We enlist garment care expert from Ms BROWN founder and former Vogue journalist Alexandra Brown, who created a simple, considered and natural approach to products for the home and body using the plant-based ingredients entrenched in her upbringing.
You grew up on a merino sheep farm on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Tell us about the daily rituals and practices in your environment that ultimately led to the creation of Ms BROWN?Growing up on a merino sheep farm that’s been passed down through generations, makes life inherently focused on sustainability. From a young age, I learned about the long-lasting benefits of wearing natural fibers and the importance of taking care of the natural environment. My mother used natural ingredients (primarily eucalyptus from a small, family-owned distillery not far from our own farm) to clean our home and laundry and she preferred natural skincare as well and taught me about this. During my career in magazines I was drawn to the beautiful designs of luxury, not-so-natural products but continued using natural alternatives because I knew they were better for me, my clothes and the environment. I decided it was time to create a product that was both beautiful to look at and environmentally conscious.
Ms BROWN embraces beautifully scented and natural performing ingredients such as Eucalyptus, Lavender and Aloe Vera. What is your favourite ingredient and why?Every single ingredient is selected for it’s amazing unique properties — whether it’s the ability of Neroli essential oil to ease anxiety and calm the nerves or Aloe Vera to nourish and smooth natural wool fibers — so it’s quite difficult to select a favourite! But if I was pushed I’d have to say one would be Soapwort herb extract – a key ingredient in our garment care products, it’s a herb that creates a natural soap-like substance that was used by the ancient Greeks for generations to wash and preserve precious tapestries. But most of all I just adore the Kangaroo Island Eucalyptus for it’s it natural cleansing properties and ability to deter moths from destroying clothes, plus it smells incredible and every time I use our Wool & Cashmere Wash, it reminds me of home.
What is the best way to wash delicates or woollens in five steps?Depending on the garment, many delicate or woollen items can be washed in the machine, on a gentle cycle with lukewarm (not hot) water using our natural garment care washes. Use a garment bag and never put either in the dryer. For anything that’s heavily beaded or you’re worried about it being spun out of shape, it’s best to hand wash using the below steps.
- Half-fill a bucket or the bathroom sink with tepid water. Add approximately one capful of Ms BROWN (more if item particularly dirty) Wool & Cashmere Wash or Delicate Wash (for silks, lingerie etc.) to the water and swish around to disperse detergent (our wash has excellent moisturising properties, so your hands will love it!)
- Immerse your garment in the water, gently swirling around for a moment, paying extra attention to any soiled patches like cuffs and armpits. Leave to soak for ten minutes or so, longer if it needs it.
- Empty the bucket and fill again with clean water, moving the garment around in the water to rinse off any excess product.
- When removing from water, gently press the item in a ball against the side of the bucket to remove moisture. Never wring the garment as it will stretch it out of shape.
- To dry, lie item flat on a clean towel and gently roll like a sleeping bag. You may need to repeat this process for a very thick or very wet garment. Gently pull your garment into shape, if required and lie flat on a fresh towel on a drying rack until dry. Never hang your woollens, however hanging a silk shirt for example, can help it to fall nicely into shape.
Why should we avoid dry-cleaning and instead focus on natural cleaning products?Most people choose to dry clean their most precious garments for fear of damaging them by washing at home. But it they understood the process of dry cleaning they would likely prefer to do their washing at home. The process of dry-cleaning is in-fact not dry at all. It involves submerging clothes into a blend of toxic cleaning solvents followed by spinning in an industrial machine then ironing and steaming. So, in addition to being less-than-gentle on your clothes physically, those chemicals are not only toxic to your health and our environment but also to the fabric of your clothes. The process leaves a residue on your garments which over time will damage and break down the fibers, causing them to wear our more quickly. When compared to this, a bucket of water or gentle machine cycle with using plant-based detergent doesn’t sound so risky for your garment after all.
As an editor at Vogue Living and Vogue Australia, at what stage did you decide to focus on the business exclusively, and why?Quite early on actually. Many entrepreneurs will encourage you to keep your day job whilst working on your idea but I loved my role and it was all-consuming. I spent around a year working on the formula for the first product – the Wool & Cashmere Wash – but I made the decision to focus on Ms BROWN around six months before launch. I felt that I would be better placed to get the products exactly how I wanted them and launched to market if I put all of my time and energy into it and I’m so glad I did. It was a little scary at first, of course but I’ve never looked back.
What have you learnt through launching your own business?What haven’t I learned?! I have been on a very steep, but really enjoyable learning curve throughout the entire process. Every day I’m learning something new whether that’s about a new ingredient with incredible properties or the best software to use for inventory management – it’s extremely varied!
Do you have a mentor? What is the best piece of professional advice you’ve received?I don’t have a formal mentor – I would love one though! I have instead picked up different advice from different individuals along the way. The advice that really helped me to launch and to continue to develop and grow the products and brand, is to trust my instincts. It’s easy when starting out to second-guess every decision and listen to too much feedback that can send you off course, but I find when I stop, think and listen to my intuition, that produces the best results. That, and the customer is key. Without your customers, you have no business and this is a big focus for me with Ms BROWN – knowing and constantly learning about who the customers is and caring for that customer is so important. That can mean responding to queries quickly (at any time of the day or night, seven days a week) and in contrast with my first point – adapting products and service based on feedback. It’s about finding a balance.
Why is Australian made so important to your brand ethos?I like to be able to go and watch each bottle come off the printer, catch up with my chemist in person and discuss which local suppliers are producing beautiful ingredients. It allows me to be completely across every step of the creation of the products and ensure everything is done ethically and sustainably. I like doing business this way and I think it’s important to our customer as well from a sustainability perspective.
Do you have any expert tips on purchasing and preserving knitwear?
- Always wash your garment before putting it away to prevent moths and bugs which are attracted to dirt and odours - the Eucalyptus and Lavender essential oils in the Ms BROWN Wool & Cashmere Wash will not only clean it but help to naturally deter moths and bugs.
- During summer, when garments are not being worn, store in fabric bags, not plastic.
- Never hang your woolens, as the weight of the garment will stretch it out of shape.
- Instead, always store wool and cashmere folded in a drawer or on a shelf.
- A note on cashmere pilling - those little pesky balls or bobbles on your jumper or scarf are caused by wearing, when other fabrics rub against the fibers, not necessarily the quality of the garment. Good news is pilling can be easily removed with a brush or cashmere comb (not a razor as this can damage the garment). We’re working on our own cashmere comb for this purpose – watch this space…