evOUR ORIGIN STORY | EST. 1999
In March 2023, David Gordon, Co-founder & CEO,
told the brand’s origin story at Expo West.
Plant a seed and watch it grow
Evan and I have been doing this for 23 years. We started in August 1999. At that time, Evan was already a recognized pioneer in the natural personal care industry having first shaped the wellness department in her father’s natural foods store in San Diego. That was 1984 – almost 40 years ago. In 1986 she made her first foray to Germany to train with the Dr. Hauschka organization. Not long afterwards she trained as an esthetician and by 1988 she had opened her first esthetics practice.
In 1979 I started in advertising in Toronto. I quickly found myself with a top ten ad agency. Seven years later, in 1986, I co-founded an award-winning advertising agency boutique.
Through my 20 years in the ad business of conceiving sometimes magical campaigns I had always had the itch to apply that thinking to a product of my own. Seeing Evan’s genius said the time might be right.
'Begin it now'
‘Begin it now’ is the last statement from a well-known quote, often attributed to Germany’s Shakespeare (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe), but in fact penned by William Hutchinson Murray from his book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.
I will read the full quote:
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. BEGIN IT NOW.
Tradition & Transformation
Evan and I were both inspired by ancient traditions.
I had come to value tradition, ritual and transformation having studied world religion at university in the early 1970’s dropping out to pursue a lifelong study of ancient Vedic wisdom with Maharishi, the founder of TM (Transcendental Meditation) popularized in the late 60s when the Beatles studied with him in Rishikesh India. In 1974 I made the first of a half dozen months-long trips to study with Maharishi in Europe.
Evan studied the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, the founder of the Anthroposophical Society who influenced among others the Dr. Hauschka brand. She also followed Joseph Campbell whose book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” (1949) popularized the hero’s journey: A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are encountered, and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Over the next 23 years the themes of adventure and transformation consistently show up in the brand’s storytelling.
One of the defining images that influenced our thinking was a scene from the movie The English Patient. Set in the 1930s, a healer – a Jesus-like figure robed with long hair spilling down his back – appears out of nowhere in the desert of Egypt with healing unguents and balms hanging from a pole across his back.
A modern-day version of this healer has Evan experimenting with essential oils and hydrosols in the community of early adopters set
in California in the mid- to late-1980s and early 90s. And later that decade precious remedies spilled out of her purse in the Toronto yoga community.
My contribution was to write a business plan the size of a yellow stickie note that said ‘put it in bottles’ – the stimulus for our first products, which would quickly become the oil and water ritual.
We’re all connected
I love how this illustrates the brand’s vision of connectedness:
Healing hands on face. The connection to the earth via our four key land stewards – those who grow our plants. Our hydrosols are the output from family farms along the Columbia River Valley in Washington State. Our argan from the Al Amal Cooperative in Morocco. Our rosehip wild harvested from 25 farms and ranches in the Bio Bio of Chile. And our shea butter from the villages of Kperisi and Konjeihi in northwestern Ghana.
Let’s explore how this all came about through serendipity and happenstance.
Ghana. Shea butter
This story starts around 2005-2006. Evan had been working with shea butter from east Africa and had been struggling with consistency. One day she mentioned that there was a woman giving a talk at our local Whole Foods Market in Toronto and would I join her.
So one evening we settled into a classroom in Whole Foods and took in Gifty – and I might say that there was a lot to take in. With her vibrant charismatic personality, she engulfed us with her story. The story I am telling now is not exactly the story she told that night for her presentation was focused on shea. But over the years as I came to better know her and her husband this is the story that emerged.
From a tiny village in northwestern Ghana, she was one of several daughters of a tribal elder. In her teens she journeyed to London England where she attended school. After studying in London, she ended up at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Where she met a farm boy from Saskatchewan – a Canadian prairie province. They married. Along the way the farm boy (Wayne Dunn) graduated from Stanford. The couple moved to Vancouver Island. And on a trip to see her family in Ghana, she asked what gifts she could bring them from Canada. Her sisters wanted nothing but for her to purchase shea butter from the village and sell it in Canada. A trucking-sized container was packed with shea and shipped to Canada. Gifty applied her spark to creating a line of shea butter featuring blends of essential oils. Which brought her on a tour of Whole Foods including one in Toronto where Evan and I were living.
After her talk ended, we stayed behind and chatted with Gifty. Evan shared our product challenges (stability and product not holding its shape). Gifty asked a few probing questions about our manufacturing process (which at that time was the kitchen sink, stove, and a small stainless-steel bowl), and then she proffered her insight. Offered in delightful lilting Ghanian English: that shea does not like to be heated. That was all Evan needed to begin the brand’s venture into whipped – and unheated – shea butters. And with that we were in business, purchasing our shea directly from the villages in Ghana through Baraka – the company co-founded by Gifty and Wayne.
In time I asked Wayne who ended up teaching corporate social responsibility as a professor at McGill University in Montreal, would you host a crew of us in one of the villages so that we could meet the women who labored over our wonderful shea and see how it was made?
The result: In January 2014, Evan, I, and 4 of our longtime brokers journeyed to Northwestern Ghana.
Wayne (aka Professor Dunn) on the right, his son Kabore on the left (now attending an American university on a hockey scholarship – a true Canadian)
Wayne, Kabore and I are wearing traditional dress – the striped poncho – gifted by the village. Evan in the middle flanked by brokers: 3 of the 4 still representing us.
To get to the village: We flew into Accra, the capital, where we spent a few days to adjust. We then took a plane an hour north and found ourselves in a caravan of decade-old SUVs for the 8-hour journey north to the village of Wa.
There we were greeted by the chief and spent the next few days in and around the village seeing the various stages of shea production: gathering nuts, roasting, and grinding nuts, whipping and whipping and more whipping of the pulp into a creamy golden butter. All done by hand. Often in the open air. Often on the ground. Always among a community of women and their children.
As part of our 15-year history we’ve invested in their community providing school uniforms, a grinding mill shed, and environmentally friendly roasters.
On the day before departure the village came together under ancient trees in their community gathering space, where we spoke, met the village elders, and celebrated with dance and song.
This next journey starts right here at Expo West; I believe it was 2009. Evan and I stumbled upon a small booth bannered World Artisan Guild staffed by a single entrepreneur by the name of Stefan.
While we sampled his argan oil, he explained that it was from a collective of twenty-two women’s co-operatives called the UCFA. Over time, working with Stefan, we identified the argan oil from one specific co-operative within the UCFA as superior. That was the Al Amal – a self-governing, democratic coop. Which soon after became the sole producer of our hand-pressed, certified organic, single-origin argan used in a number of our fan favorites including the oil serum we sampled at the opening of today’s presentation.
The coop is located in Ighrem, a small rural village at the foot of the Anti-Atlas Mountains in the Tiznit province of Southwestern Morocco.
This then is the story of our journey to meet these incredible women.
We land in Marrakech. Here, within the walls of the ancient imperial city, we spent a few days acclimating, observing, and exploring. In the Old Medina, labyrinthine streets and narrow alleyways form a web filled with motorbikes, donkey carts, and people. In this part of town, there are no cars. They simply don’t fit.
Morocco is a country of stark contrasts. The cities are dense, vivid, and pulsating with life. The wilderness - vast, expansive, sprawling. Leaving Marrakech, we drove first through miles and miles of olive trees, and then broke out into the desert. Soon, a sparse smattering of argan trees appears.
At some point they come to dominate the desert landscape. They are shrub-like, scraggly, thorny.
There is something almost prehistoric about them, which is understandable considering the fact that their species is 20 million years old. Hardy and resilient, it is incredibly difficult to grow outside of its native habitat. It is here, and only here, that it seems to want to be.
After a few hours we arrive at a stretch of wilderness a little outside of Tiznit. A desert valley cradled amongst the small sloping peaks of the Anti-Atlas Mountains. We are just outside of the village where most of the women from Al Amal live. As soon as we emerge from our vehicle, we hear beautiful voices, rejoicing in song. We make our way over to the tent they’ve erected especially for our celebration…. keeping a wary eye out for the scorpions that formed the central part of our briefing.
We’re swept into the celebration and enveloped in their circle of song – a lovely heart-felt greeting.
The leader of the co-op, Fatima welcomes us and through layers of translation, we share our happiness of coming together. She talks about the circle of women there that argan unites; about the power of women supporting women and creating beauty in the world; that though from different places and cultures we are all connected.
To celebrate the coming together of cultures we engage in the ceremonial planting of 400 argan trees that we’ve sponsored as part of our commitment.
Two people carry and plant a sapling while the rest of the group sing blessing songs calling out in ecstatic cheers. We do this one by one until everyone who wants to plant a tree has; including me.
We’re told that when the women of the co-operative work, they always sing as they want to bring joy into what they create.
Once we have finished planting, there is more singing and dancing, and we finish our time with the women of Al Amal with a delicious meal, a heartwarming goodbye, some hugs, and a promise to return again.
In 2017 a few of us traveled to the Bío-Bío region in central Chile known for its wineries, fishing and abundant pine forests.
Here’s our host Mauricio working alongside his team of collectors. Mauricio’s role is central to everything for he coordinates the rosehip collecting crew with the landowners.
Mauricio has grown up in the Biobío and over his lifetime has come to know the dozens of ranchers and farmers in the region. It is on the land of these very ranches and farms that our rosehip grows wild. These farms and ranches do not harvest or use rosehip.
Mauricio has arranged for a team of collectors to harvest the rosehip bushes a few weeks each year providing a little extra income to the ranches and farms – and the wealth of rosehip berries to us. Mauricio works with over twenty-five farms and ranches, spanning hundreds of thousands of acres to coordinate the rosehip harvest.
He is the thread that ties everything together: landowners, collectors, and oil producers. Harvesting the rosehip berry is a labor-intensive process.
The collectors wear thick, heavy protective gear. It’s a long day of hard work – that the collectors perform day in and day out. This day ends with a meal of Chilean sausage and steak, mate and cake. Though we definitely did not do the hard work, witnessing it was enough to build an appreciative appetite.
United States. Hydrosol
This journey is an American story that traces back in time to 1996 when I first participated in the distillation of lavender hydrosol in the south of France. Evan and I had been attending a nine-day intensive workshop on essential oils and the teacher, Malte Hozzel, the founder of the Oshadhi line of essential oils took us and our fellow students to a near-by farm. What I remember through the haze of time is the alchemy of plants, steam, sun and patience.
Not long after that experience and for the next 5 or 6 years, Evan and I imported essential oils and hydrosols directly from France– geranium, lavender, rose petal, orange blossom. All delightful.
Somewhere around 2006, though it could have been a year or two later, Evan told me about a woman – Annie Harman in the community of self-taught essential oil and hydrosol early adopters – in Washington state who was distilling hydrosols in hand-pounded copper stills from Portugal rather than the typical stainless steel. And that she was distilling plants for the hydrosol alone rather than as a co-creation or by-product of the distillation of essential oils.
The cost per gallon, even after considering freight from France, was considerably more. So not thinking too hard about it, we not-so-boldly purchased a single gallon of lavender hydrosol. We then signed up the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis to carry this copper-distilled hydrosol alongside our stainless-steel hydrosols from France. Both sold out. And so after some not-too-intensive price negotiation with Annie we arranged the purchase of 600 gallons of hydrosols the next summer.
The following year we journeyed to Washington state. Where flying into Spokane airport we rented a car for the 2-hour drive north landing us somewhere along the Columbia River Valley. Annie welcomed us with a hug and a statement: that she never again wanted to distill 600 gallons of hydrosol in a single summer again, ever! Which is how we ended up with Jud and Anne Carleton. Now stay with me: Jud was introduced to Annie via the UPS driver who knew of Annie’s predicament (too much farm and distilling work) and also knew of Jud’s farming background (not enough farm work). You have to appreciate that though both farmed along the Columbia River Valley Jud was a further 60 miles or so northeast. So that is one long drive that UPS driver made each day. In any case Annie first had Jud and Anne (the Carletons) grow plant material for her to distill and then later trained them how to distill before introducing us to them at which time she sold them (the Carletons) her business. Which left Jud and Anne Carleton, the new owners of Morning Myst Botanics and Evan and I, business partners.
Which we couldn’t have been happier about.
For it has been their friendship that has allowed us to bring so many of our colleagues to their farm over the past decade.
Starting in 2011 we’ve been bringing our extended team to their home to participate in the annual Distillation.
It’s a truly grounding experience. Returning always feels like coming home. This yearly journey embodies so much of who we are: community, hands in the earth, shared meals and the magic of this 4,000-year-old tradition.
Don’t these beautiful alembic copper stills look like temples?! Sacred places where divinity dwells. Here the spirits of the plant are transformed into matter through the mysterious alchemy of distillation.
The plants are harvested by hand at peak hours then immediately packed into the stills. Distilled at low temperatures over the course of several hours. This slow, labor-intensive artisan process creates a vitalizing hydrosol, offering subtle, aromatic benefits for all skin. In contrast, conventional distillation distills primarily for the essential oil – the hydrosol being reduced to a by-product – and uses stainless steel and high temperatures; the entire process typically lasting only forty-five minutes.
We planted a seed and watched it grow
It has been a hero’s journey of sorts, for all of us. Finding resolve under the tree of life. Stumbling into mystical wonder amidst the challenges of the everyday.
And yet we’ve prevailed. And we wouldn’t have done so in this mysterious adventure that we simply call business without our evanhealy team, our steward partners, our retailers, and our passionate customers.
Grow with us
We are planting the seeds for a community of holistic land stewards, artisans, estheticians, healers, educators, creatives and like-minded brands who are rooted in ancient tradition. Together we will play a critical and inspirational role in fostering a thriving regenerative future.
Watch our origin story