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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 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 you?
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 together.
What was your aim for Austin Austin when it was founded in 2017?
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?
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 about?
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 trip?
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?
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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