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- Susan Rockefeller
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Spotlight On:

Pleni Naturals

What's the Story?

After having her first child, former aesthetician Allyson Owens set out to find the cleanest baby care products she could, but everything she found had the same ubiquitous list of ingredients. She channeled her skin care roots and passion for nutrition to found Pleni Naturals, a line of products for adults and kids that begins with fruits and vegetables.

How are they different?

Most organic products, especially baby care, feature an echoing blend of herbal plants like lavender and chamomile. Pleni Naturals celebrates vegetables in a way that kids don’t often see in their bathing routine (think Berry + Olive Baby Balm and Apple + Broccoli Hair and Body Wash). For adults, the multifunctional products like the papaya-based Enzyme Cleansing Oil mean greater value for less.

What inspires us?

Pleni keeps the conversation going about the importance of nutrition and donates 1% of profits to Life Lab’s garden-based education programs.

Q&A

Allyson Owens

Founder, Pleni Naturals

When Pleni Naturals founder Allyson Owens, a former aesthetician, had her first child, she began researching toxin-free baby care products, and found that they all had similar ingredient combinations of lavender, calendula and chamomile. She wanted to bring something different to the table. Utilizing 18 years experience in skin care and a passion for nutrition, Owens created Pleni Naturals, a Made Safe-certified beauty brand for adults and kids that focuses on fruit and vegetables for its main ingredients. The products are not only gentle on sensitive skin, but they’re bursting with nourishment from broccoli, papaya, cucumbers, raspberries and more. Pleni Naturals feeds our largest organ while promoting nutritional education as it donates 1% of profits to Life Lab, an award-winning, garden-based education program founded in 1979.

What inspired Pleni Naturals? How did it all begin?

The idea for Pleni Naturals came to me when I was a skin care product development consultant. The year was 2010, I had a small baby girl at home and when I was researching baby care products for her I realized all of the available products in the clean skin care space contained some sort of combination of lavender, calendula and chamomile ingredients. Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love these ingredients, but every baby care brand was using them! I decided it was time for someone to do something different, so I pulled my knowledge and experience from product development and aesthetician work, and decided that my brand would focus on highly-functional, premium fruit and vegetable ingredients, like what we used when formulating in the prestige space. Plus, it’s FOOD—something we can all connect with. Everyone wants healthy food for their bodies and we are making sure that it’s available for the skin, which we believe should be fed the same nutrition that gets consumed for our inner organs.

How much fruit and vegetables are actually in your products?

As much as possible! Fruit and vegetables are powerful skin care ingredients and we’ve been having fun exploring them. In future formulations, we will consider other superfoods as well, but fruit and vegetables will always be our main focus.

Your packaging is so playful; children must love it! How have they been reacting to it?

The kids really love it! We created labels for the children’s products with colorful, silly fruit and veggie characters because we knew this is what kids want to see and something they can connect with. I hear from parents that their children are fighting over who gets to hold the oil with the silly grape and cucumber. Another mom told me her son yells, “Mom! Where is my broccoli wash?!” This is what it is all about—connecting us to the healthy foods we eat every day. Exposure to healthy foods outside of the kitchen definitely deepens that connection. This goes for adults too. We lead such busy lives, so it’s important to have these little pings of reminders to be mindful of what we’re eating.

Pleni has partnered with Life Lab. Can you tell us about them and the work you do together?

We decided to partner with Life Lab as we wanted to work with a nonprofit that is in alignment with what we are doing at Pleni Naturals that extends beyond skin care. Our mission is to inspire a deeper connection with healthy foods via our nutritious fruit- and veggie-filled products and inspiring packaging. Life Lab connects children to healthy foods through their garden-based learning programs. It has been around since 1979 and is the first garden education program in the US. Educators across the globe come to Life Lab’s education center in Santa Cruz, CA to learn how to implement “edible education” into their school curriculum. We donate 1% of our profits to Life Lab because every school should have access to a thriving classroom garden.

You now have an Enzyme Cleansing Oil for adults. How did that come about?

As a former aesthetician, I always told my clients that a great skin care routine starts with a good, deep cleanse. There is a misconception that what we wash our face with doesn’t really matter because you rinse it off, but that is simply not true. Our Enyzme Cleansing Oil is a 2-in-1 product, so if you leave the oil on dry skin for up to 10 minutes it doubles as an exfoliation mask due to the enzymatic papaya in the formula. Your skin will never feel more soft and clean than when using a cleansing oil. It acts like a magnet, lifting up all the dirt and debris on the skin much better than any water-based cleanser can do, and it doesn’t strip your skin of its natural, beneficial oils. Also, treatment products won’t penetrate through dirt, debris and dead skin cells, so we need to make sure to start our skin care routine with an effective deep cleanse and exfoliator—a clean canvas better absorbs the products in your routine.

Do you have a garden at your home in Colorado?

We moved here less than 2 years ago, so we don’t have a thriving edible garden yet, but our goal is to have raised garden beds installed so we can grow lots of fruit and veggies next summer. We plan to grow carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, a variety of lettuce, and more. Currently, we have a plum tree in our yard, which we share with the squirrels and heaps of lemon balm that we use to make tea and salves. We also planted a bee and butterfly habitat right after we moved in, and an herb garden, which is so easy to maintain. Before we moved to Colorado, we lived in California for 14 years where we grew blueberries, red raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes in pots on the back deck of our condo!

In addition to your cleansing oil, how do you care for your skin?

Sleep is #1. Get plenty of sleep. Drink lots of water. Scrape your tongue every morning. Have a humidifier in your home to keep moisture on your skin, especially during winter. Wear sunscreen every day, but also make sure you spend time outside in the sunlight as our bodies need vitamin D. The aesthetician in me will tell you: don’t pick your skin! We all get bumps sometimes, but when you pick at them, you can create scarring and pigmentation, which takes longer to heal than what you started with. If you can’t leave a bump alone, visit an aesthetician.

Do you plan to introduce more products? What might the future hold for Pleni?

Yes! We have several products for adults in the pipeline. All of them will be multifunctional so you get more bang for your buck and of course, will have a focus of fruit and veggies. For the adult line, we will address common skin concerns such as sensitivity, acne, pigmentation, anti-aging and more. The most important focus is balance—a balanced skin is a happy, healthy skin that produces less wrinkles, acne, pigmentation and sensitivity.

In addition to using safe products, how else can we encourage vibrant health?

I am going to say it again—SLEEP! Stop staying up late looking at screens. We are not meant to be exposed to all of that blue light after dark. Find your breath—I highly recommend meditation to help with this, to clear your mind and lessen anxiety. Take your shoes off at the door—they carry a lot of toxins into the house. Eat lots of fruit and veggies!

Any advice for others entering the clean beauty world as both consumers and producers?

For the producers: Be a brand that is part of the solution, not the problem. And back up your claims! For consumers: Our purchasing decisions have such an impact on how products are made. Be mindful of supporting brands that are doing better for us and our ecosystems.

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Spotlight On:

Arvoron

What's the Story?

After a year spent researching urban forestry, teen programmer Lucas Scherpel created an Android phone application called Arvoron to educate on the importance of trees and build a network of urban environmentalists in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

How are they different?

Scherpel hopes to engage environmental organizations around the world to upload tree data from their own cities onto Arvoron’s platform, further raising awareness of the importance of trees in urban landscapes. Arvoron won Brazil’s Prudential Spirit of Community Award in 2017 and this year, Scherpel was the first Brazilian in 5 years among We Are Family Foundation’s prestigious Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leaders.

What inspires us?

It took Scherpel only two months to build the Arvoron app, but prior to that, his year of research included hitting the streets on his own to study more than a hundred trees in the area. These became the first tree species on the database.

Q&A

Lucas Scherpel

Founder, Arvoron

Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, teenager Lucas Scherpel was dismayed to see the way his fellow citizens treated trees. Rather than being in awe of their magnificence and showing them respect, the community chopped them down, fearing they would fall on their cars or homes. Scherpel recognized the profound benefits of the trees: they filter air pollutants and prevent urban heat islands—areas that become dangerously hot due to human activity. And they also provide a sense of calm and tranquility amidst the bustle of city life. Scherpel spent one year researching urban forestry. Then, as a skilled programmer, he channeled his passion into developing an app, Arvoron, for Androids that educates people on the importance of the trees. Not only does it identify the tree, it provides a social network for likeminded urban environmentalists. The app was so successful that in 2017, it won Brazil’s Prudential Spirit of Community Award. This year, he is a Global Team Leader for the We Are Family Foundation.

What does the urban landscape around Rio de Janeiro look like today?

Nowadays, it’s undeniable that most of the world’s population lives in urban centers. And Brazil, especially Rio de Janeiro, does not differ from that global trend. On the last statistics made, Brazil’s tax of urbanization was 85 percent, and that number only tends to grow. That urbanization process results in the creation of extremely modified areas, with different characteristics that existed before. Because of that, urban forestry seems to be a necessary element in this new landscape—not only in an aesthetic way, but to prevent ecological issues that normally happen in urban centers.

Growing up in the large city of Rio de Janeiro, I noticed that the surrounding urban landscape was often ignored and mistreated. Community members viewed trees only as potential hazards, fearing they could fall on cars or buildings, and therefore, encouraged cutting them down. That’s the scenario I’ve been working to change since 2015.

Do you think your app is making a difference in Rio and elsewhere?

My app has brought environmental awareness to citizens around Rio, but it has also started this new movement for creating apps and other technologies focused on the environment. For example, after my appearance in Veja Rio magazine, one of the most famous and historical botanic gardens in Brazil launched its own environmental app. Arvoron also called the attention of environmental organizations who started to rethink how to catalog trees around cities, using Arvoron as an option to replace the use of paper.

Your app provides a social network for people who are also concerned about trees amidst cityscapes. What sort of community is forming there? Have any social activist undertakings grown out of it?

Our community ranges from nature lovers and environmental engineers to the CEO of the urban forestry organization of Rio. Arvoron supports all positive environmental actions—activities involving planting trees; park revitalizations; social garbage collection; and manifestations focused on Brazil’s environmental issues.

How long did it take you to develop the app?

It took me two months. Nonetheless, in 2015, I spent one year doing research on urban forestry before getting into the app. During this period, I had one of the most difficult challenges so far: throwing myself in the streets to study more than one hundred trees that existed around my community in order to have some data available on my app for people to see.

What goes into developing this sort of app? Do you have to take pictures of all the trees in Brazil?

I used to study every species I found in my community and take pictures of them to add on the app. But, as the project grew, it became impossible for me to handle this by myself. The capital of Rio alone has around 800,000 to 1,000,000 trees.

Now, I offer the app as a tool for environmental organizations across Brazil and they put the images and information about the trees in the app. It’s helpful for them since Arvoron works as a reliable database to store the data, and it’s helpful for the population who have access to free and valuable information on trees in their surroundings. Information about the trees includes their scientific name, family, a description, images, and places nearby that you can find them.

Do you have plans to expand Arvoron beyond Brazil?

Actually, we have had people from six different countries download the app! But I don’t think they took the best experience out of it since the project focused on Brazil at that time. One of my goals is to engage environmental organizations around the world to fill Arvoron’s database with their local trees’ information so people from other countries, just like before, can download the app and gain more environmental awareness from it.

Might the app one day include flowers and even weeds?

Arvoron is a tool for organizations to share valuable information about trees in urban centers. If any organization sees the inclusion of flower, weeds or anything related to the environment as necessary information for citizens to acknowledge, then I’m open to it.

Why is it so important to save the trees?

Trees mean life. Caring about the trees is caring about your life. They provide oxygen, combat climate change, save water, provide food, cool down cities and much more.

We often take trees for granted since it’s an ordinary thing in our daily lives. That’s why one of my catchphrases is, “Since trees don’t have a mouth to speak for themselves, I’m willing to be their voice!”

President Bolsonaro is not supportive of the environment and has already taken steps to undermine the protections in place. What are your thoughts on this?

Unfortunately, it’s not just Bolsonaro. The new minister of the environment in Brazil, nominated by the president himself, portrays a regression on turning this nation into a more sustainable and environmentally-aware country. Brazil has the biggest tropical deforestation percentage in the world and actions executed by the government (like denying climate change), abolish essential forest reserves. Cutting investments on environmental areas will not shift the situation. However, I’m still confident that impactful projects and new environmental activists will bloom and grow from this dark time and become the resistance from the government’s unfortunate decisions.

What are you working on now?

Besides Arvoron, I work on a non-profit organization called Construindo o Futuro, focused on supporting and bringing SDGs projects to communities and schools around Brazil. I also developed a mobile app called Vençapp which teaches users how to become more sustainable via daily habit-changing challenges. This July, I was in Tanzania representing Brazil at the Young Global Pioneers program. And I’m starting to work with AI and Machine Learning so by the end of the year, I want to launch a startup using these technologies focused on enhancing people’s lives.

How did it feel to win such a prestigious award?

Winning Brazil’s Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in 2017 was definitely the turning point in my life and on my project as well. After that, I started getting featured in magazines and TV shows, and went to a leadership bootcamp in Colombia. I also represented Brazil at the 2019 Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leaders program after five years without any Brazilian getting accepted to it. The award was the opening gate for many more grateful moments in my life.

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Susan Rockefeller