Hidden among the palm trees that sway over the white sandy beaches that edge the beautiful Fijian islands, local villagers are turning their gardens into hot international commodities.
Pure Fiji is a local business using the raw ingredients that grow naturally here and is making huge waves on the international stage.
Founder Gaetane Austin is now a grandmother and with her daughter Andree, they began making soaps in their Suva kitchen in 1996 with virgin coconut oil, hand pressed from the fruit growing in their garden. Back then they couldn’t imagine that they’d employ 100 people in a factory and support 500 more in villages across the islands.
Together they have put Fiji on the map for more than just blissful holidays in the sun. I mean, where else in the world can you step outside your back door, pick coconuts, passionflower or sugar cane, and make them into beauty products that are sought after from the USA to the Czech Republic?
The business has received numerous awards, including Exporter of the Year several times, Excellence in Tourism and also awards for her company’s eco packaging. The thing about Pure Fiji is that it’s not just a factory churning out beauty products, the sustainable processes and support for the local communities is just as important to this family-run business as generating an income.
Seven villages supply Pure Fiji with its raw ingredients, and each provides a different need. Some cold press the oils, and without the need for electricity, as they are done using hand presses, this can be done without any major investment from the village. Some hand make the paper used for packaging, another provides woven baskets. This business model has enabled local communities to purchase water tanks, generators, set up a village shop and provide secondary education. In fact, for some communities, Pure Fiji’s business is their main income.
Andree recalls their kitchen table laden with soap and laughs when she looks around at the state of the art manufacturing plant in their 30,000 sq ft factory today. The factory in Suva also has a day spa for massages, exotic foot rituals and is where they train therapists in Pure Fiji’s signature treatments.
So while the lotions, and potions were being blended in vats and workers were folding boxes amid the fragrance of orange blossom, and coconut milk and honey soap, I was outside in the landscaped water garden experiencing the meke.
The meke is a traditional Fijian foot ritual that only takes six minutes – but is worth coming to Suva for! I was quite unprepared for what was about to occur when I sat in a chair with my feet beside a copper bowl filled with warm water. This is a rhythmical treatment punctuated by whoops, synchronised clapping and peals of laughter from the therapists as well as those playing the music.
Before my feet were in the bowl, coconut milk was added, then colourful petals swished through - with much hilarious whooping and shouting. My feet went in and my legs were washed with the milky water and my calves deliciously massaged with a sugar cane scrub. My feet were then painted with coco butter and wrapped in towels to marinate for a few moments before being wiped down and suddenly it was all over. I’d fly here specially to do this again!
But more than just entertainment value, the exotic fruits, flowers and nuts that grow so plentifully here have been used for centuries by Pacific Islanders for their ability to cleanse, soften and protect the skin and hair and also to heal the body.
Pure Fiji uses simple ingredients like sugar cane, pineapple, papaya, passionflower and green coconut, freshly harvested and processed within hours to preserve their nutrients. Drift nuts that washed ashore many millennia ago and are now flourishing all over the islands are revered for their medicinal qualities and ability to nourish the skin, while deep sea plants contain anti-ageing and wonderful hydration properties.
The secrets to Pure Fiji’s success are many – their sustainable practices, community support and exquisite quality products. But they way they blend their exotic nut oils (virgin coconut oil, dilo, sekeci and macadamia nut oils) makes them unique. Their processing methods are designed to retain the integrity of the molecular structure of the oil. That means that the final product contains high levels of anti-oxidants, vitamins A, C, B and E and Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids which ensures the products are readily accepted into the skin to nourish each cell more readily than oils extracted by heat methods used by other companies.
The sacred dilo tree, for example, is known as ‘the tree of a thousand virtues’ and Fiji is blessed with them in abundance. The dilo nut oil has an amazing ability to soothe skin irritations like sunburn, windburn, dermatitis, insect bites, acne, eczema and shaving irritation. But many five-star spas around the world use Pure Fiji’s dilo products after clients have had microdermabrasion treatments. It is also fantastic for those undergoing radiation or chemotherapy.
But not content with producing more product and increasing its global distribution, Andree and Gaetane have just had a gymnasium built on a site next door to the factory where they hold zumba and yoga classes. It proved to be an instant hit with the locals and ex-pat community, that without any advertising, the classes are full. But who wouldn’t want to come when at the end of your yoga session you cool down with a Pure Fiji inhalation.
Employees say they feel like part of a family here. Many have been here since the company started and Gaetane makes sure they are well looked after. Just last month she expanded the vegetable garden in the company grounds for them to help themselves to. She is a stickler for great holistic health and each day provides them with vitamins and tries to talk them out of yet another meal of noodles.
It’s true that a healthy body and a healthy mind make for a happy life, and you just need to pop the tops of some of the thousands of bottles waiting to be shipped overseas, inhale deeply and you the saying is true.
You will find Pure Fiji beauty products in most souvenir shops throughout Fiji and you can also buy through their online store.
52 Karsanji St, Vatuwaqa, Suva
Article by Megan Singleton