Malcolm Rands was an alternative lifestyler in Northland in the 90s when he conceived Ecostore, his business of non-toxic household products. He talks success, failure and men's groups.

1. What were your parents like?

Completely eccentric. Dad was very conservative politically and in his job as an engineer, but in his private life he was into yoga, health food and fasting - in the 50s! Mum was an anything-is-possible person. Her number plate was YN0T. When we lived in Wellington they were very much part of the local Methodist church, then we moved to Auckland in 1970 and within three years they were actually hanging out with Bert Potter. But that was in his early days, before the power went to his head.

2. Which of your parents are you more similar to?

I started out being like Dad, who was very reserved, and I ended up being like Mum, who would talk to anyone. As a kid I was the classic geeky type and a little bit bloody eccentric. I was obsessed by soldiers and I'd draw massive, detailed battle scenes with tiny little soldiers attacking castles and things. Mum and Dad actually took me to a child psychologist because they were worried. As a teenager being in a rock band probably saved me because on stage I wasn't shy. When I went to university they only knew me as a musician and suddenly the coolest people were my mates. They saw me as this rock 'n' roll guy and they kind of talked me into being that. Now I'm incredibly outgoing.

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3. In 1986 you and a group of friends bought a large piece of coastal Northland and set up ... what exactly?

We call ourselves an eco village. We're not a commune. We spent a year working on the constitution and we went into it completely mindful. These projects have a huge failure rate because people think "we're lovely people, this is a wonderful idea". And as it goes wrong, they've got no structure and they blow apart.

4. How did you make it work?

People need their own space. There are six households and we all have our own houses, our own jobs, often even our own friends. But what we've done is we've clustered the houses close together around the commons. You walk out of your house and you bump into your neighbours and that's where all the action happens. By the time Keva, our youngest daughter, was 1, we could sleep in because our two daughters would be out the door and with a tribe of kids and we knew they were safe.

5. Did hippies arrive at your village expecting free love and drugs?

Right from the beginning we made a decision not to publicise what we were doing. We didn't want people who in every era of their lives have been a huge failure thinking "well maybe if I join a permaculture eco village I'll finally save myself". We would have got a lot of lost souls.

6. What have you learned about human nature by living so closely with five other families?

People are essentially good. When you've been sharing a piece of land for almost 30 years you see someone going through a phase and you think, "oh that's just Jimmy doing that, he'll come back".

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7. How did you meet your wife Melanie?

We were both in other relationships at the time. She was teaching at a primary school in Whangarei and I came in with a community arts team. I walked into the staffroom and we caught each other's eye and it was one of those moments that just went "woomph!" We never talked, but we both remembered it. And then a year or so later her sister had started working with me and one night we met up and both our relationships had started to fall away and we got together.

8. When were you at your lowest?

In the early 90s I was trying to set up a winter festival in Whangarei, but the [financial] rug was pulled out and what I thought was the best thing I'd ever done just turned to dust. That was the galvanisation for starting Ecostore. I had $30,000 I'd borrowed from my brother. I started the business as mail-order only. A mail-order dishwashing liquid company is nuts. After six months we'd run out of money.

9. How many customers did you have?

Oh ... zero. It was coming into winter. For the first time in my life I went into what was probably a clinical depression. I remember walking the streets of Whangarei and everyone I saw I would think, "I wish I was them, they've got a much better life". But then I got a business mentor and Spring came along. The orders started pouring in.

10. In the 90s you and Melanie and your kids lived on $20,000 per year. How much money are you making now?

I'm making as much money as I need. It's not really a driver for me. From the outset, a percentage of what we make goes to a not-for-profit called the Fairground Foundation and Melanie and I are actually minority shareholders in our business. I'm not interested in big cars or boats - so I just have the amazing luxury of being able to buy whatever I want. I just don't have to think about money.

11. You've been involved in men-only social groups. Why are groups like that important to you?

Often men try and show off a bit in front of women, or don't want to look like fools. When there's only men you can tell each other tall stories and you won't get pulled down for it. I've got a couple of groups with men I've known my whole life, sometimes we play music and even sing together and we love it.

12. You are one of the judges at this year's upcoming Pride of New Zealand awards. What do those awards mean to you?

You don't even realise until you start judging something like this that there are so many heroes in the community and they're doing remarkable things. And they're not doing it to be famous, they're doing it because it's the right thing.

?In August you can vote for the TSB Bank People's Choice section of the Pride of New Zealand awards. For more go to prideofnzawards.co.nz.