What happens when you use an African plant not tainted by pollution and agricultural farming for skincare? Something very special…
Sitting down to breakfast at Rose Cafe in Venice, CA with husband and wife founders of organic luxury skincare brand, African Botanics, I found myself completely intrigued and engrossed in these two. Husband and wife teams do that to me. For it is a true testament to their love, friendship and consideration of each other to not only share a life together, but share a work identity. I know for sure I would murder my husband on day one, or even hour one, if we worked together, but these two, Craig and Julia Noik, have found a rhythm that’s awe-inspiring. Over pancakes, mine, and eggs with toast, them, the two shared with me how they met as a couple of kids with a shared passion for art and music; moving from Johannesburg to Los Angeles; and the journey towards developing their skincare line that marries powerful, natural African ingredients with biotechnology. Read on for excerpts from the interview.
Falling in love/Early life
Craig: In South Africa, where I was born, 21st birthday parties are a bid deal; kids have a big party and everybody is invited. A very good friend of mine was having a 21st birthday party. Julia’s family, who moved there from Russia when she was sixteen, knew his parents also and she knew him as well, so they were also at the party. I wasn’t even going to go to the party. I had been traveling and I said to my mom, I don’t want to go to this party, but my mom said to me, ‘It’s Kevin’s birthday party. You have got to go.’ I was twenty one years old at the time.
So, I get to the house and Kevin’s mom opens the door and the first thing out of her mouth – no hello, no how are you – nothing. She just said to me, ‘You need to meet Julia.’ The night continues and I hadn’t met her yet, but I saw her standing at the party. I didn’t know who she was but I kept glancing at her every few minutes, wondering who is this cute girl.
As the end of the party comes, all the kids decided to go night clubbing. I needed to go back to my parents house to get a sweater. I got to my house and I wasn’t even sure I would go back. I decided to go back. I had not met Julia up to this point and the party was over. When I got back to the house this guy’s mom comes up to me and says, ‘Can she ride in your car?’ to go clubbing. I said sure. I was listening to Metallica in the car and Julia got in and said, ‘Awesome music.’ I was like, ‘Wow, you like Metallica?’ and that was it. We just started talking, having fun and we became best friends instantly. We dated for years and then we moved to LA in 1997.
Julia: He came here first. He had a dream to work in the music industry. As a kid he knew he was going to end up in Los Angeles some day. He wanted to write movie music, so he came here and then I came six months later. We both fell in love with this place and we’ve stayed here ever since.
Craig: We live in Santa Monica now, but my first apartment in west Los Angeles. I was in a studio. I remember picking her from the airport and bringing her back to the apartment, and I said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to move.’ Or perhaps, it was as I opened the door she said, ‘We’re moving.’
Julia: It was a small little thing. It was terrible. The apartment didn’t even have a kitchen. It just had a hot plate! And there was only a tiny bathroom sink. We had to wash the dishes in the bathroom sink.
Craig: I think we just used paper plates. I didn’t have any furniture. I just had a futon mattress. But I was twenty-three years old at the time and that’s how you start out; sometimes that’s the best way to start out. After that we ended up moving into a one bedroom place in Santa Monica and just stayed in Santa Monica. We have two girls now and they go to schools in Santa Monica which are very good. It worked out perfectly for us.
Julia: I was a graphic designer before I met Craig. Craig was into music back then and while we were in South Africa he started working with advertising agencies. He did music for commercials; post production stuff. I was a young art director, but when I came here I decided to freelance. We ended up working for ourselves and registered our own company. We started building accounts and working with different brands on the creative side. Craig knows how to write very well, so when we needed copy or anything like that he would do it.
Craig: I started to get tired of working in music and began working more with Julia.
Julia: And we worked together like that for about fourteen years. We had a very nice group of companies we worked with, but when we started having children your priorities shift and change. You start to think about what you are washing them with, what you are exposing them to and we started toying with the idea of starting a natural skincare brand.
Launching African Botanics
Julia: I have loved skincare since as long as I can remember. In South Africa, I used a lot of local products made with local ingredients. When I came here I went looking for products with those ingredients, but I couldn’t find them. Nobody was utilizing anything from Africa except for terrible quality shea butter. I thought to myself this is strange that there is no skincare brand that represents South African ingredients, and there are so many great ingredients. I mentioned this to Craig and he liked the idea. He was like, ‘Just design the packaging and let’s see what we can put together.’
We went to a few labs here in Los Angeles to see what it would take to create something like this, but we were shocked because a lot of the labs offered stock formulas. They told us we could adjust them and market them however, and we said, ‘No we don’t want this.’ We were like, oh, so after we leave you’re going to just go show these stock formulas to the next person, and all they are going to do is change the name and add a few different ingredients. This was mind blowing to us. We said, no, we are going to create something that’s from scratch, and we knew we had to work with someone who knew the ingredients, so we went to South Africa.
First, when we started African Botanics originally we worked with a lady who is retired now. She was already in her 70s. An amazing lady and amazing formulator. She agreed to work with us from the get-go. We said to her, ‘Look, we just want one hundred of each SKU. We just want to try this out.’ And she was kind enough to help us.
We started formulating in 2007/2008, but it took us 2-3 years. The formulator we were working with gave us marula oil to try and that’s how we found out about the oil. We knew about the fruit for many, many years. When you live in South Africa you hear about the fruit, but we didn’t know that there was an oil inside of the fruit. She gave us the oil and we were shocked at how beautiful it is.
We started off with the first 100 of these products and we met up with a buyer from Space NK. She told us, ‘Don’t go anywhere else. We want you.’ They came along and ordered everything we had, so we had to go quickly back to South Africa and make everything in a much bigger quantity.
Craig: We started out with twelve products mostly for body. Truth is we didn’t really know what we were doing. A few of the original products fell away, some stayed. The pure marula oil is original and the neroli infused oil is original. The mud scrub, the firming cream and the stretch mark oil, those were all originals. We had some others, but we only made them once. It took some time to guide and shape the line to where it was going to go and what it was going to become.
Julia: Then our formulator retired and we moved to a different lab. We met another incredible formulator we now work with and our team now has professional cosmetic scientists and botanists. It’s a very big team, and you can tell by our products; they aren’t one sided products. They are complicated creations and there is science and proven actives. We now work with other labs around the world, in France and Switzerland, where we incorporate the latest in green active biology.
Julia: To get to the oil you have to crack the marula nut with a rock or a hammer by hand. It’s so hard, like a stone fruit. It is very labor intensive and that’s what’s also so special about the oil. It’s not a mass produced, farm grown ingredient. You have to go out into the rural areas to get it.
It is a wild tree, and in South Africa it’s under forest protection law since 1951; meaning, you’re not allowed to use it for fire wood or building since it’s a protected indigenous tree by law. You are getting is a really pure ingredient. It’s far away from farming because it is grown where farming is very difficult.
And the trees are drought resistant, so you know when something comes from very harsh conditions it’s going to be very high in antioxidants. Plants and herbs that grow in extreme temperatures are usually very strong in antioxidants.
We also make sure any plant we use is sustainable. If it’s a threatened plant, we wont use it. It has to be sustainable, self regenerating and harvested the right way.
Marula we know is sustainable. We were worried about the supply originally, but we spoke with a South African conservationist to know what is the percentage we use out of all the fruits available in South Africa. They did a study for another South African company that uses marula fruit in their drinks; it’s a massive company. And their marula consumption only uses 1% of the fruit supply. We use the oil and so it is much, much less than even that.
Craig: We both love nature. Growing up in South Africa there weren’t any iPads or iPhones. As a child you were out in the grass and the swimming pool. As a South African child, most of life is outdoors. And Julia was the same. She grew up going hiking in Russia. We like to be outside and we take our kids everywhere we go. We schlepp them around the globe and hope we are instilling principles of hard work and appreciation for nature. When we do take them on a safari and teach them about endangered animals we’re hopeful in thirty years from now they can come back with their child to see these animals.
The African Botanics Line
Julia: Currently, we’re in Space NK, Credo, and Violet Grey. We are going into online retailers in Australia and Paris soon. We’re still growing. We are still being discovered even though we have been around for the last five years. But it’s nice to have that newness feel.
Our marula oil with neroli is a balancing oil. It’s great for oily skin types and people with pigmentation. And the Pure Marula Oil is good for normal, dry and dehydrated, mature skin. It has just pure marula oil and is so nourishing.
We have an oil cleanser that can work on all skin types, even on oily skin. It’s great as a first step. And then there’s the baobab clay cleanser, which is more for acne and oily prone skin.
Anybody can use our clay mask, even people with dry skin. We use a very mild clay – white benotite clay – which is the mildest of all the clays. But we don’t just rely on the clay which most masks do, we balance the formula with marula oil and baobab oil, so you’ve got these beautiful emollients, ingredients full of antioxidants and minerals, like copper and zinc to strengthening the skin.
We also have a stretch mark oil that is great for expecting mothers. It has marula and baobab oil, which are rich in omega 3, 6 and 9. There is also rosehips oil, which is amazing for post scarring and burning. And there is also avocado oil. As you can see, these are heavy and nourishing oils to help elasticize the skin.
Written & Photographed by Amy Chang, founder & editor