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Meet This Month’s Conscious Curator: Anna Ross

After studying fashion and realising that the industry – with its inherently wasteful model – wasn’t for her, Anna Ross decided to build a beauty brand that would allow her to indulge her passion for beauty, without compromising her values.

Kester Black was born as a sustainable, plant-based nail varnish brand, but has developed into so much more. Now a B Corp certified, internationally recognised clean beauty brand, Kester Black is setting the gold standard for high end, vegan, sustainably made cosmetics. 

Inspired by her playfully perfect approach to beauty products, business and life in general, we chose Anna as our Conscious Curator for the month of December. We’ll be publishing Anna-inspired articles throughout the month, but for now, we’re taking a deep-dive into Anna’s thoughts on home, work, nature and meditation.

TCS 

You’re based in New Zealand, but where would you say you feel most at home?

Anna

Probably here in Wanaka. I always felt really at home in New Zealand, but I went to Australia and got caught up in living “the good life”… the “I go to wine bars in the city” life. It was fun, and I’m really glad I did it because Melbourne is a beautiful city, but I just had this feeling for the last five years that I needed to come home. Every time I did come home we would fly into Queenstown, and as soon as I got off the plane I would cry. The smell of New Zealand would hit me, it’s a very unique smell in the air, and it would get to me every time.

Wanaka is thought to be a sacred place in Mauri culture. It’s the ultimate destination in New Zealand. If you live here, going on holiday or even leaving for a day trip is always a let down, because Wanaka has it all. Since we moved here in August of 2020, we’ve started spending so much time outdoors: rock climbing, swimming in the lake, skiing and hiking. You can never be bored here if you like the outdoors, and I think being in nature is so valuable, so important.

TCS

We’ve all spent a lot of time at home over the past two years, what’s your approach to space-making? 

Anna

My home has always been incredibly important to me. Even when living in small flats, I would need to have my room in perfect order, so it felt like a really cosy, nurturing space for me to come home to. 

Style wise: lots of colour, and I really like beautiful glassware, with vases filled with flowers everywhere. 

I love collecting and making furniture, it makes me wonder if I should have pursued a career in interior design or architecture, but it’s also nice to have space-making as more of a hobby. It’s all about colour and space and flowers and fun. I like to walk into a space and be struck by something beautiful, something spectacular.

TCS

A loaded question in these slightly restrictive times, but what is your relationship with travelling? Is travel something that has guided a lot of your work?

Anna

Absolutely, there is nothing better than experiencing different cultures and seeing how people are interacting overseas. When we were coming up with the concept of Kester Black, I decided to work with factories in Italy and France mainly because it meant I could visit Europe and call it a work trip.

TCS

Is there a certain place you love to revisit, or is there one place you’ve been to (even just once) which will always be your special place?

Anna

I really love the culture of Europe. I’ve been to all of the Scandinavian countries because I love their approach to design. I think Berlin is a really interesting melting pot of culture, and Nuremberg is so medieval. Travel has always influenced me, and I’ve tried to get to Europe almost every year for the last five years. I’ve been to lots of other countries around the world, but I think Europe is just incredible.  

Design is important for me because I’ve always struggled with maths, and because I’m dyslexic I had trouble with other academic subjects at school, but I’ve always been a very tactile learner. I like colour and texture and using my hands, and that’s how I ended up studying design. When I did my Yoga teacher training I was the only person who passed the spatial awareness exam, space has just always been important to me. 

There’s a hotel in Dunedin (the town I grew up in) called Ebb, which was designed by the same interior design team behind QT Melbourne. I’ve stayed at so many luxury hotels around the world (we have a rule that we have to stay at one really amazing hotel in every city we visit) but Ebb, I think, is my favourite, and it’s particularly special that it’s so close to home.

TCS

Where’s on your wanderlust list – any hotels or spaces in particular that you want to visit?

Anna

I’ve never been to the alps, and I judge a place on how beautiful it is compared to New Zealand, so I think the alps has so much potential. I want to wake up in a chalet and open the curtains onto a view of Zermatt: mountains of that scale just blow me away. 

I’m definitely a mountains and lakes person over beaches, but I think that will change if I get into surfing. We’ve recently bought a block of land in the mountains, 30 minutes from the top of the ski slopes but only an hour to the coast, so being able to surf and ski in the same day is definitely on my bucket list, especially because I’ll be able to do it from my home.

TCS

And now to food – what would you say is your food philosophy?

Anna

I have an ideal, of course, but it’s not always what I follow. 

I got chronic fatigue in 2017, so for me, what I eat and how I care for my body is so important. I’ve just started this cleanse which rules out all fats, salts, sugar and additives. I did the same cleanse about three months ago, for nine days, and I had unlimited energy, so we’ll see how I go this time. 

Generally I stick to plant-based wholefoods, and I also incorporate fasting into my routine. I went through three years of 23 hour fasting, which meant we only ate for one hour a day. Now I eat generally during a six hour window, between 1pm and 6pm, and that really helps my energy levels. We started the extreme fasting approach with maybe ten other friends, and most of them have kept it up. I had to make a change because I had adrenal issues, but I’ve found that just eating twice a day works really well for me. My partner is a medical researcher and his thesis is examining the benefits of fasting. 

When you fast, your healthy cells repair themselves, but when you never give your body a break from food you’re fuelling abnormal growth cells with glucose, which can cause so many health problems. 

TCS

Do you have a signature dish? If so, are you willing to share the recipe?

Anna

I do, it’s a really simple, really delicious tomato soup. If I was allowed to eat this every night, I would. It’s so simple, you just roast all of the ingredients and then it’s done. You can read the recipe here.

TCS

What is your approach to self-care? Are there any specific steps you take to look after your mind? If so, what are they?

Anna

I meditate, but it’s not what I think would be seen as normal meditation. I fell into meditation through Yoga, because I started practicing Yoga and I started to think to myself: why am I so calm? I learnt transcendental meditation and saw some massive changes, but then I really hit a wall, I couldn’t get any further. I wanted to experience this enlightenment concept but I didn’t know how, and then I made this friend who was going on a meditation retreat. She wouldn’t tell me anything about it because she thought I’d think she was crazy, but as soon as she explained it to me I cancelled my trip home for Christmas and joined her on the retreat.

Going deep into meditation was like finding out you’re a wizard: exactly what Harry Potter must have felt. 

We sat there and didn’t talk for two weeks, and this scar that I’d had on my knee for years disappeared in those two weeks of silence and stillness. The whole point is to be still in the body, and when you’re still and rested, the body heals. I’ve done meditation since then, when I’m on a good streak I’ll do two hours a day, at the very least I’ll meditate for an hour a day. 

There are these concepts and ideas about meditation which I think scare people, because it makes people think there’s an ideal. But that pressure, I think, disables people.

Have you heard the phrase: silence is deafening? That’s what meditation is. You know you’re meditating right when the sounds of the world are amplified beyond your imagination. Everything becomes so much more clear, so much more connected. This feeling of deep connection is always strengthened after a retreat, and more so the more retreats we go on. There are moments where we’ll mention our friends just before they call, or we’ll have a sense that something will happen just before it has.

You just need to take away the distractions and get back into the connection with yourself and with others. That’s the way we have evolved, and that’s the state we’re in naturally, but we’ve become so out of touch with nature, and with ourselves.

One thing I’ve learnt is that nature is always supporting you, you’re never disconnected from it because you are nature, so that question becomes: how disconnected are you from yourself?

The way you get distracted from yourself is through thought, and if you allow your mind to be quiet, to be free of thought, you only have the senses, so you can’t ever be disconnected from nature. 

I arrived at this retreat with clinical depression, and the meditation teacher said “there’s no such thing as depression”. He told me “depression is just self obsession of thought, and if you stop thinking about yourself, you can’t be depressed,”. He explained it to me in a way that I could understand, as a person suffering from depression. He explained that depression occurs when you think bad things about yourself, and when you stop thinking bad thoughts about yourself, depression cannot exist. So I tried it out, and I’ve never been depressed since. I don’t think your mind can be free of thought, or at least not for very long. It’s the misuse of thought that is the problem. Self obsessive thoughts, thoughts that aren’t true or related to something physical (like worrying) are what removed you from the physical body.

Thinking has a physical effect on the body, but if you don’t engage with thought for things that it’s not useful for, you’re free from the negative effects. I can think about engaging with the world, about writing a blog post or my morning routine, that’s fine, that’s mechanical operational thought, but when your mind is consumed with thoughts like “I’m too fat”, or “I’m sad” or “I’m sad because I’m fat” that’s when you’re putting yourself in trouble, by adding a story to your sadness you’re making it emotional. This is important because you don’t think your feelings, you can only feel your feelings.

Feeling is physical, and emotion is a made up concept of thoughts mixed in with feelings. You can be sad or depressed or angry and those are physical responses, but if you narritavise and emotionalise those feelings, that’s when you feel like you’re existing in a mentally unwell space.

The way to challenge beliefs is really fascinating to me. Almost everything is a belief, and once we realise that we live in a system of beliefs, we really get to see the world for what it is. It’s been really refreshing for me, through COVID, to see all of these power structures and political structures move and change, and everything is just made up, just a belief that we abide by and believe in. If it’s a thought, it’s made up, and all you can really know to be true is the way you feel in your body.

It’s a big topic, and you can understand it on a cognitive level but until you feel it, and know it in your body, you can’t truly understand it. 

The understanding that everything is illusory is freeing when you’ve got a sense of yourself to connect to.

TCS

The Kester Black ethos is about celebrating beauty in its natural forms, can you speak about your connection to nature?

Anna

This is something I’m really passionate about, because I feel the impact so strongly myself. Even something as simple as connecting your feet to the earth can have such a profound impact. The concept of grounding is that free electrons from the earth go into your body, so they neutralise the negative ions in your body that are causing inflammation. Earthing is amplified through salt water, because salt is a conductor, which is why so many people are attracted to the sea.

I used to be very sceptical about these kinds of theories, I thought it was all woo-woo until I looked into it and realised there was science behind it, and then I experienced it and… it works. The author of the book about earthing that I read recently grew up with native americans, and one of the native american elders he grew up with said to him “don’t wear shoes, they’re the death of you,”. Years later, when he was working as a satellite technician, he was having serious physical problems and then made himself a grounding mat and it took away his pain. Modern science can help, but I don’t think it’s the only solution to the root cause. The moon influences so much more than just the tides – bring a group of women together for long enough and their periods sync, talk to any policeman and they’ll tell you that crime goes through the roof on a full moon. It can seem woo-woo, but there’s so much that we don’t understand.

I grew up in a farming community around animals, and every time we walked outside we were around animals. I think that really influenced my connection to nature – I’ve been a country girl all my life. We took a walk around the lake the other day and it was glistening with the sunlight, and I just thought: there’s something so magical about this, and I can’t understand what it is. 

TCS

Social media is exacerbating the issue of unachievable beauty standards, which is especially challenging for young girls. What advice would you give to your younger self when it comes to self-appreciation, self care and self esteem?

Anna

Comparison is the thief of joy, so the trick there is to stop comparing, and stop thinking about yourself. If you didn’t have a mirror and you couldn’t compare yourself to other people, social media couldn’t make us feel sad, but it’s designed as a psychological trap, because that’s the business model. My advice would be to step away, focus on feeling good in your body rather than looking at what other people present as their lives.

TCS

How would you describe your personal approach to style?

Anna

I believe in comfort. For so many years I used to wear jeans because they were cool, but I realised after years of wearing them that they were cutting into my stomach and wreaking havoc on my digestive system. Now I live in bike shorts or dresses, and it’s 100% about comfort. Because we live in Wanaka and do lots of hiking and outdoor activities, I don’t need the gowns and dresses I used to wear in Melbourne. I do not believe in destroying your body for fashion or beauty. The ethos behind Kester Black is: does this nurture you?

TCS

Describe your work day – how is it structured? Is it structured? 

Anna

It’s changed over the years, but currently I get up at 6.30pm and meditate for an hour with Fergus and the cats. Then I go for a walk for about 40 mins, shower, do my skincare routine and then I’m at my desk by 9. I have lunch around 1pm (it’s a routine at the moment of lemon water, celery juice then a smoothie) and then finish work around 4:30. We eat dinner early, around 5:30, then if it’s summer we’ll go for a bike ride or take our cats for a walk (they just come along, not on leashes). We head to bed around 9pm and meditate for an hour before sleeping.

TCS

How do you find your flow when working?

Anna

You learn about how you work best over time – if I eat well and sleep well it’s impossible not to be at peak performance.  If I miss my walk my concentration goes earlier in the day, I notice how it impacts me. If I can, I’ll do some gardening while I’m on calls, it feels great to be connecting to nature.

TCS

What are you excited about at the moment? This could be a current project, something in the pipeline or a far away future dream.

Anna

I’m so excited to have the opportunity to work so much more closely with our community, and to me that looks like redeveloping the products we make so they’re products that people really want and need and feel good about investing in. We want to make people feel cared for and nurtured, and the new range is about making people feel really safe and nurtured at home.

I’m really looking forward to scaling the business and working directly with the KB community to find out what makes them feel beautiful, and then producing products that make them feel good, and that empower them through education and self care. 

You can read more about Kester Black’s approach to sustainability here, and keep an eye on Anna’s edit for articles she’s inspired. If you’re looking for sustainably made, cruelty free, carbon neutral vegan beauty products, check out the Kester Black website, and you can follow KB on Instagram @kesterblack

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