Wendy Sippel’s cosmetics range is all about natural ingredients and sustainability
Approaching the farmhouse on Alkmaar, 16 km from Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit), you are met by a welcoming party of five dogs, four cats and numerous chickens and ducks. Wendy Sippel makes her way to the gate, dressed in earthy tones and cradling a wooden box of eggs. She’s been gathering them for breakfast. As we seat ourselves on the stoep, the scent of frankincense wafts through the kitchen window.
Wendy has lived in the Lowveld for 35 years; her husband, Arthur, has been here longer. They met through the University of Pretoria’s hiking club, when Wendy was studying English and Arthur horticulture. She completed a two-year post-graduate lectureship before moving on to Mbombela. There she tought at Lowveld High School and Penryn College for two decades – after which seh offered her services as an educational consultant and created educational databases.
The idea for Crafted Cosmetics took root in 2014. Wendy’s daughter, Elizabeth Tristram, also an artist, suggested something fun for Christmas: a market for the Alkmaar farming community. “We vacated our Rosemary Cottage, which was once a guesthouse, cleared the rooms and created a pop-up market. At that stage there weren’t really any markets in the Lowveld.”
Selling art was an obvious decision, but Elizabeth convinced Wendy to also put on offer the creams and room sprays she had been making for years – a true family tradition.
“In 2015, a market was established at The Bagdad Centre in White River, before it re-emerged as the Best Farmers Market at Casterbridge,” Wendy says, giving her one-eyed rescue cat Matewis a rub on the head. “At the end of 2016, we registered Crafted Cosmetics as a company and began developing the business.”
The range comprises handmade soaps, body butters, healing creams, room sprays, bath products, toners and sugar scrubs. Besides these natural and cruelty-free products, Wendy and Arthur also produce organic sun-dried turmeric powder, which they market under the same brand name. Wendy is currently formulating a cleaning product made of orange, lemon and grapefruit peel. She regularly makes, exhibits and sells her art: ink-and-salt drawings that are mostly inspired by the flora and fauna of the Lowveld.
Wendy is clearly a woman of many talents, so why does she focus on cosmetics?
“I think it is the witchy side of me,” she says. “If you speak to my maternal family members, they will tell you that we come from a long line of midwives and herbalists.”
She inherited many recipes, one being her grandmother’s linen and room spray. “Essential oils weren’t available back then. She used 4711 Eau de Cologne and a combination of witch hazel, rosewater, bay rum, alcohol and distilled water. She’d be lucky to find a lavender perfume.”
This basic recipe is still used today, but Wendy has tweaked it by adding essential oils for various fragrances: a medley of fruit called Fiji; wild rose; sandalwood; blackcurrant and cream; and lavender and lemongrass. Most room sprays are composed of alcohol, water and essential oils, but “they alone don’t do the trick”. Wendy’s particular formulation kills unpleasant smells rather than merely masking them. “And ours don’t contain formaldehyde derivatives. You don’t want to spray that stuff anywhere near your lungs!”
Wendy and her mother distrusted large-scale cream manufacturing, “back when it wasn’t even popular to distrust it”, she says. “We were worried about some of the preservatives and base ingredients. We needed to move away from anything based on fossilfuels. My cream is a vegetable aqueous solution; I make it myself.”
Many of the ingredients used in Crafted Cosmetics products are grown on the farm, including African ginger (Siphonochilus aethiopicus), turmeric (Curcuma longa), Indian pennywort (Centella asiatica), lavender and citrus. “Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is used in our sugar scrubs – I grow that as well. We make a tea, pour it onto white sugar, and let it dry and recrystallise. The sugar becomes a bright-pink colour.” TWO TYPES OF JASMINE flourish against a fence. The flowers are used for a lotion bar. “I don’t make essential oils yet,” Wendy says, “because we’ve only just started experimenting with our distillation equipment. We hope to create, in the future, a range of our own oils and hydrosols. I currently, press jasmine flowers down into a sterilised glass bottle, submerge them in macadamia oil, and place the bottle in a dark cupboard. I keep adding flowers, and in three months I have an oil whose fragrance is superior to some of the essential oils I buy.”
Wendy is also experimenting with the
Aloe vera plants growing in the front garden, making her own gel to add to the product range.
“I wouldn’t be able to experiment like this if I lived somewhere else – we live in a pharmacopoeia. Within a 20 km radius there are more than 200 species of indigenous plants that have medicinal value. That is my first love. Cosmetics came out of that,” Wendy says while shooing Rosie the chicken away from the kitchen door.
“There is a particular climate here and I can grow beautiful things. I’m currently working on a new product using Myrothamnus flabellifolius – the resurrection plant. It grows everywhere in South Africa, but it loves the Lowveld. It dies down in winter – you see this very sad scraggly bush – but after the rains it turns green.”
Wendy is experimenting with a healing balm, since the plant has remarkable medicinal value. She points out the resurrection plant growing in a pot next to the house – it has >