Weleda has been at the forefront of the natural skincare industry for almost a century. Many would agree its popularity and longevity has much to do with its founder Ruldolf Steiner, who developed the widely-loved brand on principles of sustainability, respect for the environment and fair trade.
But since his death in 1925, just four years after he launched Weleda, the company owners have stayed committed to Steiner’s vision of purity and potency, ensuring the brand maintains its position as the grandfather of eco healthcare and beauty.
This year the Swiss brand turns 90, giving the company much to celebrate, including resurgence of interest in authentically natural brands. I caught up with Weleda’s David Johnston as he prepares for the birthday celebrations.
Congratulations on 90 years of authentic, natural beauty. What has the ride been like for the brand over that time?
Ninety years is a long time indeed. In fact we do not know of any other company dealing in natural skin care that has been around as long and it is often hard being the pioneer company. Weleda was created to bring natural medicines to the population in an affordable way and the brand has grown mainly from word of mouth and the fact that people just love the products.
Weleda is all about creating products that are in harmony with nature and the human being and it is delightful to see the principles that have always been at the core of Weleda now becoming popular and spreading. The ride hasn’t always been easy in the sense of doing good in the world, however helping people is a great motivator.
What was the very first product Weleda product developed?
Rudolf Steiner developed the principles of Biodynamic® farming and then worked with Dr Ita Wegmann to create Anthroposophic medicines. They used the herbs from the biodynamic gardens to make the medicines to treat the masses and then they created Weleda to be the company to continue this work.
This makes it hard to say what the very first product was, however in the body care products Skin Food was developed in the mid 1920s and then other products like Sage Deodorant and Rosemary Hair Tonic in the 30s and 40s. These are all developed on the same principles that are used to make the medicines, it is about finding the plants in nature that have inherent properties to produce the benefit needed by the people.
How do you ensure that you maintain and embody that same vision that Steiner and Wegman had when they formulated the first Weleda product?
I’m sure (they) would be very proud. (They) set extremely high standards of purity of ingredients, fair trade for business partners, sustainability in everything we do and integrity in all dealings. These same principles are at the core of everything we at Weleda do and are still our Vision, Values and Mission. There is a passion and integrity within the company to ensure these are preserved for all time.
What makes Weleda stand out? How does it differ from some of the other natural brands out there?
Weleda started in 1921. In the early 40s. Dr Hauschka worked with Weleda for several years before setting up his own company. In the 70s Jurgen Klein worked with Hauschka and then left and set up Jurlique, so Weleda was the founding base for the key brands that deal in truly natural and organic skin care.
Unfortunately these days there are many brands that greenwash their products to appeal to the masses, however when you look closely at what is being said they often do not stand up to the scrutiny of an eco-conscious consumer. Weleda has 97% of products certified under NATRUE which has the strictest standards. Weleda will always stand out for the people who are after the most natural and sustainable brand and we find that when people try the products they become lovers and just keep coming back.
How important is it to you for the ingredients to remain natural and pure? And how important is it that consumers are aware of these?
It is absolutely imperative that the ingredients remain natural and pure as far as I am concerned. What goes on the body goes into the body and I definitely do not want all those synthetic ingredients, preservatives and chemical cocktails in my body. If you think of things like how nicotine patches work – by sending chemicals into the blood stream then you get closer to understanding the potential pollution we can do to our bodies.
Weleda blends ingredients together in a gentle and understanding manner without the need of any artificial preservatives, colours or fragrances. I would love it if all consumers were aware of this, as I think the health of the nation would improve accordingly and the overloaded health system may be able to cope better. Unfortunately most people choose to enjoy blissful ignorance as it is easier.
Where are the ingredients sourced?
Weleda has the largest biodynamic farms in Europe for herbs and plants used in our ranges. We also have farms in other countries including New Zealand. Additionally we have Fair Trade partnerships with small farmers all over the world. We choose to do it in this way to ensure we achieve the quality required and that the farmers receive a reliable income.
We also source Wild crafted ingredients, because some plants cannot be cultivated and must be sourced in the wild. One of these is Ratanhia for the toothpaste and mouth wash products. This amazing plant grows high in the Peruvian Andes and was difficult to source 40 years ago. On investigation Weleda found that the local indigenous community were pulling it out to sell because if they didn’t the next person who saw it would. Weleda worked with the community and local government to have 5000 acres put under protection and now the indigenous community make a reliable ongoing living and Weleda is guaranteed of supply.
Are most of the herbs and other ingredients certified organic?
Yes, organic, biodynamic or wild crafted.
What certifying bodies are Weleda certified under?
How stringent are these regulators?
They are the most stringent. There are many other certifying bodies around the globe, however many of these are geared more specifically towards food or have guidelines that do not necessarily provide sufficient confidence in the products.
NATRUE recognizes that it is not good enough for a company to just add organic ingredients into a base to be able to say it is organic; but that it requires all aspects to be as natural as possible. They also recognise that it is not always possible to have all organic ingredientsÂ and that they may be a derivative from natural, however such exceptions are closely monitored and must adhere to strict conditions.
What have you personally learned since becoming involved in the company?
I’ve been involved in the health industry since the early 70s, owning several shops and distribution businesses as well as being on the Industry Board of the CHC. I’ve also grown and eaten organically for most of my life, however when you visit the farms and manufacturing places in New Zealand and Europe you get an amazing sense of integrity and really what is in harmony with nature and the human being means. These are not hollow words or just a plaque on a wall with Weleda.
Working with Weleda has re-affirmed the potential for humans to exist and live naturally and productively.
Do you believe more people are becoming aware of the ingredients they’re putting on their skin?
Ignorance is bliss and many people do not want to know because this would mean they would have to do things differently, and these days people want quick fixes for everything. However I have witnessed growing understanding and positive steps over the many years I have worked in the industry and feel very confident that the future is heading towards a more natural path. Also when I look at my children and their friends it fills me up with optimism.
Synthetic fragrances as you know are toxic. Can you explain how fragrance in natural products are derived?
Whether distilling, extracting or potentizing, many of the natural raw materials Weleda works with can only be used for their holistic effects after they have been processed correctly. Weleda has a wealth of experience when it comes to the healing and caring powers of nature. Weleda works with around 1,000 natural substances for our natural and organic cosmetic products and pharmaceuticals. These raw materials undergo different processing procedures right up to the end product.
The pharmaceutical knowledge and experience dictate which processing procedure is appropriate in each case. For example, there are warming processes such as distilling: with the help of steam, valuable essential oil is extracted from lavender blossom. This natural fragrance is used to scent many of Weleda’s cosmetics. Another process is maceration: freshly cut calendula plants are crushed and mixed with alcohol and water. Two weeks later the mixture is pressed and filtered. Then the calendula tincture, a valuable plant extract, is created.
There is one thing in common in all these processes and processing steps: they create a bridge for humans, making naturally grown resources accessible. Only then can they be used for their caring and healing effects.
How can someone tell the difference just by looking at the label?
Certification labels. If in doubt research them. or if the ingredients name has paraben at the end of it or is very difficult to read then it’s not very good for your skin!
How can natur
al fragrances in weleda benefit us?
Weleda blend mainly to lead plant ingredients and then compliment this with pure natural fragrances, some of which have their own benefit, while others are just to stimulate the senses and enjoy!
How do you define beauty?
Authentic is a delightful word that I believe best describes this. We are all who we are and have an inherent beauty; allowing this to shine and be expressed is what others find attractive. Plastic beauty is good but only surface deep and doesn’t hold the whole attraction. Weleda selects the purist plants and herbs available specifically for their ability to work with the person’s natural and authentic beauty.
What plans do you have for the 90th celebration?
There is a big celebration planned in Switzerland at the end of June and we are having an open day in New Zealand in September. In Australia we will have a company celebration later in the year and are looking at holding a dinner party for some key accounts and editors.
What’s next for Weleda?
Weleda will keep sticking to the core principles and slowly build our base of lovers. There are many new products being developed, however these take many years of refinement to ensure they are appropriate. We are working towards NATRUE certification for the few of our products that do not currently meet the
criteria. The aims for Australia is to expand distribution as there are people in remote areas who find it difficult to find our products.
Live life to the full in a meaningful and aware manner.
Life is a journey, this is such a beautiful planet and wonderful opportunity and we should relish every minute that we can and ensure we treat it with the respect it deserves.
Love life and then there will be much love in life.