BONOBO: Wildlife Skincare Potions from Estonia

We’re approaching the stage of gathering ripe fruits from spring harvest only to cluster resilience for a mature and inward looking season ahead. In Estonia, a new wildlife skincare range is firmly spreading its roots. One-woman-business BONOBO is led by Kristi Kalluste, who is in pursuit of making the purest ointments of Nordic power herbs. Savant talked to Kristi about her journey.

Words: Evelin Kangur

  Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

Tell me about your background and how did BONOBO materialise?

The BONOBO brand grew out of my personal need for especially clean products. After the birth of my first child, my need for the purest products turned probably a little bit extreme - I wanted me and my family to use only truly clean and as organic products as possible. At first, I prepared the creams only for myself, but then the creams started to be used by my friends and acquaintances, and thus slowly gained popularity. A need for actual labels and a brand name arose. From there, Bonobo has grown, quietly but persistently.

At one point, I did not only become particular about the raw ingredients to use for creams, but it was important that the packaging would be well-weighed and recyclable, too. It was also important that the producer of the products would receive a fair fee. In short, the aim is that the whole cycle of the product would harm the planet and people who are involved in the making as little as possible. This is a fundamental principle of the whole BONOBO brand today. 

The BONOBO brand has grown with me all the time. I do not have a big strategy plan on how to get to each and every store with my products, but I am doing as much as I can and manage beside my two little children. Certainly, the whole brand expresses me personally - my love for herbs and faith in a beautiful world.

  Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

The products look like magic potion from a fairy tale. What’s inside them and how does the process of mixing them together look like?

Thank you! All creams consist of a mixture of various butters and oils, as well as a dose of spring water, allowing the cream to be a cream. I try to use Estonian raw ingredients as much as possible. Of course, cocoa butter or sweet almond oil cannot be gathered from Estonia, but I try to move to the aim that most of the raw material is local. For example, beeswax comes from the Soorebase farm and cannabis oil from Tammejuure organic farm (both in Estonia). The cream-making process is always pleasant. Especially, when it comes to developing a new product. In this case, there is a lot of testing, trying, re-testing. Customer feedback is very important to me. Since Bonobo creams have no typical consistency, especially due to the desire to keep products as clean as possible, I always gladly receive honest responses. I am most pleased with attending various festivals and fancy fairs. There you can communicate with the client directly and hear their experiences and collect new ideas.

Active ingredients and packaging in the body care products are often not sustainable with respect to the body and nature, and obtaining the ingredients can take place in an unethical way when it comes to commercial cosmetics brand. Whether and how has Bonobo weighed and directly addressed these issues in creating its products and branded content?

BONOBO products are truly pure, containing only select varieties of butters and oils. The water that is in the creams comes from the spring, and only a minimal amount of water is added, so that the product can be pleasantly soft, but at the same time preserve moderately long. Packages are made of glass, so they can be re-used. Regarding the raw ingredients used in the creams and potions, I try to be as selective as possible. Unfortunately, BONOBO is not completely organic now, but I'm doing my best to move forward with this mission.

Tell me what your favourite products are and why and how to use them for the best result. For example, how to use flower water?

  Bonobo: Primrose and Lady's Mantle Face Cream / Photography: Ele Rieberg

Bonobo: Primrose and Lady's Mantle Face Cream / Photography: Ele Rieberg

It is hard to choose a favourite product, they are all like my own little ones. But if I absolutely must choose, then the Orange and Carrot Body Cream. This cream is the cream from which everything started. The very first cream that I worked out and that my friends started to request. I am still fascinated with this cream. Carrot oil gives the cream a beautiful orange colour, which in turn gives the skin a wonderful glow. The essential orange oil has a pleasing and soothing citrus aroma that always momentarily transports you to southern hemisphere, even in the coldest winter day. The cream itself has a pleasant, soft texture that makes it enjoyable to apply on the skin.

Tonics are naturally a separate topic. They are made for Bonobo by Piia Kärssin, who makes these products from herbs grown and picked by herself and spring water. Only Piia herself knows the exact process, but I can assure you that no cleaner products can be found on the market. All the products made by her boast not only a wonderful aroma, but they have also been made in such a way that the plant's own energy can transact in a bottle and do only good for our skin. The tonics are good for use in the mornings and in the evenings, as well as during the day, as desired. In the morning, they refresh the face skin before applying the cream and in the evening gently cleanse the daily ‘dirt’.

What kind of people are you thinking about as the end users when mixing the ‘potions’?

All kind of people! My products can be used by small children and my creams are even used by men (chamomile face cream and avocado body cream for hands are their favourite). My creams are suitable for all women, no matter what age they are or what kind of view of life they have. Bonobo's products are one of the purest on the market, so I really do recommend them for everyone. Even the sensitive or problematic skin owners can use BONOBO creams.

"I can see so clearly now, just how much the beauty magazine covers shape us: I’ve let that happen to myself, too. But in reality, a cover is just a moment captured on film."

  Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

Are you following or done research into alternative ways of taking care of oneself?

Looking into myself, listening to the voice of my heart and the natural way of life are so familiar and common to me that I honestly cannot say what exactly is an alternative way of life or treatment. I do not quite say no to the traditional medicine, because there are occasions where it can help most effectively. But being a mother of two, I have often experienced that physical problems are primarily expressions of internal conflicts. I always notice how much wiser I am when we have fought off an illness. Back to the question, then I am not an expert on any ‘alternative’ medicine, I have not completed any courses or trainings, but fortunately, great people whose recommendations I trust have gathered around me. One thing is important in my life - food! I do not even doubt that the rest of the health, both mental and physical, begins from nutrition. I always prefer pure organic food and what we eat at home is important. I do not want to give the impression that I eat only organic food and every meal is 100% analysed, but we do our best to ensure that our and our children's bodies will have the best foundation.

There has been a lot of discussion about how to embrace failure and remove the negative connotation from the term. In retrospect, do you feel that failure in some other areas has brought you to where you are today?

This is a great question! Although it may seem that my life is working, it has worked and will continue to work perfectly, without bigger life vortexes, then I must admit with joy that this is not the case. With joy, because all these hardships, self-tortures, and capitulations followed by standing up again have been the best moments in my life. That, of course, in retrospect. I do not doubt that my biggest challenges are still ahead, but I have already faced plenty of them in my life. In my 20s, I travelled around the world and took time for discovering this wonderful planet and looking for myself. To sum up, I can say that I found what I was looking for at that time. I found it in my own country, but I still found it. I strongly encourage people to really believe that a beautiful and easy life is possible, although from time to time, it may seem totally impossible, and as a privilege merely reserved for other people. No! All people deserve happiness and love. Of course, the greatest teachers of my life came when I thought that my hardest lessons were over. My children! This love, joy, concern, self-doubt, laughter, sleepless nights ... oh, I still and always recommend having children. This is such a powerful and extraordinary world that opens with them. The BONOBO's journey was not easy either. I wrestle daily with issues that I have not encountered before, but what I am currently doing concerns me and only me, and I will do it for as long as this is the case.

"I strongly encourage people to really believe that a beautiful and easy life is possible, although from time to time, it may seem totally impossible, and as a privilege merely reserved for other people."

  Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

How do you feel the beauty standards/ideals communicated in magazines affect our self-worth?

In my opinion, our perception of self and feeling of self-worth are heavily influenced by the beauty standards fed to us via magazines and social media. Of course, I can only speak for myself, and I’ve only discovered myself, my True Self, a few years ago. The Kristi who feels her own feelings and thinks her own thoughts, instead of those imposed upon her by the society or her beloved ancestors. I don’t feel like my self-discovery journey has come to an end: there’s still lots to learn, but the door is already open. Prior to stepping on that path, I’ve always been strongly influenced by other people’s opinions, assessments and ideas of who I should be and how I should live my life. I can see so clearly now, just how much the beauty magazine covers shape us: I’ve let that happen to myself, too. But in reality, a cover is just a moment captured on film.

Cosmetics and body care are most certainly interconnected, as is everything else in this world. When you’ve made the decision to only let the cleanest and most nature-friendly body care products into your life, then most likely these choices get transferred over onto cosmetics, food, and clothing, too, as well as helping to shape your thoughts, your approach to life, yourself, nature and other living beings in general. All is one.

  Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

Kristi Kalluste, Founder of Bonobo / Photography: Katarina Tang / Stylist: Alli-Liis Vandel

What are your hopes and dreams for the future of the BONOBO brand?

I wouldn’t yet voice any big expectations nor hopes for Bonobo’s future - I’m following my heart and try to take things as they are. If at some point I come to feel like the time and conditions are just right to extend the range, then so be it.

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