The story of Agnes & Me is my journey from Northern Ireland to Australia and eventually New Zealand and from nursing to discovering and making my own natural skincare.
I started this natural skincare business in 2018 but in reality, I was on the path towards Agnes & Me for 12 years before I sold a single jar.
I left Ireland as a newly qualified nurse and went almost as far away as possible, ending up in Australia. Looking after my Irish skin became critical in the hot, active and outdoorsy Australia. I tried many different skin products and started using locally-made, natural Australian products in the 90s. Around that time I became very interested in essential oils for health and used them in my daily skincare. I have been making my own oil blends for years.
I learned a lot about the fragility of skin and the need to keep it healthy when I worked as the lead coordinator on a Ministry of Health Hand Hygiene initiative for a major DHB. The main part of my role was understanding the barriers to cleaning hands and helping staff change practices. One of the major objections to hand cleaning was the damage it caused to the skin. Cleansing is the most harmful part of our skincare routines, so an effective-yet-gentle products are critical. What I learned in this role allowed me to properly understand the detrimental effects that many cleansers, especially soap, have on our skin's natural protective barrier. And I learned how to best protect and repair the skin. I no longer work as a nurse, but I am extremely thankful for the knowledge.
I married a Kiwi and moved to New Zealand in 2005. So now I really am the furthest from my place of birth but somehow, it’s the closest I feel to home. Choosing to live in the Titirangi bush on the edge of the Manukau Harbour brought me closer to nature; or bang in the middle of it.
How I started making skincare
Moving to New Zealand – and specifically to Titirangi – changed how I lived. We had moved from inner city Sydney to the bush, and I felt more in touch with life and nature. I became more interested in sustainability and reducing waste and that’s what drew me to the Sustainable Living Centre in New Lynn. With Michael, working Saturdays – as sports reporters do – I was always looking for things to do. I found some great classes there: composting, making cleaning products, warming the home
After going along to a talk and workshop on natural cosmetics I started making my own. I learnt to make a balm. It was very basic, but I loved it – I bought the book, ordered the ingredients and started working on creating a much more complicated product-a hydrating Face Cream for myself as I needed more hydration than my oils and balm were providing my 40-year-old, dehydrated skin.
I finessed the Face Cream and used it for 12 years before I ever thought of selling it.
I gave it to anyone who wanted it and then I gifted it to Lisa, for a Thanksgiving dinner and she loved it. I refilled her jars for over a year and every time she told me I had to sell it but I figure we all say that about home-made goods we are given.
I was so busy just trying to survive in a senior nursing role that I paid no heed to her, but she actually went to the local farmers market and talked them into letting me have a stall.
It's mad to think back on it now as while I had a few products I had no company name, no branding, no labels and no idea what I was doing. But sometimes you need someone to make you do something a wee bit crazy and take the leap.
Lisa came with me for support, and it was all a shemozzle, a ridiculously bad set-up with labels that I made myself (breaking some copyright rules I am sure) but it was great fun. People tried it, bought it and loved it .. came back for more and I have never looked back.
That original stall might have been basic, but my products were anything but ... I spared no expense on quality ingredients because I was making them for myself, and it's the same now that I make them for you.
When I had to decide on a business name it always had to be one that represented the female influences in my life, either my 4 sisters or my mother. So, Agnes & Me is a tribute to my mother, Agnes who passed away in 2000.
While christened Agnes, my mother was not especially dying about the name, notably the shortened version of Aggie.
I was the middle of her five daughters and two sons. Seven children. I can’t imagine how hard that would have been. We lived in a small border town in Northern Ireland called Strabane. Our town was best known for its high unemployment and the frequency with which it was bombed during the Troubles.
Despite the Troubles, or maybe more so because of them because no one was investing in anything that would likely be bombed, we lived a very simple, local and natural life. There were no fast-food outlets for many years. It was 2017 before McDonald’s opened its doors for the first time. I was very unaware of how non-urban we were until my sisters, and I drove my now husband into Strabane, and he declared he could not believe that we were country girls! We were horrified but had to admit there were a lot of green fields.
We only had local shops; suppliers were local farmers and exchanges happened without farmers markets. We got fresh eggs in biscuit tins, with chicken poo on them, in exchange for the weekly papers from my father’s newsagent, which doubled as a bakery. “Poached” salmon was not a cooking method. We “bought” the ill-gotten but delicious fish by swapping bread baked by my uncle and sold by my father.
Agnes grew our vegetables. We dug the potatoes and picked the peas. She was happiest in the garden but was also a great cook. It was creative outlet in an otherwise hard life raising seven children in a war-torn town and in a culture where feminism had no place!
She had simple tastes and habits. Like many women in the 70’s she cleaned her face with Ponds cold cream and then reapplied it as a moisturiser. Goodness knows what was in it but we girls all loved to use it– so thick and white.
She rubbed clove oil on our gums when we had toothache. Rubbed us with dock leaves for stings and slathered us with olive oil before sending us out to lie in the sun. There was precious little sun in Northern Ireland, so this did not happen often. Olive oil is known to be rich in vitamin E, a naturally occurring antioxidant with soothing properties. It not only moisturises the skin but helps develop that golden tan and sun-kissed look. So, all along my mother knew what she was doing.
My mother would have loved what I’m doing here with Agnes & Me. These beautiful, natural New Zealand products made in small batches using all-natural plant-based ingredients which are organic and Fairtrade where possible. The essential oils smell lovely but they also serve a purpose: to lift the mood and emotions and work with the body to nourish, replenish, regenerate, soften and smooth the skin.
Agnes & Me founder Deirdre Doran