Life has been busy of late for Fiona McDonald of the Fox River Bath Company. Teaching her child via correspondence school, attending the Co-Starters Business course at Westport, and preparing for markets, along with running not one but two businesses on the South Island’s West Coast – it’s enough to make her realise it is time to take it back a notch and focus on doing less, but doing it even better. Read all about her gorgeous creations and plans for the future…
What do you make?
I make luxurious artisan bath and body products and specialise in small batch, hand crafted, botanical skincare.
How did you get into your craft?
After leaving school I spent some time in Alaska and the Caribbean, and also rode my bike across America. This journey began my love of natural medicines and botanical skincare. On coming home I spent time studying Naturopathy at The Canterbury College of Natural Medicine, (which sadly no longer exists). I then moved to the West Coast near Punakaiki and took on the role of Tui Hill Healing Centre Caretaker. Here I could continue my passion for natural medicine and have time to focus on my other loves of painting and silversmithing, which I am still doing under the name Brightonmine.
I have had times in other jobs, like my time working in the film industry as both a props maker and then a location manager. But I have always found myself coming back to this, each time with new skills under my belt.
I started to realise, after the birth of our child (which was followed closely by a major health event for my partner), that exposure to toxins in painting and jewellery-making was too great and having an effect, not only on me but potentially our baby and my partner. Ever since then the desire to be working with healthy and wholesome raw materials has taken priority over everything else.
While I appreciate and acknowledge the huge value of conventional medicine, which certainly saved my partner’s life, I also believe there is room for a more natural supportive approach to our bodies’ skincare and health in general.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I organically grow some of my herbs and flowers (limited due to growing in an unpredictable coastal environment). I also harvest what I can in the wild. Some of my happiest moments are foraging on a beautiful dry summer’s day with my son and our baskets. Harvesting wild roses, and other wildflowers and herbs that can be found growing around us. The harvested herbs and flowers are air dried and then infused at low temperatures, retaining the powerful healing benefits of the botanicals.
I was never much into the science lab in school, I spent most of my time in the art department. However, strangely now I find myself loving measuring, mixing, swirling, and formulating. I adore my lab equipment, beakers, pipettes, burettes and flasks – and everything that goes into them!
For me, the process needs to remain beautiful right from the start of planting the seed through to the finish of having a product which I know has every ounce of my good intention built into it.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by my son and his beautiful compassionate nature.
I am inspired by my father, and all he taught us to create and explore, we lost him many years ago but his legacy lives on.
I am inspired every summer by swimming in the crystal clear emerald waters of the Punakaiki River, it is one of a kind, heavenly, and the main reason I still live here.
And I am greatly inspired by the natural environment we are so lucky to live in, and the way it provides us with everything we need and more.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
I believe we need to simplify our approach to skin and body care, cleaning in our homes, and any other places in our lives where we are unnecessarily exposed to a huge amount of toxic chemicals.
So I choose to make waterless plant based products which have no need to contain preservatives, phthalates, propylene glycol or any other unnatural ingredients. The simpler our routines, the better for the health of our bodies and minds.
I am a strong advocate of botanical oils. By using the powerful unadulterated oils on our skin we eliminate the need for expensive pots of cream which contain mostly water. Instead we deliver the powerful ingredients directly to the skin. I personally spent years dealing with bad reactions to many skincare products even very expensive ones. Now all I use are oils, and clay masks. They have rebalanced my skin to the point where I have no troubles with it at all and it is better than it has ever been.
For me, the process needs to remain beautiful right from the start of planting the seed through to the finish…
Provenance is important to me, I am working hard to establish and build relationships with growers and producers of my core ingredients, who operate their businesses in a way I can relate to.
I care a great deal about leaving as little impact as possible. So the ingredients in my products, the labelling and the packaging materials, all matter to me. As does the effect of what is run off down the drains and into our waterways.
Lastly attention to detail. It really matters in everything I do, and it is something customers constantly tell me they admire in my work.
Describe your creative process:
The main part of my week days is spent teaching our child correspondence school. Everything else falls into place around that. There are a lot of tasks to juggle like all of the growing and harvesting mentioned above, but also designing and creating my products, all my own packaging, photographing my work for online listings, creating listings for Felt and other online portals, packaging and shipping and all the other jobs involved in running a small business from home.
Making days are a peaceful ritual time for me. I like to turn on some beautiful music, fill the space with a gorgeous scent, and immerse myself in creating beautiful smelling and feeling products.
Five words that describe your mind:
Enquiring, creative, loving and caring (according to my son), frantic (according to my partner).
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
The best feedback I could get, is people coming back again and again for more product. It is such a good feeling to know people are experiencing great results and appreciate my work. Not only that but people are also using less toxic chemicals in their lives as a result of something I am doing. This makes it all feel so meaningful.
Other than that, I recently received this feedback – made my heart sing: “I bought 4 products: Rose Geranium body butter, vanilla lip balm, the luxury face oil and the Magic Healing Balm. And all of them are like little treasures! I absolutely love these products! Discovered in NZ while travelling, loved them so much, that I asked a friend to bring them back to me in Europe! Totally, 100% recommend them!”
What are you currently listening to?
At this moment – a Liz Fraser mix on 8tracks.
What’s your favourite childhood book?
Opo the Happy Dolphin by Julia Graham, illustrated by Tony Oliver.
What are you reading now?
Some of my favourite books to read to my son: Pocketful of Penguins, A Sketchbook of New Zealand Birds and A Kea on My Bed. All written by wonderful New Zealand author and Artist Molly Falla, who spent many years recording the stories of her Ornithologist husband and herself and their varied and fascinating experiences with birds of New Zealand.
Our lifestyle brings us into contact with many birds we would otherwise not have the opportunity to interact with. We spent many years working towards getting a penguin fence alongside the Coast Road, to prevent numerous deaths which are inevitable when the highway gets busier and the land erodes reducing habitat. The penguin fence has now been up for about two years and not a single death has occurred on this stretch of road since. Versus a tally of roughly ten a year previous to that. We are so grateful to the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust for making this happen.
I only ever saw one survivor from the road victims. We named her Pedro. She got blinded in one eye and after staying in our brand new bathroom for three weeks, (it has never smelled the same!) she ended up going to the Antarctic Centre to live, as she would never have been able to catch prey with only one eye. I was quite upset about taking her there, (at the time we thought she was a he). But, apparently now (or last time I checked in), she had buddied up with a mate with I think no sight, and was keeping him company in this life. So I think she found a purpose in her new place.
In another life, I would have a bird rescue centre. I paint them, I etch them in metal, and I have a great fascination and love for them.
Just last week I turned my car around to rescue a Westland black petrel on the road. Just in time to see the slow motion tragedy of her being bowled by two cars. Very rare and special birds who cannot take off from ground level. They have to fly from a high point (hence my wanting to help her).
Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
My heroine is my mother, Due to her constant kindness compassion and her natural inclination to always stand up for the person who needs it most.
A favourite quote:
One of many – “Choose being kind over being right, and you will be right every time.”
Tell us about your pets:
17 eclectic free ranging chickens, a delightful one horned, one eyed goat whom we have had for 13 years, two long haired cats – one new one old – and both beautiful, and a soft white fluffy bunny that we somehow managed to bring home from correspondence school ski camp last year. She comes inside every evening so as not to go feral out in her cage alone. There are quite a few animal antics to make us laugh in the evenings with kitty and bunny love!
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
According to my beautiful nieces I would be Inspiragirl. And I would appear in people’s dreams and give them inspiration and confidence to believe in themselves creatively.
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Follow your passion, but think about the long term effects on your body and make sure your craft is not going to harm you in anyway. Once you have done this whittle it down to focus on one area. I have spent years trying to achieve everything and quite obviously (to me now) it is just too much for one person. Do a course like the Co-Starters course I have just completed, to really clearly make you think about what your business means to you and where exactly you want to go with it.
Recognise your weaknesses and surround yourself with people who hold strengths in these areas. Create an opportunity to be part of a group of people who may be facing similar challenges. There is a great deal you can help each other out with. Seek out mentors and people who may be willing to help you make the steps you need to make. And most importantly, ensure you make time for yourself and your family to just enjoy life!
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
A cute little set of a teepee, rug and camping chairs from ‘Pint Size Goods’ at the recent fabulous Winter Encraftment Market. A gift for my boy to say thank you for his patience in my preparation time for the market. It was beautifully constructed – once again, attention to detail!
What’s in store for the rest of 2016?
I have had the tendency to try to make every product I ever dreamed of. This of course leaves me with my energy too thinly spread. So I aim to simplify.
My plan is to rebrand, change my business name (something shorter – watch this space!) and refine my product list down from 29 products to a total of about 6 products. I also will be learning to accept the skills of other people into my business rather than trying to do everything myself.
All this has come about as a result of doing the fabulous Co-Starters course at Epic Westport (which we are so lucky to now have in our community). My personal gains from this course were phenomenal. And I came up trumps at the end by winning the prize for best pitch on pitch night, which was a real surprise and personal boost for me! Now is the time for me to whittle things down, cut back on my need to create everything from scratch and really focus on fine tuning the best parts.
Fiona has generously offered a prize for one lucky Felt reader of the Fox River Bath Company’s nourishing luxury face oil and detoxifying lavender facial clay mask (above), the products Fiona uses most often herself. (What better recommendation could you have?)
To be in to win this luxurious duo, simply leave a comment telling us what appeals to you about Fiona’s story and her products. The draw will be made on Friday 12 August and is open to New Zealand residents only.