Natural perfume collective, Sensoriam, has a deep love for all things natural. By consciously choosing ethically made products with pure ingredients you can help raise your vibration. Natural scents possess a vitality; a bioactive power, which manifests itself in their potent effect on emotions and states of being. This affects the frequency in which we move and the way we feel.
Natural living is a way of life, and a community. FOUNDER.I.AM is a series of meaningful conversations with pioneers in the natural space.
Today we have the pleasure of introducing natural skincare pioneer, Emily Rohr of Rohr Remedy.
Rohr Remedy is an Australian bush medicine beauty brand with a hugely loyal cult following.
Rohr Remedy follows the tradition of natural medicine developed over millennia by the world's longest continuous living culture, that of Indigenous Australian people. Then combines this ancient knowledge with scientifically proven pharmaceutical formulas, to create unique and effective skin care products. Rohr Remedy supports ethical trading and environmentally sustainable collection of plants, by working with the indigenous land owners in Australia. It is clean beauty at its finest.
Where did Emily Rohr’s interest in skincare begin?
Rohr Remedy founder Emily Rohr remembers ‘skin’ as a hot topic at the dinner table growing up – her father was a dermatologist. Her parents wouldn’t go away often, she was one of nine children, but when they did it was to attend dermatological conferences. This was always a big deal, she and her siblings would wait in anticipation of the goodies that would bestow them on their parents’ return – amazing creams, tonics and the best sample bags you can imagine.
“Dad was always clued into the harmful effects of chemicals on the skin, particularly in shampoo and conditioners. He would see first hand the problems these would cause his patients. He always made us conscious of staying away from chemicals. If we were washing up or cleaning we had to wear gloves. Dad was very against a lot of the rubbish that was in products,” shares Emily. “His motto was keep it clean, keep it minimal, simple and elegant. The less clutter in your products the better.”
Working with Indigenous communities in Broome
In her early 20s, Emily fell in love and followed her heart to Broome, Australia. With a Fine Arts degree, she found herself working for the Indigenous health services running a radical program to bring to the world initiatives like Condoman – an iconic comic illustration based sexual health program. Condoman was created, by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Condoman very quickly became an iconic figure for sexual health and the prevention of HIV/AIDS within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The program saw Emily work with the local theatre groups, actors and local artists that were starting out. Many of which are quite famous now. Emily was one of the only white people there, apart from a nurse and psychologist.
Before this experience Emily had avoided Aboriginal art, she didn’t resonate with it because she thought ‘well it’s not my culture.’ However, these Indigenous artists liked Emily. They would say ‘you’re really good at all that copyright stuff, can you help us.’ One thing led to another and Emily ended up opening a gallery. It became a very successful business. Showcasing artists from all over Australia.
“We ended up working with a very, very beautiful group of people. They first came into contact with white fellas in 1974. So very traditional people. And with the land rights movement they decided that they wanted to tell their stories. Their kids had grown up in saltwater country, these stories needed to carry on,” explains Emily.
Emily is not one of these people who is on a mission to save Aboriginal people. She didn’t build relationships with these people to do anything in particular, she just got on very well with them. The old bush people became very much part of her family. She launched this movement of artists that became famous globally. There is so much here for Emily to be proud of. Not only did she help build the careers of many of these artists, over the years the gallery has brought in over $25 million dollars back into the Aboriginal communities.
From paint to potions
Every morning the gallery would run the studio, and often the artists were called away on missions with the ‘bushman’. “So and so is sick and needs a particular plant for healing. They were always chopping, boiling, and making potions,” says Emily.
Emily developed cadmium toxicity from mixing paints. Her health deteriorated and this was the catalyst for her to explore the natural world. She had to detox heavily. Emily and her family embraced natural healing, and all the bush medicine she had been taught, it very much became part of their life. Meanwhile the old women in the Broome mob would say to her ‘what is the future for our children. They don’t want to paint, they don’t have the same connection to country that we have. The people were starting to get land back. Many of which had Kakadu Plum naturally growing. They would invite Emily to take a look at the land to see what she thinks.
Emily laughs when she tells me that the government always pushes for Aboriginal people to become small business owners. “God knows why,” she says. “Small business is so hard, you are a slave to everyone, you work your backside off. The hours are shit, the pay is shit, crazy idea.”
But she did have an idea brewing, on how to support Indigenous communities. Emily’s father-in-law was a chemist of three generations. They had started the first chemist in Broome. Emily was always travelling to remote areas. Going to Arnhem land and the people would say to her… ‘you need to get that really good bush medicine up there, it is so good.’
Everyone thinks someone else’ medicine is better than someone else's. So whenever she was travelling she would always be carrying some bush medicine for others. She began to get worried about borders and bio zones, so her father-in-law began to show her how to mix up basic balms and lotions. It started as trade between the Aboriginal communities on behalf of the old people collecting the medicine people needed. It was time to think about the future of this little endeavour. Emily recognised that nobody wanted to sit at a trade fair in Sydney and talk about their product. So Emily said, ‘right o’, I’ll do the hard end of it but you mob start your own business.’ That’s how Emily likes things to be. “I like Indigenous people to own and control their own stuff,” she shares.
So the plan was that the communities would set up their own businesses. Emily would support them by buying their products, and creating a range of natural skincare products using formulations that had been part of her family for generations. And together they would create some kind of work for the next generation.
Emily has no interest in turning Aboriginal people into ‘white fellas’. She laughs… “I don’t even want to be a white fella. It’s so hard you have to know how to use technology and sit in front of a computer all day. I want to go out fishing and go camping!”
Building a successful natural skincare brand
Rohr Remedy is a family affair. Her sister is great with marketing. Her father-in-law is a chemist, so is brilliant at helping with the formulas. In fact her husband’s family started the first soap factory in WA so they had formulas dating back to the 1890s. Emily's father as a dermatologist is also a huge help, she can run everything by him. Emily is a huge fan of working regionally. Their extracts are done in northern New South Wales. One of their manufacturers is out in the hinterlands of the Gold Coast. She tries to find people that are very passionate about what they do but choose not to live in the main cities.
But beyond the team, what is it about Rohr Remedy that people resonate with?
“I believe it is honesty, good products, and a return to classicism, a return to elegant formulations. Everything comes back to the product,” explains Emily.
Emily wants it to feel normal to work with Aboriginal people, and not talked about as if it is some amazing feat. Emily is not here to make political statements, to exploit people’s livelihood or the deep connection she has with the Indigenous community… to sell skincare. That is not the business she is in. It’s quite simply about good quality natural skincare. Full stop.
What does natural beauty mean to Emily?
Emily believes in creating products of incredible quality, that work. It makes her sad to see what is out there in the marketplace, that women are buying, what they are putting on their skin. She believes that change needs to happen. She wants people to wake up and realise that they don’t need these products loaded with stuff. These things are not going to make them happier.
“I love nurturing, I love taking long baths and having something that smells divine. I think women need to do more of that. Take time for themselves and nurture themselves. In fact women need to oil themselves. It’s part of the Indigeous culture. They do put oils on their skin, and keep themselves moisturised and have done so for generations. It was part of a nurturing shared intergenerational experience. I love that part of the world of beauty and I want to see the industry go back to basics, nurturing, caring, honest and pure. Every family had their secret formulas that they passed down. People would make their own make up and the women would share it. This has been lost with the commercialisation of the beauty industry. I would love to see people go back to basics, make their own stuff, get out into the garden and grow things.
To me the future of beauty is a return to the basics.”
What type of natural scent does Emily love?
At Sensoriam, natural scent is our specialty, so we are keen to know what type of natural scent Emily Rohr is drawn to.
“I just love tuli in a fragrance, as well as Kunzea as a base note. Those rich Australian plants that we have. I also love floral ones – Boronia is such a beautiful scent. It reminds me of the Boronia tree outside the outdoor cinema where I live, and as you watch the movie you get this great waft of Boronia. The Australian wildflowers I’m particularly partial to. I love to find a classic scent that I fall in love with and I wear this as my signature scent for two or three years, before discovering something new.”