Botanika Eco Cosmética
11 Dec, 2019 | Rhiannon Matthias
Beauty from Pachamama
Grooming is an essential part of our daily ritual. But in spite of the attention we pay to our appearance, we often think little about the chemicals we are expose ourselves to or the indirect effects they have on our health and the environment. Lorgia Lina Mercado Figueredo, a La Paz native and the founder of Botanika Eco Cosmética, one of a handful of organic beauty-product companies that have sprung up in Bolivia in recent years, describes herself as having always been a nature lover, but her first business ventures had nothing to do with Pachamama or cosmetics. In fact, she studied psychology and worked a corporate job for much of her 20s. It wasn’t until she was pregnant with her son that she became concerned with the complex names on the back labels of the beauty products she used. ‘When you’re pregnant, you want to do whatever is best for the baby,’ she says. ‘You take care of what you eat and avoid anything that’s harmful to you and the baby. I began to take an interest in the products I was using on my hair and my skin because they are absorbed and become part of your body, and are ultimately passed on to the baby.’
Since founding her company in 2014, Mercado’s mission has been to promote sustainable and affordable beauty products – a task that is not without its challenges here in Bolivia. The country’s biodiversity is an unbeatable advantage when making organic products. Many native plants and herbs from the altiplano (coca) and the Amazon (acai, cat’s claw, cocoa) have important medicinal properties well-known to indigenous people. Many of the herbs used in Botanika’s formula are grown just outside of La Paz, in Achocalla, ensuring their organic status. Mercado’s brand is ‘proudly Bolivian’, drawing on the long-lost beauty rituals and knowledge of previous generations. The company’s Rescatando nuestras raíces (rescuing our roots) campaign aims to revive and revamp the beauty rituals of indigenous women using locally sourced ingredients to recreate conventional beauty products.
Botanika’s collpa shampoo is a solid rocklike product that contains naturally occurring salt deposits, a formulation that has been used by Aymara women for generations. Unlike conventional shampoos, it is free from artificial and harmful chemicals like parabens, foaming agents and synthetic fragrances. Botanika also produces sajrañas, plant-based brushes used by Aymara women that are renowned for their gentleness. Unlike plastic combs, sajrañas don’t snag or tear hair, and they are alleged to have magical properties. ‘There’s the belief that when a woman is afraid at night, or during a difficult birth, holding on to her sajraña gives her strength,’ Mercado says. ‘There’s a lot of rich culture and history that we have lost over the years. Fortunately, people have really taken to the campaign. The best part is that it enables people in these small, rural communities to keep making them.’ Botanika’s lip products carry the delicious, sweet smell of copoazú, a superfruit from the Amazon rich in oils, which prevents drying and repairs damage caused by UV exposure. All colouring is naturally derived using plants like airampo to give the lipstick red pigmentation as opposed to using heavy-metal based colouring.
Botanika now has eight points of sale in La Paz and is expanding to other cities in Bolivia. It hasn’t been an easy journey for Mercado, in part due to the challenges that come with juggling motherhood and running a business. She single-handedly makes Botanika’s products in her home lab and has yet to open up her own store because of the expensive rents. Mercado’s biggest challenge, she says, is competing with the cosmetic giants that dominate the Bolivian market. They are able to draw in millions of consumers thanks to huge advertising budgets and clever marketing, as well as their ability to mass-produce and transport their merchandise across the country at a low cost. ‘It is about changing people’s habits,’ Mercado says of the challenge. ‘A lot of people base their choices on costs, and that can mean whatever is cheaper or the opposite – some people spend lots of money on branded products but they don’t understand what goes into them.’ Mercado also organises and hosts workshops to teach attendees how to make a variety of organic products, empowering others with the same knowledge that has changed her life and allowing more people to take part in Bolivia’s organic future.