Before looking more closely at making spa treatment products on-site, I'd like to share the stories of some of the people who took this idea a step further in an attempt to demonstrate that products produced in line with a more environmentally conscious and sustainable model could still fit a vendor-type business.
Arcania Apothecary: Richard Howard
Just over 10 years ago, when I was manager of the Bath House Spa in Bath, UK, I met Richard Howard of Arcania Apothecary who created our aromatic massage oils. He'd gone on a Buddhist meditation retreat in Sri Lanka but spent most of his time in the kitchen, contemplating switching career to become a chef.
Then he noticed that the women would also go out into the garden to gather fresh ingredients to make their face creams and mud packs along with their curries. When he got back to England he started making super-fresh body products with very short shelf-lives, and his company still makes small-batch bespoke ranges.
Richard was often talking about sustainability - in terms of the environment but also social responsibility. His company supports - via very hands-on ethical trading - a small village in India and farms in Sri Lanka for herbs and spices, as well as several hundred families in Ghana supplying organic shea butter.
'My focus has always been to create for the individual, and not for a market, says Richard. The beauty industry has been driven by an illusion for the past 70 years. But just as in the food industry, consumers are now being more conscientious and are asking what’s going into the product.'
Sensara: Norman and Premchit
Authentic and audacious certainly fits Richard's work. It's interestingly synchronous then, that I've just made connection with Norman Jones of Sensara. He emailed me that his company's mantra for 2009 is 'Fortune favors the audacious'.
Sensara is currently launching 'an audacious initiative designed to assist hotels/ spas to secure their fortune during these challenging times'. They focus on creating custom brands of certified 100% natural organic skin care, spa treatment, and guest amenity products.
As of now they are offering their product creation, formulation, testing, and training services for free which could encourage more spas to use location-unique products. Norman also tells me they are considering developing a new line of environmentally safe cleaning products specifically for spas.
Like Richard, they make their body care products in small batches. A product that been formulated in Thailand where they are based, can be produced and delivered to a client from one of their regional centers worldwide they say, 'minimizing' delivery costs, delivery times, energy consumption, and carbon emissions.
Sourcing locally is really the best way to minimize these kinds of costs but that also depends on being able to find (or having the skills to create) what you are looking for locally. Economic limitations may in the end encourage and favor those who have the foresight to think and act local ....
... and in doing so they could be contributing to a more sustainable world.
Norman and his partner Premchit do seem to be eminently qualified and authentic. Their website says that Premchit's father learned traditional healing as a Buddhist monk and Premchit’s mother became a chef in the tradition of the Royal Cuisine of Thalang - Premchit learned much about indigenous plants and healing from them.
Norman was born in southeast Australia, into a family who grew their own food. His mother instilled in him an appreciation of alternative therapies. Norman has a degree in agriculture and previously worked as an international agricultural commodity trader throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Arcania and Sensara would seem to be good considerations for a reasonably well-funded spa that didn't want to create their own products on site and from scratch but did want to be involved in the creative process and to support a product vendor that potentially fit their sustainability values.
Sensara says that their customized approach enables customers to 'achieve any practical budget, thereby allowing a client to specify and control the budget invested in a range'. But some daring and sensible spas might still consider taking up the entrepreneurial gauntlet as eco-spa-chef themselves.
Inara: Anne Dolbeau
There are other specialized product makers who, like Richard of Arcania, were inspired to help disadvantaged communities. Inara, a brand name for Wild Earth founded by Anne Dolbeau in order to support womens' cooperatives in a remote region of Brazil, has recently been widely profiled in the media.
I was sent some samples to try when the owner misunderstood a posting suggesting I had psoriasis (happily I don't but she was doing good marketing!). All of these used Inara's Enliven essential oils blend (grapefruit, rosemary, rose geranium, mandarin and sage) which I already knew I'd like and did in these richly creamy products.
They came in a simple rough woven sack with the Inara name brand, and the product style had an appropriately indigenous feel to it. These '100% certified organic' body care products are promoted as being fair trade, socially responsible, and containing rare Babassu palm nut oil harvested by the women.
As a member of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), Wild Earth is clearly demonstrating it's market focus. OTA is a business association for the organic industry in North America which says that it 'aims to promote and protect organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public, and the economy'.
Over 60% of members are small businesses in food, fiber/textiles, and personal care products. However, a very detailed article on the Organic Consumer Association (OCA) website about the web of effort and intrigue surrounding claims of organic qualities in body products states that:
What are we feeding our skin?
For body care products, the issues of fair trade and social responsibility regards ingredients sourced in foreign countries may well pale by comparison to those surrounding what is organic and what is not. In addition, in our love of the exotic and rare, we may have long-since lost sight of our social and environmental responsibilities locally.
Here are more quotes from that article 'Organic beauty is only skin deep' on the OCA website to illustrate the commercial dilemma (or test of ethics perhaps) facing those in the food and cosmetic industries regards the increasingly sought-after 'organic' label.
Though it seems valid to relate these two industries (food and cosmetic) in terms of safety for human consumption, there are differences between their products. Some are a consequence of how their mass production has affected consumer expectations. A prime example is that you'll rarely see a sell-by date on body care items.
The article continues:
This hints at the possibility of small organic spa products businesses making small-batch, short-shelf-life products for local consumption using locally sourced ingredients perhaps as part of the farmer's market movement; or in a step up to the kind of small-scale processing that Arcania and Sensara do but for a regional not international market.
Of course, there are sustainability issues associated with local/rural harvesting, organic' herbal ingredients being a case in point (see also post 6. in this series). It is good to be aware that uncertified and illegally harvested wild material is entering the supply chain as certified material in part because there is a lack of understanding about how to audit 'wild crops' or botanicals.
The above article continues:
With just $26 billion in global organic sales projected ..., the entire trade is dwarfed by the $30 billion US cosmetics market. In fact the entire US organic market is just larger than the wholesale market for cosmetic chemicals in the US, which themselves are just one small part of product formulations.
From the above it is clear that the cosmetics market is a force to be reckoned with, and that it is unlikely that consumer sentiment, LOHAS or otherwise, will be able to defeat it's determination to grow. However, the economic forces of a recession might - if more consumers find themselves with no choice but to live local and simple (and sustainable). And finally,
Organic personal care manufacturing will benefit four big cosmetic chemical manufacturers unless rigorous processing standards are developed and enforced. Only by tying organic beauty care closely to the National Organic Program (NOP) standards can the 'lifestyle' marketed by the manufacturers represent the values at the core of organic agriculture.
The spa and beauty industry comes in for much (I think valid) criticism for promoting and cashing in on false hopes and superficial images. However, I still believe that as a cultural concept it could effectively embrace and promote care for the wider environment along with care for the health and wellbeing of humans. It is a question of values and our willingness to uphold them.
This post is part of a series of six related posts about spa products and the powerful potential they have for enabling sustainable spa culture:
- Spa treatment menus: authenticity and audacity
- Eco-spa-chefs: cooking up a better future for organic spa products
- Savvy and creative spas grow their own spa products
- The value of growing and making your own spa products
- Natural, organic? Spa products under scrutiny
- How to make your own 'soulful and sustainable' spa products on site