It Runs in the Family: Meet Richard and Bessie Austin, Co-Founders of Austin Austin

It Runs in the Family: Meet Richard and Bessie Austin, Co-Founders of Austin Austin

Hailing from Norfolk, father and daughter Richard and Bessie Austin founded Austin Austin – a beautiful collection of organic, vegan products for hands, hair and body – in 2017. They let us in on how they curate their eponymous brand.

Austin’s collection of haircare and
skincare products
are aesthetically pleasing – think: labels
displaying characterful Indian-ink line drawings by artist
Christian Newby – and ethically aligned – they’re Soil
Association-certified organic and vegan-friendly.

Ardent supporters of sustainable practices – Richard opened
Rainbow Wholefoods in Norwich 1976, which is
considered one of Britain’s oldest and most established natural and
organic food stores – the father-daughter duo are committed to
making the best possible product and remain uncompromising in the
curation of their eponymously named brand.

Where are you from and how has that shaped or inspired

I (Richard) am from London
and moved to Norfolk in my early 20s. Bessie, my daughter, grew up
in Norfolk and moved to London at the same age. We both spend a
fair amount of time in both places and enjoy how busy the capital
is, as well as the tranquillity and space of East Anglia. I can see
the influence of those contrasting values in the work we are doing

What was your aim for Austin Austin when it was founded in

For Bessie it was a chance to work with creative artists in a
commercial setting, and for me it was a chance to work with Bessie
on an environmentally friendly project. We have both worked hard to
make Austin Austin as good as it can be.

As a father-daughter founded brand, how do you balance your
work relationship and personal relationship?

We are very fortunate in that we have always been very close
friends and have great respect for each other’s opinion. So our
business activity has been supplementary to our family relationship
rather than altering it.

Austin Austin is a Soil Association certified-organic brand –
what does that mean?

The Soil Association, and the EU body COSMOS, are independent bodies that audit organic
claims. With food, it is illegal to use the word “organic” on
packaging unless full certification is carried. The regulations are
more lax for cosmetics and body care and, as a result, there is a
lot of green-washing and misleading information. Organic
certification is a guarantee that ingredients have been grown, and
production carried out, with a minimum of pesticides and
preservatives and that packaging is environmentally friendly.

What are some of your favourite local family-owned businesses
in East Anglia?

There are quite a few in Norwich. Ronaldo Ices makes wonderful ice creams while One
Planet Pizza
are a father-and-son team who make great vegan
pizzas and, up until last year, Aspall based in Suffolk were
eighth-generation cyder makers.

Any other environmentally focused toiletries brands that we
should know about?

Friendly Soap, Natracare and LoofCo are all
worth a look, while Ecover, Bio-D and Ecozone
are recommended cleaning products.

Must-visit spots in Norfolk include…

Norwich Lanes for its diverse independent shops, the North
Norfolk coast for its beauty, Peddars Way, Bungay Castle and all of
the walking running tracks across the county. You’ll also want to
meet the lovely free-spirited people of Norwich.

Richard, you founded one of the first wholefood shops in the UK
– any others you would recommend?

I like traditional wholefood shops selling foods rather than too
many pills and potions. Infinity Foods in Brighton is one of my favourites as
is Arjuna Wholefoods in Cambridge. I can
wholeheartedly recommend Tony Arthur’s veg and wholefood delivery
service which is a great boost to our area.

Bessie, you studied at Central Saint Martins, University of the
Arts London and the University of Cambridge – what are some of your
favourite art-focused places in the UK?

Interesting art is to be found in so many places these days. I
like to visit the big-name London galleries, but also smaller
independent ones – and of course the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
in Norwich.

How did your collaboration with artist Christian Newby come

I became aware of Christian’s work and felt that it fitted with
my sense of clearing the front of our boxes and bottles of as much
information as possible so that the artwork has space. The idea has
been to work with artists who are not packaging designers, and the
beauty in Christian’s work seemed like a perfect fit. The next part
of the project will have different artists.

What destinations inspire your creativity?

We both love skiing and the mountains and have been lucky enough
to spend a fair bit of time in the Alps taking in the breath-taking
scenery. India is an influence on anyone who
has been there, and both of us have been affected by our stays
there. We also take inspiration from the lovely British
countryside, not just Norfolk, with its peaceful splendour.

Which Austin Austin product should we take with us on our next

I think the hand cream might be the most useful or maybe the
hand soap, depending on what sort of trip you are planning.

Where are you stocked?

The Conran Shop, Liberty London and many independent lifestyle shops
around the world.

Where’s your next adventure?

That’s an easy question. Bessie has just had her first baby
(which is my first grandchild) – there isn’t a bigger adventure
than that.

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