KNOWN among colleagues and friends as the ‘green goddess’, Narelle Chenery developed the world’s first range of organic skincare products a decade ago and now exports to 65 countries.
Chenery's journey started in the kitchen of her Gold Coast home where, armed with an applied science degree, experimented with organic skincare, cosmetics and household products.
The quest for a chemical-free environment in which to raise her three children led Chenery to found Miessence alongside husband Colin and engineer Alf Orpen in 2001.
The trio were joined by John Hunter to form ONEgroup (Organic and Natural Enterprise Group) in 2003. The Miessence range now comprises 150 products manufactured by 45 staff at Ashmore and generates $10 million in sales, mostly online.
Despite her success, Chenery won’t be satisfied until she’s reached the top.
“My vision is to be so much bigger than where we are that it’s almost frustrating,” she says.
“I want Miessence to be a household name, synonymous with absolute quality and purity and for the products to be sold all over the world.”
Ten years ago Chenery was battling for organic products to gain credibility as a serious alternative. Now the market has recognised them and companies worldwide are marketing products illegitimately as ‘organic’.
“It’s entirely frustrating to see ‘green washing’ to an effect. Other companies have seen our success in the organic market and have simply jumped on the green bandwagon,” says Chenery.
“On a positive note there is a huge opportunity for us in the United States with one major national chain of department stores recently telling its suppliers that any products marketed as organic must display a US certification label.
“This will eliminate 95 per cent of our competitors in the US, simply because the products aren’t as natural as they claim to be.”
The ONEgroup directors are waiting for confirmation that the Miessence range has the correct certification for the US retail market before taking advantage of the development.
The products are independently certified to international food grade standards by the world’s leading organic certifying organisations, including Australian Certified Organic (ACO), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM Europe).
Growth in the organic cosmetics sector indicates positive times ahead for ONEgroup, but in Chenery’s perfect world consumers would turn to organic products for the right reasons.
“Most people who are switching to organic products are doing so not because they see the health and environment benefits, but because of an allergy or medical condition that means they can’t use artificial products,” she says.
“So the biggest market swing is coming from reactive consumer activity as opposed to people catching on to the positive marketing of organic products. That’s disappointing but hopefully this will change in the near future.”
Chenery concedes that like any manufacturer, her company could hypothetically shoot forward if it moved manufacturing offshore or relaxed its stringent policy on eco-sustainability and natural purity.
“But we’re driven by those core values of why this company was started in the first place,” she says.
“It is an ongoing challenge to compete with mainstream brands that don’t adhere to the same principles, but on the other hand it makes a lot of business decisions far easier.
“Suppliers may come to us with several options but they know we’ll only really be interested in one of them – the most natural, chemical free and environmentally friendly option.
“We are very limited in terms of what we deem acceptable and in one way that makes running this business a little easier.”
An energetic educator and activist for social and consumer change, Chenery travels the country and frequently overseas to spread her message of uncompromising passion for educating people on ‘green washing’.
Young Entrepreneur Profile
Business Est: 2003
Turnover: $10 million
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