In 1993, Catherine Cervasio was three months pregnant with her first child. The young mum-to-be, who left school at 15 to take an interest in beauty and well-being, thought she had found her footing in product development. Then she was fired.
Rather than wallowing in his situation, Cervasio used him as the “kick I needed to get from place to place”. And that place was entrepreneurship. Within days, she had registered a business name without knowing exactly how to launch a brand; in a few months, the Aromababy mother and baby care brand was born.
As International Women’s Day approaches on March 8, Cervasio talks about his evolution as a business leader and his brand’s plans to strengthen its footprint in travel retail.
“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs when I started this business and there are definitely still ups and downs. But every time I feel like I’ve had enough, I remember that other women are inspired by my story.
Aromababy by Catherine Cervasio is a well-established Australian brand specializing in eco-friendly and natural care products for babies and mothers. Its products, which range from best-selling barrier balm and natural baby kit to pregnancy creams, spa products and gifts, are found in select department stores, pharmacies and hospitals across the country.
“Still proudly made and 100% Australian owned”, Aromababy has built a strong reputation in the local market and developed an equally strong export network that spans much of Asia and the Middle East.
Aromababy began marketing in China in 2006 and has expanded its presence to South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Singapore and most recently Malaysia.
The brand also has a strong online presence and supplies leading five-star hotels, including Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, with a new luxury resort in the Maldives, a newcomer to its roster.
In travel retail, Aromababy products are available through the Qantas Online Shopping Center for frequent travellers. They have also been featured at select Australian airports through specialist travel retailer AWPL, which has a strong focus on supporting local producers.
“Aromababy is a household name, not just here in Australia but also across Asia,” Cervasio said. “We already have a strong distribution network, so stepping into the wider travel retail market is a logical step for the brand.
“We have always offered our products in a variety of sizes, many of which are perfectly travel-friendly, making duty free and travel retail a perfect retail environment for Aromababy. In addition to having perfectly adjusted products, the brand has a strong story to tell.
Cervasio said talks with one of Asia’s major travel retailers are ongoing.
“I started out as a woman, a group of babies, and even after 27 years (and two sons), I remain passionate about our products. As a small team of no more than five people at any one time, we outsource the labs, casual staff and digital support as needed, allowing us to stay lean and focus on our original mission.”
This mission, according to Cervasio, has “always been an ongoing commitment to research and further development of innovative and effective personal care products specifically for mother and child, using research as a guide”.
“We are very aware of the need to minimize waste in the world and therefore aim to avoid the use of nonsensical outer packaging, decorative boxes etc. We manufacture locally in Australia to reduce our carbon footprint, use recyclable and/or recycled materials where possible, and through our corporate message and brand ethos encourage our customers to do the same.
“The end result is a range of gentle and effective skincare products that are natural and organic, respectful of the skin and our environment.”
“It all came from this belief in a simple idea and this desire to make a difference, no matter how small”
Cervasio is a qualified aromatherapist, trained infant massage instructor, published writer and educator. She is also a dedicated and committed advocate for supporting and empowering disadvantaged women and children in the community, businesswomen and young entrepreneurs.
Passionate about ‘making a difference’, she raised her two sons as a single parent around building her business to ensure she didn’t miss out on what she calls the ‘important things in life’.
“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs when I started this business and there are definitely still ups and downs. But every time I feel like I’ve had enough, I remember that other women learn from my story. When I look back at how far I’ve come since that first idea over 25 years ago, I know it’s worth it.
“It all came from this belief in a simple idea and the desire to make a difference, no matter how small.”
Cervasio is due to speak at an International Women’s Day event, hosted by Hyatt Resorts & Hotels in Melbourne on March 8. “Working with Hyatt as a supplier over the years, I have observed that there is a strong culture of female leadership and empowerment of female team members that really resonates with me.”
Cervasio talks about mixing face masks in the kitchen as a teenager using edible ingredients. She left school “far too early” and became a product development specialist, working with retailers such as Sportsgirl and Myer, Australia’s largest department store.
“I introduced the idea of body care to several fashion retailers in the 1990s, using vegetable oils and natural flavors instead of petrochemicals and synthetic fragrances. I was fired from this last role just weeks before Christmas in 1993 due to a business closure and around the same time found out I was expecting our first child.
Cervasio continued to work on product development for retailers and, at the same time, formulated and market tested several baby care products.
“As my pregnancy progressed, I undertook market research to decide which baby products I would use and became increasingly concerned to find many synthetic and chemical additives being used. These were ingredients that I was not comfortable using on myself, let alone my soon to be born baby.
“I had observed that aromatherapy was an emerging trend overseas, so it made sense for me to combine my passion for wellness with personal care and be in that category. ‘After I started talking to chemists and cosmetic formulators I learned that I had limited experience and interest in working with natural ingredients.
So, Cervasio embarked on its own research to create its own formulas.
“Aromababy was a real ‘heart’ project. The brand was born out of a personal need and I believe there is an authenticity around our brand philosophy that is unique.
“As soon as my brand launched, with a new baby in my arms, I became even more passionate about the use of alternative products and I began to share information and educate more widely around the use of natural and organic ingredients.
“Because my products were the first of their kind – and no real data existed against the formulation – by default, I became something of an educator in space, eventually being invited to present at conferences in midwives in Australia and overseas.
“Aromababy was a real ‘heart’ project. The brand was born out of a personal need and I believe there is an authenticity around our brand philosophy that is unique. I have always been interested in health and wellness; living a “low-tox” life made sense to me even as a teenager.
“While 27 years ago natural and organic were little known, today it is one of the fastest growing categories in both food and personal care.”
Cervasio points out that Aromababy champions certified organic oils such as calendula, rosehip, evening primrose, avocado, jojoba, natural vitamin E and sunflower in its products.
The natural and organic ingredients used by Aromababy have been selected for their low allergenic and highly beneficial properties, with an emphasis on suitability for even the most sensitive skin types and, most importantly, babies. The percentages of these ingredients used are carefully chosen to maximize effectiveness, adds Cervasio.
And while the Aromababy line continues to target mothers and babies, its products are purchased by consumers of all ages and genders.
According to Cervasio, Hero Barrier Balm, for example, is used for everything from dry lips and dry land to sunburn and eczema. Aromababy Bath Gel is used as a body wash, Pure Hair Cleanse provides a gentle wash for the whole family, and Diaper Moisturizer is “long used as a makeup remover by mothers”.
“My why has always been my children, with a focus on them and the business. If I had run my business without an ethical foundation or without the passion to make a difference for parents, I don’t think the brand would still flourish.
“The beauty of having a micro-enterprise is that we are agile; we can go with the flow, make rapid changes and adapt to consumer buying preferences. I believe it is now time to look beyond our current market range.