by Mindy Cook
At just 25 years of age, with a passion for protecting the environment and climate change prevention, Dorrigo local Jack Buchanan and his fiance Bec Erdalli had an idea for an all Australian made, all natural skincare product range. Armed with little more than their idea, a logo, and a high set of standards (a mandate for no single-use plastic and the philosophy: “action is the only true measure of ethics”), they took it to the people.
Fast forward two years to October 2020 and they’re proudly and sustainably producing their Avirida skincare range, which so far includes eye balm, facemask, body balm and lip balm (plus a vegan version free of bees wax) – all packaged in divine little timber pots made from (pest species) Camphor Laurel or Bamboo. There are no fancy labels glued to the product and no glossy boxes embossed with gold lettering. The product name and ingredients list are simply but stylishly laser cut onto the outside of the pots.
They’ve even created tea-light candle holders that can be engraved with personalised messages from donor to receiver. As you could imagine, these have been popular little gifts for Victoria’s lockdown population from friends and relatives outside the state. Every part in the production process happens 100% in house under the strictest sustainable practices.
With Bec’s commerce degree and Jack’s business & engineering passion, we wondered how the pair came to this point so early in their careers. We discovered so much more!
Jack & Bec, how was your business idea born?
Jack: Following television programs such as ‘War on Waste’ Bec started perfecting her own natural skincare recipes at home, and then collaborated with an Aromatherapist who had 30+ years experience to build it into a business.
Because we wanted zero single-use plastic involved in the process, I began to develop our packaging, which was to uphold our philosophy and be made from a renewable resource that could also be sustainably sourced. After many long days in my dad’s workshop, on one single small router, our first wooden pot prototype was finally born.[Jack’s dad, Gordon Buchanan owns Mountain-Top Timbers, a business he’s been operating for 40+ years.]
How did you get it off the ground?
We created a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15k. We thought that was a reasonable goal, which would secure the purchase of two of our three ‘workhorse’ machines. The pre-launch preparation for this was incredibly stressful but we made it – and organised a launch gathering at Components Café, now owned by my brother Harry and his partner Josh. We’re so thankful for the support we received from our amazing backers – many of them locals.
This helped us set us up our factory in the old Dorrigo sawmill in October 2018. As a school kid, I’d be fascinated by the range of activities happening here, which I observed from my daily school bus ride.
In truth the space is freezing cold in winter and hot, hot, hot in summer! But I’d rather be here than in any other work environment. What we’re doing is somewhat unique and we’re enjoying learning as we’re going.
Tell us about the timber packaging for Avirida skincare product, and how it’s made to meet your ethical standard.
Initially we considered jars & tubs made from either glass or aluminium. But the manufacturing of both these to refine them from virgin materials is energy intensive. The same challenge applies at the other end of their life in their recycling process.
Timber pots from Camphor Laurel or Bamboo was the answer. Both can be locally sourced and both are weeds. We start with a stack of this timber and use a router to shape them.
The bamboo pot lids seal with a little on/off twist movement, a design we’ve proudly patented.
The other products are packaged in camphor laurel pots. They’re more refined in terms of machining and have a threaded lid to seal.
We also wanted to remove the labelling process, because even paper labels have a plastic backing. So our laser engraver etches the logo, product name and the ingredients onto the outside of the pots. Then they’re sanded and oiled and ready to be filled.
It seems you hold your business to a very high standard, from the sourcing of materials, right through to how they are shipped to your customers.
Yes. By using only a handful of these pest tree species we can create thousands of jars! The whole process is also a closed loop. When you’ve finished, the pots can be retained and repurposed for other uses in the home. Then they’re fully compostable.
Timber is unique in that it takes no intervention to break down into compost, or to complete its life cycle.
We’re proud to say every aspect of Avirida is Australian (Dorrigo) made, and every part in the production process happens in house under the strictest sustainable practices.
So how do you manage to keep a small carbon footprint at the packaging, fulfillment and freight end of business?
Our carbon footprint is negative. We plant a tree for every jar we sell by donating to an international organisation or a domestic one. Plus for every camphor laurel tree we use that has been harvested for our product, we plant 3 native trees ourselves. We’re very comfortable we can maintain this as we scale.
Our freight packaging is an all natural completely glueless design. We recycle cardboard boxes from Components Café and reshape them with the help of our laser cutter, and the freight labels are made from unused paper from the local school such as sheet-music. We make our own glue from cornstarch, and use jute string to secure it. No synthetic glue or plastic, nothing bad.
When we trialled exporting our product to the US we arranged for the freight and fulfilment to be managed there by Amazon. They were to replace any plastic bubble-wrap or packaging with sustainable natural materials – shredded paper, cardboard etc. But we found through feedback from customers that they’d reverted to bubble-wrap and plastic! And given it’s not in line with our business ideals to ship each product individually from Australia to our overseas customers, we’re now holding off until we can secure new fulfilment agencies in the US and Europe. We’re in talks with someone now and if it proceeds, this would be a big milestone for us.
Jack, it seems you own the packaging and finance side of the business, and Bec, you design and create the skincare range, hone the pots in preparation, manage customer service and marketing, and process orders. Do you have any extra help or is it just the two of you?
Bec: We’ve recently employed two Dorrigo locals, which we’re very excited about. Their assistance will help us enormously. Our intention is to grow these roles into full time ones. I believe they can both see the potential of the business as it grows. We’d also like to think there will be more work we can offer in the future too.
Are there any new products in the wings?
Jack: We’re in the early stages of developing a natural deodorant – a refillable product on a push pop stick, naturally made from Camphor Laurel or Bamboo. It can even be etched with a personalised message! This is still in the R&D stage but we’re confident the actual product we’ve developed works really well in terms of maintaining long-term anti-odour. There’s not a product quite like this on the market yet.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Well… there have been so many! But possibly the very first stage of testing and verifying if the idea at the very outset was going to be viable. There had to be natural preservatives used, the tubs needed to be sealed securely without glues, no leaching between pot and product…
And trying to honour our ideal of no use of single-use plastic is an ongoing challenge. For example the parts we receive in the mail arrive with some plastic or environmentally unfriendly shipping materials and we don’t like that. Because above all, we look at our business as putting the environment before profit. Of course we need to make a profit, but if we’re not caring for the environment we can’t in all honesty enjoy the profit.
And the most surprising outcome?
Jack: The additional opportunity to work with other businesses who have approached us to work on their products with our timbers and processes.
Have you kept the first product off the production line for posterity?
Bec: Yes! It’s called the Bec Pot. Jack actually proposed to me with a ring in it (pictured left).
Jack & Bec’s Avirida products are sold online and can be shipped nationally. The range can also be found in Components Cafe Dorrigo.
Please Visit the website for the full product range and to find details of Avirida’s special offer – available only until the end of October.