Personal and skin care products derived from natural ingredients is now the “in thing” among consumers everywhere. Globally, it is a bustling multi-billion ringgit industry and is still expanding, with new products and newer markets and there is intense competition to gain both, broad spectrum and niche consumers by industry players.
In Malaysia and in Sarawak, with the advent of biotechnology and the life sciences, coupled with the availability of a naturally existing biodiversity with a rich heritage of biologics from local flora – there is intense effort among researchers and industrialists to produce nature-based items including personal and skin care products.
Increasing demand for these products are driven by the fact that people are becoming more aware that most, if not all, of the conventional personal and skin care products are chemical-based and may be detrimental to human health in the long run.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (sls), sodium laureth sulfate (sles), ammonium lauryl sulfate (als) are among those commonly found chemicals in non-natural personal care products.
Nature’s Farm Company (Nature’s Farm) noted that conventional cleansing ingredients found in many soaps in the market are made with chemicals that are cost-effective but not necessarily kind to the skin. In fact, they stated that there are now approximately 100,000 synthetic chemicals being used in personal care products.
While this may cause consumers to go for products with natural or organic ingredients, Nature’s Farm cautions that there are some manufacturers who label their products as ‘organic’ when technically, the products contain a whole load of chemicals
However, there are local companies here which are using all natural ingredients to make their personal and household care products.
Nature’s Farm goes big with goat’s milk
At the forefront of the natural personal care industry is Nature’s Farm, headed by directors and business partners Cassandra Havelock and Fred Lee.
Nature’s Farm is in fact a dairy goat farm which adopts a natural and gentle farming philosophy that lends special care to the goats under its care.
Their herd of dairy goats are pure breeds of Saanen, British Alpine, Anglo Nubian, Toggenburg, Australian Melaan, Australian Brown and Australian Sable.
Lee said that after importing these goats, they found that like humans, they too have to protect the animals’ skin.
He explained that this is because they are coming into this environment which is quite harsh to them due to the UV light here.
“Because they are coming in from more temperate countries, so we have to protect their skin. Like humans, the skin is one of the largest organs for animals. That’s how we started going into skincare.
“We realised the importance of protecting their skin as much as we have to protect our own skin,” he said.
And that is how Havelock and Lee came up with the idea to develop their own range of skincare under the brand Nature’s Best consisting of bar soaps and liquid soaps.
With plenty goat’s milk available, Nature’s Farm decided to infuse their products with goat’s milk. If goat’s milk cannot be used, they will put in goat’s milk cream or goat’s milk yoghurt as a replacement.
“We try to make sure everything has goat’s milk because the milk itself has a lot of minerals,” Havelock said.
Nature Farm made plans to go into this natural skincare range knowing then that no other company in the country is doing it.
With this in mind, Havelock and Lee decided to go to Australia to learn natural soap making techniques from an Italian third generation soap maker who has been making it for over 100 years.
“They make all their soaps, bar soaps, liquid soaps, shampoo soaps, the whole range of natural skincare without a drop of chemicals.
“So, we went to Australia for about two weeks. We learnt every single thing, including how to formulate the contents,” Havelock said.
The amount of goat’s milk soaps without chemicals is currently very limited in the market due to the fact that most have dioxides because these are needed to bleach the soaps.
This is mainly due to the different method, others use to make goat’s milk soap which would actually turn a brown colour initially.
That is why these companies need dioxides, a very strong chemical to bleach the soaps white.
Havelock said that Nature’s Farm uses the cold method to make their soaps, thus ensuring no harsh chemicals are added.
The group stressed that they do not use any of the following chemicals in their formulation: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS), betaine, DEA-related ingredients, MEA-related ingredients, TEA-related ingredients, benzene derivatives (Fragrance/Parfum), propylene glycol, parabens, PEG-related ingredients, chemical cleansers, surfactants, moisturisers or foaming agents.
“So, ours are pure, you can even use it on a day-old baby and even cancer patients. Most of our customers are stage four cancer survivors who go for chemotherapy, radiation, which makes their skin really sensitive,” she added.
When using Nature’s Best soaps, the partners affirmed that their customers do not encounter any usage problems, proving just how pure the prouducts are.
Lee accredited customers having become more well informed on genuine natural care products due to media such as The Borneo Post’s health supplement, explaining that this has allowed them to become more aware and educated on this subject.
Having received a lot of enquiries from people, Nature’s Farm thus believes that customers are beginning to understand the difference of all those ingredients of pure natural personal care products from those of commercialised products.
“How we differentiate ourselves is, people who read our ingredients, will know we don’t have a single chemical inside. And we have been making our soaps for nearly eight years plus,” Havelock said, adding that they have a steady customer base who have been following their ever expanding skincare range over the years.
Nature’s Farm is competing in the natural products market and has acknowledged that to do so, they would have to cover a very wide range. For that reason, the group is now going into hair care natural products. They are currently working on hair care range which will cover dry hair, oily hair, dandruff hair, coloured hair, curly hair and many more different types. Nature’s Farm is also coming up with mask and treatments for hair.
“We are trying to base it with dabai because Sarawak is proud of its dabai. It’s got a government indication (GI), so we were the first to create the soaps from dabai and liquid soaps. Now we want to put more dabai into our range,” Havelock said.
In addition to being organic, Lee said that dabai is a wonderful fruit because the profile of oil inside is medium trans fatty acid which is good for the skin. The purple pigment of the dabai is an antioxidant, which prevents skin from ageing and repairs skin and age spots.
As Sarawak and the overall Borneo island has much to offer in terms of natural resources and ingredients, Nature’s Farm decided that to make their products unique and to challenge other natural product competitors in the market, they use whatever can be found here for their wide range of natural personal care products.
Nature Farm also uses the enkabang, sourced from Indonesia. They believe that this can compete with the shea butter from Africa.
“Our Borneo island butter which is the enkabang or illipe nut, is at par with shea butter. So, instead of us using shea butter, mango butter, kukui butter, all those expensive butters, we might as well use our own enkabang,” Havelock said. Currently, Nature’s Farm has produced the enkabang liquid soap but it is only for the Indonesian market because they supply the enkabang to them.
From Borneo island itself, Nature’s Farm has a few of the natural products or ingredients which they can use to make it uniquely Borneo for them to export overseas.
One of the unique ones they are thinking about is the first ever essential oil released from Borneo island, called the litsara, which is usually grown by the Bidayuhs and has anti-microbial properties. By using the litsara oil, Nature’s Farm aims to use it as a special scent from Borneo to export overseas.
“So we have come up with so many things and now we are ready to export. We have even talked to our partners, Borneo To The World, so we are collaborating with them.
“They are going to launch the liquid soaps next year, together with our new products which are natural cosmetics, such as lipsticks, eye shadows, mascara, lip gloss, you name it, the whole range, without a single drop of chemicals,” Havelock said.
Nature’s Farm will first be testing out the natural cosmetics and hair care range in their biggest market through their sole agent in Miri. Though Miri has a smaller market than Kuching, the partners were also surprised by the very good buying power which has been displayed with the high demand for their products.
“Hopefully next year, once we have got our haircare products and all our cosmetics, we will be launching it in Miri and we will see how the market reacts. If they are happy with it, then we will launch it nationwide,” Havelock said.
In terms of regional markets, Nature’s Farm handles the Indonesian market, Brunei market and Singapore market, while Borneo To The World will handle the international markets. Nature’s Farm soaps are selling particularly well in Indonesia. As such, the group also has plans to launch their natural cosmetics in Indonesia, after many of their customers requested them for these products
“Once our containers come in, our makeup should be ready, we can launch it. But we will launch it in Jakarta first,” she said.
Havelock added, “We think that it’s time for Sarawak to export. We will suggest to Borneo To The World and we will see how it goes. We feel that if we do not enter the international market now, we will never enter.”
Overall, Nature’s Farm is expanding but the partners have revealed that they would rather do it very slowly. They believe that rather than go very big all at once, it is better to slowly develop the market.
“Let the word of mouth spread rather than engage in aggressive marketing. We are not in a hurry. We know the market is there. It’s just that, to us, we’re not in a hurry and it takes time to educate people. We have been patient all these years,” Lee said.
Nature’s Farm has been in this line rearing goats for more than 15 years which other people have given up a long time ago.
However, they are still hanging on because they know that they are doing something good for the environment.
“We are adding value to our milk which is good. We are moving up the value chain. And it is something that we are proud of,” he said.
Havelock added that, for them, it is more like a service to the community as they are helping friends, helping people by offering them natural products.
“The market is very wide. Eventually we will get there, but for us, it’s ‘start locally first’. We might as well help our own people and then somehow, we will get there,” she said.
Borneo To The World goes beyond borders
Another Sarawakian company which has made a place for itself in the local natural personal care scene is Borneo To The World Sdn Bhd (Borneo To The World) with its soap brand, Borneo Soap.
According to chief executive officer Amin Aznizan, Borneo Soap was previously known as Borneo To The World, but was changed after some market testing and observation.
“What we did was, for the first year, we opened a kiosk at Kuching Airport. We opened up for one year there, it was basically to test the market,” Amin said.
During their one year stint at the airport, Borneo To The World found out that people got to know about the soap. However, while people got to know about the soaps, they did not really have the brand association because of the brand name Borneo To The World.
He noted that when people heard about or saw Borneo To The World, they always imagined that this is a Sarawak tourism effort, campaign or something along those lines. For that reason, the company decided to change the brand name of the soap and that was how they came up with Borneo Soap.
“We’ve launched Borneo Soap, for over half a year already. So far, it’s doing quite ok,” Amin said, adding that they are available now in Metrojaya Midvalley at Kuala Lumpur, and Metrojaya CityOne at Kuching.
Borneo Soap is different from commercial soaps in that it is all natural meaning that there is no trace of chemicals in the soaps. Borneo To The World assured that this is supported by lab tests.
In addition, it uses the cold process to make the soaps which means no heat is involved and thus saponification is not speeded up and there are no leakages.
While other soaps using the hot process takes at most, half an hour to an hour to produce, Borneo Soaps take a minimum 21 days, depending on the ingredients being used. It can go up to even 35 to 40 days to make just one bar of soap. For example, the dabai takes a bit longer, while the limau masam takes a bit shorter time to make.
“Even though it takes a longer period of time to make, the dabai soap contains all the nutritious benefits contained in the fruit,” Amin said.
He further noted that because, there are no chemicals in the soap, the molecules of the ingredients are not changed. Unlike commercial soaps which saponifies against man-made chemicals, thus changing the size of the molecules, for Borneo Soaps, the molecules are natural and do not change.
“It’s smaller than our pores, so it absorbs into the skin. That means, whatever minerals you get from the dabai, you get in the soap and your skin gets it 100 per cent. So, it’s very effective,” he said. Borneo Soap’s personal care line includes body bath, facial bar, foot and body bath and feminine wash.
The third thing that differentiates Borneo Soap from other brands and products is the fact that the ingredients used are all natural to Borneo. For example, dabai, Sarawak pepper, Beras Bario, Sago Mukah, limau masam and many more.
All these ingredients are what can be found here on Borneo Island. At the moment, the soap ingredients are from Sarawak specifically. However, Borneo To The World is looking at ingredients from Sabah, Brunei and Kalimantan to add in as well.
As a local Sarawkian company, Borneo To The World understands the logistics of Sarawak. For example the dabai is something that is very fragile as the fruit rots after one or two days. As such, if you do not know where to get it, or how to keep it, you cannot process it properly into soap. Those are the complications to the logistics.
On a side note, the ingredients that the company uses, such as the dabai or pepper, are not purchased from supermarkets, or from any suppliers. Instead, Borneo To The World goes directly to the source. For example, with dabai, they will go into the rural areas, to certain longhouses where the locals actually harvest the dabai wild from the forest.
In doing so, Borneo To The World is supporting the farmers who harvest these fruits and produce traditionally. Amin noted that the way they harvest, they have been doing it for generations, and the way they harvest does not harm the rainforest or the ecosystem.
“That’s what we want. We want to maintain it that way because Borneo Soap is all about Borneo and one of the main visions and missions of Borneo soap is to preserve the rainforests of Borneo,” he said.
Another interesting feature of Borneo Soap is that all the soaps are handmade with no machineries being used. This is to maintain the quality of the soaps and as such has strict quality control processes.
As the soaps are handmade, after every process, they will do their quality check on the product. For example, when the formulation is mixed, they will check for consistency.
When the formulation is allowed to set, they will also check for the PH level, when the soaps are cut, the smoothness of the products, weight and other factors will be checked.
By using the handmade method, Borneo To The World is also able to give employment opportunities to the surrounding people. For example, its factory at Bako is surrounded by many villages and the folks living there do not have much employment opportunities.
Amin noted that for them to come over to Kuching where the opportunities are, it is very difficult because of transportation issues and many other factors. That is why the company went to Bako and set up its factory there and decided to do all the soaps by the handmade method.
Apart from its physical outlets at Metrojaya, Borneo To The World is getting Borneo Soap out into the market via e-commerce as it attempts to penetrate the online market.
After taking into consideration various factors including limited resources, Amin believes that it is easier to reach out (especially in this world today) to a wider audience using the internet.
“And also, because Borneo Soap is for the high-end premium category. Usually our target market, they are very well-versed online, they go online, shop online. So, that’s why we are targeting that segment very heavily now,” he said.
While Borneo To The World is focusing heavily on online e-commerce sales, it does have plans to open up more physical outlets should the opportunity arise and there is evident high demand for such setups.
On exporting Borneo Soap to other countries, Amin said that they do so, but not for retail purposes. Instead, Borneo To The World exports for corporate sales to a lot of companies, especially Malaysian companies overseas.
According to Amin, when these companies want to give gifts to their stakeholders or clients, they want to give something that is very Malaysian or more specifically very Sarawakian or Borneo-based.
Recently, it sent out quite large orders, to companies in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and Ghana.
“You being a Malaysian company in Saudi Arabia, for example, what can you buy there that your clients there don’t have access to.
“For them, it’s their pride as well. I’m a Malaysian company, I’ve a Malaysian product that I give to you as my client. So, that’s at the moment, how we target the outside (market),” he said.
For corporate sales, Borneo To The World has also exported to other countries such as Indonesia, India, Dubai and to a few other African countries in addition to Europe and the UK.
On the retail export front, Amin said that this is not something that is going to happen in the near future, but is definitely something that they are interested in. “We are talking to parties in Milan, Paris, and in London who are very interested to bring Borneo Soap there to retail,” he added.
The only thing that is stopping the company from embarking on exports for retail purposes now is that it really believes that it has to establish itself in Malaysia first to really create a brand that the locals are familiar with.
Amin envisions a time in the near future when Malaysians, Sarawakians particularly, are very familiar with and proud of Borneo Soap.
“We feel that it’s very important that Malaysians in general are the ambassadors of Borneo Soap. Otherwise, for example if you go to London or Milan, the English and Italians will be asking about the Borneo Soap.
As the company name suggests, Borneo To The World has always envisioned itself to be a global company. It wants to position itself as a global player and global brand.
“We’ve always benchmarked ourselves against global cosmetic and skin care companies. Whenever we compare our soaps and products, such as L’oreal, SK-II, Estee Lauder, these are the companies that we benchmark ourselves up against not in terms of products, but in terms of the positioning in the global market and industry,” Amin said.
That said, Borneo To The World wants to maintain, regardless how big the company grows, its personal touch to the brand.
“Because that’s something very Sarawakian, its a very Borneo value, whereby wherever you go in the world, whenever you compare it to being here in Sarawak or Borneo in general, people are very warm, friendly, it’s very personal.
“It’s not all business, as they say. That’s what we want to maintain, it’s our brand identity,” Amin said.
Natural Origin expands in Sarawak
Natural Origin, which recently opened its second outlet in Sarawak, was founded in 2006 by an organic chemist, Mark Khaw who had extensive experience working as a researcher with an international corporation on personal care products.
Realising that he has the ability to bring better products to the public, he gave up his prestigious position and started his own laboratory and company in Penang.
According to Natural Origin partner Wendy Teng, Khaw strongly advocates against the usage of chemically made personal care products as it may probably bring more harm than good to our health.
Natural Origin, started by first developing Natural Handmade Soaps using the technique called ‘cold press’ binding natural essential oil into its soap making process.
Natural Origin is the first member in Malaysia who is accredited by Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild, recognising its commitments and superb quality in making fine soaps.
“When we noticed that our soaps are so popular and received excellent feedback, our founder decided to expand to other personal care (products) and household series,” Teng said.
Presently, Natural Origin has expanded to Natural cosmetic range, Natural household range, handmade soaps range, Natural Massage Oil range, Natural Essential oils range, Baby Series and Body care series.
All these products have been developed and formulated for its loyal customers who enjoy the benefits of natural products. Natural Origin tries to meet what its customers wants and the group is doing its best possible to accommodate to their needs.
“We want to let our customers understand that natural products are not easy to develop and we do not include, preservatives, colouring agents, artificial perfumes and chemical additives in our products,” Teng said.
Natural Origin first marketed its products locally in Penang and, in a short period of time due to its popularity, it expanded across Malaysia. Today, Natural Origin is also present across other countries, including China and Australia.
Teng noted that Natural Origin first entered the Sarawak market in 2009 with their first branch in Sibu. At that time, they believed that Sibu was a very risky market as consumers are more conservative in terms of spending and way of thinking there.
“We challenged ourselves that if we can survive in Sibu, we can survive any market in Sarawak.
“We must admit that it was very difficult during our first year in the market as natural products were an alien concept to the Sibu market and customers are skeptical about it,” she said.
However, Natural Origin is today very well received by Sibu customers and has now expanded to Kuching. It also has plans to do to expand to other cities in Sarawak.
Natural Origin believes that the Sarawak people are more educated these days and that they understand the benefits of natural products as compared to other products. This is evident in the fact that more customers here these days are choosing Natural Origin products as better alternatives to those commercial personal care products.
“All these years, we have been trying to educate and advocate on natural products, and we are still working hard to bring awareness to the market,” Teng said.
She added that all this time, Natural Origin has encountered various types of customers with different skins conditions, either with an open mind or those skeptical to their natural products.
However, she believes that this is part of the market learning process and that they are sure that Natural Origin’s products’ quality will speak for itself to those doubtful customers.
Natural Origin differentiates itself from other natural care product companies through the superior quality of its natural products while also offering one of the most affordable prices in the market.
“Our founder believes that natural products should not be overcharged and should be enjoyed by all customers irrespective of backgrounds.
“As you can see, our pricings are lower than similar products of others. That does not mean that our quality is lower, but we do not waste money on packaging, marketing tricks and expensive advertisement.
“We try to keep our packaging and products as simple as possible to keep our cost low. We want to make sure our products are value for money,” Teng said.
She added that Natural Origin uses the finest ingredients possible, sourcing them mostly from overseas, all in the company’s bid to give its customers the best that it has to offer.
Natural Origin aims towards mass markets as it believes that natural products should be enjoyed by consumers of all ages.
However, it’s products are particularly suitable for people with sensitive and problematic skins.
Teng noted that they have noticed that customers asked more questions about natural products and it is a positive sign for them as it indicates the increasing interest for a more healthy lifestyle.
As with other businesses, Natural Origin tries to stay relevant in the market and create what customers want and need, while at the same time, it strives not to forget their true mission and identity of the company.
“We will continuously develop new product ranges and improve our existing products for our customers. As we believe, quality will speak for itself.
“We will continue to educate the market and convince customers to switch to natural products. Customers should be given better choices in the market place,” Teng concluded.