Reed Gift Fairs had the pleasure of sitting down with Catherine Cervasio, a former beauty editor turned entrepreneur and the woman behind Australian organic baby skincare brand, Aromababy. She shares her story of how motherhood led her to create the world’s first natural baby skincare brand, what we can expect to see in 2016 and much, much more!

How and why did the brand begin? Tell us a little bit about your background and journey in what led you to start Aromababy…

I had spent several years as a beauty editor for a luxury lifestyle magazine in my early twenties. I then spent time developing gifts and accessories for some of Australia’s leading fashion retailers including Myer (Miss Shop, Fiorucci), Sportsgirl, Portmans and Esprit when my love for beauty and personal care again took centrestage. Always one to mix up a body scrub or face mask at home from my teens, I had long been a fan of using natural, fresh ingredients for pampering. I developed the first body range for Sportsgirl and never looked back. A few years later the company I was working for closed down and I was also expecting our first baby. My focus shifted from ‘fashion’ and beauty to what baby skincare I would use and to my disappointment, no natural product existed at that time. I began to research ingredients and eczema causes, looking at neonatal dermatology reports, working out which potential allergy-triggers to omit from my formulations and met with cosmetic chemists one after the other. None, however, were experienced in this new area. Most said I was ‘crazy’ and that my idea would be cost prohibitive using the percentage and calibre of ingredients I had chosen. I eventually connected with someone willing to work on my project from a manufacturing perspective and my first products were launched six months later. Formulating without parabens, propylene glycol, petro chemicals and sulphate may be common these days, however twenty-two years ago, it posed numerous challenges. By the time Aromababy was launched, I was a new mother and extremely passionate about sharing my knowledge with others. I began sharing my knowledge with midwives and running consumer workshops. Aromababy was taken on by Daimau (a luxurious, Japanese department store) as well as by a number of baby store groups including Mothercare, Babies Galore and Baby Central (all of whom no longer exist), gift shops and iconic nursery retailers such as The Baby Gallery and Myer.

What product has been nominated for the GALA awards? Why do you think it was chosen?

Whilst positive feedback related to all of the products within our range, our hero product quickly became our natural skin soother – Barrier Balm. I believe Barrier Balm is a stand-out product in terms of efficacy as well as gift appeal, surviving the test of time with more than two decades of sales in over a dozen countries now notched up. Barrier Balm helped to put Aromababy on the map and in turn, build a ‘natural baby category’ in Australian retail, which previously had not existed. I recall speaking to a government official a decade ago who told me, “Aromababy is famous in Hong Kong”. So our story is not just an Australian one, it’s promoting Australian-made and ethical products to the rest of the world. A jar of Aromababy’s Barrier Balm can be packaged as a gift all on its own and with a cult-like following, there’s something lovely about being gifted with an iconic product you may not necessarily purchase for yourself as a new parent. Aromababy is a brand uniquely based on research, which is why our products offer results and our Barrier Balm has helped offer a choice to parents, moving away from chemical-based eczema creams (which don’t work for everyone) and zinc nappy ointments. Barrier Balm is now used as a preventative for nappy rash, for adult eczema and dermatitis, cradle cap and general baby care, however it’s known too, as simply the most luxe, natural baby product on the market.

Any new and exciting products coming for 2016?

Several new products will be added to our brand next year and in addition, a selection of beautiful new gift sets will be on offer. Aromababy has been undergoing a brand refresh and a new website will be launched in 2016 as we gear up to celebrate our milestone 21st birthday. I am working on some beauty gift sets (outside of the baby space) too.

How important is it for you to maintain authenticity and uniqueness when creating your designs?

For Aromababy, it’s more about our formulations than ‘design’ as such. Our branding is recognisable across a number of export markets, so it’s vital not to deviate from our core ‘look’ too drastically. However, the products we produce still need to be eye-catching and must stand out amongst what has become an over-saturated marketplace in Australia. Our aim is to stay out of discounter-style store models and mass market in favour of boutiques, department stores, gift stores and of course pharmacy. Pharmacy today is not what it used to be, with most retailers offering a good selection of gifts all year round, building a stronger offering pre-festive season. Aromababy offers some nice retail angles – aesthetic appeal and a celebrity fan base – whilst also boasting a solid history of efficacy and involvement with midwives. It does make me smile when I read that another natural baby skincare brand has launched because the creator ‘couldn’t find anything natural to use on their baby’. There is so much choice in the marketplace nowadays – possibly too much choice. I believe every brand should have a really unique story, brand message and ultimately, point of difference. Whilst we were the first in the world at what we do – and it doesn’t get any more innovative than being first to market, there are so many brands available now. Aromababy needs to be more than just ‘another baby brand made with organic ingredients’.

What pieces from your collection are you most proud of and why?

I honestly love all of the Aromababy products! However, my personal faves are the Stretched to the Limit Oil and Cream duo. The cream, loaded with natural ingredients often included for natural anti-ageing, is my face cream and the organic oil, my body oil. In terms of results, definitely the Barrier Balm is a stand out and has been a life-saver for many customers. Everyone I know uses it themselves, either as a lip balm or for sunburn, so it’s in particularly high demand amongst my network from October to March. I am also really proud of the ‘aroma-free’ extension to our brand. Introducing unscented products to our offering became important as I discovered more about ingredient interaction and newborn care during my Diploma study. The unscented products include Pure Baby Wash, Pure Baby Moisture Cream and Mother & Child Oil. Not everyone enjoys (or can tolerate) aromatherapy – particularly where sensitive skin is a concern. The essential-oil-free products are generally recommended for younger babies and are available in a selection of beautiful gift sets with a teddy bear.

What are the top 3 absolute must do’s when creating a start-up business?

My advice for new business start-ups is firstly do your research. It’s important to know who your competitors are, what you will offer the market that is different to what already exists and to know your USP.

Once your research is complete, be sure to consider where you will sell and how – the online space provides an opportunity to sell globally so you may need to invest in IP offshore in order to protect your brand, as well as in Australia.

Lastly, move on to registering your business IP. You will need to invest in securing domain names, trademark(s) and potentially have a website developed from the outset. You should also secure the social media handles relevant to your brand. If the IP is not available, you may need to rethink your entire strategy, so it is a good idea to prioritise intellectual property investigation early on in your business plan.

Brands you admire?

I am inspired by brands that are based on innovation. Anyone can copy an idea or brand ‘style’ once it’s successfully in the market. For me, the movers and shakers that withstand the test of time in the personal care space include Aesop, founded by hairdresser Dennis Paphitis nearly 30 years ago and sold to Brazilian company Natura Cosmeticos in 2012 for more than $60 million. Aesop’s pharmaceutical-style packaging based on simple, clean labelling and amber bottles, was unique in the market at the time and despite it being adopted by a number of brands since, Aesop stands out as the innovator. I admire what Anita Roddick did with The Body Shop – collaborating with community projects and injecting social responsibility into her brand ethos. Within the digital landscape, we now see ‘personal brands’ being monetised. There are a number of female brand-builders I admire who use passion, purpose and clever collaborations to create amazing personal brands, sometimes outside of their core business brands. Among them I love what these ladies are doing: Lisa Messenger of Collective Hub (magazine and online community), Emma Isaacs of Business Chicks, (Australia’s largest community for women) a mother of four and philanthropist and blogger/style queen Nicole Warne (garypeppergirl.com). Nicole has close to 1.5 million followers on Instagram and has created a sought-after personal brand with modelling, brand ambassadorship roles and presenting all a part of her repertoire. Her enviable client list includes the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Mercedes Benz and Valentino. This is a perfect example of someone having created a strong personal brand that has translated to an income-producing business.

What are the key challenges you are currently facing within your business?

Retail is tough. Stores are looking for higher margins, new and fresh product and placing higher demands on brand owners. We have had challenges with copy-cat brands over the years (one as recent as a year ago) because of the strong following Aromababy enjoys. Australia is a relatively small market, so without an export presence, niche or ‘boutique’ brands may struggle to be sustainable long-term. With export comes higher volume and traditionally lower margins, more investment in marketing, costs for translation into other languages and regulatory compliance (which can vary from country to country). Once the export through traditional channels (distributor to stores to consumer) minefield has been mastered, online presents a new opportunity – selling online, direct to consumers overseas, effectively cutting out the distributor or ‘middleman’. Although Aromababy has been exported for fifteen years, it’s far easier for brands to begin exporting now using the online model. As a result, more brands are vying for the same space. For Aromababy however, our focus is still on bricks and mortar retail, which allows consumers to have a more personalised experience and make an emotional connection with our brand.

We have a brand that sits in the mid-high end bracket. Premium positioning translates to a more niche market and a need to be more creative about where your brand can sit, which can be a challenge as discount pharmacy groups and grocery are not where we want Aromababy to be. Instead, we sell to a diverse range of customers – select hotels, hospitals, gift stores, Myer, organic stores such as Thomas Dux and baby boutiques to name a few. Because of our ‘Australian made’ appeal, we also sell to duty free outlets and of course we export. We could have reduced costs years ago by compromising on the quality of our ingredients and focusing on a ‘once off ‘ purchaser i.e. a gift buyer – but then Aromababy wouldn’t be what it is today.

How would you describe your style?

My style is quite classic and feminine. Whilst I focus on living an organic, healthy and active lifestyle, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly “earthy” so this tends to come through on the projects I work on. I did try to produce a grocery brand some years ago, Pure Spa. But I couldn’t help myself so the formulations and style of the end products became another premium brand (albeit a more affordable one).

If you weren’t running your business what would you be doing?

I am already involved in a few different projects (writing, presenting, mentoring and consulting) however if I wasn’t running Aromababy I would probably be writing a beauty, travel and lifestyle blog or running a magazine, which I suppose is why media and marketing seem to come naturally to me. My other love is food. I love to nurture through cooking. My favourite thing in the world, however, is being a mum. The reason I invented Aromababy and created this new space in Australian retail is all due to becoming a mother. I have been a sole parent for ten years, raising two beautiful boys alone. My business has not only allowed me to make a difference to others, in my own small way, but to work around my children. How blessed am I?

Catherine Cervasio is the Founder and Managing Director of Aromababy.
For more information on Aromababy visit their website & follow them on Facebook or Instagram.


Winners will be announced at the GALA evening on Saturday 20 February 2016 at Dockside Pavilion.

Join us for the retail industry night of nights…

Saturday 20 February

Dockside Pavilion, Darling Harbour

6.45pm – 11pm

Held at the stunning Dockside Pavilion, GALA is the perfect night to get your team together, let your hair down and celebrate all the hard work that went into 2015. Tickets include all drinks, dinner, entertainment and a fun environment to network and celebrate this great industry.


Book a table of 10 and SAVE 10%!

For more information visit our website or call 02 9422 8686

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