On paper, Oasis: Beauty Kitchen reads like the ultimate one-stop shop for beauty-loving, ethically-minded consumers. Think plant-based formulas, an in-store refillery, recycled packaging programmes, and products that advocate a zero waste lifestyle. In real life, however, it’s so much more: “Our solid haircare range may intrigue customers because it is a sustainable swap at the first instance, but we know that they return because they see the difference to the health of their hair and scalp”, muses co-founder Hildra Gwee. The three-year-old, homegrown personal care brand has managed to strike a fine balance between being natural and being efficacious, executed with an air of effortless refinement that makes an otherwise back-to-basics, eco-conscious approach almost luxurious—a fine feat when dealing with bar soaps wrapped in cardboard.
What started on Gwee’s own kitchen counter has grown into two brick-and-mortar spaces and a burgeoning online marketplace: “We offer a range of beauty, bath and home products that are freshly handcrafted in-house, right out of our Beauty Kitchen at Tan Boon Liat Building. This is a concept that we pioneered, as we really wanted to showcase how skincare and personal care products in general can be made with wholesome, natural ingredients,” she explains. While this is where the concocting magic happens, their flagship over at Joo Chiat Road welcomes guests into a slice of easy living—a sprawling 800sqf shopping sanctuary decked in resort-style light woods, streams of sunlight and swirls of geranium, rosemary and field mint that instantly calm your senses the moment you walk through those glass doors. And ready to be added to woven rattan baskets are the brand’s 100 percent natural and plant-based products, which feature the signature solid shampoos and conditioners, organic facial serums, clay masks and eco-friendly essentials like reusable bamboo velvet cleansing rounds and bamboo hair brushes. They also carry a handful of products from partner brands like Fer a Cheval, the oldest soap factory located in the south of France, including traditional Marseille body bars made of 72 percent olive oil and nourishing naturally derived butters that’s compatible for all skin types, even the most sensitised ones and safe for pregnant women too.
Fresh pickings: Vegan, handcrafted solutions to remedy skin issues
“It started with a problem”, recalls Gwee, who started making her own skincare after going through the hoops trying to remedy her skin issues: “I have always had issues with my skin, starting from childhood eczema to teenage acne and finally, both adult eczema and acne in my thirties. I tried everything—visiting dermatologists, antibiotics, steroid creams and even anti-acne facials with painful extractions. Some helped during the period I was on them, but my problems all came back once I stopped, so I had to look for a long-term solution to calm my skin down”. “So one day, my husband, who is also now a co-founder of the business, asked me to try making my own skincare. Being French, he understands how natural skincare is huge in France and many have swapped out using typical formulas for vegan ones. Long story short, I got cracking on my own formulas—simple recipes with good quality, organic ingredients, and my skin started to change and heal—so much so that people started noticing the difference, and I felt committed to start Oasis: Beauty Kitchen after”. Their facial oils are lovingly blended with no more than eight ingredients, targeting everything from hyperpigmentation to acne and fine lines, with our hot and humid climates in mind.
“We believe that well-researched natural ingredients can be safe and efficacious, but we are also aware of its limitations, especially when it comes to the natural process of degradation. The biggest problem for natural skincare formulators is ensuring the safety of the product, especially when it’s water-based. Hence, we place a lot of emphasis on developing beauty recipes that are solid or dry to ensure that we can avoid the use of harsh preservatives just to extend the shelf life of commercial products”, she adds. One such product is their Magic Powder Wash, a multi-purpose dry powder wash for face, hair and body made with gentle, plant-based cleansing surfactants, purifying clays and organic essential oils encased in an aluminium bottle. “This handy water-activated powder has been formulated to be slightly acidic, which is perfect for our scalp and skin’s naturally acidic pH. The best part? It’s refillable!”, Gwee enthuses. Oasis: Beauty Kitchen was one of the first in the local market to take refilling seriously—and beautifully—offering up everything from clay masks and dishwashing liquid to organic Aleppo liquid soap with 15 percent laurel oil, a honey-like elixir that gently cleanses and deeply heals various skin issues.
Refill, reduce, refuse and recycle
Today, refilling is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence in the emerging circular economy, what with corporations and consumers gradually realising that the most sustainable packaging of all is a reused or reusable one. This comes as a truly viable alternative compared to recycled packaging that, while great in its own way, still requires a certain extent of manufacturing and logistics which in turn generate carbon emissions—albeit at a much lower ecological cost than brand new ones. Gwee affirms this: “the most sustainable form of packaging is either no packaging or reusable packaging. The next best would be infinitely recyclable packaging such as glass or aluminium”. Eco-conscious substitutes like postconsumer plastics can be recycled one to 10 times, according to Treehugger, but these renewed materials will inevitably be of lower quality than their original form and eventually, also end up in landfills once their lifespan is up. As for paper, which we all know as one of the most recycled materials in the world, degrading completely within six weeks in a landfill.
“The most sustainable form of packaging is either no packaging or reusable packaging. The next best would be infinitely recyclable packaging such as glass or aluminium.”
Their approach to reusing also extends to outer packaging for deliveries—so much so that it boasts an entire Recycling Room with a separate entrance for it. Here, they receive used boxes and packing materials from customers which are then used to pack all their e-commerce orders, closing the circular recycling loop by minimising waste consumption by giving materials like bubble wrap, foam pellets and paper stuffing a second (third or fourth) lease of life. This programme has not only encouraged more responsible recycling but built a community of eco-allies: “they are all donated by our customers! And very often, these customers bring the same materials back to us to reuse again. This helps us to prevent generating new waste. We are also trying to work out a way to do carbon-free bicycle deliveries, which we hope to implement in a meaningful way in the near future”, Gwee says.
“At Oasis, we believe in reusing over recycling, because the data on recycling is not easily available. It is well known that there is more material waiting to be recycled than what’s actually being recycled. Not every country has a waste management infrastructure in place. Every county is struggling to manage their recycling, and the process of recycling itself is pollutive. For many years, the entire world was sending their plastic trash to China, which led to a serious air pollution problem caused by these recycling facilities, and the Chinese government had to step in to regulate the entire industry”, she adds.
It’s a mentality shift, and a revolutionary road
When asked how much better sustainable packaging is compared to well, new unrecycled ones, and if the former is getting the sustainable treatment it deserves, Gwee says that it is “tricky”. “There is a lot of ‘compostable’ packaging out there but what the companies don’t say is that the packaging has to be composted in an industrial facility in order to be fully broken down. This industry is still small and it costs a company quite a bit of money to have a fully swap to truly sustainable packaging—which is sometimes not justifiable because not all consumers notice the difference”.
No doubt, there is always a fine print, an asterisk, when it comes to buying into the eco-friendly movement, and greenwashing is rampant with differing definitions of ‘clean’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘green’ depending on the brand, country, industry or retailer. This is why we, as consumers, need to raise our efforts and consciousness to create a more responsible and informed demand for accountability, which will in turn support burgeoning businesses like Oasis who are at the forefront of this planet-focused movement, showing true dedication to environmental preservation and education.
“I believe it is all about awareness from people, and yes it is the responsibility of the brand to continuously think of ways to make it convenient for people to recycle. It is hard to be sustainable, and I am constantly thinking of what Oasis: Beauty Kitchen can do to make it easier for our customers to do what is good and right by themselves, and the environment. For example, we are sourcing home-compostable refill packaging to allow for easy refill of our liquid and oil products so that our customers can order them online and have their refills sent to their homes. We are also thinking of how we can create an easy cleaning tablet to ensure that their bottles are fully washed out before refilling. There’s lots to think about all the time”, asserts Gwee. But ultimately, she says, “I want to thank the people who are bringing the topic of sustainability to focus—we need to build this community to spread greater awareness because knowledge is the only way to kickstart change”.
Photographer: Sayher Heffernan
Beauty editor: Dana Koh
Beauty director: Alli Sim
Hair and make-up: Grego using Estée Lauder and Keune SG
Outfit: Hildra is wearing a Bondi Born top and Artclub skirt from Net-a-Porter’s Net Sustain Edit