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Q&A with our Co-Founder, Jessica Bragdon

From the initial seed of the idea to the first products being sold, take us on a (brief!) journey of why and how your brand came to life, and any outstanding moments along the way. 

I’m originally from the States, and when working in New York City, I met my Western Australian-born husband, Paul. We moved and settled in Australia and started raising a family. We were constantly on the hunt for safe, toxic-free cleaning products that not only could make our home smell (naturally) fabulous but also would actually work. We felt the boys and our pet dog shouldn’t have to hold their breath to avoid absorbing harsh chemicals every time we cleaned the family home. But we couldn’t find what we wanted, so ultimately, we thought: why don’t we make our own? In 2017 we launched Koala Eco as an online business, and we’re now also stocked in many countries across the world.  

Where did the connection to nature start? Was there an event or moment, or upbringing? 

For me, it began in my childhood with my brother and sister in Boston and New Hampshire. We three kids had a pretty ideal childhood, especially in New England, very healthy and active: horse-riding, skiing, and being outdoors constantly.

Our grandmother was a huge influence. She would take my twin sister Adrienne and me on long hikes through the forests around her New England home, pointing out flora and fauna along the way. She passed on her passion for natural things to our mother, who likewise was an avid plant and garden enthusiast (and is also an artist). Family outings invariably meant visits to historic gardens, plant nurseries and flower shows. 

Are you able to explain what a ‘Purpose Led’ brand is? 

It's a brand that stands for an ethical, sustainable purpose, and makes its products or offers services in an ethical, sustainable way. It also supports causes that align with the brand purpose. 

At Koala Eco, our purpose is not only to make safe, powerful, plant-based products for a clean home, body and mind, but also to communicate the enormous mental and physical health benefits of spending time in and caring for nature. We source our ingredients from sustainable sources, and package them in recyclable and reusable containers, including rPET bottles, so we don’t cause any new plastic bottles to be made. Our products are non-toxic and will not harm people, pets or the planet, so choosing them is good for nature and the environment. However, we’re also heavily invested in helping people understand how nature can be equally good for them

We give a percentage of each product sold to One Per Cent for the Planet, an environmental group committed to protecting land, forests, rivers and oceans, encouraging sustainable energy methods. We’re also proud sponsors of People and Parks #naturepact. Now in its fourth year, #NaturePact encourages people, businesses, schools, and organisations to commit to spending intentional time in nature daily for a month; to reap the transformative benefits to your mood, energy, and well-being. And I’m delighted that we recently became a sponsor of the Oceanic Society’s Critter Scholars Program, which helps disadvantaged youth get up close with nature experiences and learn about marine science and conservation, the food web, and the natural history of wildlife. 

How much does Ecopsychology come into your brand and product development?

A lot. We spend a lot of time making sure our products and messaging tell the same story. Humanity’s connection to nature is one of the most precious things we have, and we need to nurture that connection for our own physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing. This something that First Nations Peoples all over the world have always understood, and shared through their stories and cultures.

The nineteenth-century Transcendentalists, like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, believed immersion in the sights, sounds and smells of nature to be a deeply spiritual and enriching experience, and this is something we really agree with at Koala Eco. We believe passionately in the capacity of nature to have a positive impact on people’s daily lives and wellbeing. At an immersive, sensory level, closeness to nature brings real cognitive, emotional and psychological benefits, and studies in eco-psychology around the world prove there is a link between nature and wellness.

What does a typical day at Koala Eco look like? 

Sometimes I work from home, but usually in the office, which is just a short walk away from where we live. I take Matilda, our Aussie Shepherd, along with me. In a typical day I have a lot of meetings and email correspondence to take care of, discussing strategy, branding and distribution. We have an internationally based team, so effective online communications are crucial. We may visit our manufacturers to check on progress for any new products that we are developing; this can be a lengthy process because we won’t launch until something is entirely right. We also may have product or PR campaign shoots to factor into our working day. I’ll also talk at least once to Adrienne, who is based in the States and is looking after our operations there. Koala Eco is expanding fast in the US so we are making frequent visits there this year.   

An Hour in Nature – favourite way to spend the weekly hour? 

I try to have the kids with me when I am making time for my weekly Hour in Nature. It can be anything from exploring a local botanical garden, or just paying attention the bees in our backyard going about their business, while we sit, barefoot on the grass. 

For those considering making the jump to eco products, where should one start? Which one product would you recommend as a starting point?   

Start with doing an audit on the house cleaners you already use. Ditch anything without the ingredients listed, or make sure you know what is in the product. I would avoid artificial fragrances if possible. Seek out products containing 100% pure essential oils combined with plant-based ingredients, sugar-based biodegradable alcohol, and non-caustic ingredients.  These are great alternatives to harsh and cheap chemical cleaning products that still work.

Remember that some of your best friends in home care could be in your pantry, like vinegar, lemon juice and olive or coconut oil. If you were looking for a Koala Eco cleaner, I would recommend our very first product, our Natural Multipurpose Kitchen Cleaner with Lemon Myrtle and Mandarin. We worked so hard with our chemists and labs to make a real winner to launch our company, and it’s been one of our top sellers ever since.

Lemon Myrtle {Backhousia citriodora} has fresh, evergreen, lemony notes, and is really effective at deodorizing and removing bacteria while acting as a natural mood booster. Mandarin {Citrus reticulata} is nature’s perfect pick-me-up, its scent promoting happiness, contentment and calm. But it also has fabulous antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties as well, which when combined with other essential oils, make it a truly powerful cleaner. We wanted to start with a product that could do everything, and I find I use this everywhere: the fridge, bench tops, kids’ lunchboxes, wherever.

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