A New Organic Beauty Brand, From a Father-Daughter Duo

Richard Austin and his daughter, Bessie, have spent their lives immersed in the world of organics. Anyone who’s visited the East Anglian city of Norwich, England, will know of Rainbow Wholefoods, one of Britain’s oldest and most established natural and organic food stores, which Austin senior established in 1976. Growing up, Bessie’s staples were brown rice, tofu and obscure meat replacements from her father’s store; she was the only child in her class to have brown bread sandwiches and eat carob rather than chocolate.

“Dad has dedicated his life to organic long before anyone else was even talking about it,” Bessie, 30, says of her 67-year-old father, who belonged to the first wave of the country’s organic movement and has lobbied for environmentally conscious farming ever since. “He’s totally and utterly uncompromising.”

Now, the duo has teamed up to create Austin Austin, a small-scale, six-piece collection of hair- and skin-care products that’s driven by aesthetic principles as well as ethical ones. The entire line is made without silicone, parabens or SLS — a detergent that creates foam but often irritates the skin. Rather than fall back on citrus smells that are common to organic beauty, the Austins incorporate more complex, offbeat notes such as vetiver and petitgrain.

“Our organic certificate is hard won and hugely important to us,” says Bessie, who studied art at Central Saint Martins and interior design at the Chelsea College of Art before leaving her position at an advertising agency in 2016 to set up the new business with her father. “We’re also trying to create something beautiful. There aren’t many truly certified organic brands whose products really perform but will also look good on your bathroom shelf.”

Bessie lives with her fiancé in the north London neighborhood of Highbury, and is in daily contact with her father. “We debate a lot about the right thing to do which can be tiring, but we’re always just trying to win the other one over,” she says. “We both really care and feel protective about the brand.” Richard, who jokingly calls himself “the other Austin,” agrees that their investment and trust levels go way beyond a typical business partnership. “She is totally accepting of the things I can and cannot bring,” he says of his only child. “I’ve suddenly had this year where we’ve spent lots of time together. You can’t expect that as a parent once your kids grow up. It’s a joy.”

Beyond the familial synchronicity, the Austins approach the company with the mentality of curators at an art gallery: The labels double as canvases for the work of artists they admire. The first edition, launched late last summer, features the simple Indian-ink line drawings of the artist Christian Newby whose work focuses on the human form. For Austin Austin, Newby has conjured a figurative gang of monochromatic faces and torsos that embellish the brand’s recycled boxes, bottles and tubs.

The Austins conceive of each collection as a harmonious set whose parts are meant to sit side by side. Seen together, the hand soap and hand cream look rather like a handsome couple contemplating their relationship. The next installment is set to come to fruition early next year, and from there, the Austins will settle into a natural rhythm that sees the line constantly refreshed by new collaborators.

“It’s such a great opportunity to bring a bit of playfulness into the home,” Bessie says of the goods, which are produced at a facility close to the Norfolk village farmhouse where she grew up and are for sale online as well as at boutiques including Alex Eagle Studio in London and 291 in Seoul.

While the Austins’ current focus is on showcasing talented young artists, they are open about whose work might next appear on a lotion bottle. “If Antony Gormley put in a call, I wouldn’t say no,” Bessie says. “The idea is to keep changing and evolving and putting energy into the creative aspect. This is simply the first expression.”

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