Catherine Cervasio is the Melbourne-based businesswoman who took the baby skincare category by storm two decades ago when she introduced Aromababy – an innovative, natural, and organic collection for mother and child.
Catherine is well known for having developed Aromababy – a pioneering skincare brand for mother and baby which combines the use of natural and organic ingredients with research, creating a new category in retail in 1994. She holds a Diploma of Aromatherapy and is a trained Infant Massage Instructor.
A dedicated and committed advocate for supporting and empowering disadvantaged women and children in the community, women in business and young entrepreneurs, Catherine says she is “passionate about making a difference”. She has raised two sons as a sole parent for the past 15 years and is about to relaunch Aromababy ahead of their 25th year Anniversary.
Interview with Catherine Cervasio
Please tell us a little about yourself as the founder of Aromababy.
I had long enjoyed a love of beauty and wellness – mixing up face masks in the kitchen as a teenager using edible ingredients. I spent some time as a beauty editor for a luxury lifestyle magazine before moving on to a role as a product development specialist – my projects included body care for Sportsgirl and several departments of Myer, where I introduced the idea of using vegetable oils and natural aromas in place of petro chemicals and synthetic fragrance. I was retrenched from this last role only weeks prior to Christmas in 1993 due to a company closure and around the same time, found out we were expecting our first child.
As my pregnancy progressed, I undertook some market research to decide which baby products I would use and became increasingly concerned to find many synthetics and chemical additives being used – ingredients I wasn’t comfortable using on myself, let alone on my soon to be born baby.
Whilst I continued to work on product development for retailers, I was simultaneously formulating, and market testing several baby care products and eventually launched Aromababy later in 1994. From the time my brand was launched, with a new baby in my arms, I became so passionate about offering alternative products more widely and educating around the use of natural and organic ingredients. Because my products were the first of their kind, no real data existing in relation to formulating, so by default, I became somewhat of an educator in the space, presenting at midwifery conferences both in Australia and abroad.
I went on to have a second son in 2000 who provided further inspiration for the expansion of Aromababy into gifts, accessories, and organic newborn clothing. I continued to write freelance on natural beauty, wellness, and even travel but added mother and baby category contributions to my portfolio. Aromababy went on to become an award-winning brand, gifting to the likes of Princess Mary, John Travolta (both of whom wrote me thank you notes), and even Meghan Markle during her trip to Australia with hubby Prince Harry. Aromababy has been exported to Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, UAE, and Malaysia where I’ve travelled extensively for marketing and providing workshops. We are currently finalists in 4 categories of the Australian Non-Toxic Awards.
Why do you believe Aromababy has been so successful over the years?
Aromababy has been a ‘heart’ project; the brand was born out of a personal need and I believe there really is an authenticity around our brand ethos which is quite unique. I’ve been able to share my work, my knowledge, and passion with midwives and health professionals together with literally thousands of parents around the world, often helping to soothe sensitive skin where other products may have not provided any relief. There’s something very humbling about receiving wonderful feedback that in our own small way, we’re making a difference. I think this is why Aromababy has continued to have a strong, loyal following despite it not being a ‘mass market’ brand.
Do you disclose all the ingredients used in Aromababy products?
Absolutely we disclose all the ingredients. Requirements in Australia are that brands must list ingredients in correct, descending order. When it comes to herbal extracts and pure essential oils, these are only used in a fraction of a percent so don’t be confused by reading a dozen extracts or oils – thinking wow this product sounds amazing; these ingredients are often the smallest component of the overall formulation. Whilst there are still some misleading labels on shelves, using the words ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ in their names, for example, which gives an impression that perhaps a product is totally ‘natural’, customers are definitely becoming more educated when it comes to reading labels on products and making informed choices on what they then purchase, which is fantastic. It’s important to be transparent about what you’re offering as a brand, then the decision rests with the customer as to whether they choose to purchase one brand over another.
Why is it important to use Natural products on our skin and do they really work?
I have always been interested in health and wellbeing. Living a ‘low tox’ life seems logical to me. Whilst 25 years ago, natural and organic were little known, today, this is one of the fastest growing categories in food and personal care. Aside from the efficacy of specific, natural ingredients – I was initially more concerned about leaving out the nasty ones.When I formulated Aromababy in 1994, I researched infant care and which ingredients had been trialled, successfully or otherwise and in what form was the raw material, what percentage was used and so on. My idea was to develop a range of products that would offer ‘choice’ to parents everywhere, in the type of products they had access to. Petro chemicals, parabens, propylene glycol, synthetic silicones, artificial fragrance, talc, sulphates, carbomer, phthalates, animal ingredients (including lanolin, dairy, goats’ milk) and others, were therefore all on my ‘banned’ list. Some herbal ingredients have extensive research available, others have not so it’s a careful balance of selecting appropriate ingredients and utilising them in precise percentages, to provide some level of benefit. Over the 25 years I have been in the business, I have seen so many outstanding results and heard so many stories of our Aromababy products being used on babies, children and also adults, who have had sensitive skin and even eczema.
How can we pamper ourselves at home during Isolation with Aromababy?
At Aromababy we offer products that suit everyone – not just babies and children or pregnant women/new mothers. You can turn a simple shower into a morning ritual by using our beautiful Bath Gel with chamomile and lavender, as a body wash, for example. We have a heavenly, soy wax candle that has a pure essential oil blend fragrance instead of a chemical fragrance. Lighting a candle can create a peaceful atmosphere, the bonus of a beautiful, all-natural aroma can further evoke a calming and peaceful environment. Our massage oils can be used as a sensual back rub for your partner, creating some quality ‘connection’ time which is so important for relationships. We also have soothing bath salts, body scrub (both for adults), and body creams. Add a pump dispenser to our Pure Hair Cleanse and you have a gentle hand wash for the entire family – plus it smells wonderful. Our products are quite concentrated so a little goes a long way, providing great value for money as well as the feeling of a little pampering.
What are the most popular Aromababy products amongst customers?
Our best-selling barrier Balm has been a hit since being launched all those years ago. This super-rich, natural balm is loaded with goodness including evening primrose, vitamin e, and calendula. It melts on contact with the skin and soothes dryness on impact. We also offer several unscented products which are ideal for young skin, hyper sensitive skin and for those who have sensitivities to smell (this can happen during pregnancy and even during cancer treatment, where olfaction – the sense of smell, is heightened).
Lastly, what do you like to do in your downtime, and what is your favourite way to pamper yourself?
I love my long walks along the local river close to where I live. These walks are important for both my emotional and physical wellbeing. I love to cook too. I’m a bit of a ‘nurturer’ so feeding those I love is something I find beautiful. I practice mindfulness (meditation) and use aromatherapy every day – I close my eyes and breathe deeply, inhaling a specific essential oil (or blend of several) in the shower. I believe it’s important to make space for quiet time so that we’re ‘still’ enough to be able to recognise when we feel joy. Once you understand what it is that brings you joy, it’s about making more time to experience that feeling.
What’s next for Catherine Cervasio and Aromababy?
Over the past 3 years, I’ve been consulting on external natural beauty projects, bringing to market, a beautiful natural skincare brand for women in 2019, which championed an Australian grown superfood. I am the host of a show called Women in Trade, where I showcase female business owners doing great things internationally, which is a lot of fun and my way of giving back, highlighting some great stories of courage and inspiration. I am working on several new products – we launched fitted fabric face masks in March and have a natural hand sanitiser launching in the coming weeks which uses Australian grown, vegan ethanol – quite unique! For someone who was on a plane every 4 weeks, I must say I’ve settled into life at home nicely and am totally enjoying the extra time with my two beautiful sons. We have just celebrated our 25th Anniversary which is a massive milestone and still seems surreal for someone who never really thought about being a businesswoman …
In association with Helen Reizer HRPR