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Spotlight On:

Buhbli Organics

What's the Story?

Born in Canada, Buhbli Organics was founded by Michelle Gojkovich and John Rody, who aim to provide safe, natural products that are affordable to everyone. They specialize in essential oils and skin care oils, but also sell Himalayan bath salts and an ultrasonic essential oil diffuser.

How are they different?

Buhbli Organics claims to be the only brand that’s currently USDA Organic, Made Safe-certified and PETA-approved in addition to each batch being Independent 3rd Party Lab Tested with traceability of each bottle. All of their essential oils are at an incredible price point for the organic market.

What inspires us?

Buhbli stays true to its core beliefs. In regards to growth, Rody says, “All future plans must be sustainable and must consider the finite nature of the raw materials we purchase. We will not compromise on quality or ethics to grow our top or bottom line.”

Q&A

John Rody

Director, Buhbli Organics

To Buhbli Organics founders Michelle Gojkovich and John Rody, less is definitely more. In light of this, they’ve carefully curated a limited selection of organic personal care products that work beautifully in their own right or mixed together into potent concoctions. This sort of versatility reduces packaging and transportation, which is gentler on the planet, and frees up cupboard and drawer space. In case you’re unsure about what products to combine, Buhbli offers monthly DIY recipes on their website. Rody developed his chops in the cosmetics industry while Gojkovich earned a science degree in molecular biology and genetics in addition to studying yoga and Buddhism. Their combined knowhow earned them the coveted MADE SAFE certification as well as cruelty-free and vegan approval by PETA. And they prioritize offering their quality products at extremely reasonable prices so everyone can access clean practices for health, beauty and home care while remaining mindful of the planet.

Tell us about the inception of Buhbli.

Buhbli was created by my partner Michelle Gojkovich in 2014. She was making hand-crafted artisanal soap and selling them at a local farmers market. When I met Michelle, I was impressed and inspired by her passion for all things organic, for her commitment to sustainability, and her minimalist lifestyle. We became partners in life and in business.

Our goal is to make a positive difference in the world that supports and enhances our own well-being, the well-being of others and the Earth. We all have tremendous power to affect positive change through the small things we do and the simple, cumulative choices we make every single day, right down to the basics.

We share a goal of making organic products that are affordable and accessible to the mass market. In doing so, we know we are providing consumers with high-quality essential oil alternatives and exceptional value. Our efforts also support thousands of organic agricultural workers around the world, and encourage others to follow this growing movement.

You left behind a thriving career in the cosmetics industry. What did you learn from that experience that you’ve carried over to Buhbli?

My career started with J&J and Cheeseborough Ponds. They gave me an insider’s view at large corporations driven by profits. When I started my own company 30 years ago, I tried to only bring the positive lessons learned from the major companies. The corporate experience was transformed to entrepreneurial skills when blended with our basic core business philosophy:

• Always be honest.
• Work harder than your competition.
• Respect your customers, suppliers and co-workers.
• Never be complacent.
• Be patient.
• Keep it simple.
• Exceed your customers expectations (shared with Sam Walton).
• Do not ask anyone to do anything you would not do yourself.

The mechanics of what we do can be attributed to Michelle. Whenever my suggestions for creating a company leaned too much on my past experiences, she would say, “Find another way.” It seemed like everyday I would be told to “find another way.” So much of my previous experience building a company from the ground up got put on a shelf. I found another way. The Buhbli Way.

How are you able to keep your prices so low? So often organic products are prohibitively expensive.

The reality is that organic products cost more for the farmers to produce. Sustainable agriculture has higher input cost, certification expenses, increased administration for traceability and potentially smaller yields. We usually pay close to twice the price for organic oils versus those conventionally grown. And these prices can fluctuate dramatically from crop to crop, season to season. Our challenge was to create a system that allowed us to pay more for organic raw materials and remain competitive with non-organic products.

First and foremost, we have no fixed overheads. No buildings or equipment. No employees or leases or VP’s or sales brokers. All direct contact with our customers and raw material suppliers is handled by Michelle and I. We have surrounded ourselves with an amazing team of raw material suppliers, contract packaging companies, third party logistics providers, business planners, and finance and administrative support. This allows us to focus on getting the absolute best organic products at the best price to our customers while providing an excellent level of service.

Well over 95% of our products are purchased directly from the growers/distillers. Eliminating middlemen not only saves money but it allows us to form friendships with likeminded individuals who share our passion for product excellence and sustainability.

We focus on providing only the top-selling items to our customers. We avoid the more obscure, exotic and expensive oils. This strategy is much easier to manage and allows us to improve our inventory turnover and reduce carrying costs while still shipping all orders on time and in full.

Our customer base is now over 8,500 retail stores and this provides significant buying power which translates into better prices, improved service from our suppliers and extended terms of payment. We also benefit from the ongoing production efficiencies realized with larger orders.

What made you want to sell your products at Walmart?

We chose Walmart in Canada to launch Buhbli Organics essential oils and skin oils because they were judged the best retailer in Canada to achieve our objective of making organic products affordable and accessible to the masses. I have also spent over 20 years doing business with Walmart in the USA, Canada, England, Germany and China. During this time I visited 100’s of stores and met 1,000’s of employees.

At the farmers market, our organic lavender sold for $20 which was a very fair and competitive price for organic lavender. Today, it sells at Walmart for $10. We have used large volume purchasing savings and turned it into a significant cost reduction. Those savings were passed directly to consumers.

If you ask most consumer-packaged goods companies who the best retailer in Canada is to do business with, the answer is most often Walmart.

Companies are continuously adding new products, but your philosophy encourages the opposite. Is it possible to grow a healthy company without growing your product line?

Generally speaking, most manufacturing companies measure success based on top and bottom line growth. Entire marketing departments are dedicated to maintain the sales of current items as they come up with a new fragrance, color, flavor, widget or celebrity endorsement that fuel growth. Out with the old, in with the new. This ‘consumption is king’ model is not healthy and is definitely not sustainable.

Buhbli’s growth comes primarily from expanded distribution, not from endlessly adding new products. In March of this year, we expanded our distribution with Walmart Canada from 200 to 400 stores and our SKU count increased from 16 to 26. In May, we began shipping 10 private label organic essential oils under the Radiance brand to 8,000+ CVS stores. 2020 will see the SKU count at CVS grow to 16+ items. We are also considering expansion of our distribution to another likeminded retailer in 2020. But we will be very careful in assessing growth opportunities. All future plans must be sustainable and must consider the finite nature of the raw materials we purchase. We will not compromise on quality or ethics to grow our top or bottom line. We believe that makes Buhbli a healthy company.

It’s easy to feel that the problems the planet is facing today are far beyond making cleaning solutions from essential oils and vinegar instead of buying chemical-based ones at the store. Can these sorts of small changes really make a difference? How?

In an ideal world, sure they can be a small part of the solution. All you need is enough people making small change in their consumption and lifestyle choices. When I see the Greta Thunberg effect, I am even more hopeful. However, we do not live in an ideal world. We need the government to protect us from ourselves.

Humans essentially have difficulty making changes that require increased effort. They need incentives and because we can pretend we live in an ideal world for the moment, we can rewrite some rules. The new household cleaning rule is that all products sold require a complete list of all the chemical ingredients. If any of the ingredients are known carcinogens or linked to other health related issues, they must be shouted out on the front panel for all to see.

I do believe most humans can be encouraged to make better choices if monetary penalties and rewards are in place. Electric vehicle purchase incentives and charging deposits of $1.00 on all plastic beverage containers are obvious examples of altering consumer behavior.

If you want people to eat healthier food, remove the incentives to grow GMO corn, sugar beets, soya and grains. These incentives keep the ingredients of most processed junk foods and animal feed artificially low. If you remove those incentives prices for junk food and meat increases. Prices go up, demand comes down. Take the incentive money that was going towards BIG AGRA and redirect it to smaller sustainable farms that can provide healthier alternatives.

Use the same imaginary scenarios with the elimination of single use plastics, disposable coffee cups, plastic and paper shopping bags, etc. These are the real easy ones to solve today and yet our governments seem to be lacking the courage. We need the leaders of the world to actually listen to their constituents and act as if the planet depends on their responsible actions regarding sustainability. We need them to become part of the solution with life-sustaining legislation.

Who do you think your typical customer is? What do they value?

I think we cast a big net. The bigger question is why are they buying our essential oils and on this, we are limited to speculation based on our industry knowledge.

  • The EO market has been built by multi-level marketing companies like Doterra and Young Living. Their efforts have resulted in a massive increase in the awareness of the benefits of essential oils. Unfortunately the MLM model results in prohibitively high prices on essential oils. You now have a large number of reasonably well-informed consumers who are open to lower-priced alternative essential oils.
  • Most of us who have been diagnosed with a disease like cancer or know someone very close who has been diagnosed, has done some research only to find that consumer products, household cleaning products, food additives and more may have contributed to the illness. This epiphany can lead to lifestyle changes that eschew man-made chemicals and processed foods, and embrace a more holistic lifestyle.

What sets Buhbli apart from other brands on the market?

Buhbli is the only brand to offer USDA Organic, Made Safe-certified and PETA-approved as well as each batch being Independent 3rd Party Lab Tested with traceability of each bottle. All of our essential oils are line-priced for mass market consumption at $10.

No other brand even attempts to match this level of consumer value. Buhbli’s investment in highly-visible, consumer-trusted seals helps assure consumers they can trust what’s in the bottle.

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Spotlight On:

Melissa McGill

What's the Story?

Melissa McGill created Red Regatta to bring awareness to the threatening effects of climate change and mass tourism in Venice. Sea levels are rising and the local population is declining (the current ratio is approximately 1 Venetian to every 358 tourists). This independent public art project featured traditional vela al terzo sailboats with hand-painted red sails that traveled through the lagoon and waterways of Venice from May through September.

How are they different?

McGill’s Red Regatta was the first artwork registered as a Clean Regatta (the world’s only sustainability certification for water-based events). It is a program of Sailors for the Sea (an affiliate of Oceana), which works to grow the community of ocean stewards by providing tools, education and inspiration.

What inspires us?

Great art stimulates emotion, creativity and action. McGill’s works like Red Regatta spark the important conversations needed to change mindsets for a better future.

Q&A

Melissa McGill

Artist

Melissa McGill, Photo credit: Sarah Cascone

Interdisciplinary artist Melissa McGill has been frequenting Venice, Italy for three decades. Over that time period, she noticed a dramatic change in the city and was inspired to create Red Regatta, a large-scale display of artwork to bring both locals and tourists together in a celebration of culture and history, but also in an act to raise awareness about the detrimental effects of climate change and mass tourism. This independent public art project featured a choreographed regatta of traditional vela al terzo sailboats with hand-painted red sails moving through Venice’s lagoon and waterways. The red hues in every sail evoke a sense of urgency, bringing awareness to what’s threatening the city’s future—rising sea levels and heedless tourism. McGill says it is “a wake-up call about the state of the environment and our fragile ecosystems.” Red Regatta is also the first piece of artwork registered as a Clean Regatta, a Sailors for the Sea program that prompts sailors to protect the ocean through education and activism. McGill has propelled a conversation in Venice that she is bringing to NYC later this month on October 22 when she will be speaking at Casa Italiana; and Turin, Italy on October 31st where she will present an exhibition of artworks created during the Red Regatta project.

What inspired you to create Red Regatta? What is the project all about?

Red Regatta is inspired by my long personal history with Venice, where I lived for 2 years and frequented for 30 years. I have seen the city change dramatically over that time, and was inspired to create a vibrant artwork aiming to unite Venetians and visitors to celebrate the cultural and maritime history of the city, and call attention to the forces of climate change and mass tourism that threaten its future.

It is an independent public art project—an unprecedented series of large-scale choreographed regattas of traditional vela al terzo sailboats, hoisted with expressively hand-painted red sails, that activated Venice’s lagoon and waterways from May-September 2019. Red Regatta navigated the delicate and liminal relationship between Venice’s built and natural environments, between land and sea, and between humanity and nature. Venetians have been sailing the vela al terzo boats in the city’s waterways and lagoon for more than a thousand years. Designed with a flat bottom and removable mast to pass under bridges and navigate Venice’s unique maritime terrain, vela al terzo boats traditionally hoist sails painted in earthy colors of graphics representing each sailor’s family. In Red Regatta, each boat has custom sails hand-painted in distinct shades of red that I developed in my studio, specifically inspired by and assigned to each boat.

The project encourages a new appreciation of the interaction of the defining forces of Venice—water, wind, art and architecture—that both continue to inspire and challenge its residents. As the sails glide though the lagoon in unison, the red hues mix and blend, while reflecting in the green blue lagoon.

Red Regatta is a collaboration with Associazione Vela al Terzo Venezia, co-organized by Magazzino Italian Art with support from Mazzoleni. It is curated by Chiara Spangaro, with project manager Marcella Ferrari.

Red Regatta, September 1, 2019, Photo Credit: Marco Gaggio

Why the color red?

Against the contrasting sky and sea, red references the forces of life and passion, of alarm and urgency, and Venice itself—from its bricks, terra cotta rooftops and flag to its history of trade in red pigment, and paintings by Titian, Tintoretto and other Venetian masters.

Red Regatta, September 1, 2019, Photo Credit: Jonathan Hoare

What is your relationship to the water and sailing? Do you remember your first encounter with that or what drew you to it?

My father was a sailor and I grew up sailing with him. I have always been very attracted to the sea, and all of my public art projects have engaged with water. Water connects us all.

Red Regatta, September 15, 2019, Photo Credit: Melissa McGill

How does this interactive exhibit relate to climate change?

As a meditation on Venice’s fragile future, Red Regatta invites local citizens and visitors alike to consider the impact of sea level rise and mass tourism in Venice, a city that lives and works by water yet is at great risk of being overtaken by it. This project is about uniting tradition, art, culture and environmental sustainability. It captures attention as a wake-up call about the state of the environment and our fragile ecosystems.

Red Regatta September 1, 2019, Photo Credit: Marco Gaggio

How have people been reacting to it?

It has had an amazing response and a great community has been formed. We have over 300 local collaborators. One of the major issues Venice faces is a declining local population. The current ratio is approximately 1 Venetian to every 358 tourists, so it’s been fundamental to have this great big team of collaborating sailors, crew members, art and architecture students from local and international institutions.

Red Regatta, June 30, 2019. Photo Credit: Marco Gaggio

What are some examples of the artist-led workshops and public programs running in conjunction with the regattas?

There have been a whole series of wonderful programs organized around Red Regatta. Last March, we had a sail-painting workshop at Spazio Thetis in the Arsenale in Venice where I worked with students and collaborating sailors to paint 104 sails in 8 days.

Then I returned to New York to present a special preview of Red Regatta with Magazzino Italian Art at The United Nation’s Italian Mission, where I premiered a video from the sail painting workshop Red Regatta color studies and artworks which remained on view during their high level climate change meetings.

We have presented two Open House events at Ocean Space in Venice, which is a new embassy for the oceans that catalyzes transdisciplinary research and fosters collective action—encouraging audiences to radically reimagine how we see and treat the defining feature of our blue planet. The most recent one was titled Open House: Past to Present/Local to Global. The Vela al Terzo sailing tradition, with the Associazione Vela al Terzo and Red Regatta, is a free interactive public program addressing the local and global perspectives of conservation in Venice’s lagoon, including panel discussions exploring the history of Venice and the city’s current environmental state; and educational and hands-on workshops for audiences of all ages.

We collaborated with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, mooring a small group of vela al terzo boats in front of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection on the Grand Canal, inviting visitors and those passing by to learn about the project. The museum also presented a related family program dedicated to nature and its conservation, and joined ASviS, the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development that promotes the 17 Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. The workshop belongs to this awareness process as it addresses, in particular, Goal 13 to fight against climate change, and Goal 14, focus on sea life.

No plastic! Red Regatta water bottles were given to all the collaborating sailors. Designed by Waterhouse Cifuentes Design., Photo Credit: Marcella Ferrari

What does it mean to be registered as a “Clean Regatta”?

Red Regatta is the first artwork to be registered as a Clean Regatta, a program of Sailors for the Sea that mobilizes sailors to protect the ocean through education and activism. When I found out about this program, we registered immediately, committing to adhering to a series of practices for all of our events. Since its start in 2004, Sailors for the Sea has worked toward building a community of ocean stewards by offering tools, education and inspiration so that sailors may become change agents and harness the power of their passion to heal the ocean. Sailors for the Sea is headquartered in Newport, Rhode Island and has two affiliates: Sailors for the Sea Japan and Sailors for the Sea Portugal. It is also now an affiliate of Oceana. Clean Regatta is the world’s only sustainability certification for water-based events. The program enables sailors to protect their local waters by empowering them with tips and resources to implement sustainability initiatives. Since 2006, more than 1,350 Clean Regattas have been run in 36 countries and in over half of all the United States.

Red Regatta, September 1, 2019. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hoare

What’s coming up in October and November?

On October 22, I will be speaking about Red Regatta and its creation at Casa Italiana in New York City by Save Venice’s invitation. I am preparing for an exhibition of artworks created throughout the process of making Red Regatta, opening October 31st in Turin, Italy with

Mazzoleni. I am also getting started on a Red Regatta book and planning other related projects.

Do you have any advice for other artists hoping to make a difference and raise awareness?

There is an ancient Arab proverb: “Throw your heart out in front of you and run ahead to catch it.” Be ambitious and work hard to make the projects that you want to share with the world. Don’t talk yourself out of your dreams because they may be challenging to realize. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission or invitation to do the work you feel passionate about.Be a good listener and a good collaborator.

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