A land, Australia, whose most ancient cultural traditions teach us how to live together in peace and in harmony with nature, leaving to future generations the teaching that there is no separation between us and it. A unicum that we often forget but that thanks to countless new sustainable realities we can once again recognize, rediscover and relive with even greater intensity and beauty. Australia, a place whose roots lie in a culture deeply linked to Mother Earth, was chosen by Jessica Bragdon and her husband Paul Davidson to found in 2017 the Koala Eco brand, a line of ecological products for the home and for the body, made with natural essential oils deriving from native plant species rich in cleansing and healing properties and packaged in 100% recycled plastic. Inspired by the bond that early Australian peoples, extremely respectful of nature and its gifts, had with this land, and by the 19th century transcendentalist movement, whose nature-loving members believed that the natural world offered the key to well-being and a better understanding of themselves, they have created products that have a positive impact on our health and that of our planet. A brand of immense value that, in addition to collaborating with other sustainable realities in the area, also accompanies you to relive an olfactory experience in contact with nature in your own intimate home environment.
Tell us about yourself Jessica and how you came to found the Koala Eco brand …
I grew up in Boston and New Hampshire and after studying while also earning a master’s degree from Columbia University, I worked extensively in New York in the boutique hotel industry. Over the years I have always been involved in many projects and activities related to design and aesthetics. My husband Paul and I, originally from Australia and a chartered accountant by training, have always shared a passion for nature and environmental sustainability and we wanted to do everything possible to avoid causing damage to the planet. We therefore decided to found Koala Eco, a company that produces household and body cleaning products with natural ingredients and essential oils from native plants of Australia where we now live.
How do your products stand out?
Koala Eco was initially born from the desire to find ecological, non-toxic, effective and safe products even for the smallest members of each family. The range of home and personal care products harnesses the power of potent botanicals and plant-based ingredients to inspire a safe, caring and beautiful world. We felt that our children Emerson and Arthur and our pets shouldn’t have to hold their breath to avoid absorbing harmful chemicals every time we cleaned our home. Our goal was to make natural products derived from plants in the same way, if not more powerful, than traditional ones; and most importantly, making the experience of cleaning and caring for the family home much more enjoyable for people. Furthermore, we created this line with the desire that people can use our products knowing that they are not harming the Planet, because all the ingredients are biodegradable and environmentally sustainable.
It is so vital now to open our eyes and discover more deeply how interconnected we are with nature. How important is it for our health and that of the planet to use natural products?
Research has shown that many of the ingredients in traditional cleaning products are harmful to the skin, eyes and nervous system. When you start looking into all of this you realize how horrible the way we are living is. At present, there are more than 84,000 chemicals in commercial use, with 1000 new products worldwide each year. Long after home exposure to these chemicals occurred, links were made to health problems such as hormonal disorders, allergies, asthma, and more. Koala Eco products are powerful yet biodegradable, eco-friendly and safe for the whole family. We set out to create products that match the effectiveness of conventional cleaners in removing bacteria and impurities, disinfection and deodorization. Since household cleaners are used several times a week, perhaps even several times a day, I recommend that you be careful what you use. Think about what you might breathe in, what might go into your eyes or into your child’s eyes. When people buy so-called “naturally” scented products, they hope their homes smell good “naturally” in reality they don’t know that they often breathe in things that have very questionable health effects. Fragrances like these can be made with a blend of ingredients, which can mean synthetics or harmful substances are hidden. If you look at the labels on ordinary products, you will see warnings about some of their ingredients that are dangerous if accidentally inhaled or if they come into contact with the skin. Scientists consider household cleaning products to be a key source of indoor pollution, leading to headaches and respiratory problems. This is the last thing we need right now.
The products we use eventually end up in the drain and then into the sewers and thus can pollute our environment on a large scale if they are toxic. Many people often don’t think about it. How widespread is the sensitivity in Australia on these issues?
Our formulas are plant-based or plant-derived, from pure essential oils to surfactants. Plants are a sustainable resource; as compost, they organically nourish the soil, preparing it for planting. If you keep planting, you encourage a whole ecosystem of insects and birds etc. that carry out pollination, you can continue to harvest and the cycle continues, with minimal waste. There are farm networks across Australia dedicated to this, and we at Koala Eco help support it by accessing the supply chain of the ingredients these farms produce and go into our products. So we basically know where the plants come from and who grew them. If we all used biodegradable natural products, safe for water and sustainably bottled in plastic or rPET glass, we would be helping to achieve really good results in the direction of sustainability. Koala Eco customers avoid producing around 2,000kg of virgin plastic every month because we are able to offer 100% recycled bottles. We also know that by using our products, our customers prevent 25,000 liters of toxic liquid from being dumped into our water systems every month. Little by little, we can all make a difference.
The packaging of your products as well as being recycled are beautiful. Where did you get your inspiration from?
First of all, from the lasting and exceptional connection that exists between the first Australian peoples and this continent. It is an incredibly sacred thing that offers us a continuity of wisdom and reminds us that people here have cared for the country and the planet for millennia. Australia has such an abundance of native plant species rich in cleansing and healing properties, and many of the plants we use in Koala Eco products have been part of the Aboriginal Pharmacopoeia for many thousands of years. Also, I think people associate Australia with the qualities of openness, friendliness and unpretentiousness. Our products embody a similar sense of transparency and simplicity. Consumers are becoming much more demanding about environmentally friendly purchasing choices. We have noticed that local products are increasingly in demand as well as products that align with people’s idea of kindness and beauty and with a connection with the natural world and all its healing and medicinal plants. In difficult times like these, people also seem to be looking for things that can be easily identified with their place of origin (in the case of Koala Eco, with Australia). To offer a slightly different perspective on sustainability, I would also add that it is fantastic that the categories of natural cleaning and personal care products have experienced such growth in the last couple of years or so – this proves that the market is ready for these products. . The higher the demand, the more Koala Eco can also return to the natural environment. In fact, every sale triggers a donation to the global environmental charity One Per Cent for the Planet.
You have chosen the koala as an image and name for your brand. This animal is a symbol of Australia but sadly it is now in danger. The fires have killed many innocent specimens. How are you working hard to help nature flourish again?
As I mentioned earlier, we collaborate with One Percent for the Planet, a charity to which we donate a dollar for each product purchased. This environmental group is committed to protecting the land, forests, rivers and oceans and encourages sustainable energy methods. We also sponsor Port Stephens Koala and make donations to WWF Australia. Our corporate mantra is “do no harm”, which means that we do not add anything to our products that could have a negative effect on people, animals or the planet. We believe that our connection with nature is a wonderful and precious thing, informing how we think and live, and also how we care for each other and for the planet. We are proud that Koala Eco has never and will never test its products on animals.
What are your future plans for the brand?
We are currently working on a natural pillow and line of sprays containing the essential oils of three of nature’s best anti-stress and anti-inflammatory botanicals: Australian eucalyptus, peppermint and rosaline. The idea is to offer something that can be sprinkled on the pillow cases, with the intent of promoting calm and relaxation and restful sleep. We were somewhat inspired by the nineteenth-century transcendentalist movement, whose members included writers and nature enthusiasts such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. They believed that immersion in nature was a deeply spiritual and enriching experience, and that the natural world offered the key to well-being and a better understanding of oneself. We definitely want to develop dedicated products specifically to deliver that kind of sensory and emotional benefit.
Is your daily life 100% sustainable?
At home, we actively compost and have worm farms that the kids love! As a family, we try and eat vegetarian meals as often as possible. Camping with our two boys is also something we love to do, to get outdoors and appreciate nature in our wonderful country. Paul also takes the boys to the beach to teach them surfing which they very much enjoy. It is great to get outside especially as a family.
What kind of advice would you like to give to women to live a more sustainable life with family, work, hobbies?
I do my best to balance the demands of work with home and family life. Paul and I share the load quite well and are good planners when it comes to negotiating our different schedules with our kids’ needs. I will not say that we always do well, but we are not that bad. If there are things I can do at home instead of at the office, I have the option to do it. It is good, however, to have an office outside the home, because it brings the psychological benefits of the physical separation between family and work environment. Even though when your work is your own personal project that you are passionate about and that aligns very closely with your personal values, then it is impossible to separate the two spheres completely. Koala Eco is all about offering sustainable lifestyle choices, and if Paul and I didn’t voluntarily embrace those choices, we couldn’t run a genuine business. However, we have ways that help us not to focus on business at the expense of our family and personal life. For me, it’s about taking time for myself. Once a month I make sure I have a day to myself to regroup, recharge and rest. Usually in contact with the Ocean.