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Giving Back: The Soft Touch

3 minute read
Christine Lennon

Now that the organic movement has a foothold in the American corporate machine, it’s easy to forget that the biggest innovations in the newly socially conscious market usually begin with a very small and pure idea. In the case of Erbaorganics, a new line of bath and body products for mothers and infants available at Target that will benefit the Worldwide Orphans Foundation (WWO), it was as simple as a baby massage.

“We got a call one day from a customer named Doris Athineos,” says Robin Brown, who, along with his wife Anna Cirronis, a makeup artist and certified aromatherapist, makes Erbaviva, an organic bath and body line of 90 natural, chemical-free products sold in 20 countries. “She was using our baby massage oil on her daughter, whom she adopted from Africa, and thought, Isn’t she lucky to be getting this massage with such a beautiful product, and what about the other babies left behind?”

Athineos, who is actively involved with the WWO, founded by New York City’s “orphan doctor,” Jane Aronson, picked the right company to call. Brown and Cirronis, who adopted a baby girl from Nepal in 2005, had watched a documentary on the plight of African orphans just the night before and were searching for a way to help. Businesswise, they had been contemplating the introduction of a more affordable range of their Erbaviva brand. In short, the timing was “amazing,” says Brown.

“I’d always wanted to reach a broader audience than we could through our higher-end line,” says Brown, who was a camera operator (Fargo, Dead Man Walking) before leaving the film business to help start Erbaviva more than 10 years ago in the couple’s kitchen in Topanga Canyon, Calif. “Then we were approached by Target, which was familiar with us and interested in developing a secondary line to sell in its stores.” Erbaorganics was conceived, and so was Brown and Cirronis’ commitment to donating 15% of the sales from Erbaorganics’ Baby Body Oil and Baby Body Wash to the WWO. “We’re not a huge company,” says Brown, “but we want to do as much as we can, set up a steady income stream for as long as possible.”

Though affordable is a relative term when it comes to organic ingredients, the Erbaorganics line, priced from $9.99 for baby shampoo to $19.99 for Milk and Oat Bath for Mom, is significantly less expensive than its higher-end counterpart. And the money donated to the WWO from Erbaorganics will be devoted to the psychological and medical needs of orphans in places like Serbia, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Ethiopia. “People approach us all the time trying to affiliate their product with our organization,” says Aronson, who gave her personal stamp of approval to the brand. “Erbaviva was a great fit.”

Once the life-or-death needs of orphans suffering from AIDS or malnutrition have been met, the WWO tends to their emotional and social needs. “One of the things that’s so sad for kids within an orphanage is that there’s no touching,” says Aronson. “Without touching, you don’t feel like your body exists. You don’t have a sense of your physical abilities. Massage is one of the most important parts of physical and occupational therapy. Massaging creams and oils replenish the skin, the muscles and the soul. It couldn’t be a better marriage.”

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