PUK’eco founder Sarah D’Almeida is an authentic embodiment of her natural body-care products, inspired by the natural handmade products of her rural childhood in New Caledonia.
"I grew up in a village called Koné in the wild north of New Caledonia, a French-speaking country just two hours from Aotearoa by plane, but a world away. The house I grew up in with my mum Cecile, my dad Otilio (who were both secondary school teachers) and my brother Manu was a set in a garden full of lush tropical trees and plants, among them kauri, banyan, frangipani and hibiscus.
There was a doctor in Koné but the nearest hospital was more than four hours away on terrible roads, so to maintain health and wellbeing, we used what grew around us.
My mother, aunts and grandmother taught me the properties of native and common plants and how they could be used to promote good health. For example, boiling the leaves of the niaouli (melaleuca quinquenervia) tree makes a tea that acts as a decongestant and expectorant for colds. Distilling the young leaves and twigs of niaouli makes an essential oil with a wide range of properties. A variety of red hibiscus (Rosa Sinensis) makes an effective cough syrup, and a tea made of corrosol (soursop, Annona Muricata) and added to the bath soothes itchy skin and helps restless babies to relax and fall asleep.
Aloe vera soothes all types of burns, and the gel makes an excellent hair treatment. And coconuts (Cocos Nucifera) – they are everywhere in New Caledonia and so useful. We use coconut oil for cooking and to keep skin and hair supple, and coconut milk is a feature of everyday recipes such as raw fish salad. We know that coconut water rehydrates as well as helping to clear urinary tract and kidney infections. Coconuts are never certified organic in the Pasifik Islands. Nevertheless, they are grown and harvested the most organic, natural way.
Other natural products arise from bancoule nuts (Aleurites Moluccanus, aka candlenut, or kukui nut) and the castor oil plant (Ricinus Communis)– we used to make castor leaves tea as a treatment to strengthen hair. It was a bit stinky, but the results were worth it!
After I left school, I trained in France to become a teacher of adapted physical activity, which meant I worked with children and adults living with disability or restricted mobility. After I migrated to New Zealand in 2008, I retrained as an early childhood teacher.
Here, I wanted to continue using the natural products that I knew worked for me, and, most importantly, that contained no harmful chemicals. Conscious about the amount of aluminium in commercial deodorants, I started to make my own, drawing on the teachings of my family and my knowledge of plants and essential oils. I ended up with a paste deodorant that I loved, and my family and friends loved it too. Then I started making my own toothpaste and body-care products.
The next step was to make my home in Auckland as chemical-free as possible. Through experimenting (and a few epic fails!) I came up with a fantastic all-purpose house cleaner, plus a laundry liquid using Castile soap I make myself.
My partner Henric, who is German and also convinced of the benefits of natural products, encouraged me to make my products available to the public. Today, I produce a range of natural products. I use locally sourced ingredients if they grow in Aotearoa and import others from the Pasifik. Beeswax and no THC hemp oil (Cannabis Sativa) come from Aotearoa, tamanu (Callophyllum Inophyllum) and nangai (Canarium Indicum) oils from Vanuatu, PDO Monoi from Tahiti, coconut oil from various Pasifik islands, niaouli from New Caledonia...
I also use ingredients from my no spray, organic-like garden at my home. In my mind, there’s no such thing as a weed – all plants have a purpose, and I enjoy working out what that might be.
I have recently started developing a vegan product range due to requests from customers. For example, my vegan lip and skin conditioners use Candellila wax (a cactus variety sap) instead of beeswax.
I continue to expand my knowledge, and I am studying towards a Diploma in Natural Skincare Formulation from the School of Natural Skincare in Bristol, England. I also hold a genuine level 2 Usui Reiki certificate and I’m more than happy to reiki your products at no additional cost.
If you want to meet me, I’m a resident stall holder at Grey Lynn Farmers Market in Auckland, on the 2nd, 4th and 5th Sunday of the month. I’m always keen to chat with customers and find out what your needs are. Like our Facebook page for updates and breaking news.