Spirit of Byron in a bottle
Cawarra Cosmetics has been a leading manufacturer of Australian skincare, personal care and cleaning products in the region for more than 40 years.
The business, now employing 30 people, has built a strong reputation across the industry, receiving referrals locally and globally from individuals and multinational corporations wanting to create anything from deodorant to baby moisturiser.
From its headquarters in Billinudgel, Cawarra has everything it needs to research and develop formulas, design and create packaging, and manufacture in large quantities.
“We are flexible and agile here – a customer can bring us an idea and we can bring it to life,” says Cawarra general manager, Katrina Main.
“We have our own specialised R&D lab so we can trial things and adjust our machinery and lab equipment for many different concepts.”
Some of the jobs on the list include an organic skincare range for a prestigious brand in Hong Kong, a range of home label hair care products for an Australian supermarket chain, and a natural lemon myrtle oil-based insect repellant for a boutique small business.
While the chemical compounding and contract manufacturing aspects of Cawarra are widely known in niche industries and account for 70 per cent of the business, consumers are more likely to recognise Cawarra by its signature brands. These include organic skincare range Sanctum, its largest brand Organicspa which is sold into boutique salons and spas, and Byron Bay Skincare, which targets younger clientele and the gift market.
Katrina says these products have enjoyed a boost alongside Byron’s tourism boom.
“The last five years has been really good in terms of marketing. Byron Bay is a desirable location and people associate it with nature and like the idea of products being made here,” she says.
“Byron is a real inspiration for our business,” she says.
The business was founded in 1981 by Katrina’s parents – biological chemist, Greg Milham, and office manager, Jicky – who moved their young family and the business to Northern Rivers in 1989, drawn to its positive and healthy lifestyle. These are traits woven through the fabric of Cawarra, with everything from its organic certification, preference for fair trade, passion for clean and honest labelling of ingredients, and strong sense of community.
“Balance and staff wellbeing is very much a benefit of living and working where we do,” Katrina says. “Many of our staff have worked with us for over 20 years, we are very much an extended family.”
Katrina, who studied marketing and worked for a variety of global skincare brands before becoming Cawarra’s marketing manager, took the business reins in 2019, just before facing the many hurdles to come with COVID and the floods.
The Queensland-NSW border closure presented the greatest challenge, with key staff members, including Katrina herself and the business’s head chemist, living just over the border having to relocate to NSW for uncertain stretches of time and snap restrictions.
“This is one of the downsides we have found being in a border town community.”
But COVID wasn’t all bad for the business, after discovering first-hand the creativity that lockdowns inspired.
“We received a lot of enquiries during lockdowns,” Katrina says. “People had time and came up with ideas… ‘I want to make a skincare product – let’s contact Cawarra’.”