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Meet Koala Eco’s Jess Bragdon

The aussie company going global and changing the way we clean

For Koala Eco’s Jess Bragdon, having a successful business doesn’t just come down to numbers. For the mum of two young boys – one of whom had a life-threatening illness, Neuroblastoma when he was a baby – it’s all about learning to have balance.

Our family life is completely the most important thing to us, so our business commitments have to balance with being hands-on parents who also deserve a bit of a social life, and the occasional date night,” she says.

“We don’t get it right all the time, but learning to be forgiving of ourselves is one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned so far. Ultimately, though, we are doing what we love.”

US-born Jess says Koala Eco was born out of her and husband Paul’s frustration of breathing in toxic chemicals every time they cleaned their home. Their range of natural cleaners – which includes kitchen, glass, bathroom and multi-purpose sprays – are powered by Australian native botanicals rather than the common (and toxic) mix of phthalates, ammonia, chlorine or tricolsan.  

“We did a lot of research and started working carefully with a local chemist and lab to create really special products.” Jess says.

“We use all recycled packaging and shipping materials, and everything is recyclable. Our labels are all hand illustrations from a Canadian botanical artist whose images represent the botanicals used in the product.” They also donate to 1% for the Planet.

Just 19 months in, they’re now stocked in over 370 stores in Australia as well as Hong Kong, Mainland China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Macau, and also set for expansion in the US. Here Jess chats to us about how to create a healthy home, her favourite natural ingredients and what’s next for this awesome little Aussie company.

We love the name, how did it come about?

Because it’s an Australian company committed to the wellbeing of the planet, we named it after the koala, a marsupial that’s instantly identifiable with Australia, but which is also suffering population decline owing to reduced habitat.  

Did you expect it to be so well received?

To be honest, we were so convinced of the need for these kinds of products and we became so absorbed in the research and setting up of the company that initially we didn’t truly appreciate how quickly we became popular. I believe the ethos of home cleaning is changing, so many more people are now trying to make a difference in their own lives and homes and are trying to make lifestyle decisions that are as environmentally responsible as possible.

Do you have any favourite powerhouse ingredients?

My preference changes every few months.  I love Australian lemon myrtle essential oil for its fresh and astringent aroma, and peppermint essential oil is such an effective natural antiseptic and insect repellent.

What should we all know about mainstream cleaning products?

Research has shown that a lot of the ingredients in mainstream cleaning products are harmful to our skin, eyes, and nervous system. That’s in addition to being harmful to the planet. The fragrance used to mask the chemicals is totally synthetic. If you are cleaning your home, but filling it with harmful chemicals, is it really clean? Manyso-called “green” cleaning products on the market are not actually green. They often combine a large percentage of toxins with a small percentage of essential oil, so they mislead customers in thinking their products are free from harmful synthetic fragrances.

Koala Eco's Jess Bragdon
Koala Eco's Jess Bragdon

If we wanted to make a DIY all-purpose cleaner, what ingredients would you suggest?

Add old citrus peels to vinegar, baking soda and water for a natural cleaner for bench tops that are safe for your family

 What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My father said to me once that having children, like life, is never just smooth sailing; there are always challenges ahead but you just get through them. My philosophy with parenting is to show them they are loved. My boys are still quite young, and I know it won’t get easier but even when I am setting boundaries and feeling completely overwhelmed and incompetent I tell them that I love them. Kindness is most important.

What are some of your favourite natural skincare brands and products

Rohr Remedy, which is created from Australian bush medicines.  The company supports ethical trading and is environmentally sustainable. The products are beautiful.

Orli, which founded by a gorgeous local mum in Sydney. She creates incredible products free from SLS, parabens, petrochemicals and artificial fragrance. I love her lotions and deodorant.

Mokosh. I’ve been obsessed with their products since first coming to live in Australia, and settling in Perth. Their products are free from synthetic ingredients and plastic packaging, are high performing and smell divine.

Mukti Organics which creates divine products and they use Australia native extracts and have organic certification.

What about for your kids?

I love June Superfoods, which are all natural, certified organic plant-based superfoods you can add to drinks and smoothies. I also love any product by Weleda, and I think coconut oil is indispensable – great for washing and moisturising. We are a family that swear by probiotics. I think they make a big difference to help with immunity.

Do you buy organic produce? Where do you like to shop?

Absolutely. Living in Sydney, I go to Harris Farms, QE Foodstores, and Bondi markets.

You’re originally from the US, who does sustainability better, us or them?!

Overall, I’d say Australia. By nature we are a more conservative culture and not as consumer-focused, which means being more eco-minded by default. Australia is also better with water conservation. I think Australians understand fresh water as the vital resource for the survival of our population. However, I believe the US would win for its innovative eco-efforts, for their advancements in research, and incorporation of greener designs and utilities.

We hear you’re also set to launch in US soon?!

We have had so many requests from stockists and consumers in the US we have decided to set up a US-based offshoot next year. My identical twin sister and my brother will be part of this. I love that this is a family company.

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