After Te Hana resident Johnny Hamer got kicked out of high school, he spent some time being homeless but eventually found out he could earn good money by cleaning people’s homes.
But there was one downside. The harsh chemicals in the household cleaning products he was using were making him ill.
“I was just not enjoying it, to be honest. My skin turned to crap, and when I sprayed bleach in a shower I would end up coughing and spluttering everywhere,” he says.
The more Johnny thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed to him that people would use potentially dangerous products in places where they eat and are intimate.
“I don’t know why you would clean your home with a product that says in big bold writing, ‘Do not consume. Call an emergency hotline if you do’. Why would you do that?”
“There’s a lot of research out there about home pollution and the impact of chemicals on your body, it’s all so negative,” he says.
Johnny switched to a few supposedly eco-friendly cleaning brands, but didn’t find them much better, so decided to experiment with making his own.
Digging into it, he found that making an effective cleaning product is not rocket science.
He says mothers are especially eager to keep toxins away from children, and he found that by trawling through websites aimed at Mums, he could discover a host of readily-available, relatively cheap, natural and non-toxic products that could also clean effectively, such as baking soda and naturally produced ethanol.
“The sort of things your nana would know all about,” he says.
Once he had identified key raw materials, he set about combining them and trying them out during a day’s cleaning to find the most effective recipes.
“It was really just trial and error, until I found a recipe that worked well and one that made my job easy.”
The initiative started while working at a cleaning business he established in Melbourne and continued when he sold that business and returned to New Zealand last March.
In New Zealand, Johnny and his fiancée Caz White have established Conscious Cleaning, a business which continues to offer cleaning services, but is heavily involved in the development of a growing line of Conscious cleaning products.
So far, Conscious makes surface spray in three different fragrances, laundry powder, soap, laundry soap, floor cleaner and a toilet freshener.
Eager to be environmentally-friendly, all the liquid products come in glass bottles and the idea is customers will be able to refill old bottles at a substantially reduced cost, rather than buying a new bottle.
“It’s $18 for a bottle of spray and $11 to go and refill it. We’re really trying to motivate people to stop using plastic,” Johnny says.
Already, Conscious has a stockist and refill station at Eko Hub in Whangarei and is in negotiations with other stores on the North Shore and Warkworth to expand the number of retail outlets.
Last month, Conscious had its first stall at the Puhoi market and plans to be there regularly on the last Sunday of each month.
Currently, all products are being made in Johnny’s lounge on trestle tables, but soon he hopes to transfer manufacture to a large shed on his property, which he plans to equip with commercial mixers, boilers and other necessary equipment.
His goal is to be able to give up doing the actual cleaning and focus on marketing and production of the cleaning products.
“We’re hoping with a couple of decent-sized sales and agreements with stores we can get a bit of capital to upscale into our shed,” he says.