Perth businesswoman Marina Herlihy is rebuilding her thriving skincare and cosmetics firm after realising that her company must take responsibility for eco-friendly social change. Ms Herlihy wants to appeal to a new market, despite returning annual profits of 20 per cent year on year from Marina’s Ambrosia, the brand of organic personal care items she launched a decade ago.
“Each day I get between 10 and 20 customers who want to know if I use biodegradable packages,” Ms Herlihy says. “These customers are generally in their early to mid-20s and many of them won’t buy if the packaging isn’t sustainable.”
She identifies these inquisitive young people as drivers of future business growth and has decided to meet their demands or risk being wiped out in today’s new world of environmental awareness.
“I’m budgeting for my products to be made in biodegradable packages for a relaunch in the new year,” Ms Herlihy says.
Her range of organic products will be offered in organic packages, including bamboo. “My products come from the Earth and soon you will be able to return them to the Earth,” she says. Ms Herlihy said plastic harmed the planet and everyone must work against it. A innovative, sustainable business must have sustainable products, she reasoned, and cancelled her existing packaging order.
“If I don’t do this now, then changing to biodegradable packages later will become a huge demand that will be overwhelming. And if my products don’t shift off the shelf there won’t be an income. And that is where brands fall down.”
Some customers wanted refills instead of repackaging but that approach was costly, inefficient, impractical and did not always work for mail order items. Initially, she planned to offer organic packaging within 10 years but was acting now because of a sense of urgency driven by a new generation of customers.
Redesign costs surprised her. She retains a designer in South Africa having been intimidated by quotes for work in Australia. “I couldn’t afford in Australia the calibre of the work that I will get in South Africa,” Ms Herlihy says. Customers can expect products packaged in bamboo and cardboard. Old labels in black, white, silver and green are likely to be displaced by biodegradable ones in earthy bamboo tones. Products would either be recyclable or biodegradable.
Ms Herlihy says the need for change was driven by plastic – a cheap, ubiquitous product that was hard to break down. She hoped scientists could one day produce a chemical bath that could dissolve plastics acceptably. “We cannot stop plastics, but we must slow their advance,” she says.
Some recyclable products posed problems. Glass, for example, was disliked for skincare and cosmetics packaging because, if dropped in a bathroom, it could shatter or break a tile. Similarly, cardboard could be compromised by moisture. Marina’s Ambrosia is currently successfully selling deodorant in cardboard tubes with waxed-paper linings. “Everybody loves it,” Ms Herlihy said.
Bamboo packaging held great promise because, like wood, it was recyclable. Ms Herlihy had found a supplier in Indonesia who farmed sustainably and did not employ child labour.
Ms Herlihy, a mother of four who trained in naturopathy, founded her company after inventing what is now her bestseller, Organic All Over, a body lotion that successfully treated her bad skin.
Marina’s Ambrosia has a catalogue of more than 100 products with a global customer base.