In Conversation With: Odylique’s Abi Weeds

We all know about Fairtrade chocolate, bananas and coffee but what do you know about Fairtrade beauty? In reality you are probably just like me and the answer is not all that much but believe it or not small scale farmers in over fifty countries produce ingredients which are used in some of our beauty products – and not just the natural and organic ones. Brands such as Boots, Lush, Neal’s Yard and Fair Squared all offer products which carry fairtrade certification and I am sure there are more in the pipeline.

In celebration of Fairtrade Fortnight 2018, I thought I would chat to someone who is at the forefront of organic and fair-trade beauty, Abi Weeds, Director of Odylique…

Odylique are known for their use of Fairtrade ingredients. How did you first get involved with using fairly traded ingredients and why is it so important to you as a company?

Our ethos when we started the company was to do the right thing. My Mum, Margaret, who formulates Odylique’s products knew there was a better, healthier, more ethical way of making cosmetics. So, choosing organic, and wherever possible, Fairtrade ingredients (along with many other ethical considerations!) was a very natural step.

As a result, we were using certified Fairtrade oils and butters long before it became possible to certify a whole product to Fairtrade standards (in 2009). But when we did become the first UK brand to launch cosmetics certified to both organic and Fairtrade standards it was a very proud moment!

We work closely with our suppliers on each batch of oils, butters and extracts we buy. This is important to ensure the therapeutic properties are as good as they can be. But, we’ve also come to know a lot about our growers and understand their needs, and this is a fundamental part of the Fairtrade certification. The Fairtrade premium paid as part of our certification fee is used for projects that are relevant to the producer or grower, e.g. schools or other infrastructure needs. I think this is a really great aspect of Fairtrade.

Is the availability of Fairtrade ingredients a key factor in the formulation of new products? and are you looking to certify more products from the range in the future?

The number of Fairtrade ingredients suitable for cosmetics is quite limited – bananas and coffee are not commonly used in skincare! Baobab and maca are some great recent additions to the more traditional ones of sugar, shea butter and coconut oil that have been around for some time.

Whenever possible (i.e. when the ingredients are relevant) if we’re repackaging or launching a product, we certify it to Fairtrade standards. Both our new products in 2017 (3-in-1 Maca Mask and our new lipstick shade, Peach Melba) were launched with the Fairtrade mark.

Many of your products are also certified organic; is it sometimes difficult to strike a balance in terms of ethics? 

Yes; it’s not always straightforward. For example, to achieve the Fairtrade mark for our products that contain olive oil, we would need to stop buying from the family-run cooperative in Spain that has supplied us for more than a decade, and switch to a Fairtrade olive oil source further away. This would be to the detriment of our lovely Spanish suppliers and would also increase our carbon footprint. So as a brand committed to sustainability, we try to strike a balance between local, organic and Fairtrade. We buy locally where possible and through fair trade organisations when buying outside the UK and Europe is the only choice.

Fairtrade is a fabulous movement which benets many communities around the globe. Do you think that there are areas in which fair trade could improve or develop in the coming years?

I’d like to see more cooperation between Fairtrade organisations. There are other very good fair-trade certifications, such as Fair for Life, but they are not recognised by the Fairtrade Foundation’s umbrella group, FLO.  This means if we’re using an ingredient that is Fair for Life certified, it won’t be recognised as Fairtrade in a product that we’re certifying to Fairtrade Foundation standards.

This is a real shame as it holds the market back in my view – there’d be many more certified products if there was mutual recognition between fair trade certifying bodies (as there is among organic certifiers). Ultimately this would mean more money benefitting more growers.

What do you think needs to happen in the UK to increases demand and awareness of Fairtrade and ethical practices when it comes to beauty products?

Fairtrade I think is probably better understood in this country – thanks to the work of the Fairtrade Foundation and its members – than organic. The Organic beauty industry is virtually unregulated so there are a huge number of products available on the high street that are organic in name only. The Soil Association (UK’s largest organic body) has been rallying against this for a number of years with its Campaign for Clarity calling for an end to green-washing. It’s definitely helping, but there’s still a big hill to climb. Retailers need to be much more protective of the consumer than they are right now, particularly as there are great genuine organic products out there.

Journalists and bloggers have a role to play too and I think they’ve helped significantly over the past decade. The level of public awareness about issues ranging from harsh chemicals in personal care to animal testing and palm oil has made a dramatic leap from where things were when we launched back in 2003. Organisations like Ethical Consumer magazine and the Ethical Shopping Organisation also do a phenomenal job in providing a guide through the ethical maze.

I have to ask this (although I know you’ve been asked many times before). I love your products but what are your favourites from the range?

It varies a little bit according to the season, but at the moment, I can’t be without Avocado 24Hr Replenishing Cream or Superfruit Concentrate. My skin is naturally quite dry and together (Avocado every day and Superfruit twice a week) they really keep my skin happy. Super fruit also gives a temporary colour boost which is great in the depths of winter! I love our makeup, particularly eye liner, mascara and Fig Fondant lipstick. But my year-round staple is our Gentle Herb Shampoo – never found anything that can beat it – without a shade of bias…

Thank you so much Abi, these answers are amazing! If you haven’t come across Odylique before then do pop over to take a look at their fantastic range of products.

Images: (1) Bioversity International via Flickr ; (2) Abi Weeds; (3) Erik Hersman via Flickr ; (3) LJS – OMUA
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