Joanne Austin – Mother Nature Products

by Claire Minnaar

Tell us a bit about YOU and your family (where you are based, single / married, number of kids, etc)

My name is Joanne and I started Mother Nature Products in January 2006. In the above photo is my tolerant and supportive family, my son Matthew and husband Gareth. We live in Clovelly, Cape Town.

What inspired you to start your own business?

Five years ago my husband and I were living in London. I was 8 months pregnant and between jobs. I read an article in my favorite “Country Living” magazine about women in rural and environment friendly businesses. As a passionate gardener and environmentalist, I was intrigued!

We were planning to return to South Africa after our son was born and I wasn’t sure what jobs would be available. How about starting my own business in a field I love, just like these fabulous women?

The two companies that most interested me from the article (after the farmer who specialized in heirloom and organic varieties of fruit and vegetables – unfortunately my husband was not going to follow me into farming and considered this a “pregnant” idea) were firstly the woman making shaped cloth nappies from natural fabrics and secondly the woman who created her own range of skin-care products made from organic goat’s milk, particularly since we were about to have a baby of our own. I approached both companies to see if they would be interested in a South African agent. Both refused. I decided to design and manufacture products with a similar conception under my own brand. By doing so I would be creating jobs and products which benefit my family and our natural environment.

Today we are a VAT-registered company with a team of 3 staff in distribution and 5 staff in manufacture, with 40 stockists nationwide. Our online shop is:

By calculating the number of cloth nappies we have sold with the amount of changes per week these nappies would be used for over a 3 year period, we have kept an estimated 1.7 billion disposable nappies off landfill sites to date. While I love other aspects of our company’s growth for me this is the greatest achievement.

Our eco baby product range includes: eco disposable nappies, shaped cloth nappies, toddler potty trainers, swim nappies, silky soft bamboo hooded towels, natural skin care for babies and the whole family, mother’s washable nursing pads and ladies’ own natural cloth sanitary pads.

What are the challenges you face or have faced being a working Mom and how have you overcome them?

My most recent struggle was trying to find a primary school with a suitably stimulating and loving after-care facility (now there is a business idea for a budding momentrepenerur). When you are working it is very important to work assured your child is in a happy place! Most of my struggles are about balancing “mom” and “effective business owner” responsibilities.

What is the hardest part or have been some of your struggles starting your own business?

Even though we are successful my greatest challenge this year has been to try and get major retailers to take our eco baby products seriously. Usually my BIG struggles are about maintaining and balancing the cash-flow and being let down by suppliers of our materials. We are very lucky to have wonderful customers and seriously super stockists but there are some who have run into financial trouble and end up owing us money which we have to try and cope with.  In order to remain true to nature in the manufacture, use and disposal of our products we have to be tremendously creative as there are limited options available and we go the extra mile to source suitable materials. Running your own business can be so much fun that I can’t say I’d ever look back but it’s not a cop-out option for a “real job”.

How do you balance your business and your family?

I can’t say there is a balance, if you want to be successful you have to work and be prepared to make sacrifices to make it work.  By working from home I can then interact with my family but the business is also very disruptive to our family life.  Last year for the first time since I’ve started my business, I made some changes to accommodate more exercise time; especially outdoors in nature, for my own health. By looking after my health I have become a happier mom and wife.

What or whom has been the greatest support for you and your business?

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to think about how much support I have had from others, right from the start. It’s not something I ever anticipated and I am very fortunate. A generous helping hand has come from family, colleagues, friends, customers and then their friends and family, our stockists, the media, other like-minded individuals and organizations pop up unexpectedly; and so it goes.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have a more organized system in place from the word go. I would have kept the manufacture and distribution under one roof (and not in my home).

What advice can you give other Moms out there who are starting a new business?

Enter a market doing a thorough research (at least 6 month’s research) and be sure there is a place for you in this market. You could be wasting your money and time if the market is too small, has too many obstacles is or already flooded with similar companies; even if you think you can do it better than anyone else. Can you really? Is what you realistically have to ask yourself after a thorough investigation! I ask myself the question, is there a clear path ahead?

You have to have some sort of entrepreneurial flair and be prepared to learn fast.
Keep the “ego” out of the decision-making. An ego will trip you up.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us that I may have missed?

For any mom considering entering the green industry I say wonderful!! After completing your business plan and research, don’t hesitate! It really is great to be in business but not have money as your primary motivation but instead a business that makes a positive difference to the environment. In my opinion this is a sound investment.

If other Moms would like to keep in touch, how can they contact you?

If you would like to get in touch you may do so via our web site:, our stockists who are listed on the web site, Facebook ( or contacting us on +27 (0)21 782 9117. You are also welcome to visit us.

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1 comment

Anna marie Venter November 18, 2012 - 8:39 am

Good day,
I live in Rietfontein Pretoria and would like to start a business from home. Would you consider me in becoming a agent for your company?
I am a single parent of 2 minors and was retrenched and am having no sucsess in finding a job, I am a home owner and have and have all the space needed to start a nappy business from home.
Please let me know.
Kind regards
Anna marie


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