Local beauty farmers? We talked to two Singaporean women who farm their own skincare

“Singapore is so small, where would anyone find the place to farm their own ingredients?”

Let’s admit it, most of us would actually have that thought when we think of homegrown brands that claim to have grown their own ingredients and be in full control of the manufacturing process from start to finish.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we found not one but two local skincare brands that have done exactly what we thought they couldn’t.

Biconi is a natural beauty brand that uses the noni fruit as the main ingredient in their products. They own a noni fruit farm in Malaysia, an hour’s drive away from Kuala Lumpur.

local beauty farmers biconi wendee lee

Ms Wendee Lee, Biconi

Restoration Essence, meanwhile, aims to harness the power of pandan leaves for beauty. They get their ingredients from a farm in Malaysia and are deeply involved in the planting and growing process of their ingredients.

local beauty farmers restoration essence Sara Soong

Ms Sara Soong, Restoration Essence

We decided to ask Wendee Lee from Biconi, and Sara Soong from Restoration Essence what made them go on the path less taken, and why it was important to them to farm their own ingredients in this day and age.

Why would anyone farm their own ingredients these days?

For Wendee, her family’s fascination with the noni fruit began when she was helping her mother look for a natural health supplement to manage diabetes. Noni supplements weren’t as easy to find as they had expected.

Being city folks, we were, admittedly, quite naive about farming!

Wendee Lee, Biconi

local beauty farmers noni

The noni fruit

After finding out that noni was, in fact, native to the Southeast Asian region, her family decided to take matters into their own hands and grow it themselves. “Being city folks, we were, admittedly, quite naive about farming!” Wendee says candidly.

As you can imagine, farming ingredients by hand is slow. According to Sara, who produces pandan leaf-derived products, a single bottle her product takes “a couple of days to produce”, whereas if they had opted to simply mass produce it, they could produce many more bottles within the same time.

local beauty farmers restoration essence pandan balls

Restoration Essence Pandan Balls

So why do they do it? In a nutshell, they’re doing it for you. Both Wendee and Sara recognise that Singaporeans tend to be wary about quality in the products they use and consume, or otherwise dependent on mass-produced commercial products.

We wanted to ensure authenticity of ingredients in the world of unknown or fake products and scams.

Sara Soong, Restoration Essence

“Farming and producing our own active ingredient gives us and our customers the assurance of quality,” says Wendee. Sara also agrees, saying, “We wanted to ensure authenticity of ingredients in the world of unknown or fake products and scams.”

How does farming actually work?

For Wendee, the noni fruits on her farm are picked by hand so as to minimise damage caused. “All parts of the fruit are used for the product of our unique Biconi Noni Enzyme,” she says.

To create our unique Biconi Noni Enzyme, we use only noni fruits and nothing else.

Wendee Lee, Biconi

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Noni fruit harvested from Biconi’s noni farm

The entire process of manufacturing the Noni Enzyme, found in most of their products, takes roughly six weeks, and then each batch goes through external lab testing to ensure quality and safety before it goes into the bottle.

On the farm that Sara uses for Restoration Essence, there are various farming and manufacturing processes, depending on the product.

“But one of our simple processes would probably be grinding and pounding the herbs and plants after we’ve harvested them, drying it, sieving out impurities, and then blending in the various types of oil that we have distilled,” explained Sara.

How’s farming life like?

Wendee’s farm is located in Malaysia, an hour’s drive away from Kuala Lumpur. Her family owns the three acres of farmland on which stands about 1000 noni trees, all hand-planted by them.

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Biconi’s noni farm

We use only 3 ingredients on our farm – sunlight, water from a nearby river, and love.

Wendee Lee, Biconi

Because noni is native to Southeast Asia, Wendee and her family were happy to find that they are considerably easy plants to maintain in this region.

“The noni plant comes equipped with built-in defences against pests, weather conditions, and the environment, so there is no need for us to use any pesticides or fertilisers,” she says.

The noni tree can withstand monsoon weather, and also bears fruit continuously rather than seasonally. “Unless we have a harvest coming up, we usually leave the tree alone to ensure as little human interference as possible.” That sounds like the dream plant to farm!

local beauty farmers restoration essence pandan scrub

Restoration Essence Pandan Scrub, made with pandan leaves

Sara makes sure she only plants what is needed for her products. “Generally, the climate in Singapore and Malaysia are not that erratic and hence the crop and harvest is stable.”

We plant only what we need for our skincare.

Sara Soong, Restoration Essence

What are three things we don’t know about natural ingredients?

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Biconi Natural Shampoo Bar & Conditioner Bundle

Wendee says:

  • They are comparatively more expensive than synthetic ingredients. Seeing as it takes years for a single tree to mature and bear fruit before they can be harvested, the reason for this is obvious.
  • They are much better for you, if you get enough of it. Some brands list natural ingredients for products, but only add in a tiny amount, like 0.01%, which would not help anyone.
  • They don’t smell as nice as you might expect – but that’s really because we’ve been so calibrated over the years by artificial fragrances that we no longer can appreciate natural aromas.
local beauty farmers restoration essence scrubs

Restoration Essence scrubs made from pandan leaves

Sara says:

  • Lifespan of natural ingredients are shorter. Think about how fast a fresh food spoils in your kitchen. Ingredients that claim to be ‘natural’ but have a long shelf life usually have preservatives added to keep them from spoiling.
  • Natural products may not be organic, and organic products may not be natural. Of the two, the label “organic” is more stringently regulated around the world, which means products with that label will certainly have been checked to contain no toxins, artificial pesticides, and other harmful ingredients
  • Natural products may be even more effective than commercial products.

It can’t all be good stuff, right?

As you might have expected, farming certainly isn’t the easier route to take when it comes to manufacturing your own skincare products. So far we’ve only heard positive things about it from our two entrepreneurs, and we were curious to know what were the challenges to farming.

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Noni fruit grown by Biconi’s farm

One of the challenges is to be patient – while you wait for the trees to grow and bear fruit.

Wendee Lee, Biconi

“The biggest hurdle is finding a suitable location that would allow your plants to grow in the most optimal conditions. Once that is solved, the next challenge is to be patient,” says Wendee. She also shared that the noni tree takes about five years to reach maturity before you can harvest the fruits! That’s a long time to wait.

local beauty farmers restoration essence ice balm

Restoration Essence Ice Balm, made with pandan essential oils

Sara certainly agrees with the tedium of the process. “We don’t have as many economies of scale as compared to more commercial products.”

It is a much more tedious and high cost process.

Sara Soong, Restoration Essence

Farm life or city life?

As you might well expect, for both our entrepreneurs the hustle and bustle of the city is still the more preferred mode of life for them.

Working on the farm allows me to take time out of my hectic daily life, but I still need to have cafes, shops, and museums at hand.

Wendee Lee, Biconi

“Being out in the open air and doing physical work gives me the chance to connect with nature, which is incredibly therapeutic and rewarding,” says Wendee. “But I am a city girl at heart.”

We consider ourselves modern-day farmers.

Sara Soong, Restoration Essence

The same goes for Sara. “We visit the farm regularly,” she says. “But I do love being in Singapore as I am able to do what I love whilst bringing my passion to the ones I love as well.”

The fruits of their labour

Biconi

local beauty farmers biconi

  • Biconi Hair Revitalising Shampoo Bar: Developed for women suffering from hair loss due to hormonal imbalances. Made from Biconi Noni Enzyme, organic camellia seed oil, argan oil, and essential oils of rosemary and lavendar.
    Retails for SGD59 (150g) on Biconi.com.
  • Biconi Natural Hair Repair Conditioner: Helps to moisturise and replenish dry, damaged hair. Made from Biconi Noni Enzyme, virgin coconut oil, and cocoa butter.
    Retails for SGD24 (200ml) on Biconi.com.
  • Biconi Natural Shampoo Bar & Conditioner Bundle: Two products in one bundle!
    Retails for SGD69.90 on Biconi.com.

Restoration Essence

local beauty farmers restoration essence

  • RESS Ice Balm: A moisturising, 100% natural cooling lip balm. Made from pure coconut and peppermint oils, infused with the signature RESS pandan oils.
    Retails for SGD24.90 (4g) on Restoration Essence.
  • RESS Vitality Rub:  A body rub with essential oils that promote sharpness and clarity of mind. Made from coconut oils, beeswax, shea butter oil, and essential oils of pandan, orange, rosemary, and peppermint.
    Retails for SGD24.90 (9g) on Restoration Essence.
  • RESS Chocolate Sugar Scrub: This sinfully sweet exfoliation scrub nourishes the skin and promotes microcirculation to reduce signs of ageing. Made from brown organic sugar, coconut oil, cocoa powder, and pandan and peppermint essential oils.
    Retails for SGD35.90 (50g) on Restoration Essence.
  • RESS Nourishing Body Lotion with Organic Pandan: This is a hand cream that can also double up as a body lotion! Infused with organic pandan.
    Retails for SGD30.90 (50g) on Restoration Essence.
  • RESS Pandan Mint Salt Scrub/Soak: Entirely homemade, this body scrub is a natural way you can exfoliate and soften your skin all over. You can even use this as a bath or foot soak! Made from pandan leaves, pandan essential oils, lemon essential oil
    Retails for SGD35.90 (60g) on Restoration Essence.
 

Today's Beauty Tip

Cleanse your mobile phone with an alcohol wipe regularly to get rid of grime and makeup that is left behind. This ensures you won't be transferring bacteria from the screen to your skin.