By Andrew Lam, Fair Trade Edmonton Member
We had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Johnson, herbalist and creator of PLANTiful. Amy’s journey began in search of products to help address a chronic health issue. Unfortunately, most skin-care products found in stores contained a wide range of chemicals that were unable to keep skin soft, moisturized and clean. She resorted to creating remedies that focused on lymphatic health and locally found ingredients.
PLANtiful has blossomed to become a locally owned, zero-waste herbal apothecary with a wide range of products made from high-quality and locally sourced ingredients. PLANTiful is unique in that ingredients are fully plant-based and forage from local botanicals found around the Edmonton region. Production carefully uses the whole plant and is made in small batches to make the highest quality product. Ingredients not found through foraging are procured through local and independent farmers. Through these practices, PLANTiful proudly reflects deep values in sustainability and community development.
Read on for the highlights of my conversation with Amy:
How do you describe your organization?
We are a plant-based skincare and wellness company that focuses on creating herbal remedies with locally grown plants. Our goal is to be an alternative option for customers looking for skin-care and wellness products that are made from locally grown, sustainable and health-focused ingredients. We focus on lymphatic health as it is critical for our immunity and the ability to protect our body from infection and disease. Fair trade and sustainability is an important part of our products. When we are unable to find or forage some of our ingredients, we source out through fair-trade suppliers or local and independent farmers.
We also emphasize teaching our customers about the fantastic biodiversity of plants around us. There are a lot of ingredients that most don’t know are medicinal. When we walk through the woods we are surrounded by plentiful resources that can be used, like sunflowers, dandelions, spruce tips or poplar buds. Poplar buds can be used to create a balm that is really good for the skin, while dandelions are great for the gut because of their bitterness. Using these ingredients and remedies ar a fantastic way to connect with nature in a different way. A lot of this knowledge can be learnt from books and resources, but also from knowledge passed on through Indigenous peoples.
Why is supporting Fair Trade important to you and how does your store support it?
Principles of fair trade are important to us because we want people and participants to be recognized for their work. When we source our ingredients, we don’t look for the cheapest. We want quality ingredients that have been farmed and processed with respect to Mother Nature. At the same time, we are looking for a company or producer that pays its employees and farmers fair wages for their work. Sometimes, connecting with only fairtrade certified organizations can be tricky to find, especially because of our focus on using locally grown ingredients. In those cases, we take the principle of fair trade when connecting with local farmers and sources. When we do connect with local sources, we work directly with the farmers and their employees to ask about working conditions, how they are treated and if the ingredients are harvested respectfully. This can be a lengthy process, but applying fair trade principles to all connections, even those not fair trade certified is a good and helpful way to uphold our values.
“If companies are not open or feel uncomfortable when asked these questions, it could be a clear sign that they are not fair trade or sustainable.”
What are some of the keys to fair trade business practices?
Reaching out and promoting consistent business practices are important. As a local business, it is important to reach out to other makers in your community. It can be a difficult process but connect with them and find how they get containers, ingredients and so forth. Dig through a company’s website and, a lot of times, skincare companies will outline their technical ingredients and details to tell if they are fair-trade certified, use natural ingredients, or if the ingredients and people are fairly treated. In most cases, when you reach out, people are happy to share information about their practices. If companies are not open or feel uncomfortable when asked these questions, it could be a clear sign that they are not fair trade or sustainable. I often get questions from new skin-care companies and others for questions and support.
What are the current issues affecting Fair Trade and your business, especially during Covid-19?
As with many, shipping and access to ingredients have been difficult during Covid-19 since the borders have closed. We are not necessarily able to get ingredients from existing suppliers, especially overseas or through a distributor. Some of the ingredients we get from small/medium producers and distributors were also out of stock since there is an increase in individuals spending time to make home remedies and natural products. This is great since people are learning and local companies with necessary ingredients can grow, but it does mean we have to plan and search more to get ingredients.
Having an online presence, changing recipes and being flexible, and community building really helped us. Our online presence also helped us. Having an online platform and partnering with a local delivery service really helped us navigate through Covid protocols. The cost itself for online orders and deliveries balanced out by using a flat shipping fee, discount for local orders and order pickups. Adjusting our recipes were also important. As borders closed over the last year, we shifted to emphasize more local ingredients and see if our recipes could be adjusted to fit what is available. I was a health librarian so applying good search practices, like following search trails or using different terms for an ingredient, helped us. This year, small/medium producers and distributors ran out of rose petals, since it is a really common ingredient in a lot of products. Adjusting, networking and community building helped us to find other sources of rose petals where we were satisfied with their quality of work. It is important to reach out, especially as most want to reach out as much as you do!
“In the past, natural ingredients were difficult to find. Our industry has grown, and now it is much easier to connect and find online companies that sell natural, are fair trade and use ethically made ingredients.”
Do you have any call to actions for the community?
Our call to action is to don’t get overwhelmed and do what you can. In the past, natural ingredients were difficult to find. Our industry has grown, and now it is much easier to connect and find online companies that sell natural, are fair trade and use ethically made ingredients. It is much easier to incorporate these type of ingredients in what you do. Just do what you can. It takes time to implement these ingredients from different places. The more you do, the easier it will become and the better it will be for your communities and customers as products use higher quality ingredients. The cost of fairtrade might be high, but health is wealth. The more natural products you use to nourish yourself the better you will feel. For us, what you put on your skin matters and we value the use of conscious products.
Written by: Andrew Lam, Interview with: Amy Johnson