Until last year, Karen Hind from Omokoroa had never used any skincare products. She had tried many, but with such sensitive skin she would react to everything. It’s no small irony then that Karen is now Managing Director of VOYA NZ, a luxury spa and skincare range from Ireland.
Before finding VOYA, Karen found the only things that worked for her skin were water and, strangely enough, raw seaweed, which she discovered through her work as a management accountant. From a client who manufactures seaweed products for the agricultural industry, Karen learnt about the benefits of seaweed micronutrients in supporting and maintaining animal health. Why not try it on her own skin, she thought, as a cleanser. She liked the results and, importantly, didn’t have any reaction.
Of course, seaweed has long been regarded as a healthy essential food, but Karen was soon to discover its acclaimed status as an age-old skin tonic – we’d just never heard about it in this part of the world.
One day, flicking through a magazine, she noticed an ad for VOYA, promoting its certified organic seaweed-based skincare range. Interest peaked, she contacted the company to get some samples sent over.
“I wanted to find out more because we didn’t have anything like this in New Zealand. I’m also a seabird, having spent all my life at the beach so the whole sea thing is a real passion. Because of that I’ve spent a lot of time in salt water and to me, that’s the best facial cleanser you could ever have.”
What makes seaweed so beneficial for us? “No other known plant has a comparable quantity of minerals, vitamins and beneficial ingredients and in such high concentrations, so it’s the perfect solution for replenishing the body’s minerals and protecting the skin.”
FROM PRODUCT SAMPLE TO BUSINESS PROPOSITION
When VOYA told her they were looking for someone to distribute its products on this side of the world, she thought, well why not? She had already fallen in love with the products from the samples sent and says to this day she has never had any skin reaction.
For someone who had never had a facial before, let alone a spa treatment, Karen had a lot to learn. But all the ducks lined up – she was itching for a new seven-year challenge, she had the business nous, and was fuelled by her passion for this unique skincare range and the opportunity to bring it to New Zealand. As well, her husband Geoff, a teacher, was approaching April school holiday time, so after talking with VOYA, they were en route to County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland.
Karen soon learnt that bathing in seaweed was a 300-year-old tradition, and bathhouses dotted Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast from the early 1900s until hurricanes eventually destroyed them. In 2000 the Walton family decided to reopen theirs, offering traditional seaweed baths to tourists. Customers wanted to replicate the effects of the baths at home and VOYA took seed, creating the first genuinely certified organic seaweed-based skincare products in the world.
Karen and Geoff saw how the products are made and where the seaweed is harvested – a handful of expertly trained harvesters have 2-3 hours at low tide to hand-pick the four varieties that contain the beneficial micronutrients. Sustainability is paramount and the seaweed taken is regenerated 8-12 months later – more than enough to sustain the vast seaweed-laden beach. They also enjoyed an iconic seaweed bath.
“That was amazing. Seaweed contains all these oils and gels which come out in the water, and you just want to keep rubbing them on your skin, because they feel so wonderful.”
For customers in other parts of the world who want the bathing experience, the seaweed goes through a natural drying process, so when we put it in the bath, it expands and feels just like the traditional baths in Ireland, Karen says.
The VOYA range also includes exquisite facial serums, cleansers and moisturisers, body lotions and oils, hand and hair care products, as well as candles, diffusers and herbal teas.
Karen already knew a lot about certification from her accountancy work with clients so was able to verify VOYA products were certified organic and used high quantities of seaweed. “By the end of our two-day visit I was convinced that this was the genuine thing.”
Since April last year Karen has been Managing Director of VOYA NZ, responsible for developing business and distributing VOYA into the South Pacific. While the full product range is available for online purchase to individuals, experiential spa treatments are the core VOYA business, with products being used in exclusive spa studios by VOYA- trained therapists. Currently only a few high-end spas in Auckland, Northland, Queenstown and Christchurch offer the VOYA experience, and Karen has started investigating opportunities in Australia.
She’s also finally had a few facials and can see why women rave!
“It’s been a really interesting and exciting journey so far. It’s taken me to some amazing places and I’ve met some neat people. I’ve had to start with a complete blank canvas, and learn a whole new subject area, but I like challenges and it’s good for the body, mind and soul to keep those challenges going.
“The skincare market is very cluttered in New Zealand so I wouldn’t bring in another product unless there was something unique about it, and I genuinely believe this product is unique.”
Another benefit of VOYA she is passionate about is the growing evidence showing the skin healing benefits of seaweed for cancer patients going through chemotherapy. Next year she will offer an education programme for VOYA therapists, run by Christine Clinton from Christine Clinton Cancer CareTM in the US, in the use of safe spa treatments and protocols for cancer clients.
“Many clients with cancer around the world are refused spa treatments because therapists don’t have the knowledge to treat their clients safely, which I think is really degrading. The other issue is that people going through cancer are concerned about what chemicals they are putting on their skin, so it’s fantastic that Christine Clinton has endorsed VOYA products as being safe to use.”
While Karen is enjoying the challenge of a new business, her accountancy consultancy work continues to fill most of the week and she says without that business knowledge she may not have had the confidence to take on the VOYA opportunity. It makes for a busy week though – accounting by day and VOYA by night – but she enjoys the time she spends in both occupations and has no plans to go full time with VOYA yet. However with a launch into the “huge” Australian market, she concedes she may have to make some decisions a year or two down the track.
Another idea on her radar is a dream to establish a VOYA spa here in the Bay, something she would love to see in this area … looks like that seven-year challenge cycle may have fast-forwarded a few years!