Question: What is Beauty and the Bees?
Jill Saunders: We are 15 women in Tasmanian with a single purpose: to provide premium zero waste Leatherwood honey skin and hair care (made by hand for 26 years now) that supports our community of local raw material suppliers like the Beekeepers, herb growers, seaweed harvesters and beer brewers on this wild island. We're passionate about ethical manufacturing and we want to leave nothing on this earth but footprints.
Question: What inspired the creation of Beauty and the Bees?
Jill Saunders: We began making shampoo bars 26 years ago because I thought the plastic packaging waste, and unhealthy chemical goo in products was madness! Also, I suffered with chronic eczema in my twenties and cured myself by making my own simple skincare products using my grandmothers recipes using food ingredients like olive oil and honey.
Question: Why was it crucial for you to create an ethical beauty brand?
Jill Saunders: We lived very simply and frugally when I was a child, my grandmother made everything from scratch including the soaps we used and clothes we wore so I was well versed in making things by hand. And I started to realise in my 20's that the world was going to end up drowning in plastic waste which is not something I wanted to contribute so I'm proud to say that we have saved well over 1 million plastic packs from landfill by using only recyclable packaging.
Question: How can we ensure we're supporting only ethical beauty businesses?
Jill Saunders: The first thing is to not buy anything in plastic packaging! Next step would be to read the ingredients carefully and ask questions about anything you don't recognise. Choosing local businesses to buy from when you can is important too.
Question: Can you talk us through the importance of talking about women in business with Asperger Syndrome?
Jill Saunders: The visibility of women on the autism spectrum is limited because dropping the mask and coming out as autistic is almost impossible when the common public perception of Asperger's is someone who can't speak and maybe exhibits repetitive behaviour making them in someway unemployable. I've noticed that women with Asperger's learn to mask their struggles in order to live their life successfully, and just like depression they prefer not to discuss that because they fear being judged. I really believe that as more women (indeed high-profile women like Susan Boyle for example who has a unique talent yet struggles to relate to people perhaps) come into public view people will realise that there are more of us out there contributing to society with our creativity and ability to make things happen.
Question: What are the common misconceptions regarding Apsienwomen that you'd like to bust?
Jill Saunders: Probably that we don't conform and have difficulties fitting in. It's true we can be way too honest and blunt but that goes hand-in-hand with working tirelessly on all consuming passion or aspect of the business. And the wider misconception is that we all exhibit "Rainman" mathematical qualities - I can definitely say that isn't true! But yes, the fact we're super focussed and high-achievers sadly goes unacknowledged. All it requires is some consideration to accommodate and recognise valuable autistic qualities because we know Google, Microsoft and NASA would not exist without autistic people.
Question: What are some of the extraordinary capabilities of women in business with Asperger Syndrome?
Jill Saunders: I can only speak for myself here but definitely the extraordinary attention to details that others don't even see, also the ability to think in pictures which means the job in hand is visualised from start to finish down to the last nail. I recently designed our Salamanca, Hobart store, and k new exactly as soon as I saw the space how to maximise it make it profitable immediately. I am a 284 tabs open at once person, that is interested in everything you could possibly imagine, so therefore acutely aware of trends and how they can influence my business. When I design a product I know exactly what the colour, the texture, the smell and packaging should be in one single snapshot which is of course extremely helpful scaling the business faster.
Question: How can businesses support all women in business, especially those with Asperger Syndrome?
Jill Saunders: Celebrate women for their contributions and allow them to be seen. Allowing for flexible working environments can empower women across the board. As a self-employed person, I have the luxury of being able to set my hours and work more in the evenings which suits me best, early mornings are not for me! If you support them they are likely to remain with you and be the most productive.
As for Asperger's, I can assure businesses that they won't regret hiring employees with these invaluable traits like those I mentioned earlier. People overlook those that do not necessarily interview well because perhaps they don't make eye contact or act, dare I say, "normal" at work. For example, interacting with people for me is extremely overwhelming and exhausting. So having a quiet space where I can focus can make a world of difference but of course this all varies with the individual that's why they call it the autism spectrum.
Question: What's next, for you?
Jill Saunders: Keep doing what I do best: developing innovative products with the fantastic wild ingredients found in my home of Tasmania. You know, after 26 years I am lucky enough to at last have the internal support that I need to take the business to the next level, with the USA being our biggest export market, sending over 100,000 solid shampoo bars there every year, so I hope to see the business reap the benefits of being Australia's zero waste pioneer! Also, now having been diagnosed with Asperger's I truly want to enjoy the gifts that it confers and be comfortable in my own skin at last!
Interview by Brooke Hunter