Naturally in love: PLANT

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Every Fall I vow to take better care of my skin, after the little maintenance I get away with during the Summer months. I recently came across PLANT, a local skincare brand that immediately piqued my interest. Their products are made with just a handful of fantastic natural ingredients. They have a confident, no-nonsense & slightly cheeky attitude that I love. And they get bonus points with their packaging (design nerd alert!), so sleek and bold.

I put a few products to the test, and they won a new fan. I also had the great opportunity to get Bjarke Ballisager, co-founder of PLANT with wife Holly McWhorter, to talk to us about the brand’s story and their unique products. Read on for the interview!

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Over the last month I’ve been traveling a fair amount, resulting in dull skin and a desperate need to shake off several flight’s worth of germs. So as you can imagine, I was excited to try the Antioxidant Matcha face mask, above. It combines purifying white clay with the powerful antioxidants of organic matcha. The third and final ingredient is chamomile oil. Three simple ingredients! I tried it one night and my skin felt cleansed, soothed, and fresh. The perfect mask for an overall good feeling at the end of the week.

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September was so unreasonably hot that I’ve been going through this RE:FRESH Organic Toning Facial Mist pretty quickly. It’s a lovely, refreshing ‘tune-up’ for your face any time of the day. Ingredients? Soothing cucumber, rosewater, aloe vera, witch hazel and antibacterial lemongrass. That’s it. The scent is delicious… I’m gonna need to stock up on these.

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PLANT’s growing line also includes natural body washes, scrubs, face and body oils. With names like Wake Up, Be Well or Get it On, they just put a smile on your face – and make great gifts too.

As I looked a little more into the brand, I learned that their products are manufactured in partnership with BKLYN UNLTD – a local organization that gives work to people with mental and physical disabilities. Co-founder Bjarke McWhorter tells us more about this partnership, PLANT’s beginnings, philosophy, process and plans for the future.

You and Holly come from design & architecture backgrounds. What led you to skincare?

We both have really sensitive skin, and Holly’s initial experimentation with skincare, many years ago, had started because of that. The synthetic fragrances and preservatives that are in most of the products out there made her itch, but she knew there had to be ways to make products that could last a long time and be as effective as the synthetic stuff, but without all the toxic waste.

So by the time we started PLANT’s skincare line, Holly had been making skincare products for herself and friends and family for years, as a sort of very serious hobby. She’s always been really interested in medical herbalism and classical aromatherapy, and that extended into learning how different natural ingredients affect the skin and can be combined for certain beneficial effects.

But so many of the natural products out there came in packaging that we both hated, and as designers, we really pay attention to design in our daily lives. So Holly got the idea of creating a product line that had natural and non-irritating, but really effective, formulas—that came in packaging we’d want to have out on a shelf at home. And when we saw the opportunity to add a social responsibility component to the business as well as the healthy and eco-friendly aspects, we jumped on that too, to create a line that would do not just well, but also good.

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How are PLANT products different from other natural brands?

We like to think that our packaging is one of the main things that distinguishes us from other brands. When we launched PLANT, most of the other natural and organic brands had really flowery, crunchy packaging that we felt was trying to sell the customer a certain kind of fantasy that might not really have anything to do with the actual product and what it does for you—or else it was very strongly feminine. All of which is fine if that’s what you’re after, but our philosophy is to make pure, effective, natural and organic, unisex products for everyone—men, women, and everyone in between—and get people to buy them because of what they’ll do for you, not because they make you think you’ll have a magical, flower-filled life if you use them. Our formulas are updated twists on time-honored formulas, using ingredients that have been known for centuries to do what we say they do, so customers can trust that they’re getting the real deal.

Basically, we wanted to create a product line that we ourselves would buy, so that’s what we did.

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Your partnership with BKLYN UNLTD is fantastic, how did it come to be?

It actually started with our spice kits, which we’re now spinning off into their own brand. Way back when Holly first got the idea for the spice kits, she started looking for a place to mass-produce them, and in the process learned about workshops like BKLYN UNLTD that give work to adults with mental and physical disabilities. There was no reason not to choose one of these for the job, and Holly was drawn to the idea for personal reasons as well—her mom had a damaging brain aneurysm after 22 years as a university professor, and the simple loss of any ability to work was something she never got over.

So we both knew how much it could mean to a disabled person to be able to do something productive every day, to get paid for it, and also just have somewhere to go every day and see other people who are also working. So we made it part of PLANT’s mission to keep a place for disabled workers in our production process, no matter how big we got.

The first place we had mass-produce those was a similar workshop at AHRC, in Manhattan, but we outgrew their capabilities after a few years. We then moved production to another workshop for disabled adults up in Poughkeepsie for a couple years, but we were keeping an eye out the whole time for another workshop within NYC.

We eventually heard about BKLYN UNLTD through Gaia DeLoreto, owner of the now-closed but super-awesome shop By Brooklyn, and immediately made the move over to them. We were really happy to find them, because it’s important to us to keep work and sourcing as local as we feasibly can.

So we had BKLYN UNLTD’s facilities certified for handling and packaging USDA organic products for us, and we’ve been working with them ever since.

Side note: their umbrella organization, Brooklyn Community Services, recently sold the Boerum Hill building they’ve been in since 1870 (!) to a developer who is building luxury condos on top of it. This has severely limited their workshop space, so they’re desperately looking for somewhere to move. So if any readers know of any large, clean, affordable industrial loft spaces, close to major subway lines in Brooklyn, that are available, we’d love to be able to pass that info on to BKLYN UNLTD.

PLANT’s product lineup is growing – what are you working on next?

We’ve been talking for years about bringing out some hair products… In the meantime, we’re just focusing on new products in general. We have some new face oils and some new bar soaps coming out within the next month, and we’re really looking forward to both of those launches.

What are your favorite neighborhood spots?

A few we love [in Williamsburg] are Juniper, Café Colette, and Sweetwater — and our friends’ incredible Mexican spot, Cariño, is always a hit!

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Hop on over to PLANT! Have you tried their products yet? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments.

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