Interview - Emily Rohr of Rohr Remedy
— Founder of Rohr Remedy Australian Botanicals
Rohr Remedy was founded by marrying Emily’s family background of pharmacy and dermatology and the idea to carry on a legacy of Indigenous bush medicines. Emily tells us about the process involved in harvesting their pure ingredients and how the brand evolved into what it is today.
Hailing from: Born Sydney, Bred Perth, lived in London, Sydney, Broome, and Cairns – full blown Aussie girl.
Calls home: Cairns / Broome
Where are you from and where do you now call home?
We have a gallery in Broome, working with the last people to come out of the desert in the Kimberley. The old people (the amazing artists) always used bush medicine which I found to be incredibly effective. Many of our mates and family had land rights and were looking for something to develop on their blocks, and like grandmothers everywhere, the old people worried about the loss of tradition and the future for their grandchildren. Having such a strong family background in dermatology and pharmacy the idea of a great skin care range showcasing the Australian Bush Medicines was born.
What are your greatest learnings since founding Rohr Remedy and how have these changed your perspective on work, people and life in general?
I have always worked hard, my parents were extremely hard workers (they had 9 children) and I have always just assumed that this is normal. I realise I am completely disconnected to the superficial world of beauty and the celebrity endorsement culture. I guess it is like McDonalds being forced to give children toys to bribe them to eat their bad food, so too, do multinational cosmetic companies have to pay celebrities to lie to you about how great their brands are, and you look what is actually in the products and you know that the percentages of any of the good things are so low, and there is so much green washing, and in the age of virtue signalling it so easy to fool people. I find all this quite sad, I like things of depth and substance, and our products really embody that notion.
No other company embraces ancient wisdom and integrates bush medicine quite like yourselves. Why is the use of native Australian plants and knowledge of the Australian indigenous people central to Rohr Remedy and how do you think this differentiates you from the rest of the market?
For the past 23 years we have worked with Indigenous country men and women in regional Australia. We love the Australian bush and have a strong connection to the living nature of country. Many brands use the Australian natives, but most are city born who have no real working knowledge, they are just buying it from distributors and including it because of its benefits, for us it is the basis of the brand it is integral to what we are about.
Your life in WA and Far North Queensland has exposed you the land and its original owners more so than many of us city folk. Why do you think this is an important story to tell?
Most press live and work in the inner cities mainly Sydney and Melbourne, so they are like an echo chamber, reiterating similar views, they eat together, sleep together, and feed off each other. It is a very limited and narrow view of the world. As a result they all seem to be very sanctimonious and judgemental and condescending to anyone from outside their world view.
In the bush you are forced to confront people with broad views, many you may not agree with, but you still really like the people, so you develop a greater tolerance, and acceptance for diversity, whereas city folk spend so much time in the car or on public transport, they tend to surround themselves with people that are like themselves. Gunter Grass always believed great art comes from the parochial. I live in the rain forest and the screeching birds are obvious and slightly annoying, but love hearing the subtle discreet chirps that usually reveal something interesting. I guess I am interested in the light in cracks, rather than the full neon experience. I think this is the bush experience and the indigenous voice of the bush is very different to the voice of urban displacement, and very worth listening to, as there is an ancient understanding of the true nature of things.
What does community mean to you?
Community is about tolerance, diversity, support, love, sharing, acceptance and compromise, and most importantly about survival. It is also about knowledge, wisdom, dance, song and art. Listening is also really important. Young people know very little and in community, their opinions are weighted accordingly, there is so much respect for the wisdom of old people, I love that about communities.
You mention that many native herbs are perceived as weeds in urban areas and disregarded for their medicinal or functional properties. Do you think there is a need for Australians (with 89% of us living in urban areas) to reconnect with the land and its native bounty?
Use it or lose it, yes I think what you are saying is very important, in fact vital. I think most people know very little about the land they live in. There is an expression the old people use if you are born in country you are of country, and it is very true. I really started doing this to bring attention to our wonderful plant life and rich history of plant use in Australia. If people start planting medicine bushes in pots at home, I will be overjoyed. I think it is vital that we preserve and use the extraordinary gifts of this land, and honour them according.
Unlike other natural skincare manufacturers, Rohr Remedy uses the entire plant – not just the active ingredients. What is the benefit of this approach?
We have a long history of isolating actives and just taking what is deemed the important nutrient in plants, we see this with the vitamin industry as well as the cosmetic industry. I have always believed that we underestimate excipients and derivatives. The classic example is the cassava plant which is a key part of huge number of people’s diet around the world, it is like the rice of the pacific. It was deemed a filler or just a carb that helped ease hunger, recently however they discovered that it is extremely high in vitamin B 16 a known anti-cancer active, and the whole thinking around this simple vegetable has changed.
We are limited to our research and I think, there is so much that we do not know about our plants. We like to keep things whole because mother nature has taken millions of years to develop these plants and we like to honour that hard work. Also it is proving to keep the actives stable and assist with the absorption of the actives, these things are difficult to replicate in a lab.
Do you see virtue in the wild harvest of native plants vs. agricultural cultivation?
Wild harvesting has a higher yield of actives than plantation grown plants, this may change as the farmers step in and do seed breeding programs, but currently that is the case. When you collect bush medicines with the old women, they always look at the surrounding plants, the most potent ones are usually next to particular bushes. For them the whole surrounding eco system is important. Indigenous farming techniques are very interesting, they tend to work with the natural environment rather than obliterating it. I think we can learn so much from our country men and women, and I feel so passionate about developing these industries in regional Australia, that are owned and operated by the TO’s.
What is the power-house ingredient/s that features often in Rohr Remedy products and why do you choose to use it/them?
Every one of our products focus’ on special ingredients they all do different but important things. Of course Kakadu plum is fab and because it is the local bush of Broome I am particularly partial to that and the Boab nut. I think much has been written on the benefits of the Kakadu plum, so maybe I will tell you about the boab. It has an amazing amino acid profile, which is for me the most exciting part of this plant. It is what I call the multi vitamin of oils, so not only does it contain vitamin C, A, E, F, B, it also contains high levels of calcium and magnesium and other minerals, these are all well and good, but it is the amino acids that provide its pharmacological benefits. Basically these are the pre-cursors that play a vital role in doing things like converting vitamin A into retinol, producing collagen, and provide cell regeneration, it even has the amino acid which is essential for sperm production (along with many others). I think it is such a fabulous ingredient and I get such a glow when I use this oil, I even put it in my hair.
What are your thoughts about the beauty industry (especially in Australia) where terms like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are used liberally or insincerely?
I touched on this in an earlier question, but it is really annoying, but unfortunately people are desperately trying to make money and will do whatever it takes. With the advent of the internet and social media, we have entered what I call the age of endarkenment, where feelings are more important than good scientific research, and facts are being undermined by mistruths. It is very easy for brands to become snake oil salesmen. I am not a fan of this, which is why we refuse to pay bureaucrats large amounts of money to authenticate us, because then we will be associating with people we know are not doing the right thing.
I say the proof is in the pudding, does it work? I must say it is difficult for the consumer to find the light in a veil of lies, so I too am often fooled by marketing ploys. We try to minimise our branding and keep it really simple but it is hard to be heard without histrionic shouting and large official labels – I am a sucker for gold stickers on wine bottles, so we all fall for these things and I really do not know what the answer is short of reading about brands and trying the products.
How do you keep yourselves in check this ever-changing operating environment to maintain your brand values and integrity?
This is a really interesting question, we have a lot of Chinese interest in our brand, and unfortunately you have to test on animals there, otherwise you can only sell on cross border channels. This is a classic example, financially it would be the right thing to test on the animals, after all our products will not hurt them, however ethically we had a real issue with it. As a small family brand we have so much pressure to survive in such a competitive market, so it is really hard to make this decision. I think my animal loving daughter would never speak to me again if we went down that path, so in the end we made the ethical decision, and I am really so much more comfortable with that. ( I do love my pets and animals, we have wallabies living in our back yard) The other thing I really want to do is get rid of plastics, I think we all have an obligation to walk lightly on the earth.
Due to logistics you use plastic in the packaging of some Rohr Remedy products. In your pursuit of more sustainable alternatives, what exciting innovations have you come across and challenges have you experienced?
Nice segway, we are planning all refillable packaging for out new range the enhance range which we are in the process of bringing to market. So we are very excited about that, if it works well we will shift the rest of the brand over.
How do your products adapt for your customer’s changing needs and lifestyles, and why was a one-size-fits-all approach inadequate?
We love the fact that no two days are really exactly the same and no two people even identical twins are 100% the same, so we wanted people to take control of their own skin care regime and so developed a tightly curated range, that firmly puts the control into the hands of each individual. By using the whole of the plant our extracts work synergistically with the skin, so each person will draw down on what they require, making it suitable for all skin types. We also have the serum which is oil free for humid or for people with more oily skin, then we have the oil for a richer moisturisation, and then the everyday lilly pilly moisturiser and they are all interchangeable. We know that your skin actually is a living organ (the bodies largest) and as such is mutable and your skin care regime needs to reflect that.
What are your fundamentals (both products and lifestyle) for good skin that could apply to everyone?
This is easy do not get sunburnt and especially in childhood, this is the number one rule. I hate it when people get sun burnt it does so much damage. (my dermatologist father drummed this into me) Drink lots of water. My brother is a doctor and he said the other day that most people visiting emergency are immediately put on fluids and it improves them immediately, most of us are dehydrated. Skin is essentially leather, clean it and oil it, and it will last longer… simple truths.
Do you have any personal practices (learnt or self-developed) that allow you to perform at your optimum each day and achieve equilibrium between work and life? As a though leader and successful business owner in the natural skincare space, we’d love for you to share this wisdom with our readers looking to elevate their everyday…
I have such an active mind, and tend towards melancholy, so I really have to work at not sliding into despair or too much over-thinking so I really personally struggle with this. When my kids were growing up we had some house rules my husband was instrumental in implementing these to assist with my depressive tendencies.
No one was allowed to say anything negative before 9am, if you had nothing nice to say you were not allowed to speak, because none of us wanted to hear it until after we had coffee
Each night at the dinner table (we always tried to eat together) we all had to think of three good things that happened during the day. This was to try and shift our focus to the positive rather than the negative
We competed to say I love you, to each other, every day, so we would all try to get in first
We also tried to make each other laugh once a day
Stemming from your own health and wellness philosophies, what do you believe we should all be doing a little more of everyday?
I know everyone is different so what I do will not necessarily be right for other people. I am a glutard (the bane of my being because I love pasta and bread) so I drink kefir every day for my gut. I have also started drinking psyllium each day. I also love to take gubinge (Kakadu plum) powder if I am feeling depleted, but only when I am run down. I am a great believer in food as preventative medicine, so try to eat a balanced diet.
For my skin I try to respond to its daily needs so maybe twice a week (in the tropical summer) I put on the boab oil at night (more when I am in cities or down south where it is drier) and the gumbi (I sometimes put this under my eyes) Then I use the kakadu plum each morning and the lilly pilly each night. I love my products they really have everything I need. We are working on some masks and scrubs so loving trialling them at the moment. I go to lots of trade shows, so I sometimes try other things, but inevitably come back to the three staples.
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✎ Sophie Van der Drift
Contributing writer, marketing & strategy