As a temporary expat without a wingman I don’t get out much. I rather enjoy my own company and that of my books and the transient acquaintances that bookshops provide when you hang around long enough. I recently ended a one-month stint in a glorified tiki bar whose events, to my horror, often involved squeezing female staff into grass skirts and sequin boob tubes. For reasons not completely beyond my understanding I didn’t much connect with many of my colleagues, or much of the clientele and only took a few numbers when I left to take up a job in (surprise, surprise) a bookshop. I wouldn’t say I’m a recluse, but I’ll accept I’m no social butterfly these days, I’m actually rather shy. So just as this blog has encouraged my explorations of Sydney’s book scene, I thought that I could use it as a springboard to meeting some interesting people along the way. So welcome to my MEET pages, through which I can hopefully introduce to you, dear reader, Sydneysiders that I find fascinating, inspirational or otherwise worthy of mention…
For today, I’d like you to meet Katy.
Fellow Scot and Sydney Entrepreneur, Katy Burgess is goofy, ambitious and full of weird and wonderful tales and ideas that make every interaction a mental and emotional marathon – leaves you both winded and elated.
What does Katy do? Well, what doesn’t Katy do?
She runs two businesses, and a fair few half-marathons, and fits meditation, yoga, long walks, potion mixing and a mild movie addiction around it all.
With a marketing background that goes back 18 years (she winces at the realisation) she started her career in London but uninspired by the old-boy culture and creative restrictions, she took off. She arrived in Australia in 2000 on a holiday visa, spent a year doing the predictable bus tours and trekking, nights under the stars and temping jobs. She began a love affair with the Australian life, the weather, the great outdoors, the beach and just never left. Four years after settling in the fair city of Sydney Katy set up her own business, Shortbread Strategic Marketing. The business grew and Bruno Bouchet joined two years later as her right hand man; he recently took up his natural place as a partner in their dynamic little business. Just to keep things simple Bruno’s also a blogger and a real live writer of children’s books – the most recent being a YA Werewolf book called I-Wolf (promptly added to my reading list)!
In 2008 Katy, a lifelong advocate of all things natural and eco-friendly, began studying for an Advanced Diploma in Aromatic Medicine which incorporates aromatherapy and western herbal medicine. When she wasn’t at work she was testing out her own mixtures and perfecting beauty products – to this day she uses shampoo and conditioner delicately created in her own workshop.
The beauty of being self-employed, she explains, is that you have complete freedom to follow your passion and to create products you actually believe in. There is of course, a little less security and a lot more responsibility, but that’s a small price to pay for the flexible working hours and, as she recently discovered, the opportunity of developing new interests and following through on them.
When the shift from marketing to beauty products? In her private life she’s always dabbled in essential oils, the watershed moment in turning this into a business, took place in 2010 when she discovered Argan Oil and the Berber women who made it. It takes 30 kilos of fruit and 15 hours (involving a lot of nut cracking between rocks) to make one litre of Argan Oil, and as the trees grow almost exclusively in Southwest Morocco the local women have turned this native plant into their livelihood. Coordinating their efforts in 6 village cooperatives involving 238 women, they are able to use the proceeds from sales to fund educational programs and social support schemes. Thus motivated by a personal love for natural skincare and a desire to promote these female entrepreneurs a world away, she created The Argan Spa, which launched in June this year.
At the risk of all this sounding like a bit of a plug I wanted to share a little about The Argan Spa as a business because it says so much about this inspirational woman. Katy buys all her oil, 100% pure and organically certified, from these Moroccan cooperatives then creates all her products from home. The base product is Argan Oil which has all the natural properties needed for firming, rehydrating and smoothing skin, hair, nails, you name it. Most of this, from what I understand comes from its high levels of Vitamin E, plant sterols and essential fatty acids. It’s kind of all-purpose from what I understand, I used it liberally to soothe my blistered feet (back when I had my dodgy bar job) and as a sort of rescue remedy when the Australian sun got the better of me… But there isn’t just the oil, Katy let her imagination go wild and the results were Argan Oasis Body Oil, Sugarspice Argan Body Polish, and Argan Skin Balm with rose and honey. Yummy.
It’s clear that her marketing background has been invaluable; the brand is, for lack of a better word, kinda sexy. And she was able to formulate the products, develop the brand, build an ‘e-tailer’ site (which I believe is an online retailer), create some funky packaging and then put together press releases for all the schwanzy health magazines to get the word out, mostly by herself (and with a little help from trusty Bruno to write copy and her web designer). Because of Shortbread she decided to use a soft launch approach for The Argan Spa – setting it up, sending it out into the world and then letting the idea spread itself. I so hope it catches on, the oil is just delicious, the idea of the double-whammy- getting super healthy, chemical free products and contributing to a now thriving development project designed to help women – just brilliant, and the woman utterly delectable. Do yourself a favour and checkout the blog, it’s full of randomly interesting info – I never realised that ingredients on product labels are listed in order of concentration (high to low), puts a few of the claims on my daily regime into context…
But enough about Argan, the long and the short of it, is that it’s a great example of what can be achieved when you trust your instincts, your passions and you follow through on good ideas. What really appealed to me was how one little lady in Australia could do her part in bettering the lives of other women, on the other side of the world, in no way personally connected to her, and all by sending back-to-basics products into the world.
In her everyday life it is clear Katy is fiercely independent, and the best kind of self-confessed control freak. Never content with being a follower, it’s no surprise that she eventually set up her own gig, twice. Katy’s ventures work because she gives free rein to her quirky brand of creativity, because she’s resourceful and embraces the instincts that allow her to think outside the box, because she always speaks her mind, sometimes to the point of being brusque, and above all, she believes in herself.
So for any would-be entrepreneurs out there, take a leaf out of Katy’s book and Carpe Diem!
To have this at least somewhat in keeping with the rest of MsPeacock I had three all important questions:
-Favourite Book(s): The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. She also sometimes revisits C.S.Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles having kept the original copies from her childhood.
-Favourite Sydney Bookshop: Gertrude & Alice, have the best sofa!
-Favourite Sydney Eatery: Otto’s Ristorante on Wooloomooloo for the incredible desert plate!