It was the phone call every new green beauty brand prays for. GOOP, the uber-influential lifestyle behemoth founded by Gwyneth Paltrow, wanted to know if Allison Audrey Weldon, resident of sleepy Bowen Island, B.C., and founder of the few-months-old beauty brand, Sangre de Fruta, could send her Vetiver & Fleur botanical body cream to sell on its highly curated website. It was her proverbial big break in 2016, but far from an overnight sensation, it was the culmination of a long journey Weldon had started when she was five.
At that young age, Weldon’s father, a statistician who taught at Simon Fraser University, first took the family on sabbatical to see the world from a whole new perspective. “We never got the cool sneakers for Christmas,” she explains. “My parents didn’t care about those things; they cared about experiences—that was their philosophy.” One year it was living on a remote island in Sulawesi, Indonesia, where Weldon recalls palling around with the wild pigs. Here, she first learned that cinnamon came not from a jar, but from a tree. Another sojourn took her to New Zealand, where she first experienced the legendary do-it-yourself ethos of the Kiwis, who were the pioneers of off-grid, low-impact living. When the journeys were over, she would always return to her home base in Tsawwassen, a picturesque seaside town on the outskirts of Vancouver, but she was always ready to decamp to the peripatetic life when the call came. “These experiences made me all the more curious,” she says.
As Weldon grew, she homed in on the fashion industry as a possible fit for her global outlook, but the reality of the business side was less than inspiring. When she worked as an intern at GQ in London, her task for the day was to “run around and pull swimsuits from brands that advertised like Tommy Hilfiger,” she says. “There were so many cool, young designers at London Fashion Week that I wanted to pull, but I wasn’t allowed to—I had to tell them all that it wasn’t in the cards for them and felt so badly.” Another internship at Line, a knitwear company, further disillusioned her. “My job was to just go through the season’s runway collections to help them figure out which ones they could knock off—like, where they could add a Chloé collar to ‘get the look.’ ” Young and idealistic, she realized she wasn’t a fit for the fashion industry. “I was into it for what I thought was the soul of it, the design and what colours can say and do, but it didn’t feel right then.”
“Being healthy in North America often feels like it’s just about how you look. We live in a culture of denying ourselves things. Europeans see eating good food and drink as part of their everyday experience—as essential and normal as breathing.” —Allison Audrey Weldon
But yet another sabbatical—this time in Australia—finally opened the passionate door she had been looking for. While studying fashion at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, she met Chris Sanderson and Martin Raymond of the Future Laboratory, a London-based trend forecasting company, when they presented to her class.
Inspired by the duo, she talked herself into a job at their influential company and spent the next three years studying the inner workings of the world’s culture prophets. The Future Laboratory is ground zero for a plethora of the world’s top brands, each of which spends serious money every year for detailed, seasonal forecasts centring on fashion, beauty, technology—the holy grail of what’s to come. From Sony, to Louis Vuitton, to Facebook, companies clamour for these prognostications, for their meticulous and comprehensive formulations on everything from colour to music, to launch, release, and unveil of their various endeavours. No one would ever launch leg warmers, for example, unless the Future Laboratory says they’re coming back down the pike.
When Weldon’s contract was up three years later, she planned to head to Paris to study colour forecasting. But her plan derailed when her boyfriend at the time convinced her to move back to Vancouver to try her hand at another idea she’d been daydreaming about on the side: a yoga studio with a French Mediterranean restaurant called Che Baba that served fresh, whole, local ingredients.
Weldon’s lifetime of criss-crossing the globe had immersed her in an idea still largely unpractised in North America: holistic luxury. She likens it to psychologist Paul Rozin’s research around food. When he showed the words “chocolate cake” to American subjects, guilt was their top word association. When he unveiled those same words to French subjects, their immediate word association was celebration. Weldon wanted to tap into the latter—appreciating the good things in life as a way of taking care of yourself. “Being healthy in North America often feels like it’s just about how you look,” she says. “It’s either all about eating superfoods, or not eating at all and having to cleanse yourself of toxins—we live in a culture of denying ourselves things. Europeans see eating good food and drink as part of their everyday experience—as essential and normal as breathing.” Taking care of your body and mind while enjoying whole, rich foods and wine are age-old practices. “I like to look at the Old World for inspiration,” she adds. “There’s value in their rituals, indulgences, the idea of celebrating and enjoying life—it’s about looking for wisdom in the past because ancient teachings don’t tell us that health is about austerity and deprivation.”
Taking care of yourself holistically made perfect sense to her; what wasn’t making sense was her relationship with her boyfriend. On the very day her new restaurant opened (the yoga studio was already running), the pair stormily broke up.
Though the restaurant would close a year after opening, as it turns out, the best idea had been in front of her all along. Weldon had long been honing her small-batch creams and lotions to sell at the yoga studio with her friend Elena Orrego. Under Orrego’s tutelage, Weldon learned the art of mixing essential oils much like a chef creates secret dishes—a pinch of this, a dash of that. The pair would gift them to friends and family. “Everyone started asking for more and it was hard to keep up,” she laughs.
Sangre de Fruta is a pastiche of Weldon’s key experiences. A little bit of Old World savoir faire, a lot of work experience knowing what trends are on the horizon, and a desire to live mindfully on Bowen Island, where she set up Sangre de Fruta’s retail storefront and production facility. “The real deal is actually the most luxurious thing out there,” she explains. “To make a product that’s not refined, that’s essential and so beautiful, is what this is all about. People don’t want synthetic crap anymore.” From the botanical shampoo with camellia seed oil to the flower nectar face oil, all Sangre de Fruta’s products are organic, gluten-free, cruelty-free, and GMO-free. That means no synthetic ingredients or fillers like water, no fragrance, and no preservatives. Every scent comes from the actual plant oil.
Weldon is clear on where Sangre de Fruta sits in the pantheon of beauty brands. This is not an anti-aging panacea. “You can go in scientifically and look at what certain properties can do for the skin,” she says. “For me, it’s all about mixing the texture and scent, the indulgence, the rituals, and even the aesthetically beautiful, like treating the senses with the sound of glass jars when you open them.” Her essential oils and botanicals are meant to be purely grounding, healing, and meditative. “I want people to treat themselves, not perfect themselves.”
It’s been four years since that GOOP call dropped, and, since then, a cavalcade of further orders have rolled in, including a Nordstrom green beauty pop-up. A smattering of curated boutiques around North America that understood what Weldon was trying to do hopped on board, too. And, in 2019, the Emmy Awards gift bags. Clean ingredients, the new luxury, are what high-end retailers are after. Sangre de Fruta’s organic lavender comes from Alembic Essences and Sacred Mountain farms on Salt Spring Island; its cedar from a small, sustainable eastern Ontario farm that uses the greens from previously cut trees; the rose otto essential oil comes from Bulgaria, cultivated in the mountainous regions, where the Damask rose flowers must be picked right after the morning dew and distilled immediately to maximize their yield. “It’s just so beautiful, and good for the skin and heart,” she says of the effort, with the end user the beneficiary. The three drops of this precious oil per 100 ml jar equates to over 200 rose blossoms per container.
Still cognizant of coming trends, Weldon’s next step is, of course, one ahead of the curve. California has banned single-use plastics in hotels and shared home bathrooms by the year 2023, and such waste is now being urgently debated the world over. Hotels have started inquiring how Weldon can work with their luxury amenity programs, while keeping plastics to a minimum. And Sangre de Fruta has risen to challenge. This year, expect to see the brand’s luxe offerings in 500 ml refillable containers in the gold suites at the Fairmont Pacific Rim as well as Westbank’s long-term stay Telus Sky property in Calgary. There are more in the works.
And if 2020 trend forecasting has it right, we will see wellness take a less ascetic form for a more mindful, happiness-based approach. But, of course, Weldon already saw that one coming.