Review of PLANT bodywashes and Q & A with Holly McWhorter, one of the brand’s founders

What’s the best way to start a day? Are you more of a cup of water with lemon or a let me smell the coffee first type of person? Do you jump off the bed or do you prefer to linger for as long as you could? Whatever your personal preference, we all need to look forward to something in order to get off the bed and start the day on a good note. This year wintery cold still seems to linger in the air, so a quick and warm shower with one of PLANT bodywashes has been a surprising discovery for me, both in terms of smell, as well as the feel of the product on my skin.

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As the name suggests the brand arrived on the UK shores (via A Beautiful World website) from the US. PLANT was founded by a husband Bjarke Ballisager (native of Copenhagen) and wife Holly McWhorter (a Philadelphia native but a die-hard New Yorker since the move to the city in 1993) team.

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When I received the body washes in early March my first impression, before even reading a press release, was a true Scandinavian feel of the design of the bottles, which became even stronger when I tried the products. It is hard to describe but when you travel and use products from around the world one look conjures the things that we associate with certain country aesthetic. There is a sense of coolness, playfulness and humour when you see PLANT bottles and when you use the products you don’t get an overwhelming aromatic hit on your senses but the subtleties of it make for a more lasting impression. As a big fan of aromatherapy and natural formulas I expected the smell to be more fragrant but then you apply the product on your skin and it feels like honey and expectations start melting away as the water pummels your skin. PLANT products lather differently to traditional shower gels – don’t expect the usual soapy bubbles – and when you come out of the shower and towel dry the skin almost immediately you notice the softness of your skin.

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I started using BE WELL ( blend of Eucalyptus, Bergamot & Lemongrass essential oils ) and CALM DOWN ( Ginger & Lavender ) a few weeks ago and within a couple of uses realised that my dry winter skin ( most of us don’t drink enough fluids in the colder months of the year and wear wool or cashmere, which keeps us warm but can make skin more itchy ) was softer to the touch after showering with PLANT and that I could actually forego using the body moisturiser and my skin didn’t object.

There are five body washes to choose from: in addition to the two I already mentioned, there are WAKE UP ( Rosemary & Lemongrass ), GET HAPPY ( Geranium & Peppermint ) and GET IT ON ( Sandalwood, Ginger & Cedarwood ). Each is made with only nine ingredients ( yes, not ninety but a single digit number of skin-friendly ones ) including organic essential oils chosen for their mood-boosting effect. The body washes were developed to cleanse, condition and moisturise your skin even when you use them to have a bath.

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But it’s not just about green Scandi design practises, organic formulas and a tongue-in-cheek approach, PLANT is also a socially responsible brand as their products are made at a non-profit workshop by adults with disabilities.

So to tell you more about all things PLANT, welcome to the spotlight Holly McWhorter!

GAP: How did the How did the idea of PLANT come about? And why did you choose this name for your beauty brand?

Holly McWhorter: I had been making bath and skincare products for myself for many years, because I have really sensitive skin—and I figured the best way to avoid the preservatives and fragrances that were irritating it was to learn how to make products that didn’t contain them. But before I started actually making them, and along the way since, I did a lot of research into the uses and benefits of different botanical ingredients, and the best ways to combine them for various effects—including aromatherapy.

I’d also give my products to friends and family and people started nudging me to start a line for sale. At a certain point, since Bjarke ( Holly’s husband and the other half of PLANT team ) and I already had the attention of an audience that was interested in natural health and earth friendliness via our PLANT Gourmet product line, we saw an opportunity to launch an organic apothecary line as well – so we did! We chose the name PLANT because it has multiple meanings for us: the plant ingredients of all our products, which are all 100% botanical; a production plant and the idea of being busy creating product for market, which we take pride in; the act of planting something – a seed, an idea, etc.

GAP: Your packaging is quite different from traditional shower gels. Can you please share the inspiration behind it ?

Holly McWhorter: The idea behind all of our packaging, including the shower gels, is a certain kind of straightforwardness and sense of utility (think: glue bottles, oil cans) that we miss in the packaging of a lot of other beauty and grooming brands. Especially with the bottle for the bodywashes, as the lead designer on that project, I wanted to get to the point of what the product is for: getting clean, obviously, but also waking you up, calming you down, cheering you up or any of the effects of the other scents, by way of the aromatherapeutic effects of the essential oils in each blend. So much of the packaging on other brands is about seduction—trying to make the consumer think they’ll feel glamorous or sexy or rich if they use the product, which of course isn’t true. I wanted to make a product that skips all that. Then we also wanted a touch of humor—the idea of the package sort of yelling at you to wake up struck us as kind of funny. We’re always happy when we hear that a customer appreciates the tongue-in-cheek approach !

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GAP: PLANT shower gels have a different texture and don’t have traditional sweet or flowery smells. You don’t think that scent plays an important part when we choose the product we use in the shower?

Holly McWhorter: We absolutely think that scent plays an important part when we choose the product we use in the shower! That’s the whole idea behind all our fragrances. The essential oils that make up each fragrance are all ones that have been used by professional aromatherapists to have the effects of the name (Wake Up, Calm Down, etc.) for ages. There’s a science to it – essential oils have been proven in clinical studies to have certain effects on the mind and emotions and we wanted to make use of that as a way of highlighting the natural power and usefulness of plants.

I also wanted to choose blends that are not just effective aromatherapeutically, but somewhat unusual too—to bring something new and interesting onto the market. We go through a huge amount of ‘test sniffing’ before choosing a new fragrance blend—we’re both extremely picky about scent and the mood it creates.

GAP: Are PLANT products geared more towards women or men? Can they be used on kids and teenagers?

HOLLY McWhorter: Our products are for the most part meant to be unisex. We might eventually bring out a few individual products that are obviously meant for one gender or the other, such as a beard oil, but most of our stuff is for everyone – and it’s all gentle enough for kids and teens.

GAP:How did you come to work with a non-profit workshop by adults with disabilities and why being socially responsible plays an important part in your business ?

Holly McWhorter: I first began working with a non-profit workshop for disabled adults when I had a company of my own some years ago, and I found it in the most mundane way: I was looking in a business-to-business phone book ( back when people still used those) for a place that could do small assembly work, and one of these workshops had the biggest ad alongside their listing. I had never even known that such places existed, but I was happy to work with them. I’ve known many disabled people personally, and understand how important it is for them to have the opportunity to work – not just for the simple dignity of earning their own money, but to have a place to go every day, be around other people and do something useful for others. So when Bjarke and I launched PLANT, it was only natural to continue having this kind of workshop do whatever aspects of the manufacturing they could handle. So far it’s been great for us and we hear often that the workers get a lot out of it too.

In general, it’s part of our worldview that it’s important to not only respect the environment and people’s health, but to contribute to society in positive ways to whatever extent we can. And since we, like most people, are very busy on a day-to-day basis with work, it’s important to us to implement those values into that work. We wouldn’t be interested in owning a company that was about nothing but earning money. We want to do better than that, and we try to volunteer at the workshop as well, whenever we can.

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GAP: Who developed your formulas ? Why did you choose simplicity of ingredients as the core of your products? Which ingredients did you choose and why?

Holly McWhorter: I develop the initial versions of all our formulas, using the background I’ve gained over many years of research into natural ingredients and their different properties and uses – and how they interact with each other. Then Bjarke tries them and might suggest changes – as do our product testers. Then when we both agree a product is good, we launch it. And the simplicity of ingredients is in line with our overall affinity for simplicity in most things, including our graphic design for our packaging.

But regarding ingredients in particular, we like the idea of knowing and understanding exactly what’s going onto your skin—and via your skin into your body, for the sake of people being able to make informed decisions about their own health. We want people to recognize our ingredients as things they’re already familiar with, or at the very least can easily look up and understand to be safe and non-toxic. So many of the ingredients that are found in the most common brands haven’t even been tested for safety with long-term, everyday use, and many of them are known to be toxic even in small amounts…. We avoid those completely and use only ingredients that are known to be harmless. We also stick whenever possible with ingredients that are organic.

GAP: PLANT bodywashes can be used as bubble baths as well. Are there any other ways to use your products?

Holly McWhorter: The bodywashes actually work well as clarifying shampoos too—we both use them for that all the time, to remove product buildup ( we both have really curly hair and use different products to tame it, so we need that! ). They don’t provide any conditioning, but with a nice deep conditioner afterward, they’re great. We’re working on developing one, as it happens.

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GAP: You are husband and wife, as well as brand co-founders – how do you divide the responsibilities at work ?

Holly McWhorter: At this point, we divide most tasks equally, though I take the lead on product formulations. And one or the other of us usually also takes the lead on a given product’s package design, but always with substantial input from the other. The contents of our days are extremely varied – everything from emailing to package design to shipping to repairing equipment for the workshop. We both have backgrounds in architecture, which is all about problem-solving, so that’s essentially at the heart of everything we do. As we grow and add staff, we think the division of labor will probably change—we’ll see.

GAP: Which of the bodywashes are your personal favorites and why?

Holly McWhorter: Since we both shower mostly in the morning, WAKE UP, GET HAPPY and BE WELL are big faves for us—since those three have very bracing, head-clearing scents. But we really use all of them often, depending on the time of day and how we want to feel !

To find out more go to PLANTbrooklyn website here

PLANT products are available to purchase in the UK from A Beautiful World website

PLANT Bodywashes are 100% natural and certified organic. Free of paragons, SLS/SLES, petroleum & silicones

 

Categories: Beauty & well-being, Interviews

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