Indigenous interest: Brand owner sees global potential for Aboriginal Australian cosmetics but hurdles remain
Natural Cover was founded in 2015 by Sharon Maley, a descendent of the Wadjigan people, or Bulgul, from the Northern Territory.
Maley, a qualified beauty therapist, used traditional knowledge passed down from her mother and grandmother to develop a range of skin care products that feature indigenous ingredients such as Frangipani and Aloe Vera in its formulations.
In the last five years, Natural Cover has largely been a local business operating within Darwin.
“Darwin is a very small town with only a population of 200,000 people. I knew that to grow the business we would need to expand Australia-wide,” said Maley.
Six months ago, the company partnered with BuyNatural, an online e-commerce platform and brand incubation business with a network in Australia, China, Vietnam and the Middle East.
Since joining the platform, the company has seen sales grow by 50%, validating Maley’s conviction that Australian consumers are resonating more and more with natural indigenous remedies.
“Today we’re seeing how all of Aboriginal culture is becoming more popular. It’s not just in cosmetics, you see it in everything from cultural experiences, art and even food. In supermarkets nowadays you can find products like indigenous jams and spreads,” said Maley.
She believes this in line with the increasing trend of interest in Māori, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“I think people are interested in these traditional remedies and recipes today because they trust that they have been tried and tested over so many years.”
Founder and managing director of BuyNatural Dr Mathew McDougall attributed the attention to the rising tide of nationalism in Australia.
“There’s a couple of dynamics happening in Australia. The first is that Australian shoppers are becoming more interested in the backstory of their products. They are also a lot more nationalistic – meaning they want to buy and support Australian brands more and more.”
As such, McDougall believes the brand holds a lot of potential.
“Not only is it a good product, but it also is developed and formulated right here in Australia. Additionally, products with an indigenous heritage are really gaining interest. With Natural Cover and Sharon’s backstory, its really going to cut through and I think we are going to sell a lot of it.”
Maley believes Aboriginal Australian cosmetics will resonate well with consumers abroad as well.
“Here in the Northern Territories, you’ll find that most of the sales of Aboriginal products are made by international visitors. I think it would be great if Natural Cover could expand into overseas markets.”
She added that market she views as the one with the most potential was China, given the Chinese consumers’ interest in natural products and Australian-made ingredients.
Furthermore, the two countries share a historical link which Maley hopes to share with the Chinese market.
“A lot of people don’t know that there’s a strong link between the Chinese and the indigenous people. In the past, Chinese used to travel to the Northern Territories and ended up marrying the locals. That’s why there are many Aboriginal people with Chinese ancestry.”
Maley elaborated that these marriages resulted in a blend of cultures. For instance, the processes of harvesting and drying sea cucumbers were shared between the groups.
Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances, Maley’s ‘big wish’ to expand into China will have to be placed on hold.
“It was my original intention to focus on the Chinese market, but it’s been hard because of COVID-19 and the impact on the logistics of it.”
McDougall added: “Getting small parcels into China has been slow because there's less air freight and we struggle because costs are higher and clearances are slower than they were last year.”
Instead, this year the company will be focusing on strengthening its position in its home market before it tackles any overseas expansion plans.
“We will establish the brand and build its credibility here first in Australia to make it easier to export. Then we can look towards China, as well as the other export markets we are in,” said McDougall
In addition to these challenges, brands like Natural Cover also face issues sourcing Aboriginal ingredients.
“One of my goals is to expand my line beyond the eight products. I’ve got a lot of ideas of what I want to do. For example, I hope to launch a lip enhancer that uses natural Aboriginal ingredients. The problem is sourcing the ingredients. You may have a great idea for a product but can’t find the ingredients easily,” said Maley.
However, she is optimistic that this will change soon.
“Now that people have realised a lot of people are sourcing for Aboriginal ingredients, they are looking into it. Most recently, there’s been a Kakadu plum factory just opened near where we are – and that’s just the start. Owner said he intends to introduce more Aboriginal ingredients. If I could get the ingredients I need more easily, it would just be fantastic for us.”