You started Aromababy in 1994 – where did the idea come from?
I worked in a variety of roles from beauty editor for a luxury magazine to product development specialist for a fashion retailer accessory supplier. It was in this second role that I came up with the idea to introduce skincare product as ‘accessories’ to the likes of retailer Sportsgirl. I found myself retrenched only weeks before Christmas in 1993 and received the news we were expecting our first baby around the same time.
I have enjoyed a love of health and natural beauty for as far back as I can recall. As a teenager, I would often mix body scrubs and face masks using fresh ingredients from the garden and kitchen. My passion for a low tox life together with a growing concern about the potential link between infant eczema and synthetic/petrochemical based baby care products .led me to develop my brand Aromababy, the first natural brand of its kind.
Aromababy was the result of much work – researching neonatal dermatology reports and raw material information, talking to midwives and consumers – mothers mostly, of babies with sensitive skin. This leads me to formulate using primarily natural and organic ingredients which were both historically safe for babies and provided some benefit to the skin. I combined these ingredients together with bases which were free from petrochemicals (mineral oil/paraffin), artificial colour and fragrance, talc, sulfates, alcohol, propylene glycol, parabens, animal ingredients (dairy, goats milk) and other ingredients thought to be linked to skin irritation or health concerns.
The result was a professional range of products for mothers and babies which utilized concentrated formulations. This method of formulating was crucial, to ensure value for money, as ‘natural’ products were little known and considered more of a luxury two decades ago. I went on to launch Aromababy in pharmacies and maternity hospitals across Australia.
How did you end up expanding your business into China?
Within the first several years of launching Aromababy, we were receiving mail orders from parents around the world. One of these orders was from a mother in Hong Kong. I offered to take the order to her as I was in Hong Kong that same week. We met and over a long lunch and based on her marketing background and local connections, we decided she would be our first distributor in the region. Fast forward ten years and we were exporting to South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and of course Hong Kong. There seemed to be a natural love of Aromababy across Asia, in particular, due to the success with sensitive skin, eczema and concerns over environmental pollution, resulting in parents desiring natural options for baby care.
China actually came to us ten years ago – we were approached by a company in biotech which had connections in the medical profession. It (China) seemed like a ‘natural next step’ and the company was a good fit at the time.
You’ve had an incredible career as a business entrepreneur – what’s been your highlight so far?
There are so many highlights it’s difficult to choose just one. Signing my first, multi-million dollar contract with a Korean distributor is up there. Having a meeting over breakfast with the founder of one of China’s largest e-commerce platforms is also up there. In 2017 I won the HKABA Exporter of the Year award for my efforts in bilateral trade (China/Hong Kong and Australia) which was a proud moment. This year I traveled as part of the first, all-female Australian trade delegation to China as part of a Victorian Government initiative. As one of the more seasoned exporters in the small group, I was offered a place to present as part of a panel at a prestigious business school in Beijing. I was really proud to share my story and field questions from the Chinese audience. Over the past 12 months, I developed a new brand for an external party and recently handled the soft-launch at Shanghai beauty trade show CIBE. Whilst I do consult on other projects this one was a personal highlight. The company Directors traveled with me to China and our brand was very well received. It gave me a real buzz to take the brand to market.
What’s been the most important element in building your brand in China?
My sector is a little different from mainstream consumer goods. As within Australia, I have spent time in China providing information and education to buyers, health professionals, and consumers. In my experience, establishing an emotional connection and building trust over time is vital in sustaining growth in the baby care category. Being on the ground often and even learning a little of the language helps to strengthen connections and show the market you are serious.
What one piece of advice would you give to businesses wanting to expand into China?
Secure all your intellectual property prior to attempting to export.
What can attendees expect from your session at the Access China Summit on 20th June?
I look forward to sharing more insights on my personal experience traveling to and working in China over the past decade. This includes around IP, culture, and readiness, considerations for growth, challenges, and successes! See you there.
Catherine Cervasio is known as a pioneer in the natural skincare industry, having developed Aromababy – the first natural and organic brand for mother and baby, in 1994, creating a new category in retail. With more than two decades of brand heritage and efficacy with sensitive skin, Aromababy is now sought after by mothers and health professionals searching for a premium, trusted products. Catherine holds a Diploma in Aromatherapy and is a trained Infant Massage Instructor. Catherine has experience in the areas of natural personal care (product development, consultancy, and education), baby products, international trade, marketing, and branding, spanning over two decades. She is a published freelance writer across a range of sectors from business to beauty, travel, and style including in the Chemist Warehouse glossy magazine “House of Wellness”, The CEO Magazine and Provincial Living. She is a regular contributor to The Science of Beauty magazine and Pharmacy Daily.