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Real World Refill store

Meet the couple behind Real World refill and retail store in Hawke’s Bay.

When Nicola Mossman started her family more than a decade ago, she was aghast at some of the bath products she and her husband were gifted – products they were supposed to be using on a newborn baby’s body.

“One of them was bright blue!” she recalls. “It was some kind of bubble bath and I remember thinking ‘am I really supposed to let this near my child’s young, precious skin?’”

It was that product – and many like it available at her local pharmacy – that got Nicola wondering where the natural, plant-based options were for New Zealanders like her who were growing increasingly aware of the toxicity of mass-produced bath and bodycare products.

Fast forward a few years, and the idea of producing something themselves had really gelled with Havelock North-based Nicola and husband Adam. Nicola’s own hands were becoming cracked and painful from using regular commercially-available dishwashing liquid and hand care products. So, in 2016, she began to create all-natural plant-based formulations under the name Real World, using organic ingredients wherever possible… and starting with a dishwashing liquid.

In September 2019, after only three years in business, the pair threw open the doors to their Real World Refinery – a retail and refill store in an old newspaper print plant in Hastings – and it’s been humming ever since. “We’re amazed at how popular it’s been,” says Nicola. “We’ve only been open a few weeks and have already welcomed people in visiting from Auckland, Australia and Japan. People seem to love seeing where the products are made and that they really are made in batches by real people, not machines. We have a full refill option too, for our liquid formulations, and it’s lovely to see the locals bringing in their empties to be refilled with body wash, handwash, and dishwashing liquid.”

Take us back to those early days – what was your purpose?

I was really aware that people were becoming more conscious about what they were using on their skin – in line with a growing movement of awareness around what they were eating and putting in their bodies. There was quite a gap in the market, I felt, for products that were natural and plant-based, but also looked good on your kitchen bench or bathroom counter. So we set out to create something both plant-based, and beautiful.

How did you think the Real World range would be received?

Our expectations weren’t huge but at the same time, I guess we were quietly confident it would be a success. We’d trialled the range on friends and family and had good feedback so we thought there was probably a market. We started off with just handcare and then added to the range slowly over time to where we are now, with over 50 products that include body washes, bench sprays, lip balms and moisturisers.

How enmeshed in your ethos is sustainability?

It’s part of who we are. We have always used glass wherever possible and have noticed that what the products come in is something people have become more and more conscious of over the three years we’ve been producing Real World. We were initially working out of our home, and we’d quite often have a knock at the door from a local customer wanting to refill their glass bottles from our range. Talking to them, it was clear that we needed to be offering more, and that a run-of-mill refill plastic bottle option was never going to cut it – they wanted a full-scale refill store. So, that’s what we decided to create. People seem to really love the whole experience of coming into the retail and refill store, and are happy to take time out of their day to have a chat and leave with a refill. They feel good about the decision they’re making.

Can you describe the space?

It’s the former print plant for the Herald Tribune newspaper and dates back to the 1970s. We completely gutted the building and exposed a lot of the hidden gems that had been covered up over the years, and we’ve reused and repurposed as much as we could – upcycling lights, reusing steel, cable trays, sinks, shelves and lots more! Where we can, we’ve given things a fresh purpose, which really fits our ethos of reusing, rather than sending to landfill. Adam has a very strong design focus and he has designed it all from scratch. We’ve also repurposed the large pots that store their liquid products to feed the refilling station taps. It was a bit tricky working out a way to get the liquid from the top to the bottom but it made sense to figure it out, and with the help of some local engineers we now have a plumbed, gravity fed system that supports both the front of house where we will refill customers’ bottles, and our behind the scenes warehouse staff filling orders.

What’s next for Real World?

We’ve just launched a laundry liquid, which we’re pretty excited about. And we’re hoping to have a bespoke scent on the market before Christmas – we love the idea that people could come in and choose something that really speaks to them, is all-natural, plant-based, and uses beautiful ingredients like harakeke, kiwifruit seed, lavender, lemon verbena, sandalwood and sage.

Real World Refinery, 211 Queen St, Hastings, Hawke’s Bay.

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