Meet The New Zealand Women Who Are Banking On Clean Beauty

By Janetta Mackay
Biddy + May founder Yasmin Farry. Photo / Supplied

A "light bulb moment" helped illuminate Yasmin Farry's future during a dark time. After a diagnosis of breast cancer several years ago, the Auckland fashion show and events producer needed to make a decision about her working future. "I was feeling particularly lost one morning as I was contemplating my life," she recalls. "I literally had an incredible light-bulb moment centred on clean beauty." But it was no overnight fix, Yasmin needed to bring into play her organisational skills and then some.

With 16 years working with top designers at New Zealand Fashion Week under her belt, as well as organising shows at Britomart and before that events for the Auckland Council and the British Council, plus a time at music venue the Khuja Lounge which she co-founded and ran in the early 2000s, experience wasn't the issue. But she decided to upskill, which paved the way for her new online venture, Biddy + May Clean Beauty Store.

“I enrolled in a business course through Massey University, began my research into clean beauty and then travelled to a beauty expo in Las Vegas (of all places!) to meet clean beauty brands.”

Her interest in clean beauty was sparked initially from a switch to using mostly natural products after her cancer diagnosis. Then by seeing how fast the clean beauty movement was growing overseas. “I wanted to have more choice, to be able to access the amazing high-quality products that are on offer around the world.”

After the Las Vegas trip, the website was developed. “I moved forward very quickly with it, because at a gut level it just felt so right.”

Yasmin believes New Zealand women are “ready to be informed, ready to put their health at the forefront and ready to make their own decisions about what is best for their skin health.” She is ambitious for Biddy + May which takes its name from her those of grandmothers.

Looking back, this breast cancer survivor and mother can now note: “Many of the defining moments in my life have come out of periods of adversity!”

A pop-up shop on Karangahape Rd before Christmas last year helped with initial brand awareness for her business as does spreading the word on Facebook. Her site, with its “no toxins, no compromise” promise, has a good range of skincare and bodycare, and includes makeup, deodorants and even lashes. Among the brands featured is Innersense, which is rated for its curly hair capabilities.

"I am excited about the clean beauty revolution," says Yasmin, "about giving the industry a shake-up and I am grateful to be amongst some other amazing women here in New Zealand who are also leading the charge."

Clean Beauty Collective's Fleur Insley. Photo / Supplied
Clean Beauty Collective's Fleur Insley. Photo / Supplied

After 20 years working in the cosmetics industry, Fleur Insley says: "I knew that we could do better and that better beauty existed."

Fleur steered prestige global cosmetic collections in the New Zealand market, in her role as a brand manager. “I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been able to travel internationally and be exposed to bigger markets and I had been watching the rising clean beauty category for some time, she recalls. Around this time she also set out to kick a sugar addiction, cleaning up her eating which in turn saw her reassess her beauty routine and start looking for cleaner alternatives.

“Many, in fact almost all of the clean beauty brands that I’ve seen, tried and fallen in love with weren’t available in New Zealand.”

With these changes in her lifestyle and a desire to introduce the brands she'd discovered to the beauty routines of Kiwis, Fleur decided to set up Clean Beauty Collective online. She includes New Zealand brands on her online site, including sustainable packaging leader Ethique and lipstick favourite Karen Murrell. There's also a good mix of skincare and makeup from overseas, plus some fun items like Bawdy Butt Masks.

Those receiving beauty boxes find them cutely carrying the slogan: “I like my products, like I like my friends. Non-toxic.”

The site’s product brief is “natural, non-toxic beauty” although some products that include synthetic ingredients dubbed safe are sold as well. A banned list of “dirty” ingredients and details of views on other ingredients is particularly good.

Fleur says overseas reports show clean beauty is the fastest growing category worldwide and is influencing the traditional brands which are in decline in the marketplace. “Established markets are seeing strong momentum behind a movement for cleaner lifestyles and consumers demanding to know more about what they are putting on and in their body. As a result, internationally, we’re seeing lots of acquisitions happening with global corporates scooping up independently owned clean beauty brands to add to their portfolios. But I see this as a good thing. We need the big corporates to invest in clean beauty brands so that they can help drive down cost overall and fuel research and development faster. Additionally, we're seeing a number of international large format retailers and beauty retailers adding clean beauty to their mix and there's also been a number of independent clean beauty retailers emerging over the past two to five years.”

Over time, she is picking the emergence of “hybrid clean” and “clean clinical” products to become the “new norm” for the clean beauty category.

“Consumers, especially the savvy skincare junkies out there (like myself!) are looking for performance and results in their products and that’s what the big beauty brands bring them. Clean clinical or hybrid clean beauty products are those that incorporate the use of safe synthetics developed through the process of green chemistry. So essentially the ingredients are formulated to be better performing than its natural state whilst being safe to use on your skin.”

When it comes to her own Clean Beauty Collective, Fleur would like to open a permanent store in the near future so customers can enjoy the full shopping experience.

Forme Spa managing director Hady Wenham. Photo / Supplied
Forme Spa managing director Hady Wenham. Photo / Supplied

The owner of New Zealand's largest day spa group, Forme had just opened her 11th upmarket beauty business, this time in Queenstown. Hady Wenham has been converting an existing salon into a cocooning spa, adding to her seven Auckland properties and one each in Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch. The spas have progressively been getting an inviting soft new look, think dusky pink tones and oak brass fittings. The mood matches Hady's own shift in focus, picking up on client needs for a nurturing haven in hands they trust.

Hady switched from high-powered roles in advertising to be managing director of her own business at Forme in 2002. She also distributes several luxury skincare brands, Babor from Germany and Bioelements from the US. Her work background included travel and marketing, all giving her an appreciation of what women want. Over the years she says that has changed. “There is definitely a greater awareness of health and wellbeing, and the connection between what we put in and on our bodies and the potential toxic effects of using the wrong products,” she says.

This all led to the decision to shift focus at Forme. “It was during time in Los Angeles where there is a huge following for clean beauty and healthy living that I reflected as to what we have on our shelves and in our spa.” That didn’t mean suddenly going all natural, but rather assessing what ingredients across all types of products might contain ingredients that could be toxic to the body.

Nowadays, as well as professional spa products and those for pampering, she has her own Bless skincare line and stocks a range of other brands, including supplements. The Australian Synergie range was added recently due to its “clean science” approach  taking the best ingredients from nature and the laboratory that are toxin free to create highly effective cosmeceutical skincare.

Hady says for her going clean is "about removing the ingredients that causes an inflammatory reaction in the body and being conscious of the choices you make."

Viva asked our clean beauty converts to answer a few questions about how they define clean beauty, how to approach it and some products they recommend trying.

What's your definition of clean beauty?
Yasmin: Clean beauty describes products that are developed without the use of known toxic ingredients by brands that take into account our human health and the health of the environment. It's about best practise in skin care, by using real vitamins, minerals and nutrients that nourish our skin and do no harm. These clean beauty brands take care to use nutrient-dense, nourishing ingredients that look after our skin The clean beauty movement looks at the whole person  from eating good food, to exercise and using safe skincare. It is about finding what works for you individually, rather than working to a prescribed regiment of skincare that you are told you just have to have because it's the latest marketing fad.

Fleur: It means skincare and cosmetic products that contain sustainably sourced safe ingredients that are natural, organic and non-toxic, because we believe that harmful chemicals should not be in the products we put on our skin. But it doesn't just mean natural and organic, clean also means ethically sourced and products are not tested on animals. At Clean Beauty Collective we say NO to artificial colours or fragrances, parabens, petrochemicals, paraffin, phthalates, propylene glycol, mineral oil, sulphates, silicones, triclosan, carcinogens, neurotoxins, PABA, PEG, or DEA. Our policy is natural or synthetic it must be safe. Clean beauty is about the transparency of ingredients in our beauty products and this can be an overwhelming area to understand which is why we have curated the best clean beauty products available so you can rest easy knowing the hard work has been done by us.

How closely do you find products marketed as clean mirror your definition?
Brands can quite easily market themselves as being clean because there are varying opinions in the beauty industry on the definition of what is clean, natural or organic, which is largely driven by under regulation and lack of transparency in the industry. Brands can quite literally determine their own definition. It's called greenwashing  they might use colours, images, packaging, and wording that suggests that they are, but in reality, they might be partially or not at all.

Transparency and honesty are key for us and that's why we have a clearly defined selection criteria and process that we follow before brands are chosen to be sold. There have been many brands that have sought us out to stock their brand since we launched, but if they don't fulfil all the criteria, then they won't be ranged. It has meant having to share this news with some brand founders that have spent years crafting their brands that unfortunately, they aren't clean enough for us. But it is our firm belief that consumers deserve better beauty and there are lots of brands fulfilling this already. There are alternative ingredients out there for brands, they just have to make those choices to include them in their formulations and often what stops them is cost.

Yasmin: It can still be quite fraught when researching brands. I don't take it for granted that they don't contain any ingredients on the Biddy + May No Go List, so I take care to read all ingredients labels. Then take into account the packaging and the values of the company before deciding to stock it. It can be confusing for a consumer because the skincare and cosmetics industry is unregulated, so there is no global standard or certified definition stating what qualifies as 'natural', 'eco', 'green' or 'clean'.

Meaning, a conventional cosmetics company can use these terms along with pictures of green leaves and butterflies on the front of their products and these images don’t need to match what is on the ingredients list at the back. This has been termed ‘greenwashing’ and it’s super smart marketing. So the same can be said for clean brands  you still have to do the research on many levels.

Do you think there needs to be a commonly agreed definition, or that it is possible for there to be one?
Science is constantly evolving and new ingredients discovered and familiar ingredients rediscovered or new learnings gained. It's very difficult to have a hard and fast rule consequently. For starters it is great that consumers are becoming more aware that 70 per cent of what is applied to their skin is absorbed into their bodies and they are making more conscious choices.

Artificial fragrance, colourants, parabens, phthalates are the no’s. And anything tested on animals is definitely a no by us too. But there are grey areas depending also on the strength of the ingredient in the product  for example while not ideal if a product has 0.1 per cent of something that could be toxic that is far less risky than if it is included in full strength. Remember all labels should contain ingredients in strength order – whatever is first is contained in the largest dosage, and whatever is last is in the smallest dosage.

Yasmin: I would love there to be a commonly agreed definition of clean beauty, a global standard which would take into account not only the use of safe ingredients, but good manufacturing practices, the best possible packaging solutions and fair wages. There are many incredible women around the globe that are working hard within the skincare industry to bring about change, so I think it is possible.

Fleur: Simple answer, yes on both counts. But how we get there will be much more complicated and will take time politically. It's my opinion though that as consumers, we all need to keep pushing to know more and ask for greater transparency.

Is there advice you can offer about how to discover a cleaner beauty routine?
Making the move to a clean skincare routine doesn't have to be daunting. Just start slowly one product at a time and with a product that you use most often, like your deodorant or shampoo. I've made it easier, because all the work of interpreting the ingredients labels is done.

Hady: Don't be afraid to ask about ingredients. Ask to see the back of the pack – look out for the things above and ask what the philosophy of the range is and their views on clean beauty. It's your skin, your body and your health

Fleur: Start the switch with something small, like your cleanser, body wash or your haircare routine and build up from there. Every change, no matter how small it is, is a step forward for having a cleaner beauty routine. I read an article along my journey of discovery that the average woman is exposed to nearly 515 chemicals a day in her beauty routine and that really pushed me to know more about how I could make better choices and share my knowledge with Kiwis. So, switching even one or two products to start with, is going to help reduce that exposure.

What are your current five favourite clean beauty products from your online store?


Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Non-Gender Specific Everything Serum $95
I love this serum, it literally does everything. The founder wanted to create a brand that was for everyone, regardless of gender, skin tone or skin type that also focussed on consumer waste through reducing the number of products used in our daily routines. So, he set out to create the Everything Serum; with 17 powerful ingredients and 3 special essential oil blends to combat wrinkles, fatigue, elasticity, hyperpigmentation, pore size and brightness.

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Photo / Supplied

Beuti Beauty Sleep Elixir $86
Favoured by Meghan Markle as her regular nighttime facial oil, the Beuti Beauty Sleep Elixir is made with a natural blend of 14 plant-based oils. It includes a Caribbean coral extract, a powerful anti-inflammatory that neutralises the enzyme responsible for skin ageing, plus a sandalwood nut kernel oil to help prevent collagen and elastin breakdown.

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Photo / Supplied

Alder New York Everyday Face Cleanser $50
A beautiful fragrance-free, vegan cleanser, suitable for all skin types and genders. Its smooth, serum-like blend is a gentle formulation containing collagen boosting sea botanicals and exfoliating glycolic acid to leave skin feeling smooth, soft and refreshed.

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Photo / Supplied

Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen & Primer $79
I use suncare every day, summer or winter! It's literally one of my 'stuck on an island' must haves. This formulation does triple duty being your moisturiser, SPF and primer all in one!

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Photo / Supplied

Aether Palettes (Rose Quartz and Crystal Grid Gemstone) $99
These are my go-to palettes both containing easy to wear shades that take you from day to night. But the best part is that not only are they good for you and super easy to use, they have zero waste. With no magnets and mirrors along with recyclable shadow pans, they can be put in your compost after you've finished them.


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Photo / Supplied

(M)ANASI7 All Over Colour in Chamoisee $69.50
This premium makeup developed in Stockholm by makeup artist Susanne Manasi comes with a Declaration of 7: Slow, Select, Pure, Natural, Simple, Symbiotic and Contemporary. It's colour that applies cleanly and easily to enhance your natural beauty.

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Photo / Supplied

Kahina Giving Beauty Oil Cleanser $98.70
A purifying organic oil cleanser, this dissolves makeup, sunscreen and pollution without disrupting the natural pH of your skin. Super-hydrating, antioxidant-rich sunflower seed and argan oils and omega fatty acids work together to moisturise, smooth and replenish the skin's moisture barrier. Carrot seed oil helps neutralise the effect of pollutants and to fortify the skin barrier. Lastly, anti-inflammatory calendula, turmeric and blue tansy combine to clam. Ideal for dry, sensitive, reactive and acne-prone skin.

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Photo / Supplied

True Organic Of Sweden All You Need Is Me $25
This multi-use balm contains beeswax and has a tube made of cornstarch. It softens and rejuvenates skin and includes blueberry seed oil and a potent antioxidant. Apply liberally to hands, feet and body wherever moisture is needed or to the face as a moisturiser. Or use to soothe dry irritated patches of skin, including minor sunburn, bites and scrapes. Plus it's a great everyday lip gloss.

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Photo / Supplied

Innersense I Create Lift Volumizing Foam $50
Clean haircare is harder to find than clean skincare. This American company is well regarded by those looking to embrace their natural curl, naturally. The foam helps define curls, but also works on other hair types as a lightweight styler, volumiser and texturiser. Can be applied to wet or dry hair. Aloe vera and honey leave hair silky and sugarcane gives body.

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Photo / Supplied

The Beauty Chef Collagen Inner Beauty Boost $50
Beauty begins from the inside and this Australian concoction assists with healthy skin, helping boost natural collagen production. It's a bio-fermented probiotic elixir rich in fruit extracts. It also supports gut health and is gluten-free and suitable for vegans.

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