Bessie and Richard Austin – father and daughter founders of British eco-conscious beauty business Austin Austin – pride themselves on creating organic-certified products, produced locally and tested only on people. The brand’s beautifying goods are housed in recyclable packaging displaying the work of up-and-coming artists. We discuss working with family, overthrowing commercial design and the importance of nourishing daily rituals.
What inspired you to start Austin Austin together?
Bessie: “Richard (my dad and the other Austin) has worked with certified organic goods since the 70’s, when he set up one of the first wholefood shops in the UK. He also founded Kingfisher Natural Toothpaste the year I was born. And my mum is a homeopath. So I grew up surrounded by organic food and with natural products in the bathroom. I retained my belief in the principles I grew up with and began to feel there might be space for a company that holds those ideas, while also embracing considered design and creative aesthetics. Austin Austin represents my desire for something beautifully fragranced, effective and creatively interesting, while being underpinned by my family’s principles. Being organic and environmentally conscious is the only way forwards, but this doesn't need to exclude a strong sense of the contemporary.”
What sets Austin Austin’s products apart from the competition?
Bessie: ‘We’re proud that our products hold organic certification from the Soil Association and COSMOS – so they’re the highest standard of organic. This means that all our ingredients, packaging and company practices are closely audited. Not many other bodycare companies hold this level of certification.’
Richard: “Bessie's vision was always to show the art of working artists on the boxes and bottles. This meant ignoring some well-established ways of commercial designing. When the first items came through we were delighted to see how unique and beautiful they looked.”
What’s been your biggest challenge and how did you solve it?
Richard: "The restrictions on packaging, ingredients and everything else required to receive our organic certification are formidable, so we’ve put in a vast amount of energy to achieve excellence. We’ve ended up with something that’s genuinely environmentally friendly. Without a clear idea of where we were heading, why we were going there and dogged determination, we could not have managed it."
What are you most proud of achieving?
Richard: “We look at the beauty of the liquids and creams of the range, and the accompanying artwork, with joy. People really love them and are constantly letting us know, which is lovely. Above all, we’ve enjoyed setting up the project together. The fact that we are still such close friends, as well as daughter and father, is something to be proud of.”
Bessie: “After so long in development, I’m still really proud of those first few bottles we sold to people who weren’t friends and family.”
Which single product would you choose as Austin Austin’s hero product?
Richard: “The Palmarosa & Vetiver Hand Cream is the one that people buy the most, but the others are not far behind.”
Why do you think people are becoming more motivated to buy from brands with a conscience?
Richard: “The world seems to be in a bit of mess and it's hard to know how to help to make it better. All of us have choices when we spend, it’s one way we can do something. It’s also true that some commercial practices mean that trust in organisations to do the right thing for the planet’s welfare is quite low. People look at ingredients closely these days and inform themselves about what might truly be to their benefit and that of those around them.”
How do you both live more sustainably on a daily basis?
Richard: “I have been trading in wholefoods for a long time. I still work in the wholefood shop that I started in 1976, so it’s easy for me to eat organic food and use ecologically friendly non-food products. I couldn't happily live any other way.”
What daily ritual could you not live without?
Richard: “I could just about live without my daily Pilates, but I'm not sure I’d be happy without a daily read of The Guardian.”
Bessie: “My daily bath. It’s the most relaxing and nourishing part of the day for me. Time seems to slow down.”
What do you think is the secret to a happy life?
Richard: “I try to remember the interconnectedness of us all, be as kind as I can and not give up when things go wrong. I'd be rather happier if Aston Villa were to manage promotion this year.”
Bessie: “Noticing the little things in life.”
Words: Kate Johnson