Saya McDermott gets up each day at 4.30am – in the Sunshine Coast springtime, that is well before the sun.
The quiet pre-dawn hours are her productive time, affording her space and time to order her mind around her working day while the world slumbers. Then she moves, aligning her body and mind.
It is safe to say Saya’s days are full to bursting.
The business that bears her name has continued to grow and mature, marking its 21st birthday this year. Remarkably, the growing customer base in Australia now includes some who have only ever used Saya Skincare products in their beauty routine.
But the reach is not just domestic. Saya Skincare has also secured a foothold in New Zealand, the United States, Asia and Chile markets, with forays into the international luxury amenities market afoot and three new products in the research and development stage.
But while she has spread her wings and is flying, Saya remains fiercely rooted to where it all began on the Sunshine Coast. Her origin story has been told many times – about how her difficult teenage skin sent her on a journey back to basics and how she discovered through experimentation that natural, pure and simple were best.
“It was just a hobby for a long, long time. I was creating products to solve my own problems, and I then wanted to help others out there and so sold them at the Eumundi Markets,” Saya says. “I did enjoy creating formulations. That was the fun side and the creativity.
“But then we expanded quite quickly and the business part grew. We were certified organic, and it took off, and I couldn’t keep up with manufacturing in-house.
“We ended up getting help eight years ago – a local manufacturer we still work with today.”
Saya found the right ingredients were in plain sight in the Australian bushlands. The use of native botanicals in her 25 products is what sets them apart in a crowded market – that and the astounding number of boxes Saya Skincare ticks: organically certified, cruelty-free certified, vegan-friendly, ingredients that are certified as sustainably sourced.
“Up until eight years ago, I was making it on my own in our factory in Noosa,” Saya says. “But the pressure of having the larger orders to fill meant more raw materials, more stockists, a bigger warehouse and more staff. A constant series of adjustments must be made in a business this size.”
And while she has gathered a team of good people to help run the business and execute her vision, she still creates.
“For so many years, I controlled it all. I still like to be involved in the first steps of something new, although now I have a chemist who works with me. I am very much involved, and I can’t see a time when I let that part go.”
Saya has a passion for finding solutions in nature. Think part professor in a laboratory and part chef in a kitchen, and the picture is still only half formed. Saya says that researching, testing and blending elements to find the perfect combination for a particular purpose is invigorating.
It is alchemy in its truest sense: seemingly simple ingredients are transformed into skincare gold.
The very Australianness of the product range makes it stand out as much as its distinct black and white packaging. The Australian native botanicals used in Saya products contain extraordinarily high levels of potent antioxidants, containing key anti-ageing, healing and protective compounds. Saya was the first skincare company to use many of these gifts from nature.
Slowly, over the two decades Saya Skincare has existed, the skincare world has caught up with it – recognising the need for the organic, sustainable, cruelty-free components that Saya has always insisted on. But Saya sees this as a benefit for the world rather than a competitive problem.
“I am so pleased that there is a general push for sustainable packaging and cruelty-free ingredients,” she says. “That was always a massive focus for me, to align with what I was trying to do, and because of the shift in consumer focus generally, it is now a lot easier to source the elements involved in such things as our packaging and ingredients.
“But I do find it a bit funny that other brands are now advertising that they now use post-consumer recycled packaging or cruelty-free ingredients.
“I wonder why they didn’t do that before now because it was always the right thing to do.”
The process of continued evolution can be relentless, but Saya says it is at the core of what she established.
“I am always looking for ways for us to do better. It is never about what other brands are doing,” she says. “The advantage of that is that I am always open to new ideas and they open up opportunities I may not have thought of. Having said that, we are highly selective with new ingredients and how we can blend them into our current formulation. When choosing any new ingredient, it must align with our high standards and brand values.”
Although Saya Skincare is now a long way from its humble beginning at a market stall in Eumundi, Saya can’t foresee a time when her range is not produced on the Sunshine Coast.
“The quality of Australian-made products is just so superior to anywhere else. I really believe that,” she says.
“Keeping it local and supporting other local businesses is a core value for us. Community is one of our pillars. We will always stay true to that.”