The story of Agnes & Me is my journey from Northern Ireland, to Australia and eventually New Zealand and from nursing to discovering natural skincare.
Agnes & Me is a tribute to Agnes, my mother, 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, 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.
We only had local shops; suppliers were local farmers and exchanges happened without farmers markets. We got fresh eggs, 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!
Agnes had simple tastes and habits. Oil to clean her face and always a jar of Ponds cold cream in the bathroom which I loved to use – so thick and white. I am not sure how natural that was but everyone used it in the early 70s.
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.
And Me ...
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 deeply 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. This very different life after busy city living in Sydney encouraged me to actively remove toxic products from my life. And to think more about my environment.
How I started making skincare
Moving to New Zealand – and specifically to Titirangi – changed my life. I felt more in touch with life and nature. Sustainability, reducing waste, appreciating life all came to the fore. And that’s what drew me to the Sustainable Living Centre in New Lynn. With my husband, Michael, working Saturdays – as sports reporters do – I was always looking for things to do. I found some great classes at the Sustainability Centre: composting, making cleaning products, warming the home
After going along to a talk and workshop on natural cosmetics I started making my own. Two of my friends came with me and we learned to make a balm. It was very basic but I was hooked – I bought the book, ordered the ingredients and made the balm for my friends.
I have developed my products a lot since then but continued to make, use and give away my face cream and body butter to friends. Initially, I was happy to give it away freely and it made me happy people wanted to use it. I used it just to be good to myself – simple as that.
The finest ingredients, organic where possible, are critical to me because I want to give my skin the best nutrition. And when you are making products for yourself and friends it is inherent to use the best you can. Now that I’m making it for others I follow the same principle. Basically what I do at Agnes & Me is exactly what I do for myself.