Beauty That Gives Back
Ethical brands that give while we live
(This article first appeared in Asia Spa magazine, 2013
"The business of business should not just be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed,"
Dame Anita Roddick, Human Rights Activist and founder of The Body Shop said. Her ‘give while we live’ mantra resonated throughout her Body Shop days empowering professionals industry wide to invest in ingredients that nourish both body and soul in the most beautiful and ethical way possible.
Giving back today doesn’t get much closer to the source than Kahina. Founded by Katharine L’Heureux who discovered argan oil on her first visit to Morocco in 2007, this boutique skincare range, based around the skin nourishing benefits of this multipurpose oil, embodies her dedication to preserving indigenous people and culture, protecting the environment, and simply giving back at source. So much so that to date, Kahina has donated 100% of profits beyond operating expenses to programmes that support the indigenous Berber women. L’Heureux continues to visit the cooperatives from which the oil is sourced to ensure the fair and proper treatment of those who extract it—women whose signatures grace each package in the Kahina Giving Beauty line.
“The first thing to be aware of is the impact that ethical trading of argan oil has on the lives of the Berber women in rural Morocco,” L’Heureux explains. “A typical Berber woman’s day is filled with extremely labor-intensive manual chores to keep her family alive and fed. In addition to caring for her children, cleaning and cooking, her day will probably include getting water from the village well by donkey, bringing loaves of bread to the community oven for baking, walking miles to gather wood for cooking and hay to feed the livestock, carrying heavy loads on her back. She may have a couple of hours in the day to harvest and crack the nuts for argan oil. This is one of the very few opportunities a rural Berber woman has to earn money she needs for additional basic needs such as wool for weaving, fresh fruits and vegetables from the market, fabric for her clothes, or school supplies or her children.
At Kahina a fair wage is paid to the women who source the oil and the company donates an additional percentage of profits to support programmes that directly benefit these women. “Last year, the women of one of the villages from where I purchase my oil identified their need for sheep. Now, with two sheep for every woman, they have a source of wool for their weaving, milk, and can breed the sheep to sell. They are now weaving beautiful rugs to sell at the market.”
L’Heureux’s latest initiative is to develop a clean cooking stove programme for the region, replacing traditional wood burning stoves with solar powered stoves. This will reduce the health risks associated with smoke inhalation and the dangers to children, as well as help preserve the argan trees, which will no longer be cut down for fires.
Another niche brand working directly with Berber communities is UK-based Ila. The brainchild of Denise Leicester who has meticulously combined her passion for essential oils with her philanthropic spirit, working directly with growers and farmers in local communities in some of the poorest areas of the world to preserve ancient knowledge and harvest ingredients naturally and ethically. Ila sources its argan oil from a women’s co-operative in Morocco, whose skills have been passed down over generations of Berbers. The kernels are crushed, filtered and cold-pressed in the way they always have been, using many hands and just a few simple mechanical aids.
The company also supports vulnerable single mothers in the Hunza region of Northern Pakistan by sustaining a co-operative for the harvesting and cold pressing of apricot oil. “It is a project that is micro financed from a large charitable organisation but needs a commercial outlet which ila provides,” explains Leicester. “We also buy medicinal herbs and oils directly from the Kayapo Tribe in Amazon and pay into a community bank account to support fair and sustainable trade for these indigenous people.”
Natural eco-friendly brand Aveda is well known for their charity collaborations and groundbreaking innovations that benefit those in real need. The company’s annual Earth Month campaign for example carried out in over 30 countries raises funds for the protection of clean water. Aveda partners with Global Greengrants Fund to identify groups around the world who are in need of support to help them gain access to clean water. “Greengrants has a network of local partners in many countries that monitor issues and needs and who also review proposed projects and results to assure that Aveda’s Earth Month funds go to the most needy recipients,” explains Chuck Bennett, Vice President Earth & Community Care for Aveda. “In this way we are assured that the funds are put to excellent use and that they achieve the intended results.” The company has also contributed more than $US2 million to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation® (BCRF).
Charis Naturals in Singapore is one of a growing breed of online natural apothecaries with a social conscience founded last year by Michelle Mok. ”More and more, consumers care not just about the ingredients in their skin but also about the environment in which they are produced, whether they are tested on animals, and whether their suppliers are good corporate citizens,” Mok says. “We really believe that Katharine`s work in Morocco is exceptional and try to work with other natural and organic brands with similar philosophies. For example, we distribute the Thinksport / Thinkbaby line of sunscreens which donates a large percentage of sales to the Livestrong Cancer foundation in the US, and our in-house brand Athenia products are sourced directly from famers in South East Asia who practice organic farming without the use of pesticides.”
Locally the company sponsors events including the National University of Singapore's annual canned food drive for the needy and ACRES, a wildlife and animal rescue group. “Even though we are a new business, we do what we can, and the philosophy of having both an environmental and social conscience will always be a core part of Charis' corporate culture as we continue to grow.”
Dealing exclusively with companies and cooperatives that are certified organic and fair trade along with adequate due diligence is essential as this certification process provides another level of accountability and traceability. “One of my criteria in working with a supplier is that they have a clear idea of how extra funding can elevate the women, whether it’s health care, education, or providing sheep,” adds L’Heureux. “There are no government agencies involved. I visit frequently to make sure that funds have been allocated properly.” An ethical stamp of approval for the end user and refreshing to be sure that in our quest to look good we can also feel better about our investment and truly nourish both body and soul.