The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ (FHFNZ) estimates that there are over 1.35 billion people in the world with vision loss, most of which is both treatable and preventable.
Avoidable blindness is common in the Pacific Islands, with four out of five people who are blind, but it doesn’t need to be. With this being said, FHFNZ is working hard – globally, but specifically focusing on people in the Pacific Islands – to prevent and combat avoidable blindness and its effects on communities.
Founder of the social enterprise New Zealand beauty brand Indigo & Iris, Bonnie Howland (now 22) was 18 when she travelled to Vanuatu and witnessed the significant differences that FHFNZ was making on people’s lives through helping to cure blindness in the Pacific Islands.
Inspired by the FHFNZ, Howland began dreaming up ideas for a mascara that would be made and sourced ethically, while still being a popular and successful beauty product.
This decision to design a product that supports such an important cause was sparked primarily upon returning to New Zealand, where she says: “I really noticed a huge difference in the issues, and what mattered in contrast to the Islands. The wrong colour of beige shoe ruined a person’s day [in New Zealand], in comparison to being blind but not needing to be with the right treatment.”
Howland later met Hannah Duder, who’s 26 and a Canterbury University graduate with a Bachelor in Law and Commerce and a passion for social enterprise, at an Entrepreneurial Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, co-hosted by President Barack Obama.
Their values aligned- with Duder’s mission to prove that it is possible to “do good business and do good at the same time” and Howland invited Duder to come on board as CEO of Indigo & Iris, and to help launch their product into market in 2017.
Levitate Mascara was Indigo & Iris’ first (and at present, only) makeup product, an “epic mascara that is vegan, cruelty-free and made with love in Italy”, Duder says.
The ingredients have been sourced sustainably, ethically, in an environmentally-friendly way, and with no animal testing, all while still being a high quality mascara.
“We operate for a profit company – we have a solid supply chain where workers are fairly paid, no products are tested on animals and whenever a decision is being made, it is never just the bottom line that is considered. We always make the most sustainable choices we can whilst still running a successful company,” Duder says.
In addition to this, all of Indigo & Iris’ mascara tubes are recyclable when clean, and the pair offer great ideas on how to repurpose old mascara wands online.
However, their biggest point of difference remain to be that 50 percent of the profits from Levitate Mascara’s sales are donated to FHFNZ to help their mission of curing blindness in the Pacific.
“We are a beauty brand that gives a damn,” Duder says. “Our mascara is life changing, for our customer who uses it, but also life-changing to those who have their sight restored through the donations of our profits. This is because when someone has their sight restored, it is not just their vision they regain, but their independence and freedom.”
However, getting to this point has not always been smooth sailing.
“We had to raise capital to get our first stock. As Italy is renowned for its beauty manufacturing, there are very high minimum order quantities. It was hard for two young Kiwi entrepreneurs to fund this themselves, so we had to ask for money from investors, the band and our crowd. We raised capital through investment and a Kickstarter campaign last year in November.”
However, Indigo & Iris was met with a magnitude of support by New Zealanders. In just over 24 hours after launching their Kickstarter campaign last year, the pair had succeeded in raising more than $12,000.
Their success didn’t stop there; in three weeks, this rose to more than $39,000, then $75,000, ultimately ending up with just under $128,000 – surpassing their goal of reaching $75,000 by a landslide.
This support from New Zealanders has continued to grow, as they currently have over 2,200 supporters on Kickstarter and were able to launch their autonomous website store this year in May.
“We have been overwhelmed with the support from New Zealanders, who are already re-ordering our mascara and even signing up to our 3-month subscription offer,”
Levitate Mascara is also receiving international support and are having regular sales in the US, UK and Australia.
Duder says one of the key challenges the brand has faced is sticking with what they had first envisioned for Indigo & Iris.
“Staying true to our brand and ourselves has been one of the biggest hardships,” Duder says.
“It can be difficult to stay on our own path and create the company we want. There can be a lot of temptation to follow trends but we really wanted to stay true and be our own brand and voice in such a saturated market.”
But regardless of the hardships, Indigo & Iris has been selling Levitate Mascara online for just over four months to customers all over the world. The pair have succeeded in raising enough donations to help restore sight to 250 people in the Pacific – reaching a culmination of curing more than a person a day.
There are currently no stores or sites other than indigoandiris.co that stock the Levitate Mascara, as Duder says that the margins and overheads incurred would mean that there would be less profit and therefore fewer people impacted through their donations.
As for Indigo & Iris’ next steps towards developing their brand vision, Duder says, “We will be launching four new products in the new year (January 2019) and will link these with different impact products. The plan is that your full face of makeup will be having a positive impact on the world.”
The pair plan for the new products to also give 50 percent of the profits to fund projects which address some of the biggest social and environmental issues in the Pacific.
“We’re first looking to support The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. They have a long term approach to increasing access to healthcare in the South Pacific – their programmes are run by incredibly talented and dedicated Pacific Islander healthcare professionals,” Duder says.
“However, we are building relationships with other organisations who are having an awesome impact in the Pacific Islands – such as Women in Business, who are crafting our nourishing and beautiful organic coconut oil for Levitate. We are looking to support organisations working on climate change and coral restoration in the Pacific next.”