As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat.” Well, this eco-conscious West Queen West shop would like to amend that to say, “you are what you smear into your skin."
While organic and natural skincare products present an appealing alternative to the standard fare that one finds at the local pharmacy, for many, the folksy farmers’-market packaging and sometimes limited functionality can present a barrier to making the switch. That’s not the case at Art.27 (899 Queen St. W.), however, where owner Camelia Nicoara has managed to bridge the divide between making an ethical choice and proving a product that suits her customers’ lifestyles.
“I was the design director for a company for eight years before I opened the store, and prior to that I was a product-development manager,” says Nicoara. “It’s been over a year [since I opened the store]; I just wanted to make a change, to make a difference in people’s lives. Everyone knows about organics, but nobody really takes it seriously.
Of her decision to focus on natural skincare products, Nicoara says, ”It’s mostly for the ingredients and the environment.” It’s important to her that people realize what they put on their skin doesn’t simply stay there, but is introduced into their own bodies and into the environment at large. “You wash your hands and it goes through the system and it goes through the water,” she says. “Everything you apply to your body, 60 to 70 per cent is easily absorbed, including into more sensitive areas of the body such as the eye and the lip area.”
For Nicoara, just saying something is made with natural ingredients isn’t enough. “I find it’s very misleading [when producers] say ‘made with natural ingredients’ and people buy into that,” she says, pointing out that just because something contains a few natural ingredients doesn’t mean it isn’t also full of potentially harmful chemicals. That’s why carrying organic-certified products is an important part of her business. “I like to work with certification just because everything in it has to be natural or of natural origin,” she says. “And then for organic ingredients, there has to be a minimum amount of them. With certification, you have to list every single ingredient.”
Organic certification reflects the ethical basis of Art.27, which takes its name from article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “That’s another reason behind certification: It’s all ethical, mostly fair trade, the whole process is environmentally friendly, the packaging has to be recyclable, the print has to be all green—so it’s really considerable,” says Nicoara. “With certification, you can actually trace every single batch to the source.”
Although Nicoara says Canada is far ahead of the United States in terms of cosmetics regulation, we’re still far behind Europe, where organic products have become a regular part of people’s lives, even on the fashionable end of the spectrum. “The European market is so much more advanced, in terms of everything, like packaging and developing the product and putting thought into it,” she says. “They do appreciate organics there. Most of my friends there all work for these high-end design houses, but they all buy natural products.”
Art.27 attracts a wide range of customers though, for the most part, the vast majority are women. Are there any men coming in? “No—it’s heartbreaking!” says Nicoara. “I carry a few men’s lines—one of them is 66°30 and they got the best organic beauty award in France in 2010, and last year they got many, many awards, and it’s such a nice line. But I find most men are attracted to scent, so if the scent is not there and it’s not strong enough, they might not be inclined to use it.
“I believe going forward, I hope, that everybody is going to embrace organics,” says Nicoara, “They’re calling it a trend right now, but I believe it should be the norm.”