Earth Day 2024 Interview with Sarah Tait from Wanderlightly Holistic Skincare

Earth Day 2024: Sarah Tait of Wanderlightly Interview

When I first discovered that this year's Earth Day theme was planet versus plastics, I knew I had to talk to Sarah from holistic skincare brand Wanderlightly. Watch the video above or read the transcript below:

Marisa: For anyone who's not familiar with your journey, can you please share a bit about what inspired you to go plastic free?

Sarah: Absolutely. My journey started nine years ago. I went to Tonga on a yoga retreat whale swim sort of extravaganza thing. There were nine people going out on this boat. Beautiful, natural, gorgeous surroundings. And we would go out to these small little islands which were not inhabited and they were covered in plastic. Like along with the coral, etc. there were lighters and jangles/thongs, homes to all sorts of things that you knew hadn't been left there but had come in on ocean currents.

So I literally had this 2am wake up moment and I thought, I have to stop using plastic for a year. I have to quit. And I guess my thought behind it was that I wanted to know how I could live without using so much plastic, and if I can share that information with other people to help it seem like a more tangible thing to do then I wanted to do that. So, that was in October of 2014.

1st of January 2015 I started my plastic free year. I probably wouldn't do it this way now, but I got rid of all the plastic in my house. I got rid of all the packaging, food packaging was a massive one, just to see and have a starting point and collect all the plastic I used in a year. So I'm going to go and not use plastic, but if I do get it by accident I was going to collect it and see what I ended up with.

And over the course of the year I ended up with two and a half kilos of plastic all up. So that was my plastic usage for the year. I'm not really sure what the norm would be but essentially food was a huge one and then the other one was skincare. That was a really big one for me.

I've always been into natural and eating well and recycling, but when it came to beauty, I couldn't find say a natural deodorant that that was natural, had clean ingredients, but wasn't housed in plastic. I suppose at that time the only thing that was available was an American brand that I found but it was in plastic.

So I thought, what if I made my own? So I did a bit of research and started to make my own. And that's kind of how my brand started, from experimenting and then I did some study and worked out formulations on how I could do it. And that's how it started really.

Marisa: I love that and I hate to imagine for those who haven't measured their plastic consumption for a year, how much it could potentially be because unknowingly, there is just so much, especially like you said, in food packaging. And there really is a huge amount of waste and plastic in the beauty industry. I see it every day from things I receive in PR, just unnecessary things that you get, through to the product packaging itself.

I'd love to know more about how you do things differently at Wanderlightly.

Sarah: It's really interesting and I like to consider end to end. So what's really important is that the ingredients I choose are not only ethically produced, so they are Fairtrade etc, but look at how I'm receiving the raw materials. So what sort of packaging that comes in. For example, my shea butter comes in a plastic tub so I try and buy in bulk. So then I've got a plastic tub that can be reused at the very least for other things. So right from the beginning, right through, what sort of packaging am I using? Is it mindful? Can it be repurposed? What sort of labelling am I using? If I put this label on it, does it mean the package can be recycled or not?

Another really important one I do, and it's a tricky one because you want your product to look beautiful but you also want your product to be either reused or accessible to recycling, I don't double package. So for example I have a bottle, but I don't put it in a second box. And the reason for that is that as soon as you get home, you're taking it out of that second box and most likely it's going into the bin albeit the recycling, but still that energy production that's gone into producing that box for that small amount of time to take up sort of shelf space, really. So looking at the end to end process.

One of the other things I like to look at in terms of low tox, is to keep my products free from preservatives. So what that means is I don't put water into my products. So as soon as you introduce water you have to introduce preservatives. So keeping my ingredients as minimal as possible also helps to keep my footprint low. So I just put in what's needed. I don't put in lots of fillers and things that I don't understand or ingredients that I don't where they've come from.

Marisa: I can also say from my own experience, that this has not in any way impacted the effectiveness of your products. Like I love using your serums, your hyaluronic acid. I've just got the new Naked Balm to try, which I'm so excited to get started on. I'm just really inspired by you and those steps that you've taken because even though it's using less, it doesn't necessarily mean it's an easier road to take. It's a more thoughtful and considered road and I love everything you've done.

You actually inspired me when I started my business, because when it came to sending out orders, I knew I had a few branded things, but what else can I parcel the products in so they're protected? And anything I received now from other brands or other deliveries I keep and I put aside, I have a huge stash and I'm sure you do too. And whether it is a bit of bubble wrap that I'm like, you know what? This will just protect one glass bottle from potentially getting damaged. The paper that stuffed in there, I keep all of that and reuse it now for orders because there's nothing wrong with it. Why not give it a little more life?

Sarah: Absolutely. And that's something I do. I'm sitting right beside my stash of reused paper and the whole time I've run my business I have not ever had to buy packaging to protect items because that's always come with other things. So I can put it to the side, repurpose it and it's really great to do that what I'm repurposing mine in, you're giving it another life. So it's getting several lives which I love.

Marisa: I can only hope that then the next person will potentially keep it or use it for something else. But it makes me feel good knowing that we've continued that chain along for that one piece of packaging.

Sarah: Yeah, that the lifecycle of that piece of paper is so much more extended. Because recycling takes, effort and energy and resources and it's also had energy and resources to create it as well. So, if we can use it more then Awesome.

Marisa: Absolutely. A lot of your products also come in biodegradable packaging, which is great, like your deodorant and Body Bar stick. Have you heard or experienced any misconceptions when it comes to biodegradable beauty?

Sarah: Absolutely. It's really interesting, especially when I see products that look as though they are in paper packaging, but just because it looks like something is it might not be. A little bit of wolf in sheep's clothing, I suppose. A lot of paper tubes still need to be lined with plastic. The lining that I use is a plant based lining. I did a lot of research when I moved away from using aluminium tins, and I just wanted something that was a little bit more user friendly in terms of a deodorant stick and easy application, a little bit less dipping fingers and bacteria, etc.

So I spent a lot of time looking for something that was plant based. I got samples, I then did my own research and I made sure that I could put them in the garden and when I dug them up it was all gone. Like you can pop them in your worm farm and they don't just need to be recycled you can pop them in a hole in the ground.

But there are a lot that still have a laminate lining on the outside. So it's a very small, thin piece of plastic that just protects the layer of the label. None of mine have a laminate finish on them. The downside for my product is that over time the label looks worn. But I also know it can be recycled so I'm happy for it to look slightly worn. Also, my customers are as well as far as I know. There's a lot of greenwashing around.

Marisa: Absolutely and I think even just for it to look a bit worn is just a sign of something that's well-loved and well used. And I know exactly what you mean now by that laminate almost looks like a plastic film that is around it that kind of gives it a bit of a glossy tint kind of thing. So that's something people should look out for.

Sarah: Absolutely. If you are looking for packaging, look at the back and see. Most companies that have done their research will be really pleased to make claims of this is X, Y, Z or whatever. And if it doesn't have it on it, maybe it's not.

You can always contact the company too and question them and ask them, is this recyclable? Is it biodegradable? Degradable is a as a real buzz word but degradable just means it will just break up into small pieces, not actually degrade into nothing. So that's a good one to keep in mind.

Marisa: Absolutely. I think people are becoming more aware of that. But I think any additional help or resources that they can get, just to help get their head around it, because like you said greenwashing is such a huge thing, especially in the beauty industry. So every little bit counts.

Sarah: Yeah and I think it's quite trendy to sort of be sustainable or x, y, z rather than is this company truly wanting to put out a product that is good for us and the planet and ticks all of those boxes.

Marisa: Absolutely and like you said, I think if a brand is truly proud that they've been able to tick those boxes and they've worked towards that model in their business, then they will scream it from the rooftops. For me, it's the ones who are putting it under the radar or not being very clear or transparent that's where my red flags start to come in. I'm like, yeah, what is this?

Sarah: Actually, I think transparency is such a key word. Like people will be proud to say, this is how our product is produced and I'm really proud to say this is where my products come from and how they produced.

Marisa: Yes! When you're not formulating your range, you hold workshops to help people understand how to reduce waste and reduce their plastic footprint. What are three things people could do today to reduce their plastic intake?

Sarah: This is a good one. I think when we are thinking about skincare I would say keep it simple. We have a lot of different things and this goes across the board through your kitchen, cleaning etc. We're told we need this product for this and this product for this, this product for this. When I started my journey I had a lot of things and now I literally have 2 or 3 items that I use. I want to make sure that if I'm using it on my body, I could use it on my face and vice versa, keeping it really simple.

When I do my workshops and we're talking about bathroom and skincare, one of the things I get my participants to do is to go home and do an audit of your bathroom cupboard, pull everything out. What have I got? You've probably got three of the same thing. Use them all up before you buy more. Look at it and it might have expired, it may still be good, but using what we have, keeping it simple, and if there's things you're not going to use, maybe family members might use them or community groups. There's a lot of community groups around like Share The Dignity where if you've got things that are unopened, they might accept those to pass on to other people.

Then when you are buying new items support those smaller businesses and those smaller companies and the ones that are transparent and the ones that you can see are doing right by the planet and yourself essentially.

Marisa: I think that's a great point and that was one of the main values when I started building Wild & Cruelty Free, it was to be a curated collection of products. We don't need to have everything, even though the media and social media and everyone's telling us we need all the things we really don't, and you can easily curate a really beautiful and effective skincare routine, or makeup routine, or cleaning collection that doesn't cost the earth, it's going to last and works. And you're not contributing to waste by just having an excessive amount of products that you're not going to use or potentially will expire before you can even get to them.

Sarah: Absolutely and with that you're also saving so much money, because you're not going out and buying the new $50 moisturiser or whatever.

Marisa: When you do the workshops and you speak to people, do you see some consistent challenges that people face when they are in that process of doing the switch? Or once they've made the choice do they feel like I'm committed, I'm on board, I really want to start this plastic free life.

Sarah: I think a lot of the challenge that people have is that they want to be 100% plastic free and then if they can't, then they sort of feel like they've let themselves down. The call the workshops I run perfect low waste living. So one day you might be amazing and the other day you didn't have time or something happened so you couldn't do that plastic free thing. But if we are aiming to be as low waste as possible, then that's so much better than not even thinking about it. So I guess striving for perfection would probably be the answer to that.

And not being too hard on yourself, doing what you can do with the energy and time and resources that you have. Like, not everyone has accessibility to this stuff. So what can you do with what you have?

Marisa: Yeah, absolutely. I agree, like progress over perfection. No one's going to be perfect at everything. I've faced that myself as I've gone on my vegan journey. At first I was trying to be so strict and so of rigid in every single thing, but I learned over time that it's not always possible. As much as I will try my very best, but it's not always going to be possible. Nothing's perfect so try not to be hard on yourself as you go through that journey.

Sarah: Yeah and I think once you kind of understand that concept, you can take those small things that you're doing, like it might be storing food in a particular way to save a little bit of food waste. Once you've got the knack of that, then you can master something else. So it's about creating really lasting habits rather than saying, okay I'm going to do this this week and then saying it got really hard so I've fallen off the wagon with it. Just creating small changes that end up being really lasting habits.

Marisa: That's so true and you're right, it's a muscle that needs to be flexed to become a sustainable habit. That then just becomes second nature and you don't even think anything of it.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. 100%.

Marisa: So as a successful business woman yourself, would you have any advice for anyone who's either an entrepreneur looking to start a new business and create new, innovative products that would tread more lightly on the earth and not contribute to waste or plastic consumption?

Sarah: Absolutely. It's funny I was speaking to a friend the other day who was saying she was starting a business, and she started telling me all this research she had done before she had the product, about how it was going to be sustainable and ethical. And I just loved hearing her say, well, I've got this product, but there's all these things I've done to and I need it to be this before I even really start getting that business off the ground.

So researching what your product is and doing that background stuff first. When I started my business it just kind of rolled because that's what I was doing anyway. So really researching and considering what you're doing.

The beauty industry is a really busy industry. It's very competitive. It's a pretty hard one to be in, in terms of, being noticed. But I still stand quite firm in the fact that I love what I do, I know what I'm doing is helpful and it's also a good product. So yeah, backing yourself.

Marisa: Everything, like you just said, it really does shine through your products. Your passion, your commitment, the love you put into it. And I think, like you mentioned earlier, doing your research, not only when it comes to the packaging, but the ingredients. Are they Fairtrade? Are they certified organic? Where are they coming from? And what is the knock on effect of who is harvesting those ingredients? How are they treated? There are so many pillars to this that the consumer doesn't necessarily consider at the time of purchase. But as an entrepreneur or brand founder, it's so important to consider if you're going to be creating something new and contributing something new to the market.

Sarah: Absolutely. I think what whatever you're doing, whatever that product is or idea you have, you want it to be something new that's going to contribute and in a positive way, and not just become another fad or another product sitting in the back of a back of a bathroom cabinet.

Marisa: We've already got too many of those!

Sarah: Absolutely! Less clutter, less anxiety around all that stuff!

Marisa: Just having that stuff just takes up so much space. Not only within your physical space, but just the mental clutter as well. Just to clear it out, just stick to what you need.

Sarah: As a side note, I know when I travel and I am packing my toiletries bag, I'm literally putting 3 or 4 things in and then my toothbrush and toothpaste. It's just easy. It's light. You don't need much. Basically your moisturiser, a sunscreen, maybe some makeup. I just keep it really simple.

Marisa: I need to take a leaf out of your travel packing notebook because on my recent trip, I literally took about 10 to 15 different things just in case, what if I am going somewhere that didn't have shops.

Sarah: Yeah, I often do that with clothing and I think I've only worn a quarter of what I took with me.

Marisa: It's always the way! Well, thank you so, so much for joining me today, especially on Earth Day of all days. I really appreciate your time and your commitment to our collective mother. I just adore what you do and I am continuously inspired by you, so thank you.

Sarah: My pleasure, thank you for having me. Thank you for your support and what you do. 

Marisa: I remember when I first discovered your range through the Clean and Conscious Awards. When you find something that not only works, but it's also ticking all your moral boxes as well you know you're on to a good thing.

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