Max Kater, we are full-on fans of your green cleaning products. What began as loving the way they look, has morphed fully into loving the way they clean. What was your “aha” moment for the brand? What inspired you to create Murchison-Hume?
MK: My family! Let me tell you a bath time story: we were living in Sydney at the time, and my youngest son, Charlie was suffering from allergic sensitivities to traditional cleaning products, so I had to look around for alternatives. The “eco-friendly” options were pretty limited, so I started importing stuff from back home in the States. One famous “natural” supermarket brand really exacerbated Charlie’s allergies. It smelled wonderful but was really, really strong. I remember pulling him out of the bath when he was about 9 months old and his whole body was lobster red from the waterline down. I was horrified.
After that I spent every free naptime and bedtime I could, researching natural products on the Internet. I tried making my own DIY stuff with lemons, and vinegar, but that wasn’t a great solution. I couldn’t find anything ready made that ticked all of my boxes, so, I decided to make them myself. How hard could it be? Looking back, I can’t believe my own naivety!
Nothing like the necessity/invention inspiration but how did you go about doing it? Was there a chemist/physicist/etc. who came up with formulas or did you do it yourself?
MK: At first, I was just a Mom looking to buy something safe and effective for my family. But, I also cared about aesthetics. I wanted it to look good on the counter! Of course, I wanted it to smell nice, without flaring up Charlie’s allergies. It was a pretty tall order. I found an organic formulator online with a fantastic cleaning product based on glucosides and was working with an essential oils lab in Sydney on the fragrances. It took me almost 4 years (working during naptimes) and lots of failed samples to perfect the formulas and fragrances, but we eventually cracked it. We use the same ratios today.
Style is such a huge part of your business – the products are gorgeous. How would you describe the aesthetic of the line in comparison with your own personal style?
MK: That’s a great question. When we first started, I had a collection of vintage amber glass apothecary bottles that I loved. I was looking for empty spray bottles on a commercial container website and saw “amber-tinted, highly recyclable bottles” and I just knew. This was our look! I also wanted all of the bottles to be uniform in both size and color so they had less visual clutter. We had a tiny kitchen at the time and I wanted them to fit into one neat little box that could fit easily under the smallest kitchen sink, or on the countertop. That’s why we’ve always had the bamboo cleaning caddy. It fits everything you need to clean the whole house and you don’t have to hide it!
What are some things we should be looking out for on labels?
MK: That’s a tough one because so many good ingredients get a bad rap and likewise, a lot of things we think of as “natural” do not equate to “safe.” I personally steer clear of anything with a high fragrance load. I also reject anything that bubbles too much. Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulphates (SLS) don’t necessarily clean better, they just create bubbles and all that detergent ends up in our water systems. Parabens, phthalates + formaldehydes (found in most cheap fragrances) ammonia and silicones are all no-no’s for me. But don’t beat yourself up. Just try and make clean swaps wherever you can, and don’t keep anything that fumes or smells too strongly of anything. That’s a red flag for a high content load of a potentially harmful ingredient.
What’s your favorite product and why?
MK: Oh man, that’s a tough one! To be honest, they change, depending on my needs. Right now, I am rediscovering our Garment Groom product. My eldest son went to Europe for the summer with a group of friends and a single duffle bag. They each got a bottle and said it was a lifesaver! We do way too much laundry in the US. Washing clothes is expensive, boring, and hard on our clothes and the environment. Garment Groom allows me to spot clean and freshen a gently worn dress 2 or even 3 times before having to wash it. It works.
Where do you see your company in the next five years?
MK: Oh, I love that question! We will expand our category offerings and even bring in more outside lines to complement our own products. I see Murchison-Hume evolving into a one-stop shop for everything you need for a happy, healthy home. Like a well-curated Target with a wellness bent!
You split your time between LA and Sydney. First of all, that sounds amazing. Second of all, have you noticed any differences between the two cities in terms of being conscientious shoppers?
MK: We try and get back “home” to Sydney at least once a year, usually at Christmas, and now earlier each year to meet with our Australian team. I actually see more similarities between the two countries than differences. Australians are maybe more aware of the rest of the planet and especially the environment because they don’t have the same natural resources as we do. Rainfall is everything in Australia, so they are acutely aware of climate change and the havoc it can bring to agriculture. That kind of stark reality is inescapable when you are confronted with it on the daily.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel 63. How do we change the conversation around aging? How do we let people know that women are still vibrant and important as they age?
MK: I think you’re doing it! Honest conversations like this one and blogs like “In The Groove” offer a rare, safe space for women to talk candidly about anything without feeling intimated or embarrassed. We all learn from our peers, so why shouldn’t the conversation be around how to be fabulous post 50 be any different? I’m not ready to cash in my chips quite yet and I want to live fully until I do!
What’s one product you would add to our list of Groove-Approved items?
MK: You mean besides the sexiest Dish Soap on the planet? Easy: These incredible Vivian Lou inserts for high heels. A lifesaver!
What is your favorite hostess gift to give, and the best hostess gift you’ve ever received?
MK: You can’t go too far wrong with a consumable. I always take wine + our boxed hand care set or if I’m staying, I send a Clean Starter Set ahead of my arrival. And I’ve been known to bring a new sponge and leave it there. Clearly, I’m a weirdo. But I am handy in the kitchen!
How do you treat yourself?
MK: Daily! I mean to say that I think it’s vitally important to carve a little time or a treat (preferably both) into each day. Constantly working and doing for others is depleting. I’m a firm believer in a 20-minute bath, a rebound session or stretch before work and the second glass of wine. Life is short. Take care of yourself, sure, but also eat the cheese.
What would your superpower be?
MK: Time travel. Then I could go back and stop myself from trusting the wrong people or making bad decisions and tell my younger self that everything really does get better with time. I’d also go back and buy lots of Apple stock in 1985!
What is your go-to outfit?
MK: I am suffering through my first round of hot flashes. They are crazy! So, I’ve thrown over my usual skinny-khakis-and-a-cute-shirt uniform for dresses. They are so easy. I really feel so comfortable and honestly, a cotton dress and sandals are comfier than pajamas. Why didn’t anyone tell me?
If you had a warning label, what would it say?
MK: CAUTION: PERI-MENOPAUSAL. Approach with Pinot Noir and back away slowly.