EP6 – Skincare Approved by the Cosmos


EP6 – Skincare Approved by the Cosmos


Welcome to Episode Six of the Sustainable eCommerce podcast!

Today, I'm joined by the fabulous Sinead Roberts co-Founder of WotNot Naturals. Sinead shares her journey from seeking environmentally friendly nappies for her own child, all the way through to Wotnot being one of Australia's most loved organic baby and skincare brands.

Giles Smith: Maybe we could start today's episode by hearing a little bit about your background and what led you into making Wotnot Naturals.

Sinead Roberts: Thank you! It's a bit of an accidental story actually. I think when I was studying in college and my business partner was studying music, at no time did we ever think our qualifications would include a forklift license!

So my journey started in software engineering. My last job was with a company called Cap Gemini. I lived in Ireland at the time with my Aussie husband and we had our first child. I was going to go back to my wonderfully-paid job. But when I saw this little creature in my arms, I just thought, “I don't think I can do this. I don't think I can put him into daycare”.

So I used it as a break to have a think about where I was heading in my life. And I knew I always wanted to do something for myself. I think it's always been a driving force in me. I think if you're an entrepreneur, it's a seed that just keeps nagging at you. And when I had my son, one of my best friends had bought me, as a gift, the world's first environmentally-friendly, nappy. And it absolutely blew my mind. I didn't know that such a thing existed.

Then when we moved back to Australia for good, I looked around and thought, what will I do? I went to buy the environmentally friendly nappies that I had used for my son. And there was none!  And I thought, well, aha! That's what I'm going to do.

So I sat back, created a business plan, headed off to Germany, met with the manufacturers to see if I could be their agent in Australia. And I could not believe it when they said, yes, you can!


So we ordered a container of nappies and I will never forget the day they were delivered on the nature strip outside our house. A 20-foot container of nappies.I understood what people say when they have a panic attack!

Our husbands unloaded all the nappies into the garage. We put a big ad in the magazine called Sidney's child offering a free eco-nappy sample. 


So I had created a very, very basic website we used as a landing page with a phone number, and the phone started to ring. It was a bit of the 80-20 rule. 80% of the people wanted something free, but the 20 that contacted us, they were genuine, and started to buy them.


Back then we had to talk to our customers every time they wanted to order something. So you really got to know your customer. For some of these mums, you might be the only adult they speak to for the entire day. So they really loved sharing why they bought the nappy, what they loved about the nappy, what their lives were like. That was 17 years ago – you could pretty much draw a circle around Byron Bay as to where all the interest was coming from.

Giles Smith: Where you in Byron Bay at the time or was that just where the interest was?

Sinead Roberts: That was just where the interest was.  And you know, it really was the birth of that movement. But they would order the nappies and started asking for complimentary products, like baby wipes. So we looked around the world and we found a range {of wipes} and we brought them in. Our customers, bought it, and the phone began to ring off the hook.

There were furious! Absolutely furious!

Why on earth did you buy this stuff it’s awful!  At the time we didn't know what was in it, we just assumed that if the manufacturer said it was natural and organic, we thought it was natural and organic.

So we talked to the customers and asked them what they wanted.  They just told us exactly what they wanted. With the baby wipes that we first created, they wanted an extra-large wipe, and of course, it had to be one hundred percent by bio-degradable.

We went looking for them and they simply didn’t exist. So we said to them, if we make this product, you've got to promise to buy it and they said, oh yeah, we'll buy it!

Giles Smith: I love that story so much! The first thing I think is an enormous lesson for everyone starting a business is, especially when you're starting out, you have to have a deep relationship with your customers. You have to ask them what they want, because they'll give you far better ideas than you can come up with on your own. So, for anyone that is a small niche brand now, I think that's such a wonderful story that you started by listening to your customers.

The other thing I want to just pick into a little bit, you mentioned a problem there with buying something the manufacturer suggested was natural and organic, but turned out to be something quite different. How do you go about ensuring your products do have the right things in?

Sinead Roberts: My background isn’t in chemistry, it was never even on the radar. But speaking to the customer and understanding just how knowledgeable they were, we had to lift our game really quickly!  

I found that when we did partner with a contract manufacturer, which you inevitably have to do if you're not a massive company yourself, it was like coming up against a wall. I would give them the list of ingredients, and they would tell me I can’t make cosmetics out of that! So the first manufacturer we used, I learned chemistry and he learned natural ingredients.

Giles Smith: How many iterations do you think you went through with your first kind of skincare products before you actually came up with something that you were happy to bring to market?

Sinead Roberts: So after the baby wipes it took us 3 years to develop our sunscreen. It was very, very hard.  But, except for the zinc and the preservative, you can eat everything in that sunscreen. As we were determined to put everything on the tube.

Giles Smith: Let's talk about that because transparency is a real thing, isn't it? Particularly in skincare. So tell me a little bit about your thoughts around transparency.

Sinead Roberts: It's everything. I think there was a time when people could get away with greenwashing.  Smoke and mirrors.  One of the things I never understood, and still don't to this day is if you've got a sun lotion that you put it all over your body, it's a cosmetic and has to list all of the ingredients. On the other hand, the sunscreen that you probably also put on every single day, that falls into the TGA regulations, which stipulates that you only have to list the active ingredient. In this case, what's protecting you from the sun and the preservative. Those two ingredients, only make up at most 25% of the product. So, what's the rest of it?  We were one of the first to just list everything on the bottle, so the parents are fully informed.

Giles Smith: How do you convey that level of transparency to your customers in a way that turns into a benefit for you? Do you dialogue things that are in there, do you get lots of engagement about the contents with your customers?

Sinead Roberts: From day one, we knew who we were. Our customers created our products.  I know that our customer was the pioneer in that eco-transparent movement. We just built up a reputation for trust with our brand. And to be honest, we didn't really shout about it. Maybe we could have messaged better now that I see the movement turn into a stampede in that direction. But I think as a brand, we've just quietly done our own thing in terms of keeping true to our story.  Word of mouth is one of our biggest marketing tools. We find that's how people find out about us. There's nothing more authentic than word of mouth.

Giles Smith: Increasingly, I'm talking to sustainable brands and whilst most people are running ads of some description or another, there's a theme coming up. Being sustainable, making organic products is an immensely powerful kind of core around which the customer conversations are built.  Has that been the core of your brand's growth? What other marketing techniques have you used to escalate the brand’s presence?

Sinead Roberts: Yes, that definitely is the keystone of how we grew the brand. But what we also realized was our products are great! We sampling, we realised that if we could get the product into the hands of a mum, they could experience it and realised that there was no compromise in using eco.  We’ve always pushed our products to outperform traditional ones on the market.

So, sampling then became massive. Hundreds of thousands of samples going out so that people could feel the product & experience it.

Giles Smith: I love what you said about making products that were at least as good, if not better than the non-sustainable or the existing alternatives. And I think this is a key lesson because some people get tempted into the line of building sustainable products because they're sustainable, and don’t focus on making them better than the alternatives. I think fundamentally that's the wrong approach because at the end of the day, the customer is still buying a product and they still have expectations about what it's going to do for them.

From another point of view, you talked about the sheer number of samples that you've been sending out as being a core for getting the experiential part of the product up so that people would come and purchase. So how did you go about distributing that many samples? I mean, that's a lot of samples to get out. What techniques were you using to get that in the hands of your potential customers?

Sinead Roberts: Lots of things. So, partnerships. One of our company values is collaboration. We look to create partnerships with services that serve new mums, people that we believed were aligned with our mission. We were very, very lucky to be chosen by the New South Wales Bundle Bag. The government provides every new parent with a bag in hospital full with essentials. And we were chosen as the baby wipe product. Every single baby in NSW gets to experience our wipes as part of that!

Giles Smith: One of the many great things about the Wotnot brand is you've got very clear customer avatar. I'm assuming it's mostly the mums of young kids that buy it. As you moved into the cosmetics space from purely baby products, has that changed the way you interact with your customers at all? Has it been hard to resonate with both of those two different groups, even though they do potentially overlap?

Sinead Roberts: Yeah. That’s very important. Maybe if we thought it through, we might not have gone on exactly that journey, but it did split our audience. We broadened from being mums through to everything from mid-teens up to very mature, which does make it very different.

As a small company with a small marketing budget, you can't reach everybody. You've just got to focus on narrowing it down to who is your core customer. And that was that mother age group.

Giles Smith: It's a brilliant lesson actually. It can be tempting to try and attract a wide audience because it’s a bigger pond to go fishing in, but the reality is it dilutes the message and it dilutes the degree to which you can resonate and be specific and helpful to that one particular person.

These days, are you still mostly doing the sample-based marketing or have you delved into digital marketing a bit more? How's that going for you?

Sinead Roberts: Definitely, we need to play in the digital space. We are just navigating all the changes with Instagram and Facebook. But we just launched in America six months ago.  And we are using the sampling strategy over there to great effect, even though our partners there said it was a very different market and they had never seen sampling work to actually drive sales.

Wotnot Home Page

Giles Smith: What's next on the agenda for Wotnot Naturals? Where do you see, the brand going over the next sort of two to three years?

Sinead Roberts: Yeah, we've got very clear plan. So we are focusing on pharmacy. Our focus used to be health food stores, but they've just started to close down. Over the last10 years organic has gone mainstream and particularly into pharmacy. So we're going to build our relationships through that space.

America is also on the cards now. But I am excited to announce that we have been working on adjusting the baby skincare range. We're about to bring two worlds together in one product. We’ll be launching later this year.

Giles Smith: Congratulations Sinead, that's awesome. Well done!  Where can people get your wonderful baby and skincare products?  

Sinead Roberts: Online at wotnot.com.au,  and we are through most pharmacies. Our biggest partner at the moment is Chemist Warehouse. So pretty much all our products are available there.

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