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February 23, 2017
Commerce

Nature and nurture at Janesce

Janice Sarre Smith has hand grown an international business from the fertile soils of the Adelaide Hills.

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  • Words: Aimee Knight
  • Pictures: Jonathan van der Knaap

“Someone said years ago, ‘The best manure for a plant is a farmer’s footsteps.’ Isn’t that beautiful?” says Janice, bending over her bright red geraniums, “I talk to them.

“I come out here every morning and if I see anything alien, I say, ‘What happened to you, little darling?’ I’m a bit of a green thumb.”

Remarks

Janesce has a city presence with a treatment room and beauty bar located at Shop 34, Adelaide Arcade.

That’s a clanging understatement.

Janice Sarre Smith was, and is, a woman ahead of her time. As the founder of organic skin care brand Janesce, she’s pioneered a proclivity for plant-based products since the early 1980s. In that pore-stripping era of Ten O Six astringent, Janice’s faith in nature came well before  biodynamic buzzwords of today had sprouted in the popular consciousness.

The beauty bar inside of the Adelaide Arcade shop

“That’s nature, dear. I live with it.” – Janesce founder Janice Sarre Smith

Eighty-five years old and still leading her company in the Adelaide Hills, Janice is vivacious proof of her own philosophies.

Launched in 1986, Janesce addressed a market gap. For 20 years prior, Janice ran a naturopathy clinic. Though her clientele blossomed, she struggled to source high quality, natural skin care products for her customers. So she set about making her own.

These organically-grown plants will become skin care products

Drawing on her knowledge of human and plant physiology, Janice went from experimenting with ‘kitchen cosmetics’ to creating her signature range of lotions, mists, masks, and more. A hit with her clinic clients, the products soon appeared in pharmacies. The first Janesce store opened its doors in 1992.

Today, the business still centres on the simple principle that nature provides all that’s required to heal us, inside and out. This seems like a universal truth, but it’s perhaps preached more often than practiced, particularly in the West. A poster woman for wellbeing, Janice gets up with the sun, eats a plant-centric diet, and lives in harmony with her garden at Claret Ash Farm.

On the Echunga homestead, Janice and a tight-knit team dote on the roses, lavender, calendula and other (top secret) herbs and flowers used in Janesce’s organic goods.

Alas, the farm isn’t looking its best this summer. No fewer than three ‘once-in-ten-years’ storms have swept the property of late (twice delaying our visit). Take it from Jan: climate change is a stark reality.

“The weather changes have been gradual but this year it’s been excessive,” she says as we huddle beneath her big umbrella. “It’s a very chaotic time for the garden, the animals, the birds. They don’t know what’s happening. Seasonally, they are out of sync.

The most photogenic compost pile we’ve ever seen

“The lavender is completely devoid of flowers because the rain and the storms came. We had beautiful roses yesterday, but the heat’s taken them.

“That’s nature, dear. I live with it.”

An industry leader for over 30 years, Janesce is always evolving to address environmental changes. Recently, Janice developed a line to counter the effects of airborne pollutants and sun exposure on the skin. It’s ready to hit the thriving Chinese market.

International demand for Janesce wares has grown since the mid-90s. Stockists have popped up in New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and beyond. Janice is especially fond of her Japanese distributors, with whom she’s shared an almost familial bond since 1997.

She recalls visits to Shibuya-ku where, by day, she personally trained the sales staff. At night they sipped sake and danced to jazz records ‘til the wee small hours.

Even the on-site office is aesthetically pleasing

“You’ll like this,” she says, fetching the paper-craft geisha sent last Christmas by her Japanese associates. Its delicate beauty and attention to detail is most familiar. 

With sales flourishing at home and abroad, it may seem curious that Janesce hasn’t started production overseas. Modern business models hinge on scalability, and Janice could certainly capitalise on current self-care trends.

But that would mean relinquishing control, and therefore quality, of the brand and its output. Janice does not dig this idea. It’s her resolute integrity that sustains this petite but important global leader, hidden in the hush of the hills.

Hauling down the roller door to the old dairy (now a storeroom), Janice remarks on the farm’s palpable energy.

“Visitors come here and say, ‘How do you get so passionate about a place?’

“I say, ‘I just live here. Live here. Feel it.’ And I do. I really do.’’    

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