Meet the founder: Mel Lewis, Ultrella

Ultrella founder Mel Lewis Deodorant natural

We love Ultrella, which is a new, locally crafted body care brand that offers some gorgeous and most definitely clean solutions for nourishing both body and mind.

Ultrella is the work of founder Mel Lewis, an inspiring woman based in Hawkes Bay who is passionate about self-care, ritual, and sustainability – all things we can definitely get behind as we navigate a strange new world.

We spoke to her about her motivation for creating all-good natural deodorants and deodorant sprays, with the end-user and the planet always top of mind…

What is your background Mel, are you a beauty industry newbie?

I most definitely am, my background is a real hodge-podge. I worked in advertising before making the change to banking when I moved to Europe. I eventually ended up in Sydney during the 2007 GFC and deciding something needed to change. My husband and I were both still in banking and became hugely disillusioned by the hours and the stress, so threw caution to the wind and bought a luxury bed n’ breakfast here in Hawkes Bay!

We did that for a while but after having three children, we needed another change. Mike went straight back to banking but I struggled to find a job, and that was really hard for me. I started to get really down about things and making deodorant – as strange as it sounds – became somewhat of a lifeline.

I started selling at markets and had a Shopify store, and operated a nice little business for a few years. It was the best confidence boost and gave me such a feeling of accomplishment.

That was in 2018, when did you realise that it was something that you wanted to take to the next level?

I was on holiday and had a real lightbulb moment – that what I was giving my customers wasn’t always what they wanted. Their feedback was invaluable, and I decided to use that to make the very products that people were saying they were looking for.

I made contact via friends with the amazing Stacey Fraser, a product formulator who has worked with umpteen New Zealand skincare brands that I really respect. She is so clever, and I knew I needed to work with her. I successfully applied for a Callaghan Innovation grant to contribute towards R&D costs and the most amazing process was suddenly underway.

We went backward and forwards for most of last year, and then officially launched the Friday before lockdown – crazy!

So why deodorant?

A number of reasons, one really important one being the fact that my grandmother had breast cancer. It was such a wakeup call for me, and there is a lot of research out there that suggests a connection between various deodorant ingredients and cancer. It’s up to individuals to make up their own minds, but just the idea of being able to ‘clean up’ the amount of chemicals I was using in everyday life was huge.

I also became aware of the fact that so many people were wanting to go natural when it came to deodorant, but it kind of got in the way of life. You need something you can trust, and there wasn’t much out there.

Your deodorants come in super cute pouches, when so many natural formulas come in pots.  How did that come about?

I started off in glass pots, but these needed to be wrapped and after an audit of my packaging I found out the lids I was using couldn’t be recycled in New Zealand. It made me uneasy, and then people were doing things like dropping the glass jars or saying they didn’t like putting their fingers into a pot… I needed to find a solution.

Stacey was the one to say, ‘would you consider a pouch?’ and I was intrigued. I think we’re the only people in Australasia –may be the world – to use that type of delivery system, and they are so light to ship too. Plastic isn’t perfect, but we are committed to managing our recycling schemes and will pay for people to send them back to us if they don’t have soft plastic recycling available to them. Our goal is to move to compostable pouches. Every pouch we sell brings us closer to this goal. Our spray bottles are totally recyclable, and we love to be able to offer people the power to make great purchasing decisions.

You also offer CalmPits a detox mask for armpits.  How does that work?

If you are new to natural deodorant or have been using antiperspirant for years, it is the perfect way to ease into using a natural formula. When you transition from using an antiperspirant to a natural deodorant, many people say that they experience irritation, B.O. and/or heavy sweating, and that makes them give up. When you think about it, it makes sense: if your body hasn’t been allowed to sweat naturally, it’s going to take a bit of time (up to two weeks in some cases) to get the hang of it again. It’s also great for people with sensitive skin and includes super soothing ingredients like rose oil, aloe vera, hemp, and kawakawa to soothe, support and strengthen delicate skin. These sold out during lockdown, it was unheard of!

I guess it was the perfect time to make the transition, we weren’t running around as much and the temperature was dropping…

This is true, and winter is the perfect time to make these sorts of changes.

Do you have any other products on the way?  

The Callaghan grant has allowed me to make another product with Stacey, and there is a bath range in the works too. Next up is a multi-purpose powder that I’m so proud of – we just need to get the packaging right!