It is no surprise that with Belinda Everingham at the helm, the Bondi Washstable of products are hugely popular. If ever there was a recipe for success she has nailed it with an innovative idea born from passion and purpose, a lot of hard work and a string of serendipitous events helping the process along its way.
Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your loves, your life…
I was born in Melbourne, grew up in Canberra in the 70s surrounded by the Australian bush and moved to Sydney in my early 20s after studying at ANU. I lived in Perth for a year as a teenager and as a family we lived in Melbourne for five years returning to Sydney a few years ago. I now live in Bondi with my husband, Pete and three children, Jemma, 16, Sascha, 13 and Harley, ten. We live in a house we bought when Bondi was not fashionable – so we have seen the transformation of the suburb over the past five or so years. We have a spoodle called Roger who is not at all a tough Bondi dog. In fact his nickname is Princess Roger. He refuses to go out in even light rain, tiptoes over prickles or wet grass, loves only the finest food and finds the softest and most luxurious places to lie in the house. Things I’m passionate about include fragrance, the ocean, yoga, travel and modern art – and of course I absolutely love the Australian botanicals I have discovered through the business.
How have your arrived at this point in your career?
I worked in the corporate sector in Sydney after graduating in Economics. I spent time in my 20s studying in Boston and working in New York and London. I returned to Australia when we had kids – and found the balancing act virtually impossible so I ended up working independently part-time while the children were little. I knew I was ready for a career change quite a while ago – but didn’t have the headspace until my youngest started school.
How did it all start?
I was spraying the kitchen bench with a well-known commercial surface spray and got an immediate headache. I thought ‘gosh, if it is doing this to me what is it doing to the kids and the environment?’. At the same time I was trying to find a decent hand wash and all the good ones would sell out quickly – there were limited choices at the time. Not long after I was visiting a friend who was cleaning her kitchen with diluted eucalyptus oil – which she said worked and killed germs. The real impetus came when we were on holiday in Far North Queensland. We had visited a tropical fruit farm and a rainforest, where we discovered all these native plants I had never heard of. I was reading the novel by Patrick Suskind, ‘Perfume’ which is set in Paris and Grasse and is about the power of scent and I wondered whether we could use Australian natives to create beautiful fragrant products, just like the French have done for centuries. I love fragrance – it is a real passion and I have quite a sensitive nose. At the time we were also in the middle of designing our garden in Bondi and I had discovered some fragrant native plants (native gardenia, boronia), so I thought it might be possible to create fragrances from these little-known Australian botanicals. When I returned to Sydney I discovered a long list of native Australian plants extracted as essential oils – most of them though had potent anti-bacterial properties. I thought why not start with washing products – the essential oils are perfect for these.
Tell us about Bondi Wash…
The concept has been brewing since 2008, but I didn’t start working on it properly until July 2012. It then took around 18 months to perfect fragrances and formulae, design packaging and decide on a name (one of the hardest parts). We officially launched in November 2013 and it has been quite a wild ride ever since. We started exporting to New Zealand two months after launching the brand, Hong Kong was within our first year and these past few months have seen the brand launch in Taiwan, China and Japan.
What have been your business highlights?
Vogue requesting product images even before we launched was a particularly memorable highlight. But there have been so many more – launching in Hong Kong less than a year after we launched in Australia was a thrill. Launching in Japan feels like an important milestone as they are very strict with the products that they import. It has taken six months to get approval from all the regulatory bodies for all our products to be imported. The other highlight has been the cross-cultural dealings. It is immensely fascinating doing business in other countries, you learn so much about a culture though doing business there. For example, our Dry Dog Wash is being purchased by post-partum women in Taiwan as they have a tradition where women do not wash their hair for a month after giving birth. You discover unexpected details like this that you might never find out as a tourist. Another highlight has been the networks we have created. A business is, in reality, no more than a network of people that bring the business to life. We have strong relationships with most companies we deal with – which makes doing business very rewarding. Not only do we have highquality suppliers, we have suppliers who are willing to go the extra mile to help create the best possible product.
Have there been any scary or challenging moments?
Yes – scary good and scary bad. Scary good when Vogue asked for the product images before we had even launched. Scary bad when we realised we were being targeted by an established competitor. We received a call from a large US retailer just two months after launching asking if we would be interested in supplying them with our product in volumes which of course were huge for us at the time. It sent us into a tailspin – and we shared with them over the phone what we were doing and inside information, then heard nothing from them after the buyer promised to send through a proposal. In hindsight, we realised it was a case of corporate espionage and we were being targeted in other ways as well by this company. Juggling all the aspects of a business can make it hard to do anything well. I try to draw on expertise where I can but it isn’t always possible due to budget or time – so you end up teaching yourself how to do a multitude of things and it is not always perfect. Managing the speed at which we grow is also a challenge – I am trying hard to make sure the business is sound as it grows.
What are the most important practices to running a successful business?
For us, it has been getting the concept right first. Bondi Wash products innovate in a number of different areas – scent, packaging and natural ingredients. Secondly, enormous hard work. There is no way around this one. Finally, good luck and good timing – we have been in the right place at the right time on so many occasions.
Was there a specific moment when you thought things were taking off?
I wouldn’t say ‘sales’ is a strength of mine – I was petrified at the thought of knocking on doors to sell the brand, so when the emails started rolling in requesting to stock our products I felt enormous relief. I was hoping that the products would themselves and they really have.
Tell us about your mentors and inspirations…
I worked alongside a woman named Diane Grady in my 20s and she was then – and is still now – a role model. Not only has Diane had a super interesting and successful career, she is a fantastic mother and balances everything well. She also has a personal style I admire, is a great supporter of women and is always thoughtful and generous with her time.
Give us a rundown of a typical day for you…
It usually starts with a few gentle yoga moves, followed by a walk round the block with Roger to get coffee and fresh bread for the kids’ lunches. These days I have less time developing new products and scents, but that is what I love. It is highly creative so I have to be in the right frame of mind. At the moment the business requires an enormous amount of back-end administration – so that is generally my day at the desk. Around 5pm there are thoughts of ‘oh no what’s for dinner?’. Thankfully we live right near Bondi Road so I’ll often just head to the local shops for some fresh meat or fish and vegetables. I will sometimes return to the computer after dinner as Asia is an hour or two behind – so I’ll respond to emails until nine or ten and do admin tasks that require less brain power in front of the TV.
How do you balance your family and work life?
A very supportive husband and children help enormously. Working into the evening is pretty common though as is weekend work. I try very hard to minimise time spent doing household chores and while I love things clean and tidy, our house is in reality not very often ‘photo-ready’. Cutting corners with the less important things like housework definitely helps.
Who is in your support system?
My husband, Pete, is probably the first person I turn to for help these days. He is great at giving me thoughtful advice, which I don’t always follow, but he is a wonderful sounding board. There is a great network of people who have helped launch and run the business. Early on I had people volunteer to help out with elements of the business, which was so valuable. When I am really struggling with an element of the business I try to think if there is someone I know who might be able to help – even if it is just someone to talk things through. I always appreciate advice – even if it is wrong, hearing the advice often helps clarify your thinking.
How do you like to spend your down time?
I love the ocean. Even its scent is uplifting (we are working on an ocean scent). I will also read, eat out, or just chat to friends.
How do you like to entertain with family and friends?
Very casually with simple, healthy food. We often entertain outside – brunch or family BBQs. I love to eat gourmet food but am not so great at preparing it! Bill Granger’s recipes are often where I turn for inspiration – he is the master at simple, fresh, healthy and delicious.
What piece of life advice do you wish you had received earlier?
If it doesn’t feel right, don’t push it. The longer I live the more I ‘go with the flow’. If something doesn’t work it probably wasn’t meant to be.
Which are your favourite Bondi Wash products?
Our new anti-bacterial Hand Spray is a joy to use – instead of smelling like chemicals and alcohol, it smells like a perfume – yet meets the independent lab test standard ‘kills 99.99% of germs’. Our Bench Spray might not be glamorous but it totally transforms what is normally an unpleasant task through its natural scent – and also meets the same independent lab test standard. I think there is nothing quite like either of these products.
What are your favourite beauty and health brands or products?
Aside from Bondi Wash products – which populate every corner of the house and are used very multi-functionally (e.g. all the girls in the house use the Dry Dog Wash and Dog Conditioner, the Hand Wash is used to wash dishes) – I have a few favourite brands… I like Absolution and Grown Alchemist for beauty products and Rahua make great natural hair care products. I have just discovered Neom, a British brand, who are one of the few brands to do truly natural candles that smell amazing. My latest find for travelling is Darphin Aromatic Purifying Balm which is all natural and great to protect the skin on long flights.
What are your plans for the future of Bondi Wash?
We are soon launching a few new products – a Dish Wash, Laundry Wash, Hand Lotion and Body Lotion. We have many requests for all of these so we are excited to have finally developed them. We have a Baby Range in development and we are working on more products and scents. There are so many potential applications of Australian native oils and extracts, we could actually go on forever. Creating distinctive Australian perfumes is still a dream – and I have discovered a few native botanical candidates that I hope will form the base for beautiful perfumes – fragrances that are more suitable for perfumes than for the washing products so they won’t be under the Bondi Wash brand name. I really love the branding part and am working with the same talented crew to design a new brand for Australian botanical perfumes.