At work with Belinda by FETE Magazine
Fete Magazine recently interviewed Bondi Wash Founder Belinda Weir, asking about her new office space in Paddington, how she came to be running Bondi Wash and how she approaches her working life. Read the article below (original article published in FETE Magazine issue 29).
- Tell us about yourself, your background and how you got to where you are today?
I spent most of my life as a frustrated creative. I enjoyed maths and science at school, so ended up studying economics, then had a career in the corporate sector, building excel spreadsheets and writing powerpoint presentations. But my mother is an artist and my sister and I spent our childhood creating things – we’d design and paint bags, draw or paint, create our own stuffed animals or work in clay. Creativity was a big part of my life that just wasn’t used in my early studies and CBD job.
It wasn’t until I had my third child that I really felt a strong pull for a career change – and even then it took about 5 years to build up the confidence to make the shift.
I grew up in Canberra and our family spent a lot of time in the surrounding bush. We’d have picnics at the Cotter and camp on weekends. My parents also were kind of hippy and planted a native garden back in the 70s – so I was exposed to a lot of Australian native trees growing up.
At school I studied French and when I finished school I took a year off to work and travel. I visited Paris and Aix-en-Provence in the South, coming across Grasse where fields of lavender, rose and mimosa scent the air and form the perfume industry.
Another relevant factor in where I am today, is how over time I had become more sensitive to chemicals over time. I got headaches from mainstream cleaning products, itchy scalp from sulphates and rashes from cosmetics.
But it was a family holiday in Port Douglas that was the real stimulus for the business. Reading the novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind, which is about one man’s mission for the perfect scent, I was surrounded there by native plants I had never heard of – quandong and Kakadu plum for example. I thought about how the French had created fragrances and cosmetics from their native plants, and pondered whether we could do something similar from Australian flora.
That was 2012 and the business launched just over a year later, after I started playing around with fragrances and simple formulations on the kitchen bench. It really came together quite quickly after I discovered all sorts of native ingredients were already being extracted with wonderful properties. I did get a professional chemist to help of course, but it was invaluable researching and playing round with the ingredients myself.
- Tell us a little about Bondi Wash?
Bondi Wash creates natural products for daily life, featuring Australian botanicals in scents and active ingredients. They are truly natural, with the only synthetic ingredients being food-grade preservatives (in some products) to keep them shelf stable.
We grew fairly rapidly both here in Australia and overseas. In our first year we launched in NZ and Hong Kong, second year we added Taiwan, China and Japan. Then Korea. And more recently the US and Europe. All of this rather serendipitously, not strategically.
Our product range has grown from the 3 we launched with, in 3 scents, to more than 40 across 9 scents.
We really hope people trust us to produce natural products that smell great, work, and don’t irritate, across any product category.
Shampoo and conditioner should be next to launch.
We are a small team, some working remotely – and a number of specialist contractors who’ve all been with us since the beginning.
- Tell us about your new space? What happens there on a typical day?
Our new Paddington space is a large old terrace, so we have separated it into 3 areas. There’s the retail store at the front on Oxford St, a large office at the back and then there’s a huge basement underneath where we now make perfume.
Our office is quite simple. We have a large working table from koskela and with a huge gum tree branch hanging on the wall behind us. Koskela were giving it away when we bought the table, so we had supports put in the ceiling to hang it. A ficus longifoli from Garden Life and some Norman Copenhagen shelving completes the office space.
The retail store was designed and built by Mr & Mrs White, who also did our Bondi store. This store is similar to the Bondi store, but a little less beachy, more sophisticated. Stores are designed to be Australian interpretations of French perfumeries. We hope they are warm and inviting, places where visitors feel comfortable testing scents and products and discovering Australian flora.
We’ve chosen darker timber and green onyx for the Paddington design, giving it a richer feel. Accents are in brass and there are multiple arches, reflecting the Victorian architecture of old Paddington.
No day is the same thankfully. We get plenty of dog visitors to the store, which we love. We may have meetings around the table, or conference calls with various other staff or distributors around the world. We have a small showroom and office in Milan so we talk regularly via Facetime to our Brand Manager Sara.
We are spoilt for choice with eateries in the area. Some favourites are Alimentari, Sushi Blue, 10 William St and Just William chocolates.
- What are the daily essentials that you can’t live without for a well- designed work life?
Just a computer and phone. These days I rarely even write in a paper notepad although I do still carry one around.
As my day often involves scent I won’t wear perfume typically, although in the past I would have added a natural perfume to my daily essentials.
Roger the dog often features in the working day and does a good job of ensuring I’m not seated all day – forcing me to take him up to Centennial Park or at least round the block.
And I’d say yoga is important to a well-designed work life. It helps restore sanity and stretch out tight muscles from oversitting which I’m often guilty of.
- Tell us a little about your approach to work and business?
One of the most important things is choosing who you work with – employees, suppliers, distributors. Getting this wrong can be painful and getting it right joyous. Working with great people is very rewarding.
Running a business successfully I believe comes down to how you deal with problems – as invariably there will be problems. This means setting things up to avoid them, but also learning how to handle them. Often there is a silver lining from a situation that might seem to be a problem. But if there’s not, moving on without remorse and learning from it is important.
I also am an avid technology adopter. Technology is constantly updating to make life easier for small businesses. It can be painful to get it up and running in the first place, but having great systems, makes a business run so much smoother.
Finally, I look for simplicity and consistency in the decisions I make. Both elements help minimise the risk of errors.
- How do you define great design and how does it enhance your workspace?
I love the Japanese concept of design. Their principles are based on nature itself and include simplicity, lack of pretence, subtlety, avoiding convention, tranquillity and asymmetry.
Great design often looks very simple, but enormous complexity goes behind creating that simplicity.
In terms of our store, I think this translates to a space that looks beautiful, but doesn’t appear too ‘perfect’ or austere. There is something imperfect or irregular about it that puts people at ease. People feeling comfortable to wander in and browse, touch the products and smell the scents is definitely one of the design goals we had with our stores and with our office too.
- Which elements of your products do you believe are crucial to enhance your client’s quality of life and well being?
It’s a combination of natural fragrances that uplift as you go about daily life and ingredients that won’t irritate or do harm to the environment.
It is also less obvious elements of our packaging design. We choose concentrated formulations and triggers and sprays that ensure the products are used sparingly. Customers eventually realise products are lasting way longer than usual. It works out better for the customer having to purchase less often and for the environment as less packaging and less transport is required.
- What has been your biggest career challenge to date and how have you overcome it?
My career came to grinding halt when I had children. The company I worked for really didn’t want me around anymore. But I wanted to keep working – even if part-time. That was the toughest period and I got alopecia during it – an illness where your hair falls out in a large clump and it is entirely stress created.
Eventually starting life as an entrepreneur was also a pretty difficult, but exciting period. It’s really scary launching a business. Will people like the product, who will buy it, how will I market the products? I really didn’t know the answers to these questions when I launched Bondi Wash.
In terms of actually running a business, there are always challenges, but one aspect that frustrates me is plagiarism. Copyright laws do not protect you in the business world – someone can take your concept, words or design and change just a little bit - all within the law. I understand people get inspiration from other brands, but when you see your hard work replicated on someone else’s website or packaging, it’s difficult not to feel angry.
- Do you believe in work/life balance? What is your take on this? Or do you have your own approach to making it all work?
I think it is a real challenge for our generation. The Lean In concept never resonated with me, although I’d love to see more women in senior positions everywhere – in business and politics. It’s hard enough being a parent, juggling work and family without additional pressure to take on more professionally.
Everybody has their own way of balancing it and I think there are no magic solutions. At home I try and streamline things, everyone has chores and I’ve taught the kids to cook so they can if they have to.
And in the office, I ruthlessly prioritise my time, dropping anything that isn’t core down the list and tackling the most urgent each day. Despite being busy, I try not to rush things, as even though the to do list is long, rushing things just makes you feel stressed. Working out what’s the next important thing on the list – whether it be family, friend or work related – and focusing on that in a calm and measured way is how I approach it.
Having a strong community and great group of fellow parents helps too, as we all help each other out when we can.
- What is the one life skill you would hope to pass on?
As a young woman in the corporate sector, I was frequently the only female in the room and felt at times like an alien. I had a different way of thinking and communicating and didn’t always feel like I fitted in or could be a success in that environment.
So the skill I’d pass on is less of a skill than an attitude. Ensuring young women believe they deserve to be where they are and have confidence in themselves, in the face of entrenched barriers to progression. I often felt like an imposter in the corporate world – like I didn’t belong. Stirring the pot, speaking up when things are holding women back, being confident in forging some change, that’s what I’d like to see.
- What piece of advice do you wish someone had told you when you were younger?
Worrying is wasted time. I worried way too much about trivial things.
Another one is learning to say no without feeling bad. It’s ok to say no to the demands of friends and family and society in general - follow your own path.
- What plans do you have for the future?
I love almost every aspect of what I do, so just continuing on doing what I am doing is the plan. I have dreams for more products and more retail stores around the world, introducing Australian ingredients and scents through natural products. And a wyalba perfumery in Paris is on the dream list – but I know that’s possibly a crazy one. The French have not yet embraced natural products, especially natural perfume.
- What are your top 10 songs and artists on the Enough playlist?
Fever – Peggy Lee
Quelqu’un m’a dit - Carla Bruni
Don’t – Zoe Kravitz
The wonder of you – The Villagers
To her door – Paul Kelly
Toothpaste kisses – The Maccabees
Rock it – Little Red
Sweet to me – Summer Salt
Gentle on my mind – Glen Campbell
This charming man - The Smiths
- Do you have any favourite podcasts, blogs or websites for enhancing your wellbeing?
I grew up with a mother who went through every new health trend in the 70s and 80s. From avoiding butter and eggs, through to vegetarianism and the Pritikin diet, we were exposed to many different health theories, many of which were debunked or didn’t endure. So I’m a little sceptical about wellness trends – preferring just a balanced diet with lots of variety in food types and as little processed food as possible with regular indulgences. And regular exercise but nothing too fancy – yoga and jogging is enough for me.
I have though just started listening to ‘How I built this’ which is a US podcast on itunes interviewing entrepreneurs. Hearing other founders go through the same issues you’re facing is good for the soul.
Images courtesy of Josh White, Mr & Mrs White