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Ash & Mill creates skincare inspired by ancient practices and local botanicals

by | Jan 24, 2022

Combining his knowledge of chemistry with his passion for sustainability, Dr. Brian Watson created Ash & Mill to honour South Africa’s rich biodiversity.

The name ‘Ash & Mill’ is inspired by the history and chemistry behind soap making. During the 19th century, indigenous plants, such as Ganna bush, glasswort, and other sodium-rich plants were burned. The remaining ash was dissolved in water and combined with plant oils or fats to create soaps. Ash & Mill continues this ancient practice by honouring the lush variety of plants in a natural, slow process.

Before entering the wellness industry, Watson studied Chemistry at the University of Cape Town. He then went on to further his studies with a PhD in Chemistry at Arizona State University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford in Materials Science and Engineering. In 2017, Watson returned to South Africa hoping to use his knowledge for good.

“In my time living in America, I enjoyed using a number of premium soaps and skincare products,” Watson says. “As a chemist, I often found myself studying the labels of products in the store.”

On his return, he noticed that many brands in South Africa were imported, with others using very few locally-sourced natural ingredients. So, he realised there was a need for a brand that celebrates the diversity of local botanicals. He started Ash & Mill in 2020, in a friend’s apartment, making everything himself. Watson wanted his brand to be innovative and sustainable.

Due to the high equipment and development costs of advanced chemistry that he trained in, such as low-cost photovoltaics and semiconductors, Watson decided to focus instead on cosmetics and skincare which have a much lower barrier to entry. He started off with one, simple product: soap.

He also wanted his products to compete with the international market, while being environmentally conscious. Watson’s education in organic chemistry gives him the ability to understand the ingredients and the making of his products. It allows him to create an offering of luxury skincare that is both good for the planet and good for your skin. “I want to create products that offer the user the same kind of a reward as a good cup of coffee, something that you don’t just look forward to, but something you savour,” Brian says.

Ash & Mill offers a variety of luxurious products made using only naturally-derived ingredients, sourced locally, such as rose geranium and rooibos. Almost two years on, the brand is expanding its range offering liquid castile soaps, body butters, lip balms and face oils.  with many more products in the development stage.

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