A concern for the environment and a love for luxury, former Vogue Living Editor and Ms Brown founder, Alexandra Brown, on changing the way we think about home and body care.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how it has influenced who you are today.
I grew up on a merino sheep farm on beautiful Kangaroo Island in South Australia. I was very lucky to have a pretty idyllic childhood, surrounded by nature and animals and of course, natural fibres. I also had a mum and auntie who read the labels on everything well before it was common or fashionable to do so – clothing (only natural fibres allowed!) skincare, cleaning products, everything, and this gave me an understanding of unfortunately, commonly used fabrics and ingredients that are not safe for the environment.
I then moved to Sydney and had a career in fashion magazines. Here, I honed my appreciation for beautiful branding and learned what can make a brand stand out.
Almost two years ago I became a mother and so that of course now informs every decision I make and has made me even more passionate about producing products that are not only safe and efficacious for families to use but that also help to preserve the environment for future generations.
What were the contributing factors that led to the idea of Ms BROWN?
The idea for Ms BROWN came whilst I was working at Vogue Living and I saw a need for a product that was not only gentle on clothing but also safe for the environment and made in Australia, whilst being beautifully branded. That combined with all the influence of my upbringing led to our first product, the Eucalyptus Wool & Cashmere Wash.
Your first product release, the Eucalyptus Wool & Cashmere Wash, dispelled the myth that wool garments should mostly be dry-cleaned. Tell us a little bit about why you launched with this product, and how you formulated something so efficacious, gentle and safe?
Dispelling the myth that wool and cashmere had to be dry-cleaned was a big focus for creating that first product and the brand in general. This was always designed to be the hero product of the brand as I had an understanding about wool and knitwear given my upbringing on a merino sheep farm and knew there was an opportunity for a natural, beautiful and uniquely Australian alternative product to clean them with.
Not far from the farm where I grew up, is a family-owned Eucalyptus distillery that makes the most beautiful, pure Eucalyptus oil. My mum used this product to clean the house, our clothes, everything because it’s safe, effective and smells so beautiful. (My brother actually worked there in the school holidays and I can still remember him coming home smelling amazing!) I knew that we had to use this ingredient in the first product because it’s effective at cleaning, gentle on fabrics and is a natural moth repellent which is so essential for knitwear. We still source all our Eucalyptus from this family today.
Of course given my background as a journalist (and not as a scientist or formulator!) I needed to find someone who could assist with the technical side of creating the product. I knew if I was going to sell this product to women washing garments made by luxury brands, it couldn’t be something I just mixed up in my kitchen. I knew the hero ingredients I wanted to use and ingredients that were non-negotiable as far as leaving out, but needed help beyond that on the formulation. I spoke with, and trialled a number of different expert formulators, before finding someone who really understood what I was trying to create in terms of a gentle formula, with only the best and safest natural ingredients that actually did what it was designed to do.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have around garment care?
I think the biggest misconception around garment care is about dry-cleaning as you’ve mentioned above. Many people are afraid to wash their own garments at home, but if they knew what actually goes on at the dry-cleaner they would rather do it themselves, that’s certainly how I feel. Wool, especially, is a very resilient fibre that when cared for properly can last for years and years, generations even. Secondly, there is misconception around wool and cashmere garments and pilling. A garment can pill regardless of the brand or price spent on it, especially in areas of extra rubbing, such as under the arms. The key is caring for the garment properly and using a cashmere comb to remove any pilling when it does occur. Coupled with washing correctly and gently, this can have a wool or cashmere garment looking brand-new for years.
Other than being kind on garments, Ms BROWN, as a brand, aims to be kind to the environment too. At Marle, we follow a collective notion that sustainability is a journey, rather than a single destination - and a big focus for us initially was our packaging. What is your take on sustainability in business and where do you put most of your efforts?
Absolutely, I think it’s unrealistic as a business that creates products, to think we can be perfect in this area from day one, it’s important to be focussed on areas you can make the biggest difference and then continually focus on improving other areas from there over time. It’s important to never rest on your laurels and aim to constantly improve, taking advantage as technologies improve and enable us to make more sustainable choices. For example when we launched I could not find a fully biodegradable option for a mail satchel and now we have one.
The single biggest focus for Ms BROWN from the beginning and still is now, from a sustainability perspective, is on ingredients, that is, choosing ingredients that are 100% biodegradable and safe for our customers, oceans and waterways is always number one.
Additionally, all our products (that is, what goes inside the bottle) are designed, mixed and filled here in Australia and always will be. In fact, most of our formulas and all our bottles are actually made here in Sydney, where the business is based, so we have very minimal freight of product or packaging which reduces our carbon footprint significantly. We could do it much cheaper off shore but it’s very important to the brand from a sustainability perspective, so a non-negotiable for me.
Overall we package minimally (when we send the product to stores and customers directly) while still presenting our products beautifully for the end consumer. The packaging we do use is made from recycled materials and where not possible to do that it is always recyclable including our fully compostable mail satchels. Currently all our bottles, while made of plastic, are fully recyclable and we are in the process of working on a sustainable option for a bottle made from recycled materials.