The TH Interview: Brenda Brock of Farmaesthetics
Farmaesthetics' all-natural skincare line was founded by Brenda Brock, the daughter of a seventh-generation farming family from Texas. Now based in Portsmouth, RI, Brock makes her 100 percent chemical-free potions from organically grown herbs and flowers gathered from small American family farms—no nasty dyes, fillers, parabens, or other synthetic ingredients, thank you very much.
TreeHugger chatted with Brock about how she built her company out of her kitchen, what role the environment plays in her daily business decisions, and just what exactly we should avoid slathering on our bodies' largest organ.TreeHugger: You're descended from seven generations of farmers. With all that family history, what was it like growing up like for you?
Brenda Brock: My cousin described it perfectly: " We are from a long line of hardworking, kind-hearted people". And that is how it was. My Granddad worked the land, as his father did before him, and that balance and interdependence between farm and farmer kept the household stable and in sync with nature and seasons. And that never wavered, even in times of hardship. Those are the values that were laid down in me as a child and figure into every aspect of Farmaesthetics.
TH: How did your interest in making your own skincare products develop?
BB: I grew up within the "kitchen culture" of women in my family. I loved hearing stories of the old ways of doing things; how to "doctor," heal, and enhance health and beauty. They were kitchen chemists and I was eager to perfect those skills as I grew up. One of things I thought important to know was how to grow and harvest plants. Even as a child I grew herbs, vegetables and flowers in my garden—and then I used them to make things.
TH: And how did that result into you starting your own company?
BB: I am truly "the accidental CEO." Starting my own company was the unexpected result of a lifelong passion meeting with opportunity. After 15 years in NYC, I bought an old Victorian farmhouse in Rhode Island and immediately planted a garden. I made skincare preparations in my kitchen, as I had done all my life, but this time it was like the floodgates opened. Recipes that had been dancing in my head for years were making their way into bottles and jars. And when a friend asked me to sell my preparations at her organic farm stand, I did. And that was when I had to choose packaging, labels, etc. I never "decided" to "start" a company, as much as I decided to just keep saying "yes" to the demand. In 1999, 100 percent natural luxury skincare was unheard of, but once people saw it and tried it, they wanted more.
TH: Was making use of organic herbs, flowers, and grains from small American farms a conscious decision from the beginning?
BB: No, it was never a decision. It is what I know and what I have always done.
TH: How prominent a role does the environment play in making your daily business decisions?
BB: It is at the core of every decision. The environment is my cupboard.
TH: When developing your line, were there instances where you made (or were tempted to make) ethical compromises?
TH: How important is it for the average person to know what goes into his or her skincare products?
BB: It is of utmost importance. Knowledge is power. And if we intend to have healthy, beautiful skin and [an equally healthy] environment, we must demand pristine, beautiful products.
TH: What ingredients should we, in particular, avoid?
BB: The list of cosmetic ingredients to avoid is long and unpronounceable, but there are resources that can help. ( I use the BDIH Web site frequently, in English, of course.)
Until there is a standard in place in the US that prevents mismarketed or misleading products from making it to the natural or organic shelves, it is important to identify companies that use tricky marketing techniques.
For example, a product that lists" active natural ingredients" prominently, yet obscures full ingredients somewhere else, is to be suspect. Some companies list their 100 percent organic ingredients, and then they list the other ingredients someplace else. This kind of marketing many times is used to bury artificial fragrances, preservatives, dyes, and other synthetics.
Misleading marketing is always a red flag. My rule of thumb is look for the complete ingredient list and read it. Then, if you are not familiar with something, and there is no explanation available on the label, ask the store clerk, or e-mail the company.
TH: How can we tell if a product that says it's organic is really organic?
BB: To assess the organic claim of a product, you must first determine if it is natural. I understand organic to be an agricultural term, used to classify how something is grown or raised without use of synthetic chemicals, artificial preservative systems, hormones, etc. So, first determine if the product is 100 percent natural; then, check to see which of those ingredients are grown organically and you'll have a good sense of the product's organic status.
TH: Can you tell us more about your work with children and adults living with cancer?
BB: What goes on the body [also] goes in, and what goes down the drain goes out into the environment. It is all connected and there is an environmental impact with every decision we make.
Organizations committed to addressing the cancer epidemic in this country, address chemical intake as a key issue. Farmaesthetics has been invited to support organizations like women's and children's oncology programs and foundations for cancer research, such as the Gloria Gemma Foundation.
We also donate skin "care packages" to the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Out in Arizona these kids need good skincare, but they need it without harsh chemicals, so Farmaesthetics is a perfect for them.
TH: Some of your products are now available at Origins stores. What has that experience been like?
BB: Origins has been a wonderful retail partner for Farmaesthetics. One of the unexpected benefits is that the extensive testing they conducted on our products for shelf life and dermatological compatibility has validated Farmaesthetics at the highest level of the cosmetic industry.
Sometimes natural product companies are marginalized by "big cosmetics", but I think Origins endorsement of Farmaesthetics has helped cement the relationship between 100 percent natural/sustainable and efficacious luxury cosmetics, as evidenced by my invitation to speak at this year's Luxpacke in Monaco, (Europe's largest luxury packaging show for high end cosmetics.) I have been asked to speak on sustainable beauty in the luxury category, and the profound impact it is having on the cosmetic industry as a whole.
TH: How do you envision Farmaesthetics evolving?
BB: I have always envisioned Farmaesthetics as a respected global US brand, available everywhere, and as we prepare to launch our line in spas and specialty stores in Singapore and Malaysia this fall, I am seeing evidence of Farmaesthetics' worldwide appeal.