Chris Mathews, founder of Sydney natural sunscreen and skincare brand, Little Urchin has done some Walter White shit. In the sense that he set up shop in his kitchen with a bunch of chemicals – in his case, zinc oxide, not methylamine – on a quest to make all-natural, sustainable, Australian-made sunscreen. He had YouTube open, and, scrolling through the piles of footage of other people making their own moisturisers at home, he started going DIY on this bitch.
That formulation process, which was literally like a Breaking Bad process, where I had mountains of zinc oxide I was cooking up and it felt like it was some kind of meth lab or something… [Doing it in your kitchen] is a far cry from making a fully TGA-approved sunscreen, but it certainly gave you the basis of what was needed and a great understanding.
That intensive research and formulation process took Mathews a few years – and was all born from a simple observation: that his daughter was coming home from daycare slathered in chemical sunscreen.
He had always been the type of person to have thousands of business ideas, but to only act on a few was the challenge, keeping in mind whether they would work for him and were in line with his skillset. Still, at the time he came up with the seeds of Little Urchin, and even throughout the initial formulation process, he had a day job, working in media at Men’s Health magazine “with some other inspiring entrepreneurial people“.
I’d always wanted to start my own business, and then when I started to see her coming home from daycare caked in chemical sunscreen, she was the real inspiration for why I wanted to go and create something that was better for her.
These days Mathews is honestly passionate about the product, driven by wanting to make the best possible sunscreen for his daughter. And while it’s taken some mucking about – going from bar jobs and a not-so-successful software security start-up to work in media sales – he’s glad he’s found what he’s been searching for: “I was actually talking to my daughter this morning about the fact that I’m now at a stage where I just love my work and what an absolute joy it is to be interested in what you’re doing every day.” But he does have advice for anyone considering that path: “I think the most important thing if you’re gonna choose [to follow your passion] is to find a way that it is sustainable for you and you’re not losing your shit about it.”
Luckily, Mathews’ experiences in all those other jobs certainly weren’t wasted: he’s been able to apply skills he’s picked up and lessons he’s learned in each of them to starting his own company. It just took taking the time to find all the information he needed, to learn as much as he could, and to put in the effort – all while gaining invaluable insight from friends, family and mentors:
The interesting revelation for me was that none of this stuff was beyond my reach. It wasn’t overly complicated… It was a big eye-opener that I could achieve it. Every lesson along the way – whether it’s a sweet one of a bitter one – serves you to be better the next day, I think.
I think it’s just gotta come down to your desire and motivation. And without a doubt the learning process, whether the business folded today or tomorrow or in a couple years time, the learning process – going through it – has been by far the most priceless aspect.
Little Urchin’s three-product range of natural sunscreen, tinted natural sunscreen, and a super-berry-powered moisturiser, has now been on shelves for about 16 months. Not only does it use only nourishing organic ingredients, but it also has no negative impact on the environment. He reckons “a lot of [consumers] now are very conscious of what impact they’re leaving behind and are looking to make the best choices possible“.
His plans for the future of Little Urchin are pretty straightforward: he hopes to bring his product to major retailers and pharmacies, as well as to international consumers. The long view of the brand is to create products that really mean something to people’s lives, and, at the same time, give back to the community and help support initiatives that protect our environment.
It all comes down to a purpose-led brand – that messaging that you are conveying is incredibly important in providing an emotional connection for consumers that offers value beyond the product itself. If done effectively, the brand can almost take on a life of its own that truly reflects the larger purpose of the business. We’re not there yet, but that’s our aim.
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