Natalie Jones has always had a love of nature and the outdoors. Her parents often reminisce of how, as a child, she would go off on an adventure and come home covered from head to toe in sand or mud. And they might even be quick to quip that nothing much has changed.
Naturally that innocent wonderment of the world around her manifested into Jones becoming a champion for the environment – ranging from studies in ecology and zoology, to volunteering in Thailand and a job in conversation from her home base of Wellington. But it was a trip to Hawaii in 2018 that set the wind in her sail in a direction she hadn’t seen coming – manufacturing sunscreen.
“I was on a dive trip and on my second to last day I found out that a lot of sunscreens have commonly used chemicals which are actually very harmful to marine life. In fact, at some of the most popular beaches of Hawaii they were begging people to stop wearing conventional sunscreen, as it is found in very high concentrations in the water.
“I was absolutely horrified that I didn’t know this and immediately started researching sunscreens that wouldn’t harm the environment, while also protecting me from the elements – but it just didn’t exist.”
On her return home, Jones set to work making her own sunscreen which was natural and plastic-free, and also something she could responsibly sell to others. Seeing a gap in the market for something she was incredibly passionate about, Jones juggled her full time job with her ‘side hustle’ – and in early 2019, after tests came back from Australia that her sunscreen worked, Jones batch-produced her product at home and went to her first market.
“Looking back now, I realise that was the easy part. I made a lot of progress in a short amount of time, but then things got a lot harder after that. It was crazy working around the clock to try to move the business forward and after getting feedback from customers I had to spend more time researching sunscreens and formulas.”
Things then came to a standstill when Jones received news about a health issue that required surgery and plenty of rest and recovery. And while it was hard to accept, she knew she needed that time to reflect on what she really wanted to achieve, and what she might have to give up on her journey.
“I had simply taken on too much – trying to do three full time things at once. I had my job, study for my te reo Māori course and then Seasick Sunscreen and ultimately it led to me having a pretty massive burnout. I had to quit the things I truly loved doing which was so sad.
“But once I was on the road to recovery, I had an incredible trip to Rakiura/Stewart Island where I gained absolute clarity while hiking through the bush. It was time to quit my job in conservation, take a break from study, and concentrate on Seasick.”
Jones says that while the lesson was difficult at the time, it helped her to understand her limits and to not let herself get too stressed out and overworked. She values her health so much more and has had the very real experience that if you don’t say no sometimes, you could lose the things you love.
However, once she had made the decision to completely dedicate her time to growing Seasick Sunscreen – it was no longer going to be a side gig or hobby – when she opened up her laptop on the first day of official full time entrepreneurship, she didn’t quite know where to start.
“I wasn’t sure what to focus on. So I started looking up things that could assist with a cash injection. Accelerator programmes had always been on my radar too, so I was just trying to find some direction. Then I discovered Kōkiri and it was a game changer. I feel so privileged to have been a part of it.”
For Jones, Kōkiri (a 12-week kaupapa-based startup accelerator for Māori-led enterprises) allowed her to find direction for Seasick Sunscreen, as well as understand what she would need to do to enable that to happen.
“In one of the very first conversations my mentor managed to grab onto the fact that I needed to outsource the manufacture of the sunscreen – as I had reached max capacity of what I could produce, but had been scared to make the jump.
“It was necessary to upscale the business and ensure it was sustainable long term. Without that support from Kōkiri, I feel like I would have beaten around the bush, or not done it at all. And now here we are with my sunscreen currently being manufactured now, by someone else, in time for summer.”
With a network of other entrepreneurs around her, Jones is emphatic that doing an accelerator was the best thing she could have done for her business. She just wishes she had done it sooner.
“I highly recommend getting into a community, especially if you’re a solo founder. I also couldn’t believe how much an accelerator really does push you through so much work in such a short space of time. But because I was doing it all myself in the beginning, I had quite a slow start.”
Regret though, doesn’t seem to feature in the vocabulary of someone who has always lived life to the fullest. And now Jones is getting ready for a big summer of selling Seasick Sunscreen to a new legion of customers, while introducing them to the concept of a natural sunscreen that might be a bit different to what they are used to. But she will always be quick to remind them it’s the right choice in the long run – it’s better for their skin and for the environment too. It’s a win-win.
“I’ve been accepted as a stall holder for the Splore festival and I’ll also be popping up at most of the North Island summer beach markets.
“I’m so excited for more people to try my product and to love it as much as I do.”Find out more about Seasick Sunscreen Co’s plastic free sunscreen here.
Story by Erin Harrison In partnership with Kōkiri.