Ash & Mill was founded in August 2020 by Cape Town-born scientist, Dr Brian Watson. After completing his PhD in organic chemistry applied to the field of artificial photosynthesis in Arizona, Dr Watson transferred to Stanford University where he held a position as postdoctoral fellow in the department of Materials Science and Engineering. While Watson’s work at Stanford focused on solution processed semiconductors and printable solar cells, the research group he worked in had a focus on the thermomechanical properties of skin and the interaction of various skincare on the upper layer of skin. Exposure to this field of research piqued his interest in skincare and the underlying chemistry.
Watson on Mt Tamalpais outside San Francisco during his postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford.
“It was during my time in the USA that I came to enjoy the experience of using a number of premium soaps and skincare products, and as a chemist, I often found myself studying the labels of products in the store.”
In 2017, Watson returned to South Africa and noticed a scarcity of premium soaps and skincare products in South Africa, especially of products that were locally made and produced on a scale larger than that of a typical cottage industry.
“I again found myself spending hours in stores, studying labels and trying products, but I was generally unimpressed with both the ingredients and the user experience. I wanted to create products that offered the user the same kind of a reward as a good cup of coffee, something that you didn’t just look forward to, something you would savour.
At the same time, I realized that people were no longer trusting the products they were using. They seemed unsure about what was in them, what they did to their skin, and beyond that, where the ingredients came from and what happened to the molecules and polymers within them after being used.”
Ash & Mill low-comedogenic face and beard oils, a water-free method for caring for facial skin.
For a number of years, Watson had wanted to start or be a part of a homegrown initiative in one of the chemical, biological or material sciences that would provide a product of value to local and international markets. While the depth of infrastructure and industrial capabilities in South Africa in these fields is relatively thin, the rich botanical diversity and strong agricultural sector, along with the burgeoning and complimentary agritech industry was very encouraging.
Attractive two-tone Ash & Mill cold-processed soaps.
“While I accepted that it may be very challenging to start a solar panel company that manufactured novel solar cells locally, a range of high-quality and innovative skincare products felt like an achievable end goal, especially one that leveraged the use of local botanicals, extracts and ingredients produced locally.”
Rooibos, a fynbos native to the Western Cape is used to provide exfoliation and imbue this cold-processed soap with its rich, red-brown colour and anti-oxidants.
While many local startups are focused on code and internet-based technologies, Watson is convinced that there are still numerous opportunities for South Africans to innovate and produce technologies and brands in technology sectors that are more traditional, but less established locally.
Cape Town is a truly unique city built around a national park, where people live, work and play where the mountain’s fall into the sea. The multicultural people of the city are diverse, highly creative, active and sophisticated. Ash & Mill is proud to have it’s origins in Cape Town and aims to embody the spirit of the land and people, while complimenting their lifestyle and taste for design and experience.
The whole idea was to add to compliment and share the experience of living in Cape Town. Savor that Ash & Mill moment as you enjoy a quick shower after climbing Lion’s head before rushing off to a meeting at your local neighbourhood coffee shop, or enjoy a long bath and nourish your skin afterwards with an Ash & Mill body butter after a long day wine tasting or relaxing in the warm sun on Clifton beach.
Ash & MIll focuses on 5 core concepts:
- a superior user experience,
- product performance and authenticity (striving for authenticity and avoiding making unfounded claims),
- the interaction of product ingredients with human biology,
- paying attention to the source of ingredients and their impact on the environment,
- consideration of the impact on the environment after use.
A year on, the number of products in the Ash & MIll range continues to expand. Having started with premium, cold-processed soaps, new products are in development and will be released over the coming year. Ash & Mill products can be purchased online at ashandmill.com, through a number of stockists, or from the Ash & Mill studio in the Woodstock Exchange in Woodstock, Cape Town.