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Form and Formula with Jonnie Vigar of Leif

To celebrate the launch of Barefoot, a plant-based rug refresher and concentrated spot cleaner created in collaboration with Leif, we spoke to their co-founder Jonnie Vigar. Known for their botanical care products, Leif is a design-led brand that wholeheartedly celebrates its Australian roots and champions innovations in sustainability. Jonnie shared how the partnership with Armadillo came to fruition and why transparency is so important to customers today. 

Styling by Joseph Gardner. Photography by Victoria Zschommler.

Tell us a bit about your career journey. Did you have a formative experience as a young person that ignited your passion for design?

Growing up in a rural part of the UK during the 1980’s, I wasn’t surrounded by too much design. There was plenty of wallpaper and carpet, and a lot of Laura Ashley. That said, design was a subject I really enjoyed at school, so I studied Industrial Design at Bristol which proved good timing. Massive Attack were the biggest band on the emerging music scene. Design was key to their act and others like Underworld, which was inspiring and an education. Everything benefits from design done well.

Leif has an unusual back story in that the vessel spurred the creation of a formulation to go in it. Can you elaborate on that process, from prototype container to skincare product?

Leif is a product company founded by product designers. As Container, our studio has been designing and delivering bespoke packaging for over 20 years. Our niche is cosmetics, and our first client was Kevin Murphy, a haircare line that we still work with today. Slab-sided bottles have become part of their DNA and we have always encouraged clients to invest in custom packaging. It pays to look different on shelves and costs a little more than ‘stock’.
Leif was born thanks to a prototype that sat in our studio. Friends and clients would often comment on its unique form and fine neck. Eventually we decided to fill it ourselves; the formulas needed to deliver on the package that had already taken shape. Back-to-front is best, we say.

"Cleaning products is a new category for Leif. It’s great to be able to offer a plant-based product in a bottle made of 100% recycled material."

Leif is quintessentially Australian – not only is the line made locally but it draws on essential oils and extracts from our native environment. Why was it so important to you to champion Australian ingredients?

From the outset, it seemed natural to focus on our own backyard, our own outback. Having evolved in isolation for millions of years, this continent has plants like nowhere else. They deserve to be celebrated, just like our unique animals, and known the world over. We want Leif to be that platform – to hero Australia’s ancient flora and present them with a modern outlook. Like many, I emigrated here and was struck by the sunlight and optimism this country has. It is lucky.

Your products are 100% vegan and cruelty-free. Why do you think this idea of slow, clean beauty has gained wider appeal in recent years?

With information being so easily accessible online, customers are more knowledgeable and their decisions are very considered. The beauty and wellness market has seen a big rise over the last couple of years and customers really care about ingredients, so brands have to be more transparent than ever. ‘Slow cosmetics’ for Leif has been a good thing. You need time with an idea, and not be pressured into making the decision just because of the speed of it.

Sustainability is an indelible part of Leif’s ethos. How have you put this into practice and where do the next opportunities for change lie?

The last 18 months has seen us reduce our plastic footprint with the introduction of 1L Re:fills, along with a returns scheme where customers can send their empty pouches back to us to be recycled by Terracycle. There was an immediate uptake from customers and Re:fills are now bestsellers. We recently introduced a new material called RPET, available across our Flannel Flower range, which includes 50% recycled content. Our goal is to have the entire range of bottles available in the new material within 18 months along with even more radical packaging innovations to come!

We are so excited to partner with Leif on the Barefoot rug cleaner. Can you share how the collaboration came about?

There is so much creativity coming from the Australian design community, and we’re always interested in connecting with those doing great things in the interiors, lifestyle and architectural space. Armadillo’s Sydney showroom is just around the corner from our studio, so we were delighted to receive an email from [their team] knowing that there was already a nice local connection. We were aware of Armadillo’s unique positioning and international reputation, so it didn’t take us long to say yes to a product collaboration!

What did you find intriguing about developing the product, and what proved to be challenging?

Cleaning products is a new category for Leif so it was important to work with a trusted supplier to develop a formula that does what it says on the bottle! Armadillo conducted impressive testing which is how we landed on a concentrated spot cleaner and rug refresher designed for natural fibers. Sustainability was important for both brands from the get-go, so it’s great to be able to offer a plant-based product in a bottle made of 100% recycled material. The bottle color complements our range and Armadillo were happy to go with something muted but elevated. Hopefully Barefoot will bring a little luxe to housework!

As your brand continues to grow, how are you maintaining that sense of authenticity?

The great thing about Leif is [that] it’s our own brand. We’re not beholden to other people, it’s not other people’s money that we have to worry about – we can take our own time. There is still a great opportunity for Leif to grow locally but also overseas to really promote Australian native [ingredients], so we’re excited to tell that story through our trusted international partners.
We have recently purchased a heritage-listed property in Redfern that will serve as both an office and retail outpost. We’re excited to think about what Leif is as a physical retail environment, and look forward to welcoming friends, partners and customers into the new home of Leif.

How do you hope customers will feel when they incorporate Leif into their lives and homes?

Our motto is “modern beauty designed to elevate the everyday”. We want Leif to represent Australia in both formula and form, so if we can bring color, functionality and good design into people’s lives and homes then we’re doing what we set out to do.