Local e-retailer founder on how to be faithful to nature amid global health, climate crises

Robyn Smith is faithful to nature and nature's best friends. Portrait by Ruby Jean
Robyn Smith is faithful to nature and nature's best friends. Portrait by Ruby Jean
  • Faithful-to-Nature is a green online retailer offering an array of ethically produced ranges, including beauty, health, and home items.
  • They take pride in having one of the strictest ingredients policies in the world, as all their products are truly organic, ethical and sustainable. There simply is no green washing. 
  • The e-retailer was founded by Cape Town-based Robyn Smith. She talks to W24 about the value of ethical consumerism and being a woman in business. 

Faithful-to-Nature was launched in 2007.

Robyn Smith had recently returned from living in London for a few years, and on her return to South Africa noticed there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around what made one product better than another, especially when it came to products that fall under the  ethical, organic and natural umbrella.

She then realised there was a gap to provide an online shopping platform for South Africans looking to make ethical purchases.

"I was really impassioned by the prospect of making it easier for South Africans to do better for themselves, their families, and the planet," Smith says. 

 

faithful to nature
Image supplied by Conversation Capital 

Thirteen years later, and many South Africans have since established a favourite go-to brand/product which they stumbled upon on Faithful-to-Nature - from Esse probiotic skincare to Skin Creamery to locally produced cloth masks.

For some, they have actively made the choice to buy green and local, while others have become conscious consumers by chance. Either way, your e-shopping habits are contributing to the greater good, cart by cart. 

Smith backs this statement, saying at the onset of her business venture, her "greatest measure of success was not profit, but the lifetime value of customers".

Faithful-to-Nature declares it has done all the product research for the consumer - which helps them take a small step to protecting the planet. This means by the time you shop, the fulfilling burden of research has already been done for you. Of course, you are always welcome to do your own further reading. 

READ MORE | As we conclude Africa Month, we add 33 South African brands to our list of must-haves 

As I have mentioned before in previous articles about values-based consumerism, one of the benefits of shopping locally produced fashion/beauty/wellness products is that they are often made through more ethical and organic processes than what we consume from the mass market of fast fashion.

This is why online retailers such as the one founded by Smith are necessary, especially at a time when consumer perceptions are shifting in the face of compounded global crises such as health, climate, and race matters.  

Speaking on this subject, Smith says "the climate change crisis gets closer and closer to home every day and the market is fortunately being saturated with green innovation - that is ways to support more ethical consumerism and all of this will drive an increased priority and expected social responsibility". 

As an ethical consumer (mostly) myself, I am a big advocate of interrogating capitalism; whether it be in the form of asking "who made my clothes" or a quick internet search to find out how a company responds to social injustice, for example. And more recently, how business responded to both Covid-19 and #BlackLivesMatter, has been an area of concern for values-based consumers. 

Faithful to crisis relief

Faithful-to-Nature's response to the pandemic is therefore worth a mention here, as Smith explains how at the start of the pandemic it launched its FoodFordward initiative, whereby for every order placed on the website, it donated a meal to the FoodForward NPO. The campaign ran for the first month.

From there on, it has launched another initiative which addresses a few different variables - the WAYSTD initiative which focuses on both the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the pandemic of plastic waste.

"We are selling masks on our site made of 95% recycled PET plastic bottles, as well as donating one mask for every mask sold to Afrika Tikkun [a development centre of underprivileged youth in South Africa], as well as donating the full mark-up on the sales of the masks to Sustainable Seas Trust [SST], an NPO focusing on ocean health through research, education and conservation," says Smith.

Faithful to transparency

For her, an interrogation of ethics also happens in the vetting process of its green suppliers before they hit the site's cyber shelves. 

"First things first is that we need full disclosure on all materials and ingredients used to create the product. Once this has been supplied, we then thoroughly check for any contentious ingredients both from a health and an environmental point of view.

"Our stance is that we want to stock the most ethical options available at that time on the market, so it will also depend how advanced the product category is in terms of its sustainability as to how strict we will be in vetting a product and allowing it to be listed on our website."  

Smith did, however, face challenges with suppliers at first.

"When we first started the business, many products - good quality and reputable brands I must add - did not even have an accessible ingredient list and so this was often the first battle - getting suppliers to share full and complete INCI ingredient lists." 

Faithful to nature

It would also appear that Faithful-to-Nature is all about a holistic approach to keeping clean and green. 

"Our business is targeted at everyone who wants to live in greater harmony with the environment and also to enjoy greater health and wellbeing in their own lives.

"It doesn’t matter if shopping at Faithful-to-Nature is the first step you are taking with the desire to improve the quality of your life, or if you have been fighting the green fight all your life - our aim is to add value to everyone looking to live a little lighter," the Cape Town businesswoman says.

Of course, going green is not a lifestyle change one can easily make overnight, especially when there are financial implications involved sometimes.

Several South Africans have often bemoaned how unaffordable veganism, healthy food, or local ethically produced fashion garments are - just a few of the things that signify sustainable living.

Given this widely known fact then, it is reassuring to hear a green business founder say it is OK for this to be a gradual process, approached aisle by aisle over a period of time.

 

READ MORE | How the founder of a local natural beauty brand created the solution to South African women's hair and skin needs 

Further expanding on how we can all try to become conscious consumers - in affordable ways - Smith shares the following advice.

"When we care about something, we naturally become more focused on the detail of the thing we care about, and so truly the first step is making that commitment to care about being a conscious consumer, because in truth the market is overflowing with so many amazing 'swaps' that can be made to more ethical products.

"Choose to buy products that are packaged more sustainably. That is products that are not packaged in mountains of unnecessary plastic - and then choose to support retail outlets and suppliers who care enough to source products that are not heavily packaged in plastic.

"Recycle at every opportunity, support proudly South African brands at every opportunity as not only is there a massive social benefit to this, but an environmental one too, and look at how you can shop a little smarter, as we saw so much on packaging when we buy in bulk."

Smith says we can "gift wisely by spoiling our loved ones with living [plants, for example] or handmade gifts. There are more and more amazing markets springing up everywhere, as well as awesome pre-loved and second-hand stores to support. When it comes to being a conscious consumer - every single purchase counts". 

Faithful to ethical beauty 

Given the beauty industry has been so harmful to the environment for decades, I asked what advice Smith has for skincare enthusiasts looking to minimise their toxic beauty footprint and exercise ethical cosmetic habits. Her response was as follows:"One of the aspects of ethical shopping that we are passionate about at Faithful-to-Nature is choice. We want it to be luxurious and enjoyable to shop sustainably and so the good news is that while it may be necessary for some consumers to consider changing brands to exercise cleaner beauty habits, there is not necessarily a change needed to one's beauty regime.

"Of course, the fewer products one consumes, the better it is for the environment, but the most important first step is to support toxic-free products that are responsibly packaged." 

READ MORE | The minimalist and ethical beauty kit: here's everything you need to know according to the makeup artist who's worked with Beyoncé, Naomi Campbell and Kim K

Faithful to women 

Faithful-to-Nature has started to develop a strategy for supporting business owned by not only woman but also by African entrepreneurs. In light of this, Smith has some advice for up-and-coming women entrepreneurs, saying: "A strong foundation can better withstand any storm, so do your homework well and keep reviewing your business plan - this may sound very 101, but it makes all the difference if you are very clear on your strategic strengths.

"Cash flow is king and I have seen so many amazing businesses fail because there has not been a good understanding of how to manage cash.

"And lastly, go and find the sexiest 'big girl panties' you can because the only difference between one woman that makes it and one woman that doesn't, is that one woman didn’t give up. This requires self-belief, self-care and self-awareness." 

Faithful to sustainability 

Of course, this goes without saying. But what exactly does making a positive contribution to sustainability mean for Robyn Smith? 

"This is all about taking responsibility for all the aspects of your life. Do you care enough to clean up your own personal act? Do you care enough to choose more sustainable items in your home, and then even more importantly, do you care enough to use your skill set to help lead and pioneer sustainability in the workplace?"

Our response

Watching an episode of the second season of The Politician, I was intrigued by Infinity's (Zoey Deutch) detailed run-down of the incredibly watertight (in every sense) waste-free lifestyle she had adopted. While I won't be using my bath water to later cook my meals, I can say that for a lot of us, something as small as observing Plastic Free July is a start to waste-free living.

 

These are Robyn's Plastic Free July shopping recommendations to reduce single-use plastic use:  

Back 2 Nature Witch Hazel Toner, R125 

I love plastic-free beauty and this toner is a real must-have.

 FtN

Faithful to Nature Stainless Steel Straight Straw & Brush Set, R49   

The coolest way to enjoy a smoothie these days is with your own straw! I agree - before lockdown, I kept two stainless straws in my drawer for midday thirst quenchers. 

sustainabilty

Stojo Collapsible Cup - Blue, R225 

This collapsible cup makes it a perfect addition to even the smallest handbag! 

sustainability

Faithful To Nature Biodegradable Dental Floss, R120

We have also just launched our own biodegradable and wasteless dental floss, which we just love.  

faithful to Nature

Additional information and images provided by Conversation Capital 

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