Jurlique Founder Ulrike Klein on Biodynamic Farming and the Business of Natural Beauty

In the early 1980s, biochemist and naturopath Dr Jurgen Klein and horticulturalist and botanist Ulrike Klein would never have fathomed that they would soon establish the most successful skincare brand in Australia. Jurlique (a phonetic hyphen of both names) opened its humble doors in 1984 as a small, community based collection of organic skin care products. In a little over twenty years, demand for the 95% pure and natural miracle products became so overwhelming that the decision was made by Kleins to upsize yet again to the unpolluted environment, Mediterranean climate and rich soil of ‘Jurlique Herb Farm’.

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Today, Jurlique has planted over 10,000 native trees both to assist with biodynamic accreditation and to improve our environment. Biodynamic farming focuses on natural inputs and methods such as crop rotation, compost and green manure to increase organic matter in the soil and sustainably provide plant nutrition. Going a brave step beyond organic farming, biodynamic farming focuses on the movements of the sun, moon, planets, stars and the rhythm of nature.

RESCU caught up with Ulrike Klein to discover the benefits of Jurlique’s holistic understanding of the land and it’s rich, agricultural products.


RESCU: We’re really interested to hear your story, how you came to Australia and your vision. You were a pioneering woman in the cosmetic industry in Australia, but also with what you were doing with natural beauty. Tell us about your beginnings and why you developed Jurlique with your husband.

Ulrike Klein: For us it was because it was the 80s and it was a time where skin care really went into a direction that became very superficial, very technical and very chemical. We knew that it would not be the future of skin care that we as humans-as women -need. We thought it was alienating us even more from who we are and have this image that we follow – models. The only way that really connects this beauty is using the healing properties of herbs. That was what I was very passionate about.

RESCU: That’s quite a German thing, too.  Even now with a lot of that natural movement outside of just beauty, Germany appears to be kind of a pioneer.
Ulrike Klein: Yes. It absolutely has been, but for me it’s amazing to see that when we had established Jurlique (1985) we had the first voyage ready and we thought: “Australia is waiting for us.”

RESCU: Who did you try to sell it to first?
Ulrike Klein: We tried beauty therapy, we tried department stores, cosmetic stores, health stores with shelves full of vitamins and supplements. How would one waste space on skin care? So, that has changed and I find that so exciting. That has changed drastically in Australia. I think that for us, Jurlique being number one in Australia is just a result of how quick Australian women have understood and caught on how important it is to rely on organic to have natural products.

RESCU: Do you think that’s why people choose your label? Your appeal is more label than just a natural skin care brand now.
Ulrike Klein: We started off with just the natural aspect then overtime we evolved. Globalness is something which has evolved. Originally we didn’t have that global vision, that’s sort of something that just happened and it happened by very great decisions we made. Starting off just as a two-person business where I did the financial, I did the herb growing…I did all of that. Then making the collective steps toward building a purpose built factory, that was huge for us. We still didn’t even have a marketing department.

RESCU: Did you say that when you went to Hong Kong, you realized that some customers would understand the brand better than other people?
Ulrike Klein: That’s right, however that was that the Asian market really understood. That’s why we’re more successful in Singapore, in Malaysia, in China…

RESCU: Yes, in Australian Duty Free stores there’s always a massive line for Jurlique.
Ulrike Klein: You’re absolutely right. And then the next big step for us came when we had the offer to have a store in the Strand Arcade on George St. and the rent for us was enormous! We had sleepless nights and we thought, “If that doesn’t work, it’s the end of Jurlique!” And I always knew if we would be consistent in our delivery, we never would have a financial problem. So, we did the Strand Arcade and suddenly Australia…

RESCU: Got it!
Ulrike Klein: Got it! Yes. That grew very much from doing greater steps and then the globalness happened. In a way, I dare say, it kind of outgrew me a little bit then…

RESCU: Understandable, It was bigger than you.
Ulrike Klein: Much bigger! And that is a really beautiful thing, because we always thought of Jurlique as a child. We thought we would bring Jurlique to Australia and then suddenly Jurlique was our child and I put 25 years of my life into that child. Sometimes you have kids you give birth to and you think in disbelief “Wow, is this really my child?” and that’s a little bit how I feel with Jurlique. There is a lot of pride in that and that is sort of the global story I never really thought about. That women are attracted to Jurlique and then they might just discover the depths of it later. I didn’t think about that before. You’re attracted by the way that you enter the bigger story that.

I think that that’s part of the beauty and charm of Jurlique, because, in a world where a marketing department decides how you’re going to feel, to me it’s the opposite with Jurlique. It’s not the marketing that tells you how you should look. That’s why I believe that Jurlique has so much potential in the future, because I believe that’s the future that we create… It’s a very liberating way to be and to live.

RESCU: Why did you make hydrating essence first?
Ulrike Klein: We had aromatherapy at the heart of Jurlique from the very beginning -understanding the importance of the soul of the plant which is essential oil. So that was always there. We first had three hydrating essences, the daily exfoliating cream and also a toner we discontinued. Then we had a day lotion called Day Care Face Lotion and the day care cream (one light and one heavier) and we had a bronzer which sort of gave you a little bit of glow and a little bit of natural colour.

RESCU: You really were ahead of your time.
Ulrike Klein: It was a whole range of products and we had the body oil from the very beginning. I have a chart from 1987. Oh, good heavens, we were so proud! The first cartons came back from the printer and we put them how they should be used. So, we came up with a concept…with a ritual.

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RESCU: You came here with your family, you didn’t have a support network, you moved to your farm. Who provided the support and inspiration, or were you really just in an internal focus?
Ulrike Klein: Jurgen and I, we both had a journey already behind us and we were both teaching at the time. So we lived in Mount Barker as there were a lot of schools and that became of community and point of human contact. There’s also is a big German community there.

RESCU: So you gave out samples to teachers and friends? Who were the first? Who were you creating for?
Ulrike Klein: We were very much creating for that community and the people we got to know. For us it was very important from the very beginning not to forget that. We knew the distribution channels wouldn’t work for us because we thought we wanted contact to our customers. We wanted to educate, because there was a time when women didn’t even look at what ingredients they put on their skin. So we had this cosmetic dictionary and we did these seminars at night. We said to these women “Do you know what these ingredients actually are?” And then we told them about Jurlique ingredients so it was very much a cause for education- how to actually look after your skin. That it’s not just putting makeup on your skin and cloaking your skin. You can see Jurlique faces in the street because they glow.

RESCU: Thirty years is a long time especially when you’ve since sold the business. Is there anything you would have done differently in hindsight?
Ulrike Klein: My coming to Australia, all that was perfect. Would I have done anything differently? I don’t think so. I think it’s just perfect as it is. Even with this transition…if you start to get old, sometimes your child outgrows you. We saw the company move through rough times, we have come back full circle and that’s why I’m here today. Even in those rough times, you have to accept life is what it is.

RESCU: Are you enjoying being part of it again?
Ulrike Klein: Oh, absolutely. I always say ‘we’. I would say as long as I live I will have that connection to Jurlique. I can’t help it.

RESCU: You’re in a position to enjoy it more too.
Ulrike Klein: You’re absolutely right. That’s my relationship… because, when I was in China, I said, “I’m the grandmother of Jurlique and now you are the mother”. The grandmother has more fun.

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Image credits: jurliquefarm.com, pwnetwork.com.au

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