Flying planes for a living may seem an unlikely background for a cosmetic company’s founder to have, but Noosa born-and-bred Saya McDermott is skilled in the art of pleasant surprises.
With previous careers as a graphic designer and a pilot, she is also the founder and owner of Saya Skincare, a range of natural products using Australian native botanicals.
What sets this range apart from the plethora on the market is its emphasis on clean, purely plant-based ingredients which are organically certified, cruelty free certified, vegan friendly and uniquely Australian. Its ingredients are also certified as sustainably sourced.
The company grew from a hobby Saya took up on weekends as a teenager suffering from eczema and breakouts when she was trying to find products that worked for her skin. Eventually she opened a store at the Eumundi Markets.
“I actually met quite a few of my first stores that I ever supplied to at the markets,” says Saya.
“That’s the beauty of the Eumundi Markets and Noosa – it is a destination and you do get people from everywhere. They were there sourcing products. Before I knew it I was in a couple of little boutique stores and it really just started from there.”
Today, the range is not only taking the Australian market by storm, but is making its way into the international cosmetics scene, with stockists in New York, Switzerland and New Zealand. Next on the list is the lucrative Asian market, with a recent foray into Hong Kong via the Austrade Conference the perfect opportunity to showcase the company’s unique range.
Saya Skincare’s current headquarters comprise a large warehouse and retail shop located in Noosaville. Such is the growth of the business in the past two years, a local manufacturer has been contracted to make the products, so Saya and her growing team can concentrate on managing distribution, marketing and sales.
This is all a long way from the humble beginnings in Saya’s mum’s kitchen, where she and her mum would mix, pack and pour the products on the weekends.
Back then, her ‘day job’ was working as a graphic designer for “quite a few years”, and afterwards, following in her father’s footsteps, a pilot. Having gained both her private and commercial pilot’s licences, she flew medivac planes carrying patients needing specialised treatment from remote areas back to major cities.
“I was always very hesitant to take the [skincare] business to another level – I didn’t know if I wanted to or if I knew how to, because the cosmetics industry is super competitive and cutthroat,” says Saya. “But just as I was thinking that I didn’t know what to do and thinking that I would follow an aviation career, the business started gaining momentum.
“I was actually really intrigued as to how far I could push it if I gave it my 100 per cent energy, because I hadn’t been for all that time. So that’s when I decided to do it.”
Since then, she hasn’t looked back, and now loves the creative freedom she enjoys – as well as being able to catch a few waves in her spare time.
“I can live in Noosa and work for myself,” she says. “And I’m able to create. That’s my favourite part of it. I’m working with a team of chemists now to create formulations. It’s interesting seeing what we can do.”
With about 40 products now in the range, Saya says she is constantly adding to and tweaking it as new ingredients come on board. “We’ve got our core range and I don’t want to touch that, but we’re always evolving with new ingredients and trying to be a little bit different and diverse with what we offer,” she says.
“The core is a very simple, day-to-day skincare range, but we’ve definitely evolved to where we’re adding AHAs [naturally occurring alpha-hydroxy acids]. Also vitamin C and vitamin A, which we’re still able to add to a certified organic formulation.”
One of the range’s top sellers, according to Saya, is the detox face scrub, one of the original products she formulated. Containing peppermint and lemon, yellow clay, ground walnut shell and papaya, it sounds and smells good enough to eat. It’s not the only one – the sumptuous menu includes cleansers with marshmallow, chamomile and Kakadu plum; hand and body lotion with mandarin and patchouli; and soap with Australian green clay, lemongrass and shea butter.
Extracts of native Australian botanicals such as desert lime, quandong, Illawarra flame tree and crown of gold enhance the entire range and are what Saya says “promotes luminous, soft, beautiful skin”.
“The use of our unique formulas using these botanicals kind of sets us apart from other brands on the market,” she says. “I think the fragrances are what really appeal to people and sell the products. I’m all about fragrance and blending the best and most unique essential oil blends.”
As an added bonus, although she didn’t set out to create vegan-friendly skincare, 99 per cent of the range is naturally vegan, making it appeal to the rapidly rising number of vegan consumers.
“I think it was a no-brainer for me to only use plant-based ingredients,” says Saya. “I never considered using animal-derived products and I’m totally against animal testing; I think it’s completely unnecessary.
“We’re obviously also cruelty free certified as well and we are anti-palm oil; if there are any derivatives, they have to be sustainably sourced.”
With the global market beckoning, there’s no doubt Saya Skincare will continue its rise and rise, but Saya is adamant the brand will not leave its birthplace, Noosa – the much-loved home town of its creator – no matter how much the company may continue to expand.
“Noosa’s always been home,” she says.
“My family and everyone is here. Some people say if you want to get your brand out there you should be based in Sydney or Melbourne. But I don’t agree with that mindset. Noosa’s where the brand was born and I think that’s where it needs to stay.”