Introducing: Bessie and Richard of Austin Austin

We’re firm believers in both style and substance. Just because a product is beautifully designed and well-presented, doesn’t mean it should perform any less effectively than its counterparts. This has long been integral to our ethos at Glasshouse and we are routinely delighted when we see other natural and organic brands follow a similar suit. Enter Austin Austin: our newest brand launch at Glasshouse and one very much worth getting excited about.

Austin Austin are a Norfolk-based, Soil Association certified-organic brand for hair, hands and body. The brainchild of a father-daughter duo - Bessie and Richard Austin - the brand combines Richard’s experience and know-how in the organic industry (he launched one of the UK’s first wholefood shops in the 1970s) and Bessie’s background in art and design. Together they have created a range of six products that bridge the gap between aesthetic desirability, natural ingredients and high performance. We’re thrilled to have the full range both in the salon and online.

From a bergamot and juniper fragranced sulphate-free shampoo to a rich shea body cream heady with neroli, the six products are delicately scented (by award-winning perfumers) and packaged in the original artwork of London and Madrid based artist Christian Newby. In fact, every collection will feature a different artist showcasing their work on the bottle and box of Austin Austin’s sustainable packaging. Although we do have a particular soft spot for these characterful line drawings.

We sat down with Richard and Bessie to find out more about the brand and their interesting lives. Accompanied by a shoot photographed by Agata Wolanska and an original set by Amelia Martyn, we introduce you to the products, the people and all things Austin Austin.

What is the Austin Austin brand ethos?

Bessie: I’ve scribbled this on the back of too many envelopes. The fundamentals never change but the words sometimes do. I summarise it like this: Every bottle is of exquisite quality, a canvas for artwork on the bathroom shelf and priced in a way that our products don’t become too precious to be properly enjoyed every day.

Bessie, tell us about your upbringing and how it fed into your own lifestyle as you grew up.

B: I was brought up in the Norfolk countryside in the middle of nowhere. It was a creative house - my mum used to draw, paint and sing and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of grammar, simple mathematics and Radio 4. She is a classical homeopath and was a classic hippie - no shoes, beautiful long hair and an expressive dancer.

My dad trained as a lawyer and was exceptionally good at debating over dinner, which he liked to do. He always had about 5 books on the go - a contemporary fiction, a detective, the latest musical biography and some quantum physics he’d been puzzling through for at least a year already. Dad opened one of the first wholefood shops back in 1976 and he went on to found Kingfisher Natural Toothpaste in the year I was born. So the wholefood movement and everything that came with it has always been a constant for me.

Together, my parents are unbeatable at crosswords and incredibly principled. It was a left wing house full of organic food, natural products, The Guardian and the teachings of the Dali Lama. This was the world I knew and the principles I learnt to live by.

How would you say people’s perception of organic and natural produce has changed, since launching Rainbow Wholefoods 40+ years ago to now?

​Richard: ​The ideas and fervour of people working with wholefoods in the early seventies was invigorating and inspiring. It was only a little later that these ideas were developed more fully and NGOs like The London Food Commission, Greenpeace and The Soil Association began to grow into established organisations liaising with governments and accelerating real change. My work life has always been about these values and trying to push them forward. When it comes to the core principles, not too much has changed. Back in the mid-70s the wholefood movement was pioneering new ways of eating - well, actually quite old ways of eating - by consuming less processed food, less fatty foods and less chemicals. Looking closely at ingredients was a new thing. What has become widely accepted now was a wacky left field activity then. The growth of the Organic movement has been deeply satisfying to all of who have worked for this through these years but we are mindful that there is still quite a way to go.

What initially drove your families interest in organic food and beauty and did you always share the same mindset?

B: The wholefood movement was certainly a lifestyle choice for my parents. I didn’t ever disagree with the principles behind the food and beauty products that I was given but I did move away from natural beauty when I left home. The products just didn’t perform as well as I’d like or have enough of a contemporary feel. To a large extent, Austin Austin represents my desire for something beautifully fragranced, effective and creatively interesting, underpinned by the principles that I grew up with. I believe organic and environmentally conscious is the only way forwards but this doesn’t prohibit it from being modern and beautiful.

Why is sustainability an important factor in both of your daily lifestyles?

R: As far as we know there is just this one planet for us to live on. Notwithstanding the views of US President Trump, it is well accepted by academics in the West that the world is in a sorry state and we need to pay attention to its needs instead of ignoring them.

B: Sustainability is in many ways inextricable from the daily decisions we all take. It’s in the habits and patterns of normal life. It’s a daily attention. If I forget my bag at the shops, I stuff my pockets with ingredients to avoid the plastic. I think the word itself calls for a long term, sustainable, approach to living.

What was the creative inspiration behind the illustrative design used on your packaging?

​B: ​I fervently believe that the objects we surround ourselves with should be beautiful. We wanted the aesthetics of Austin Austin to have as much integrity as the organic ingredients that we use. So instead of branded design work, we showcase pieces of fine art by working artists to offer people more than just an effective product, but also a beautiful object for their bathroom. For each collection, we are collaborating with a different artist. For this first collection, we have worked with London and Madrid based artist Christian Newby. His artworks span ceramic, tapestry, screen printing, collage and he is interested in both the form of the body and domestic interiors.

How is the brand looking to expand in the near future?

​B: ​Being only a few months old - at the moment we are looking to steadily root out interesting shopkeepers and interesting customers - we are always open to ideas, collaborations and expansive roads we haven’t yet thought of. As the months go on, we’ll start thinking about our second collection, a second artist and what shape that might take.

What do you do to unwind?

Together we like to walk through cities, sit by the fireside and spend a lot of time in discussion.

R: Running, listening to the first wave of psychedelic music (that Annie, Bessie’s mum, can’t stand), an enduring and often mournful love affair with Aston Villa and lots of reading. Iris Murdoch is my favourite.

B: A very deep, painfully hot bath with salts, oils, candles. I love the mountains and properly unwind when I’m climbing up a hill with skis and skins on. I rely on yoga during busy times and always walk or cycle everywhere. I hardly draw any more but I wish I still did. The same goes for reading which I used to do avidly but now can’t seem to make it past the first hundred pages. I still spend a lot of time going to the theatre (I live close to both the Almedia and Barbican) and I still go to lectures ​to switch ​off - London always has such interesting people speaking. I find it incredibly relaxing to become completely absorbed.

Photography: Agata Wolanska for Glasshouse Journal Set design: Amelia Martyn

Share this:

More From The Journal

  1. Masterclass: Air-drying Curls

    Winter has definitely arrived and with it brings a shift in the way we care for our hair. On balmier days we welcome air drying our curly hair, but in the depths of winter this is less appealing. With the help of Glasshouse Salon stylist Tori’s expert advise, we’ve got some tips for achieving a frizz-free curly style throughout the colder months.

    More +
  2. Astrology with Daliah Roth: Scorpio

    As our mornings and evenings get darker and the clocks turn back this weekend, we are entering the beginning of Scorpio season and have once again enlisted the help of Daliah Roth, The Highgate Astrologer, to tell us all about this illusive and intriguing sign.

    More +
  3. Gender Neutral Prices

    As we launch a new gender neutral price list that makes hair cuts and colour the same for both men and women, we’re take a look at some of the other industries affected by the so called ‘pink tax’ and why many women end up paying more than men for the same products.

    More +
  4. Astrology with Daliah Roth: Libra

    ​Autumn is officially here and with it comes the beginning of Libra season. Balanced, social and often romantic, Daliah Roth of The Highgate Astrologer helps us delve deeper into the qualities of this sign.

    More +
  5. Hair Trend: Slicked Back

    From Molly Goddard to Roland Mouret, we spotted the slicked back look all over the SS20 catwalks. Though the style may seem more high fashion than everyday, hair that’s swept of the face is surprisingly flattering and easy to achieve. With help from our Senior Stylist Mel, we’ve put together some tips on the bold yet sophisticated trend.

    More +
  6. Plastic-Free Periods

    ​As more and more alternative period products become available, we chat to four real women to hear their experiences transitioning from conventional feminine care to more sustainable and healthy options.

    More +
  7. The Glasshouse Guide to Beauty Recycling

    The rules around recycling can be difficult to decipher most of the time, but recycling our beauty products seems to be an even more confusing area. In celebration of Zero Waste Week, we’ve put together the definitive guide to reusing, recycling, and refilling our bathroom waste.

    More +
  8. Astrology with Daliah Roth: Virgo

    As the summer starts winding down, we’re entering into Virgo season. Practical and humble, we find out more about Virgo’s traits as we continue our Astrology series with Daliah Roth, The Highgate Astrologer.

    More +
  9. Work with us at Glasshouse Salon

    Fancy being a part of our close-knit Glasshouse team? We are looking for a talented Hair Stylist to come onboard.

    More +
  10. Beauty Trend: Orange

    Bold and zesty, orange makeup is having a moment this summer. Whether you’re up for experimenting or are a little more reserved, we’ve got some tips on how to wear the shade in a way that suits you with the help of our in-house makeup artist Emily.

    More +
  11. Amber Rowan by Thea Lovstad

    Despite diversity being more visible than ever, we still wrap a lot of our identity up in our hair. Model and actress Amber Rowan has suffered from alopecia from the age of 15, sharing her journey and the stories of others on her platform, Hair Free Life. We spent a morning with Amber and photographer Thea Lovstad, leaving feeling inspired by what she has to say and her unique beauty.

    More +
  12. Reads: Moon Lists by Leigh Patterson

    ​With a focus on reflection and perspective, Moon Lists is a new workbook from Leigh Patterson designed to guide readers through a series of prompts, lists and questions for a life experienced more deeply. We sat down with Leigh to gain some more insight about the concept and how it relates to self-care.

    More +
  13. Astrology with Daliah Roth: Leo

    As we enter Leo season, friend of Glasshouse Daliah Roth, aka The Highgate Astrologer, joins us once again to share an in depth analysis of the fiery sun sign and the Leo qualities you might see in yourself or others.

    More +
  14. Summer Beauty SOS

    From oily skin to frizzy hair, the warm summer weather can throw a few different beauty issues our way. We’ve put together a handy guide to dealing with some of the biggest bug-bears of the season so that you can enjoy your summer stress-free.

    More +
  15. Circular Beauty: Part One

    Circular beauty is the beauty trend we hope never goes out of fashion. In part one of this series, we look at how food waste is finding a new home in our skin and hair care.

    More +
  16. Think Piece: Beauty Fasting

    The beauty industry is bigger than ever. But what does that mean for the environment? And what are our overcomplicated regimes doing for our skin? We delve into the world of ‘Beauty Fasting’ to see if there’s any worth in cutting things down and giving our skin, the planet and our wallet a break.

    More +
Load more posts