Meet Jonnie Vigar, co-founder of Leif, a graphic designer turned pioneer of native Australian beauty ingredients
Jonnie Vigar and Brenan Liston co-founded Leif after a prototype for a cosmetics bottle, designed by their studio Container Made, sat empty. They decided to fill it with a plant-based, Australian-made formulation and in 2010, a brand was born. That bottle remains at the heart of the brand and as Vigar tells us below, is continuing its evolution in new, sustainable iterations.
Read on for more about how Leif is building on its foundations of form and function and innovating within the Australian beauty industry.
Tell us about when you started Leif and how the idea came to be what it is today?
“Leif originated from our design studio Container Made, which designs and supplies cosmetic packaging for local and international beauty brands. A prototype of a fine-necked bottle was developed that sat in the studio and often caught the eye of visitors. From this, Leif was born. Our clean formulations hero native ingredients, essential oils and extracts free from unwanted chemicals, sulphates and parabens.”
Tell us more about your philosophy and how it guides your brand and product development?
“Leif looks to deliver both form and function. Our products feature simple formulas that deliver a luxurious sensory experience. When it comes to product development, Leif is generally ingredient-led, a combination of researching Australian botanicals, their unique properties and how these could be developed into a formula. It is important that our products look unique, so custom packaging is part of our DNA.”
Can you talk about the ingredients you use and where you source them from?
“The ingredients used in Leif products are carefully sourced and derived from a range of unique native Australian botanicals, all deeply aromatic and full of rich antioxidants combining the best of what Australia’s challenging climate has to offer. Leif produces simple and effective products. When it comes to ingredients, we follow a less-is-more approach.”
How are sustainable and ethical practices incorporated into your business?
“Leif products are plant-based, vegan and cruelty free. Our formulas are biodegradable and made in Australia. We look to avoid ‘over packaging’ and our bottles are produced from PETG, which is recyclable. One litre refills will soon be introduced for our hand wash and body cleanser range. Our design studio is currently working in partnership with a Japanese manufacturer on concepts that look to re-imagine and greatly reduce the amount of plastic used in existing beauty packaging.”
What is the importance to you of being made in Australia? And why is it so unique in the beauty industry?
“The Australian beauty industry has grown in recent years and there have been some really exciting developments and changes with many brands taking advantage of the unique ingredients our home has to offer. Leif taps into this but we also want the range to reflect our culture. A-beauty should offer something different. I love the way that many of our wine producers re-imagined how their product should be produced and sold. For decades everyone was working to a formula laid down by France but then our producers took a different path and created something unique. Our beauty should be different too.”
What excites you about the potential and future of Australian-made beauty and skincare products?
“When working with native ingredients, the opportunities are broad but we are now beginning to look abroad. International travel is off the cards for a while but our next product, currently in development, looks to partner an Australian botanical with plants from our near neighbours. We are a population that loves to travel and cross-pollinating our products feels natural. There are so many avenues in which we can further develop and explore, both for formulations and partnerships with other creatives.”
What is the one product you always recommend from your range?
“Our Buddha Wood Hand Wash is always popular. At 1,500 mL it becomes a talking point.”
What has been the most rewarding part of being a business owner? And what has been the most challenging?
“I really like having built a business with partners I also call friends. Our studio has now been going for almost 20 years, but trust was there from day one. Being in business with good people is key plus having been sacked several times early on in my design career, ownership gives job security! We have all studied design, but we’ve had to learn about ‘business’ and some of those lessons have been hard. I am proud that we worked out how to make design provide a sustainable income for us and those that work within our team.”