Fresh from launching their flagship store, we talk to Neighbourhood Botanicals’ Micaela Nisbet about greenwashing and the politics of natural beauty
Micaela Nisbet grew up in a small beach town in Australia, where she spent her days surfing, eating mung beans, and rubbing sweet almond oil onto her skin. A live sound engineer, she then spent her 20s touring the world with bands eventually settling in London. All those years on the road had been unkind to her skin so she began her search for that affordable, no-bullshit, natural, vegan-friendly, plastic-filler free, glow-giving, moisture-restoring miracle product, only to realise, of course, that there was no such thing. Harking back to her roots in Byron Bay, Micaela started to make her own, blending raw oils and plant extracts, rich in vitamins, antiseptics, cleansing, calming and natural healing properties. Honing her craft she took an Advanced Diploma of Organic Skincare Formulation at Formula Botanica and set up her brand Neighbourhood Botanicals on Instagram to share her all-natural, no-bullshit gift with the world. Fast-forward to today, and with collaborations with artists Peaches and Rejjie Snow under their belt, and hero products like The Daily Glow, Big Strong Man Moisture, and I Was A Teenage Hand Model, Neighbourhood Botanicas has built up a cult following. Fresh from launching their very own bricks and mortar London flagship store, we caught up with Micaela to talk greenwashing and the politics of natural beauty.
Growing up, how would you describe your relationship with your skin? How has that relationship evolved?
Micaela Nisbet: I had a pretty pimply face as a teen. Loads of redness, and angry spots. I guess that’s when I first noticed my skin, started to learn about how it works. Through my 20s it was all about brightening and soothing redness. Now in my 30s I want fat juicy moisture and plumpness. I don’t mind the growing lines, I think they look chic so long as your skin is healthy.
How did you get into skincare?
Micaela Nisbet: I’ve never been a beauty junkie or skincare addict. I just wanted products that worked and made me glow and increasingly that wasn’t what I was getting from conventional products. I used sweet almond oil daily when I was living in Byron Bay and spending half my time in the ocean. My skin and hair had never been healthier despite all the drying salt. Moving to London and touring all the time with my job in music, my skin was suffering. It looked how I felt - tired, grey, stressed. I went back to sweet almond oil and the rest went from there really.
What were your initial perceptions of the skincare industry?
Micaela Nisbet: When I started NB the ‘skincare industry’ was a mysterious foreign behemoth, it was such an abstract thought to think my silly products I was dreaming about would be part of it. I had the standard view that the more you pay for a product, the more effective it will be. Whilst studying organic skincare formulation (at Formula Botanica) and learning about ingredients and techniques I was able to get behind the curtains and see how much bullshit there is in branding and markups. And ingredient claims… don’t even get me started. The green-washing is real.
Tell us about Neighbourhood Botanicals. How did you go about setting the brand up?
Micaela Nisbet: I needed a change from touring all the time, I felt like I wasn’t learning anything new and was getting pretty tired of the whole system. I was interested in making natural products and felt there was a gap in the market, so I just started researching and experimenting. Honestly, I had no idea how to do anything. I was so naïve thinking back now… But I just made a list of things I thought should happen when making a beauty brand. Like: *learn how to make skincare *make some formulations *design a label *find some bottles *start an Instagram page… Really basic stuff. Under those headers, there are thousands of tasks that need doing but I just worked all that out as I went. I set up the brand before I studied… so I was really in the dark. It was often at times really overwhelming, I felt like I was in so out of my depth. But you realize as you go that nobody really knows what they are doing. I’ve learnt so much, and I love running a business now.
What did you feel was lacking in the industry that led you to create your own skincare brand?
Micaela Nisbet: When I started, green and indie beauty was nowhere like it is today. I was using sweet almond oil from the local health food store. I was working in music then and touring all the time, and during a long tour with Kindness along the west coast of USA I found so many cool natural skincare brands in boutiques. Just simple quality oil blends for the skin. Rather than buying them all I set out to make my own on my return to London. I didn’t know of any natural indie skincare brands in the UK. I found some luxury oil blends which were very expensive and just thought it was ridiculous that brands put these markups on. So I thought I’d make my own, really for me first but it fast became a mission after friends testing and loving.
What is the message you want the brand to send?
Micaela Nisbet: That natural skincare is better for your skin than synthetics. Also, you don’t need a million things to have good skin. Just a simple natural routine with a few select science bits is going to improve and stabilize most people’s skin. Often people are going extra on their skin and it’s just trying to keep up and repair itself.
Why is it important for you for that Neighbourhood Botanicals is natural?
Micaela Nisbet: It’s about keeping it simple and being kind to yourself and the world really. Natural skincare has so much more nourishment than synthetics. It can feed and heal rather than just moisturize. Using plant oils and extracts, 100% of a formula can contain nourishing vitamin-rich ingredients, rather than the 5-10% that make up a standard lotion.
Can beauty truly be eco-friendly?
Micaela Nisbet: Not really, no. It still takes water to grow crops, energy to process the plants, carbon to transport goods, packaging to hold it all in…My philosophy is: do what you can, where you can, and don’t beat yourself up about the rest too much. Recently I’ve been seeing brands be vilified for any perceived misstep from the eco-warriors point of view… But any effort towards lessening your footprint is better than nothing, and more than what most brands are doing. This should be celebrated and encouraged.
What small things can we do to help save the world, with regards to our beauty and skincare routines?
Micaela Nisbet: Being mindful of the chemicals washed down the drain from your standard shampoo and body wash… sulphates (SLS, SLES) are toxic to marine life. Go for sulphate-free cleansers. Make-up wipes don’t recycle, so use a washable hot cloth or konjac sponge instead. Support indie brands with your cash as they’re most often the most eco-aware. Growing up in Australia the importance of short showers and conserving water was drilled into me. I’ve not really found that view in the UK, perhaps because we don’t have droughts here. But water is scarce on the Earth in general. So small things like not turning on the tap to full blast when you’re doing your teeth. Taking shorter showers. Filling the basin when washing your face instead of letting it run. Every time you turn the hot tap on the boiler flares up and burns natural gas, even though it might not be hot water coming from the tap yet. Cold water is much better for your pores anyway. The list is endless…Being mindful of things like this can make a collective change. Subscribe to the daily mailout ‘Today We Will…’ for a short eco tip each day.
Tell us a bit about the new store you opened.
Micaela Nisbet: I’ve always seen NB as a physical location with a collection of supporting products and services but I needed to move out of my studio and a new development of small boutiques was about to open literally around the corner, so I took the opportunity and made the leap. It’s so nice to have a space that can be a visual representation of the brand. It’s a cute shop with bright colours and lovely botanical smells and full of gorgeous things surrounding self-care. We’ve got gua sha jade boards and rollers, rose gold razors, cool string bags, pure silk pillowcases and eye masks, konjac sponges, health tonics, as well as the refill body care and some other fabulous brands who sit within the NB philosophy. And gorgeous costume jewellery.
How do you see your brand evolving in the future?
Micaela Nisbet: I’ve got so many ideas and nearly finished formulations. I want to have a Willy Wonka-type selection of products unique in the current natural skincare market. The cutesy 'grammable pink or minimal stuff really bores me. It’s often some marketing exec who’s seen the dollars that a brand can bring in and has launched the same thing as the trailblazer. There are so many Glossier clones. I’m not interested in adding another standard voice into the chorus, the weirder the better! I’m working on a project to bring a little bit of my homeland (Australia) botany to the skins of the UK, and also a couple of hair products. I’m really just designing my ultimate personal care product lineup, and hopefully other people like them too!