The Women’s Centre for Health Matters, with the support from the AIDS Action Council, surveyed…
“Simplicity is beautiful but elusive,” say Maša and Michael Ofei, a local couple who pursue it every day.
They’ve figured out how to help us achieve a simplicity that’s synonymous with respecting humanity, the environment and ourselves by launching their online store Fairlings, which sells essential products that are socially responsible.
Most of us condemn the effects of today’s hyper-consumption but can’t say for certain that the products we use ourselves don’t contain potentially harmful chemicals, aren’t packaged in non-recyclable material and weren’t made in a factory that violates labour laws.
Navigating the new world of supposedly ethical products can seem harder than sticking to our usual mindless supermarket run – until now.
“Basically, we’ve taken the guesswork out of choosing ethical products that actually work,” explain the duo. “We’ve tracked down the best of the best and will sell only one product – the best product we could find – for each need.”
Maša the ‘health nerd’ and Michael the ‘technical minimalist’ have known each other since Year Seven at Stromlo High School and have honed their lifestyle together.
“I started to question the idea I’d bought into that success is about accumulating wealth, assets and things,” says Michael. “I found the blog Zen Habits by Leo Babauta, who redefines success as not ‘more, more, more’ but ‘less, less, less’. We saw the value in this simplicity and over time, it’s transformed our perspective.”
“Success to us means not only paring down what we own but also not spreading ourselves too thin in terms of what we focus on,” says Maša. “Now we consciously spend time doing what we love to do.”
A trip to Europe last year marked their engagement and seeded the idea of Fairlings. In London, they spoke with one of the owners of The Third Estate – an ethical clothing and footwear shop – about how they sourced their products.
“They are so strict, right down to knowing the factory conditions that can differ between individual products within the same brand,” says Maša.
“It was a relief to know they had already asked all the important questions. We felt that we could shop freely,” says Michael. “We wondered how we could replicate this feeling in everyday items.”
Fairlings has launched with 27 products so far under the initial categories of ‘skin care’, ‘body care’, ‘cleaning’ and ‘baby and child’. These products have been chosen after extensive research and trials conducted by the couple, who – like many of us – are frustrated by how ineffective and falsely presented some ethical products are.
“We spoke with suppliers face-to-face and over Skype to determine if what they sell is truly what they say it is,” says Maša. “We know that more and more Millennials are asking the kinds of questions we do.”
They’ve heard how their suppliers have turned pain points into successful brands and feature these stories on Fairlings. For example, Talia Borda began That Red House after her husband was sick with cancer twice and they were consequently sick of how many chemicals are in everyday items. She was introduced to foaming soap berries – nature’s laundry detergent – which she now shares with us (check them out here).
Maša and Michael want people to have positive experiences when they use Fairlings to inform their product choices. Some may use it like a portal to a more socially responsible lifestyle. Others will connect with the stories behind the people and their respective brands.
“Some will use it as just an easy way to choose great products that they’re confident about. Even if they just buy one thing, that’s progress. We want Fairlings to be successful but it’s more about shifting the demand in general,” says Michael.
The duo prioritise customer support and, where possible, want to replicate the face-to-face interaction you get in a brick-and-mortar shop.
“Online shoppers lack support. It’s so frustrating when you have a question and all you can find on a site is a list of FAQs with no way of contacting a real person. We’ve included an online chat function so when people have questions, the Fairlings team easily accessible,” says Maša.
To help Fairlings improve as it grows, they invite feedback about the site and the products they have selected.
“We understand people may not be used to seeing one product per category. Minimalism – simplicity – comes in here,” says Michael. “It’s a risk but one we’re willing to take because it’s the way we want to shop. However, if people have a certain need for a product we don’t stock, we want to help them.”
“At the end of the day, we’re here to help people,” says Maša. “The more people we can help and provide for, the better.”
The online space can be infamous for promoting mindless consumerism but Maša and Michael are using it to influence respectful choices instead. Fairlings is based in Canberra but will ship throughout Australia.
You can also view Maša and Michael’s popular passion project, The Minimalist Vegan online.
Feature image by Lauren Campbell