One of the greatest perks of this green blogger gig is meeting the amazing, inspiring and brilliant creators behind my beloved brands. As an ambassador for A Night for Green Beauty, I am fortunate to be able to interview a few of these mega-talented people. Up first, Mary Ahern of Bottega Organica.
Bottega Organica’s NYC location comes with a host of benefits. Some are obvious, like the opportunity to visit the space and experience the beautiful products firsthand. The more unexpected, but possibly even more delightful advantage was being able to meet one of the brand’s creators, the beautiful Mary Ahern for an in-person interview. Mary joined Bottega Organica’s team after a chance meeting with its Italian founders. She is now charged with formulating its latest products (the creams I just wrote about are her creation), while growing the plants and making a number of the ingredients used in the brand’s products at her Upstate New York farm.
Not to sound like a gushing fangirl (too late), but this is exactly a kind of woman you want making your exquisite skincare: an artist with a beautiful spirit and a wry sense of humor, to say nothing of her perfectly luminous, smooth and glowing skin. Mary’s passion for her work is evident in her every word and it comes as no surprise that her creams are amongst the finest I have ever used. Now, without further ado, meet Mary.
I am always interested in the path people take to arrive at their dream vocation. So how did you start creating skincare and how did you get involved with Bottega Organica?
I have always had a strong connection to both science and nature. Practically my entire family are scientists: my father is a research chemist, my mother works in healthcare and my brother is a biophysicist, but I also grew up on a farm. My father bought this dilapidated old farm in Minnesota when I was a kid and he did a lot of work on the science of agriculture. My parents always believed in the importance of organic farming and sustainable farming practices. Eventually, my father started working as an agricultural chemist, which helped grow the connection between nature and science.
My first foray into skincare was actually for postpartum care. When my first child was born, I was living in France and I was shocked by how little support there was for new mothers. Midwifery wasn’t really practiced, I was discouraged from breastfeeding and I couldn’t find any products to help in postpartum care. So I started making my own. Eventually, I transitioned to making more conventional skincare. I was going through some challenges that made it difficult to paint, so creating skincare became my creative outlet.
The meeting with the founders of Bottega Organica was a complete accident. As it happens, my small studio in Manhattan is right across the street from Quartino, the organic Italian restaurant, owned by one of the brand founders, and would often pop by there for lunch or dinner in between painting. One day I was seated next to a group of Italian men who were engaged in animated conversation. Eventually, they started asking me for input about skincare, just picking a stranger’s brain. I mentioned that I was doing something similar at my farm and they seemed fascinated, especially because they were thinking of creating a line of creams, which was proving challenging, whereas I had at that time perfected the method. After that initial meeting we exchanged a few emails, they then came up to the farm and that was basically it! We just thought that our philosophies and methods were so similar that it made much more sense for us to work together.
Speaking of creams, Bottega Organica’s beautiful new line of creams has been formulated by you. How do you manage to create an effective products with a luxurious texture and stable shelf life, without using synthetic preservatives, emulsifiers, surfactants and the like?
We choose our ingredients very carefully in order to achieve optimal performance, ideally on several different levels. For example, rosemary is an excellent ingredient for supporting and rejuvenating the skin, but it’s also a fantastic natural preservative. The creams actually have a high concentration of anti-microbial plants that both help the skin and maintain the integrity of the product. Obviously, the biggest culprit in making creams susceptible to spoilage is water, which is why I only use hydrosols as a water agent. The hydrosols themselves have antimicrobial properties, which also helps diminish contamination and spoilage. We also decided to house the creams in moron glass, which really helps preserve the product inside and extend its shelf life. I actually kept some creams that were used as samples at a trade fair and am planning on sending them to my brother’s lab for analysis. I’m curious to know who the creams hold up to being open in a hot environment and being touched by hundreds of fingers: I know that they are still good because I can tell by the smell and the texture, but I want the scientific analysis.
Bottega Organica’s current packaging is one of the things I love about the brand: it’s sexy, luxe and distinctive. It’s my understanding, however, that you are planning on repackaging all of your products in miron glass, just like the creams. What is the reason for the change?
First of all, as I said, the decision to have the creams in violet glass jars was a no-brainer for us. Creams, by their nature, are more delicate and the protective properties of miron glass are truly exceptional. It really does help to preserve the integrity of the ingredients and, in fact, enhance their potency. Once we made that decision, it was obvious that the rest of the line needed to have the same look, both for esthetic reasons and because we ultimately believe that miron glass is the best bet for storing skincare products that do not have any preservatives. Obviously, we pride ourselves on the look of our products and have been working closely with our designer to ensure that the revised packaging reflects the Bottega Organica esthetic. Of course, it takes quite a while to transition the entire line to the new packages, so you shouldn’t expect any dramatic or immediate changes.
This commitment to quality is one of the things that fascinates me about Bottega Organica. You mentioned the care that goes into selecting your ingredients and I was hoping you could talk some more about your ingredient selection and crafting process.
We are definitely very focused on ingredients. You probably know that quite a lot of our ingredients are grown either on our farm in Liguria or in Upstate New York and we use only organic or wild grown plants. When we do source our ingredients elsewhere, we select only the highest quality organic ingredients from the best possible sources. I personally make all of the oil infusions and glycerin tinctures used in our products. The oil infusions are made by adding plant materials to the organic olive oil from our Ligurian farm and leaving it in the sunlight, whereas the glycerin tinctures are stored in the dark (we use glycerin to create tinctures because we want to avoid using alcohol in any of our products). At the moment we are sourcing our essential oils from external sources (all certified organic), but I am planning on installing a copper still on the farm, so that we can create our own essential oils. I am also hoping that we will soon be able to make our own hydrosols. Ultimately, our goal is to have all, or at least a predominant majority of our ingredients to come from our farms.
I love that you are working towards creating products that have been made by you from plant to bottle. What are your other plans for the future? It seems that the new creams are already a huge success, but do you have any other new additions in the works? Are there any plans for expanding the line to include new products or product categories like makeup or perfume?
We are constantly thinking of new products that we can add – the challenge, of course, is creating the kind of formulas that are as pure and effective as we expect our products to be. I have been experimenting with perfume and I have also been thinking about creating a sunscreen: something that would combine the more tradition sun blockers with plant materials that provide natural sun protection [Ed.: I need this in my life RIGHT. NOW!]. And of course I am always thinking about makeup. I’d love to create something that is easy to use and provides skincare benefits to the skin.
It’s pretty clear that you are passionate about the brand and the work that you do, so I think you are the perfect person to give the ultimate product recommendation. What are you three favorite, can’t-live-without products from Bottega Organica?
Well, obviously the creams, since I have been formulating them and living with them and I’m really happy with the results, but I am also in love with the Ultra Concentrated Serum and the Rose Face Mist.