Both keen divers and avid conservationists, they discovered a demand in their respective markets for eco-friendly products and were determined to come up with a solution.
Nat found out many sunscreens were full of reef-harming chemicals on a dive trip to Hawaii in 2019.
“On my first ever trip to Hawaii, I discovered a big information station that asked tourists not to wear conventional sunscreen because it was harmful to corals.
“I was shocked that the sunscreen I was using at the time contained every single ingredient on the list.
“Hawaii had some beautiful brands, but on my return to Aotearoa I couldn’t find a sunscreen that didn’t have the listed chemicals, was plastic-free, and New Zealand-made.”
Meanwhile, Octacle wetsuit lube came about after Kat upgraded from a surf wetsuit to a dive-specific open-cell wetsuit when diving in Wellington got a little chilly.
“Open-cell suits are designed to be close to your skin, but you need some kind of lubricant to get them on – historically people soap them up with detergent, shampoo, or conditioner,” explains Kat.
“After going for a dive I’d come out of the ocean and feel gross. I was covered in this soapy stuff and it felt disgusting!
“I felt disconnected from the very thing I was trying to engage more intimately with, not to mention all the detergent going directly into the sea!”
Kat found that other than using a product that was ultimately made from a petrol chemical by-product, there was nothing else available on the market.
Both women entered their research phases, transforming their home kitchens into scenes from a television crime drama series, concocting white powders and experimenting with various ingredients.
The R&D process was familiar territory for both — Kat was used to exploring creative processes as a former art mentor and photographer, and Nat has a background in science and environmental work.
Nat ran sunscreen trials with various ingredients from online recipes.
“The main thing was to ensure the sunscreen consistently produced high SPF results.
“After some finetuning and going through the SPF certification process, Seasick Sunscreen was independently SPF certified to meet the New Zealand Sunscreen Safety Standard.”
Nat has since launched a new and improved formula, the Daily Face and Body Sunscreen (vegan).
Kat discovered the amazing properties of seaweed for her wetsuit lube.
“Ultimately, I wanted to use seaweed because we’re in the water, we’re connected with the ocean, it made sense.”
The seaweed used in Octacle is sustainably farmed and naturally refined to an odourless powder.
After urging friends and family to test their products and using online forums, the pair now sell their products in various stores nationwide, and globally.
They’ve also received ongoing positive feedback from customers — like divers whose reoccurring skin issues have disappeared thanks to the soothing properties of Octacle.
Nat says people who don’t usually like sunscreen due to skin irritations find Seasick Sunscreen is safe and gentle for even the most sensitive skin.
“Seasick Sunscreen doesn’t contain any water so is more like a concentrated sun balm. You use a tiny bit and it smooths gently into your skin rather than needing to slop lots of liquid sunscreen on.”
The journey hasn’t been easy for either woman, both facing the challenges of developing a product, a start-up, and funding it themselves.
Nat has given up her day job and is immersed in her start-up (alongside finishing her Master’s), while Kat is working in her business full-time after juggling both work and motherhood early on.
“It’s been a hard road, and it continues to be in many ways,” says Kat, “but I remind myself there’s people out there using my product who need it, as well as protecting our ocean".
“That’s what I do it for — it enables those people to keep doing what they love while also making positive changes for our planet”.