom in the US about his brand and asked if we could bring it into the UK at a better price. Somehow the communication failed and I didn’t get a reply so I decided to make a toothpaste of my own. The lab that I used said that my requirements (no artificial flavouring, colourings, preservatives and so on) just couldn’t be met. But we kept trying and in the end we got there.
ÅJ: To follow that question, what then led you to go into organic skincare products? Did it come from a sort of dissatisfaction with how other skincare products are made?
RA: I have worked with Organic foods for a long time (in fact, Rainbow Wholefoods is the second longest holder of Soil Association packing certificate) and I love the idea behind this method of farming. When Bessie invited me to work with her on Austin Austin, Organic was top of my wish list and luckily it was on Bessie’s list as well.
ÅJ: How did you decide to partner up with your daughter?
RA: Bessie and I have always been good friends and we have always enjoyed making things together. One weekend some years ago, when Annie, Bessie’s mum, was away at a conference, we made a full size paper mache snake standard lamp. Another weekend more recently we decided to make Austin Austin.
ÅJ: This a question for Bessie. Coming from advertising and designing, what made you want to venture into organic products?
BA: Working in advertising, you get a fascinating insight into a whole range of different companies and industries, all of which have their own unique character, their own way of doing things and way of thinking.
I’ve loved creating a company based on my own view of how things could be. Organic has been part of my life since the beginning and to a large extent, Austin Austin represents my want for something beautifully fragranced, effective and creatively interesting, underpinned by my family’s principles. I believe organic and environmentally conscious is the only way forwards but this doesn’t exclude it from being current.
ÅJ: What’s the work dynamic like, working with each other?
RA: We like to meet in London, to walk across the city and to drink plenty of tea all the while discussing our ideas. Other times we sit around at home in Norfolk surrounded by sheets of paper and pens designing our way forward. When we find ourselves in different cities we speak and use computers to communicate. Our good fortune is that we have a good sense of when to defer to each other and when to ask each other for help. So its good fun and it works well.
ÅJ: Why did you decide to work with artists? What has that process been like?
BA: Aesthetically, I’ve always wanted Austin Austin to be both beautiful and culturally interesting. And who better to work with for those two things than artists. We are trying to be as open with any brief as possible, giving creative people an opportunity to do what they do best. And an opportunity for us to embrace the not-yet-thought-of.
ÅJ: Do you work with a team in creating these products or has it mostly been the two of you? If so, do you prefer working this way?
We search out and work with the most interesting people we can find in each field. From artist to perfumier to scientist to haulier to recycled plastic manufacturer. We are always looking for people and companies who embrace new ways of thinking, approach their work mindfully and take care of our environment.
ÅJ: Do you see a shift in the way skincare products are made? Not using animal testing, being stricter in not using chemicals?
RA: It seems to me that in a lot of areas people are looking more closely at what they are consuming and how it affects their bodies and the planet. This process has been going on for many years and most recently Richard Attenborough has greatly contributed to raising awareness. People quite rightly want more care taken with foods and with cosmetics and that care extends to the integrity of contents, packaging and all around impact on the environment.
BA: When I was growing up, I only had one or two friends who's families ate organic and used natural skincare. Now, most of my friends will look at ingredients lists before buying and make more natural choices.
ÅJ: Can people find Austin Austin in stores or is it mostly sold online?
We’re available in shops (although don’t have our own yet) and online.