#InDialoguewith Alexandra Brown from Ms Brown

03 Oct 2018

CLEAN WASH, CLEAR CONSCIENCE

City dwellers have lost touch with nature, there is no doubt on that front. We grow up in this concrete jungle, where nature is nothing more than a mirage, so it makes sense that we have children who think that cheese grows on plants or believe that animals provide us with pasta. Hence educating city dwellers on the importance of environmental protection is like preaching to deaf ears; the absence of nature in our daily lives makes it all the more difficult for us to grasp its significance. Nature, however, has its own way of telling us how it feels. Currently considered the strongest storm of 2018, typhoon Mangkhut roared its rage across Hong Kong, whipping up the sea and dumping tons of plastic waste on the shore, some dating back to the '90s. It was a wake up call to all of us that what goes around comes around, and that nature is far from the silent victim we thought it was.

The beauty industry has taken note of the sign, and more brands are taking strides towards becoming more environmentally conscious. Australian brand Ms Brown is one of them.


Get in touch with nature

Growing up on Kangaroo Island, which lies off the mainland in the state of South Australia, young Alexandra Brown frequently saw more kangaroos in a day than human beings. “Kangaroo Island is an incredibly beautiful, unspoilt natural location. To put it into perspective, the island is six times the size of Singapore with a population of only four thousand people and one third of the island is protected National Park. And yes, that means there is an abundance of native flora and wildlife and especially lots of kangaroos hopping around amongst the eucalyptus trees and farmland.”

Surrounded every day by natural beauty, she was constantly exposed to the eco-system and forced to consider how human actions have an impact on it.

“The farm I grew up on, on Kangaroo Island, was passed down to my father from his father – our family has been farming in Australia for around 100 years. So there’s nowhere more important to be mindful of caring for the land and animals to preserve it for the next generation. Ultimately, I think it would be helpful if we all thought about the planet in this way, to protect it so that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

Alexandra Brown - Founder of Ms Brown

“As an example, growing up on the farm we only had access to the water we could catch in our dams and rainwater tanks, so in the summer especially we had to be very cautious of water consumption. Growing up knowing that if you take a really long shower or leave the tap running while you brush your teeth, you could run out of water in a few months’ time, really teaches you to be in touch with the environment in the most basic way. You cannot take it for granted.”

Her respect for nature stayed with her even when she moved to Sydney to pursue her career as a journalist for magazines including Vogue Australia and Harper’s Bazaar. “Growing up on a farm certainly encouraged me from an early age to consider impacts on the environment as part of my daily decision-making processes, but perhaps then it was rather unconscious and automatic. As I have gotten older I have definitely become even more environmentally conscious and I try to improve all the time, but I’m still by no means perfect.”

“While I have been avoiding harmful and toxic ingredients in my home and personal care products for a very long time, I constantly try to be more environmentally conscious than I was the year before. This year I have been focused on removing even more single-use items from my routine, such as disposable coffee cups and plastic wrap. Last year I started using beeswax wraps for my food instead of plastic wrap and this year I have phased out plastic straws and water bottles. In South Australia where I grew up, plastic shopping bags were banned over nine years ago, so I have long been aware of needing to take a bag or basket with me everywhere when shopping and running errands.”


An alternative way to save our ocean

After all these years, that respect has brewed into something else: Ms Brown is an environmentally conscious lifestyle brand with a simple, considered and natural approach to products for the home and body, insisting on no synthetics, parabens, sulphates or toxic chemicals. One of the brand's hero products is the wool and cashmere wash, a tribute to her roots in Kangaroo Island. “Growing up on a merino wool farm we wore wool a lot. When you’re wearing something every day you have to wash it – I grew up being very comfortable wearing it and washing it. But after I grew up, I realised there was not one laundry wash out there that was as special as the clothes I wanted to wash with it. Many people are still nervous about caring for wool clothing, but they don't need to be, as wool is by its very nature a resilient fabric that’s also naturally stain resistant. I suppose my mother initially showed me how to wash it correctly (in tepid water either by hand or on a gentle machine cycle using mild soap and eucalyptus) and I filled in any gaps as I became older and more independent with Google. Now, I love that many people ask me for advice on how to wash their clothes using our garment care collection.

“The simplest way to care for wool clothing is in your washing machine on the wool-specific cycle. If your machine doesn’t have this option, it may have a gentle cycle or you can manually select a low temperature – no higher than 30 degrees – and a slower spin cycle. For any particularly delicate items, you can wash them by hand in a bucket or sink. Using the Ms Brown Wool & Cashmere Wash in the machine or by hand will ensure that your garment is not only clean and refreshed, but also moisturised so the naturally elastic wool fibres can stay strong and yet soft to the touch. The eucalyptus and lavender in the Wool & Cashmere Wash will also kill germs and deter moths from damaging your clothes while in storage. After washing, to remove excess moisture, simply lie your garment flat on a towel and roll it like a sleeping bag, then leave on a dry towel or clothes rack to dry.”


The myth of “Dry-clean-only”

Laundry detergent is a huge source of pollutant in our eco-system. All the waste water from our washing machines goes down the drain and into our environment and water systems, then finds its way back into our food and the water we drink every day. “Chemical detergent is bad but dry cleaning, the other most commonly used method for cleaning laundry, is the most harmful of all. The key ingredient in dry cleaning is called perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene and is commonly referred to as ‘Perc’. Perc is classified by the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’ and confirmed by Australia's National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) as causing ‘moderate@ chronic (long-term) toxicity to aquatic life’.”

One of the key reasons Alexandra created the Ms Brown Garment Care collection was to provide a safe and non-toxic way to care for delicate and designer clothing that many people assume needs to be dry-cleaned. “Designers and brands will often use ‘dry-clean-only’ as the default on care instruction tags, not because that’s necessarily the best way to care for the garment, but to protect themselves if the garment is damaged at the dry cleaner – then the fault lies with the cleaner and not the brand. In reality, most garments and fabrics can be safely (and more environmentally friendly) washed at home by hand or in the machine.”

“My goal when creating Ms Brown was not only to ensure it wasn’t part of the overall environmental problem, but that it would also help to solve it. By creating an alternative to synthetic laundry detergents and dry cleaning we are helping to reduce humans’ and the environment’s exposure to many dangerous and toxic chemicals.

“One of the most effective ways we are reducing human impact on the environment is by making our products 100% biodegradable. All our ingredients are certified organic or natural, meaning less pesticides and chemicals are used on the farms that create them, and we don’t send any toxic ingredients into our waterways. In fact, you can use the water from washing with Ms Brown to water your garden afterwards!”