I’d quit my job as a TV Producer. Desperate for a career change - but with no idea what it could look like - I escaped to Europe and spent a month traveling through Denmark, Sweden and Germany. Along the way I made a rudimentary coffee scrub to combat the travel-and-summer-induced dry skin I was getting.
Christoffer and myself live a vegan, environmentally conscious and sustainable lifestyle, but we are not hippies. We live in inner city Melbourne, we enjoy beautiful furniture, and we like high-end products. We realised there was an obvious disconnect between sustainability and luxury in the personal care industry. Vegan products were available, but they were predominantly housed in poorly designed packaging and had a ‘craft-market’ aesthetic. There was an abundance of beautiful high end products available, but they didn’t prioritise environmental ethics or sustainable manufacture. And everything - at both ends of the spectrum - was packaged in plastic. It was also difficult to find genuine organic products in the avalanche of greenwashing in the industry. So what started out as a search for a beautifully designed organic and vegan coffee scrub ended up becoming the catalyst for a life-changing decision to start our own business.
When developing the products there were three factors that were important to us: the ingredients had to be edible (if you can’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your skin); the products had to deliver legitimate results; and the sensory experience had to exceed the existing products on the market.
We now have two collections: ÅRHUS and KØBENHAVN. ÅRHUS is our ethical hand care duo, which consists of an organic hand soap and hand cream that contain no synthetics, silicones, parabens, artificial fragrances, chemical compounds, fillers, SLS or palm oil. Our ÅRHUS signature scent was developed by industry leaders and contains only natural raw materials.
KØBENHAVN is our trio of organic spice-infused coffee scrubs for the face and body. Unlike the existing coffee scrubs on the market, KØBENHAVN contains a blend of premium quality, fair trade certified organic Arabica and Robusta. The beans are roasted separately to cater for the requirements of the individual species, before being rested, ground and blended in-house. We source our certified organic spices whole and mill them in-house to ensure freshness.
Across the board, we source certified organic raw materials that have been grown and harvested sustainably, use only cold-pressed virgin oils, and we package all of our products in reusable glass vessels in line with our Zero Waste Policy. We source our coffee beans from fair trade plantations to ensure that marginalised farmers and communities are empowered and educated, they have control over their business, and they are guaranteed stable and secure prices that cover the cost of sustainable production. Every product we formulate is vegan and cruelty free and our raw materials are selected for their naturopathic qualities and proven performance.
Despite both having run businesses prior to WØRKS, we had no experience in the skincare industry so we spent a full year learning, researching and developing our products before handing them over to an organic chemist to finalise the formulations. It was important to us that we understood exactly what was in our products and how they were made.
We set out to change the face of vegan and ethically produced products and bring them into the world of high-end luxury, so we engaged a Danish designer and worked with him for six months to create the brand from end-to-end; from our brand story and the functionality of our glass vessels to our colour palette, labels and marketing material.
After almost two years in development, we launched WØRKS in July 2019 with the values of good health, end-to-end integrity and meticulous Danish design, and the mission to bridge the gap between luxury and sustainability.
Who is your target demographic?
Our target demographic is split into two: luxury consumers who enjoy beautiful design and high end products, and environmentally conscious consumers who are looking for fair trade, organic and non-toxic plant based products. We hope that, in time, the gap between those two markets will narrow as consumers come to understand that they don’t have to compromise on their ethics or their desire for luxury.
How did you fund the company initially?
We funded the company ourselves from day one. Christoffer and I both continued to work freelance on the side to generate income while we invested our savings into developing the products and the business as a whole. It’s no surprise that budgets always blow out and things end up costing more than expected, so at some point the money ran dry. This was when we learned the most. We were forced to be resourceful and get our hands dirty - literally. I remember having to hire a truck and drive to the docks to pick up several pallets of cardboard packing boxes because we couldn’t afford to have them delivered. Getting kitted out in a fluorescent orange safety vest and loading a rental truck was not something I’d envisaged myself doing when we started the business! But it helped me to understand the whole process and it demystified the world of container ships and customs, so it ended up being really important. Being heavily involved in every single aspect of the business - from product development and warehousing stock to our social media campaigns and PR strategy - has given me a lot of confidence to be a hands-on director. I know WØRKS inside out.
What line of work were you in before setting up on your own?
Prior to WØRKS I had a career as a TV Producer and Presenter, which is a very contract-to-contract business. I ran my freelance work as a sole trader, so I had some understanding of how to run a business, albeit on a very small scale. Christoffer was more experienced. He’d founded and operated several businesses, including a sports travel company based in Denmark and a high performance tennis academy based in Melbourne.
We were motivated to make the change into a new industry and start a business together for lifestyle reasons. We wanted to do something we believed in and were passionate about, and we wanted to make a difference from a social and environmental perspective. We weren’t particularly motivated by making money. For us, it was about building a lifestyle that gave us certain freedoms and allowed us to live with our integrity intact and values inline with what we do for a living.
What have you learned from creating WØRKS melbourne?
I’d say my two biggest learnings are that you don’t know what you don’t know, and you can’t control everything. If I had any real understanding of how true those statements were, I don’t know if I’d have had the courage to start WØRKS. In fact, I don’t think most business owners would have started their companies! The beauty of naivete is that it pushes you to blindly plough on, and then it’s a matter of jumping one hurdle at a time. As a self-confessed control freak, I’ve had to learn to let go a little, delegate responsibilities to others, and trust their outcomes.
To anybody interested in starting a business I’d say: just do it. But first, get your ducks in a row. Save some money. Learn as much as you can. Don’t quit your day job. Network with the right people, which is very different to simply networking. In the beginning, I wasted a lot of time at start-up and small business networking events chatting to people who were in completely different industries and could offer me nothing in the way of connections, advice and support. And I could offer them nothing in return. It was pointless and disheartening. Network within your own industry and find relevant people who are better than you: better connected, more experienced. In most cases, they’re happy to share their knowledge and connections provided you can show that you are legitimate.
Which leads me to WØRKS’ biggest PR coup to date. Capitalising on existing relationships and smart networking led to us collaborating with internationally renowned Danish design house, Vipp, and iconic Australian design destination, Cult Design. We’ve built the aesthetics of WØRKS on the Danish design principles of functionality, simplicity and minimalism and we put a lot of emphasis on beautiful design, so it was really validating and exciting for us to be recognised by two institutions in the design world. We have a range of upcoming collaborative activity with these iconic brands, first and foremost the Vipp Open Home exhibition held at Cult Design’s Sydney headquarters. We were invited to showcase our brand and products alongside Vipp, who have a 80-year history in the design industry.
In terms of motivation, for me the biggest factor is remembering the why. Things go wrong all the time! I’m constantly facing challenges and most days I feel like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster. But keeping WØRKS’ brand values front and centre and staying focused on how we’re making a difference from a social responsibility, ethical and environmental perspective is hugely motivating. We’re in an age where climate change is a very real and ever-increasing threat to the planet, where the production of single-use plastic is, frankly, out of control, where living with a sustainable focus has never been more important. WØRKS is not going to change the world. But any small difference we can make - as individuals, companies and consumers - does have an impact.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
We have a number of protections including trade marks, trade secrets and IP ownership in place, but the reality is that it’s not difficult for competitors or copycat brands to rip off an idea or product. What they can’t do is copy us (the founders) or our brand story. Having a strong and authentic brand story and legitimate public-facing founder/s is what sets us apart. This is what consumers create emotional connections to, and why they buy into brands. It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it. If you can nail the why and create an honest and engaging brand story, you’ll set yourself apart as competitors can’t replicate that.
What tools help you run your business efficiently?
Our website and online store are built on Squarespace, which has a number of features that I use constantly, notably their analytics and commerce apps. I check in with these apps several times a day; they provide instant traffic, sales and activity data in the palm of my hand.
Obviously our Instagram and Facebook are fantastic branding and communication tools. Instagram business accounts give fairly decent analytics, while Facebook offers extremely thorough data analysis providing you have a business page.
What are your goals for the future?
We are still a new business so our short to medium term focus is furthering our brand awareness and building trust with consumers. Our longer term plans include rolling out several new collections of personal care products, and we have some exciting collaborations in the pipeline.
In five years I see WØRKS expanding our product ranges to include lifestyle and homewares collections and extending our reach into international markets - first and foremost Denmark, but also Asia.
I have a strong belief that the demand for ethical products will continue to rise and sustainability will become synonymous with luxury sooner rather than later. I’d love to work with like minded brands to create a recognisable ethical and sustainable certification that consumers can trust. There are so many brands that greenwash their products and corporate policies, which makes it difficult for consumers to identify genuine organic, non-toxic and ethically produced products. I’d love WØRKS to be part of a movement towards integrity and transparency in business that makes it easy for consumers to make conscious and informed decisions.
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