Becky Cashman and husband, John Sanderson, started Goodbye Sandfly 20 years ago. They met in Nepal in 1995 while guiding ten-day river trips, each having independently made their living as professional global river guides for fourteen years.

In New Zealand, Kiwi John and American-born Becky guided canoes on the Dart River in Glenorchy for a company that supplied their guests with a chemically based insect repellent. They wondered if they could make a natural repellent that would work equally well.

From small beginnings

Becky formulated several preparations and asked the river company to trial them with their guests. One product stood out as effective and smelling great – it became Goodbye Sandfly. The river company became their first, and continuing customers.

Goodbye Sandfly was introduced at the couple’s outdoor wedding in December 1999 at Moke Lake. Each guest received a bottle.

Goodbye Sandfly successfully swept through South Island Four Square groceries at tourist locations before it entered the major grocery chains. Market research company IRI Aztec data confirms Goodbye Sandfly as the best-selling natural insect repellent in New Zealand since the summer of 2009–2010, and the number three brand of all repellents in supermarkets in 2018, with 12.5% market share of all insect repellents.

The alchemy of plant oils

In 2006 the couple were living in Karamea on the West Coast, by then with a young daughter, who became an integral constituent of the notorious West Coast sandfly diet.

As the mystical favours bestowed by plant oils came to their toddler’s rescue, Becky’s respect for them grew. She lives and breathes the alchemy of plant oils, having been introduced to them through her massage therapy training (completed in 1997).

Essential oils help keep plants healthy, emitting unique signatures which plants and animals register as repellents or attractants. Goodbye oils require 50–1000 kilograms of plant material distilled to extract one kilo of essential oil – a measure of how precious and powerful they are.

Tested on human animals

Becky touches every single product made by Goodbye. “I put gorgeous music on and go nice and slow with measuring and pouring.”

The early years saw her using 10 ml bottles of oils, but recently Becky blended 40 kg of Goodbye Sandfly essential oil mix. At a ratio of 2.2% in almond oil, that’s enough to make 1800 kg of insect repellent.

“I make stuff just for us quite regularly,” she says. “Most won’t become commercial products. A night serum I recently made for my daughter and me (Resting Face) truly rests our faces and, although it’s a diversion from our range, I may do a limited release, because I love the oil.”

Goodbye product development necessitates significant focus on making their packaging more sustainable. “No one answer resolves all questions well,” says Becky, “but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one soon. We’ve just ordered some new packaging material made of seaweed to see if we can make sachets from it.”

Goodbye was run from home until 2018 and, until 2009, product was bottled on the kitchen table. Initial formulations happen in the kitchen too but development is slow because Goodbye is specific about what each product should achieve.

“A lab wouldn’t put up with our constant tweaking,” Becky says. “Goodbye Ouch Sun Balm (sunscreen) took six years and 66 formulations. We test all our products on ourselves; the kids get involved, friends get involved.”

Making from scratch

Skincare producers commonly rely on contract laboratories for a base, to which they then add special ingredients. John and Becky make Goodbye formulations from scratch, taking the uncommon approach of making a product they need, then wondering if there might be a market.

Patient persistence in development brings unique formulations. The sun balm formulation is anhydrous (waterless), obviating the need for preservatives and making it extremely water-resistant, while the base ingredients have strong antioxidant and skin-support characteristics.

Once a formulation is set, Goodbye works with a laboratory to translate the recipe for a small production run. Once this has been correctly made, a larger commercial run follows.

Organic lifestyle

When they lived in Karamea the family grew a passionfruit crop. They recovered their input costs, but their labour was free. They ate a lot of passionfruit, and discovered they loved growing food.

They have used biodynamic principles for 20 years, making their own cow pat pit (CPP), and preparation 500. Biodynamics connects them to the land on which they grow the majority of their vital food.

In 2011 they moved north to a five-acre block in Kerikeri. Son Isaac (12), and daughter Helena (15) have moved on from seeing weeding as fun, but will daily and devotedly still strip a snow pea crop.

The family runs two Dexter cows, three sheep, a huge vege garden, herbs including calendula, lemongrass, galangal and flat-leaf parsley growing wild all over, and 200 fruit trees (almost all of which they planted themselves) including citrus, pip fruit, stone fruit, bananas, avocados, and other subtropicals.

Keeping balance

Quality of life is important to John and Becky. Accepting outside capital would mean pressure to take risks, and a pace set by someone else’s expectations. Goodbye’s growth has been incremental and hard work, but also at a pace their growing family could sustain. The niche category within which they operate initially naturally restricted growth.

“You couldn’t throw a whole lot of money at it and create a market with natural repellent,” says John. “Consumers had to catch up with it.”

Today Goodbye employs a part-time production manager and part-time operations manager. Becky works full-time developing formulations, overseeing production, managing the marketing, looking after key accounts, and building new business.

John has worked in the business half-time since 2010; the lesser hours allow him to pick up and drop their children off to school and other family-related activities. He led their certification process with NATRUE and manages compliance. Before that, he worked as a river guide, on ski patrols, as a heli-ski guide, and occasionally as a stoat trapper.

Certified natural

Goodbye proudly achieved NATRUE certification in 2016. All their products contain some certified organic inputs, while the sun balm contains 41%. Goodbye continues to increase their organic ingredients as they are able to reliably source them.

Goodbye is the only NATRUE-certified brand in New Zealand supermarkets and grocery stores. NATRUE certification has three levels: natural; natural with organic portion (70%); and organic (95%). Goodbye is certified NATRUE Natural. Skincare and cosmetics often contain mineral constituents, which cannot be certified organic because they are not biological in nature.

“With considerable ‘greenwashing’ in the market, NATRUE certification quells any doubts about product integrity,” Becky says. “It is the international benchmark for authentic natural product. Certification is hard to achieve and Goodbye undergoes robust auditing.”

Being in nature is essential for health

Goodbye outdoor products are also packaged in adventure sizes to fit pockets, handbags and backpacks. “We know health comes from time spent outdoors,” Becky says.

In an era where digital technology supplies the answers to life’s issues, she amplifies our connection to nature. Deeply impacted by Richard Louv’s book The Nature Principle, which highlights the dysfunction in our mental, physical and emotional bodies through our removal from nature, she says study after study shows the immediate positive effects of spending a few minutes outdoors every day.

Becky has blogged to over 10,000 followers on healthy outdoor living and related topics for over ten years. Behind the blog, and the business, is an over-arching drive to have people become more aware of their outdoor environment and connect with it for pleasure and personal well being. 

Supporting good causes

John and Becky are also committed to making a difference by supporting good causes. They raised $2000 through their blogging community for Solomon Islands families. They have given away over 10,000 packets of organic seeds, because seeds are a gateway to understanding ‘something important about ourselves’.

Through their commitment to One Percent for the Planet (at least 1% of their turnover goes to non-profit support) they work with OceansWatch, an international non-profit based in Whangarei run by Chris Bone. He works with island communities for sustainable and simple livelihoods, including protecting Pacific islands from logging, as business tactics lay them to waste.

John and Becky also support GE Free Northland, regularly submitting in support of council rules and regulations towards a GE-free Tai Tokerau.

Growing while keeping grounded

Goodbye’s most crushing problem is cashflow. The seasonality of their products means the highs are crazy, and the lows go on far too long. Essentially they have twelve selling weeks to make the whole year pay off, but the business has provided the family’s living since 2014. Their next moves include developing an export market, and bringing more products into the range.

“We love having a business built on the adventuring we do as a family,” says Becky, “but our products allow the enjoyment of those activities for everyone, and that’s even better.”

Theresa Sjöquist is a freelance writer based in Helensville.

Copyright Theresa Sjoquist 2019

First published in Organic NZ Magazine – Nov/Dec 2019 Vol.78 No.6