Who are the people behind Activist?
Activist is a Mānuka Honey company founded by wife and husband, Gabrielle Mirkin and Luke Harwood. Our shared passion for the earth and natural products can be traced to our childhoods in New Zealand. Luke’s love for surfing and the native coastal land of New Zealand lead him to understand the important role bees play as environmental indicators and was the founding catalyst for Activist. Gabrielle’s time in New York City working as a senior Art Director at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar led to a slowdown, and the pursuit of new interests outside of the fast-paced world of fashion publications. Gabrielle’s love for radiant health, natural healing therapies
and food from the earth was a central driver for the
development of Activist.
Based between California and New Zealand, we’ve built a natural and transparent company as an extension of our lifestyle. Activist is a family owned and operated company. Our involvement is far-reaching: from establishing relationships with our bee-keepers (we even go surfing together) to product innovation, while building direct relationships with customers and global retailers. We believe it’s important that New Zealand and its resources are represented authentically on a global scale, rather than sold off to international companies to be rebranded and diluted. If that means building a slower growing, sustainable business, that’s cool with us.
After a career in art direction and the fashion world, what moved you to pivot and to begin Activist?
I was living and working in New York City as an Art Director at Vogue Magazine. Shortly after my 30th birthday I became very sick literally overnight. I had many scary neurological symptoms and was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease. The dis-ease I experienced was from more than just the tick bite which causes Lyme Disease; my body and mind were so toxic from living a life completely out of balance, that my glass just overflowed from my stressful lifestyle and work environment. I was constantly over-stimulated and depleted. My mind loved the idea of a big city, but my physical body did not.
After a month spent in Switzerland at a Biological Medicine Clinic, I returned to New Zealand, where my husband Luke and I spent a year living quietly on our piece of land in the Coromandel. Some bee-keeping friends asked if they could place some hives on our land and we happily agreed. It was a transformative year. As my health began to improve, I became deeply interested in natural foods, preparing all our food from scratch, including nut milks, bread, granola, green juices, chocolates and fermented foods such as sauerkraut. I really believe in the human body’s innate capacity to heal itself if provided with the right tools — one of these being nourishing foods from the earth and Mānuka Honey. Luke and I felt a pull towards creating a business that reflected our interest in the natural world and Luke’s life-long passion for surfing. We began noticing the activity of the local bees as we walked through the thick native bush to get to the ocean. We became so aware of the bees’ activity as the earth warmed with the sun that we learned to tell the time by their activity, and began to understand their key role as environmental indicators. That was a magical moment for us. We felt the need to build a business that was in tune with our lifestyle and passions. We felt like we had kind of lost that, and that year in the Coromandel brought that back.
Although we talked at the time about creating a honey brand as ‘a romantic idea’, we didn’t take the possibility seriously until we returned to the United States and started to look at the way Mānuka Honey was presented on the world stage.
A lot of the time, there’s this amazing resource made by bees and the beekeepers are doing a passionate and labor-intensive job, but it ends up being sold offshore and being diluted by mass distributors who dump it into chain stores and label it with whatever numbers they want (Mānuka Honey is graded and scientifically tested for its potency). We saw an opportunity to do something really beautiful — to work with the bee-keepers to tell a transparent story while elevating Mānuka. And so, Activist Mānuka was born.
As your business grows, who and what are your primary sources of inspiration?
As a family we’ve built a company that works prolifically with natural resources, not only natural resources but ones with an origin from our native country of New Zealand. My primary source of inspiration always has been and continues to be Mother Nature, in particular the land in New Zealand. Travel is also a huge source of inspiration for me but there has not been a lot of that recently. Sustainability is a big topic which brings a lot of inspiration to our business. Our views on sustainability are probably driven around conservation rather than innovation. That's just reflected in our personal lifestyle and interests as we naturally gravitate to a less is more approach and simple living, rather than innovate to create (not to say that is a bad thing).
The original idea and one of the forming catalysts for ACTIVIST was to work with natural resources as we felt this was a good start and a decent approach to make a living with as less industrial impact as possible. So beyond our personal endeavours for enjoying the ocean, the native environment and wanting our future generation to be able to enjoy this too; ecosystem protection and harvesting sustainability is the right thing to do and is the fundamental starting point for Activist. In essence this also affects the results of our Mānuka Honey as well as bee health and our overall environment. Our hives are located in unique, pristine and isolated regions of New Zealand, which is typically a great start for the bee’s health as these locations are free of GMOs and urban toxins. It is also crucial that we do not overpopulate our locations with many hives. We keep our hives at lower numbers in these dense locations and what this does is encourage the bees to flourish and pollinate for ethical harvesting and productivity; but most importantly bee health. After all, bees are our local heroes and inspiration; they are truly our environmental indicators for what is living and flourishing in the world!
How do your bases in the coastal nature of California and New Zealand play a hand in how you approach your business?
New Zealand is our homeland and the country where beautiful Mānuka Honey comes from. We are so lucky to spend summers in New Zealand with our friends and family and visit the land where Activist Mānuka Honey and our Mānuka Oil comes from. Having a base in California really helped us seed Activist from the beginning in the USA. Being on the ground here was essential for positioning our brand in the right stores, getting Activist into people’s hands and doing staff education and tastings at key accounts such as Erewhon Organic Grocer and CAP Beauty. The natural beauty and wellness space here in California is really thriving and it’s a great opportunity to be a part of such dedicated stores and spaces representing the best in clean beauty, health and wellness products.
Activist Mānuka honey boasts properties for both inner health and beauty. How do you consider the relationship between the two?
Activist Mānuka Honey is the Ultimate Ingestible + Topical health and beauty product; a must for your apothecary and beauty cabinet.
Mānuka Honey is one of the most unique and beneficial forms of honey in the world. In 1981, researchers at the New Zealand University of Waikato discovered that Mānuka Honey had a considerably higher level of enzymes than regular honey. In the process, they identified Mānuka’s active agent, methylglyoxal (MGO)—the measured concentration that determines the potency of the honey the jar. Overall, Mānuka is highly anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, making it a great addition to any wellness routine, health apothecary and beauty cabinet.
We believe in the concept of cellular beauty. This refers to ingesting internal health products rather than just focusing on external skincare. Skincare is no longer just topical, but it is what we put into our bodies. We have been sold that what you put on your skin reflects how you age and glow.
However, as more modern studies have been released, they have found that by nourishing the mechanisms within the body that support optimal cellular function, you can help promote healthy aging and overall good skin quality. This ingestible beauty technique can help increase collagen protection, fight free radicals, and support our skin from the cellular level and out.
So why focus on cellular beauty? Well, ideally, our cells would naturally replicate and work together synergistically. However, our modern toxic world has prevented many of our cellular mechanisms from communicating and collaborating properly. This has damaged our bodies, prevented healthy aging and caused mass amounts of inflammation and disease. This can come from high-stress lifestyles, water and air pollution, processed foods, toxic chemicals in cleaning and personal care products, and excessive use of prescription drugs. And most of this gets absorbed into our liver, causing skin and digestive issues for a start! This is why we need versatile health-giving products that will help both our internal and external health simultaneously. And luckily, we found this concept of cellular beauty to directly correlate with our mission for spreading Mānuka Honey, one of nature's multifunctional healing treasures.
Mānuka is the True Cellular Beautician. If cellular beauty refers to internal health reflecting externally, then Mānuka does just this. Mānuka is highly anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, and can be absorbed on top of the skin or swallowed for its health benefits. It is amazing for digestive, immune and oral health, burns and wounds, and almost any skin condition. It is completely adaptable for internal and external health, using its powers to slow down or reverse aging and soak directly into your cells.
Mānuka is especially wonderful for supporting the natural digestive microbiome, preventing and healing inflammation. It uses its anti-bacterial properties to rid the gut of pathogens, allowing for the liver and lymphatic system to shine through your skin. This is because it contains oligosaccharides, which have a prebiotic effect on the gut and promote the proliferation of good flora. In addition, the methylglyoxal found in Mānuka Honey has been shown to increase and protect the production of collagen in the skin, promoting structural growth and regrowth. Mānuka’s amino acids harmonize pH balance of our skin, helping us age gracefully. It is also extremely hydrating for the skin, helping to retain moisture, which is an important part of preventing and reducing wrinkles. Mānuka can be taken internally or externally for this reason.
The Activist philosophy is one of simplified lifestyle and considered consumption. How does this manifest in the way of life you've created for your own family?
We have built our business as an extension of our lifestyle and our family; in particular our two children Cisco River and Tallulah Blue. They are my greatest accomplishment and my greatest teacher.
Activist is our family honey business; we like to personally deliver our honey to local stores and accounts around Los Angeles. We take our kids with us on honey deliveries because we like to involve them and teach them the value of hard work. We let them pack orders with us too and take them on trips to our honey factory in New Zealand. They are our Activist Honey mascots.
Our simplified lifestyle and considered consumption stems from our upbringings in New Zealand; we like to do things ourselves around here; it’s a Kiwi DIY attitude. I am very content with the simple things in my life; a nice home in nature, being by the ocean and my children; I don’t need lots of stuff. Luxury to me is about having the freedom to live and work between California and New Zealand and spend time with my children. It’s not about having lots of money and stuff.
Gabrielle Mirkin, Co-founder of Activist .