Motherhood and business — nature and science
We are proud to be a vehicle for Grace Culhaci’s story in our ‘ Making a difference’ series. Through her own health issues she discovered that the so-called natural products in her bathroom cupboard contained petrochemicals — so she set out on a mission to create her own. She’s done that so successfully that she won a government award.
broke out in a rash from my neck down to my toes. I didn’t want to compromise our baby’s health – so didn’t take any medicine as, on researching, I found that the drugs all crossed the placental blood barrier.
To get relief from the incessant itch, I would sleep in an oatmeal bath of tepid water with Sam holding my head so I wouldn’t drown.
This condition heightened my consciousness of what I was putting on my body in the way of skincare and personal care products — if medicines cross the placental barrier, did skincare have an impact as well? I began reading books from leading environmentalists (Australian Dr Dingle, and Canadian David Suzuki) to learn about skincare ingredients and what to avoid. In one evening I removed every product from my bathroom that contained a toxic ingredient. I discovered that products that claimed to be natural frequently contained known carcinogens and toxic ingredients. This lack of honesty was deeply disappointing, but the inspiration I needed to make a difference.
After my daughter was born I started to enrol in courses to learn the craft of soap making, and skincare formulation. The more I learned the more difficult it all seemed. I began interviewing ingredient suppliers and they were rather discouraging.
None of them seemed to think it wise for me to make my own products and suggested contract manufacturers. I met with several of the recommended cosmetic chemists only to be told it wasn’t possible to create a skincare range without petrochemicals. It was at this point I decided, in typical Canadian fashion, to do it myself! I spent the next few years experimenting and studying the organic standards.
During my second pregnancy I was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour on my optic nerve. This condition affected the vision in my right eye and I was in severe pain. My doctor informed me there was nothing he could do but wait for the tumour to grow a tail and hook into my brain, at which point he would remove my eye. I remember thinking, this will not happen, I am going to watch my daughters grow up!
After receiving the news, my husband and I immediately emailed our support network and asked if anyone had an alternative therapy to recommend. One dear friend named Dan who is a raw food vegan sent me an article on B17 therapy. After much research and sourcing pesticide-free apricot kernels we began the therapy. Within 30 days my sight started to improve and my pain completely disappeared.
My right eyesight is now stable at just 30% vision and my brain has adapted, enabling me to function normally (well during the day at least — at night I’m as blind as a bat!).
What I observed during my early years of skincare making was that while many women make healthy food choices they are willing to compromise on their skincare and use synthetic ingredients — the equivalent to a junk food diet for our skin — because they feel organic skincare, while safer, might not deliver the results they are looking for. I wanted to develop a skincare range that would offer genuine safety but was also results based.
And thus the zk’in range (pronounced skin) came into being.
Sam supported me 100% in this decision — so much so that he built me a small lab at the side of the house so I could work from home and be free of the kitchen. This lab later become our first certified organic space.
We quickly outgrew that space and moved to a larger building in the inner west. My grandparents moved in with us to help us with after school pick-up and after school care. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but both Sam and I found the commute very draining and robbed us of precious time with our girls. I began to feel guilty about working so hard and resenting the very thing I was trying to create. After two years of trying to juggle raising a family with growing the business the building was put on the market. We viewed this as an opportunity to make a change that improved our work/life balance. Sam and I both set our sites on relocating to Rydalmere which is an industrial estate only ten minutes’ drive from our home. We had a small budget and really needed to find a landlord that would work with us, rather than expect us to renovate the building. Fortunately that is exactly what happened!
Our new factory is so close to home I can dash to my daughters’ primary school so I don’t miss out on being a mum, and can make it back to the office to carry on with my duties as CEO without making too big of a dent into my day. Life has definitely improved and I’m so glad we made the change.
Our factory is now GMP certified (ISO 22716) as part of our ongoing commitment to quality and I’ve reached a place of harmony. I no longer resent what I have created but feel proud of our achievements. I still work too hard, but at least I can be home by 6pm each evening, cook dinner and spend time with my beautiful daughters. After their bedtime I’m usually on my laptop, which I know I need to stop doing. That is the goal for this year — to work no more than 40 hours per week.
One of the big highlights of our achievements over the last 12 months has been the Australian Government’s awarding us an R&D grant for contributing new knowledge to science. I worked extremely hard to create a preservative system that was free of petrochemicals and 100% natural. In fact the ‘z’ in zk’in is a reference to our zero tolerance policy for any unnatural ingredients. I have to admit that was a very fine moment, particularly when I think back to those that said it couldn’t be done.
We feature clinically proven active ingredients, every product has been dermatologically tested and approved