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Nunaïa – Nicola Connolly on how her sustainability experiences in Latin America made her reappraise business and life

Nunaïa, an ethical, beauty wellness brand from Ireland, was launched in late 2018, receiving high praise for its story, ethos and mission. 

The culmination of passion and vision, Nunaïa (which means Soul Tribe) was founded by entrepreneur Nicola Connolly, whose experiences in Latin America would come to shape her philosophies, business practices, and how she lives her life.

In a new interview with My Good Planet, Connolly shares her amazing journey; from growing up in Dublin to the wilds of the Amazon, and how she made the change from corporation to conservation when a brief holiday took an unexpected turn, leading to a dream job and a new perspective.

Nunaïa Nicola Connolly My Good Planet
The Andes Mountains became home for Nicola Connolly for 7 years, as she learned from, and worked with, local communities and businesses.

After a successful, but hectic career in tourism, in which it was her responsibility to develop new holiday destinations and associated products, Nicola Connolly knew that she was reaching burnout and needed some time out. “I quit my job and set off for a 6 month trip,” she explains, “My last stop was the Galapagos IslandsThe boat pulled in and I knew I couldn’t leave….I simply had to stay. It was here that I had my first awakening with regard to sustainability.”

“I was working in one of the least sustainable industries; the aviation industry and had no real awareness of sustainability at that time. I was still very young, but there was this constant call …. “There has to be more to life than this.””  

Stunned by the natural beauty of her surroundings, a fragile delicacy to the place also became apparent; so did an opportunity to help preserve it. Tourism and industry existed to an extent, but there was little emphasis placed upon sustainability in either sector. This was something Connolly felt she could assist with. She drafted a plan, which was then pitched to the local mayor, who liked it…a lot.

My sustainable tourism project was a new concept to them at that time, as there was so little (tourism) on the island at that stage,” recalls Connolly, “Subsequently, I was sponsored by the mayor to come in as the Director of Eco-tourism for one of the Galapagos islands (Isabela Island).

Amidst her newly found paradise, Connolly put her business acumen to work, learning many new skills along the way. “It was my position to develop sustainable tourism along with the local fishermen and women – helping them develop sustainable businesses,” she says, “We worked to show them how to make money without negatively impacting the environment.”

Despite being heavily protected, with many unique flora and fauna, there is still a lot of over-fishing in the area. “There is a lot of wildlife destruction,” confirms Connolly, “I was trying to come up with alternatives, and the place inspired me. From there, my passion for sustainability grew.”

Nunaïa Founder talking to grower in the Andes Mountains in Peru. ©Nunaïa 2018 My Good Planet Interview
Nunaïa Founder Nicola Connolly talking to grower in the Andes Mountains in Peru. ©Nunaïa

Following the establishment and implementation of the sustainable tourism plan, Connolly moved from the Galapagos to Ecuador and spent a lot of time in the Amazon, working with the indigenous tribes. Once again, she helped them to develop businesses where they could sell products or services, so they didn’t have to sell their land to the oil companies. One of these projects culminated in a store in which women create and sell high-end products.

It was a fascinating experience,” reflects Connolly, “I feel extremely privileged to have had that. I learned how important sustainability was in these really special communities around the world.

These incredible places, like the rainforest, need protection. How can we help? By assisting locals to protect not only their environmental resources, but also their cultural heritage. 

One thing which became apparent to Connolly as part of her endeavors, was that the backbone of any sustainable project is an ethical, transparent and evenly balanced supply chain. In one of the most successful projects, she worked as part of a team alongside a cacao grower, with whom chocolate bars were developed; which were then sold into Whole Foods stores across the U.S.

I was part of the team that saw the project through from soil, to seed, to quality control,” outlines Connolly, “I could see, from that moment on, that these kinds of projects were possible. That there was a value to products like this from large companies in that field.”

Ethical business practices learned along the way, combined with the success that the chocolate project garnered, gave Connolly the motivation to set up her own company: Nunaïa. “The last 7 years I spent in the Andes; studying and researching in these communities learning about plants and wellbeing,” she explains, “It made sense to do something similar,”

The sense of self-worth and focus on wellness which permeated Latin American cultures, as well as the importance placed on ritual, also served as a huge inspiration when developing the company. “Apart from the massive plant culture and ancestral wisdom I was struck by their wellbeing,” says Connolly, “They’d be living very different lives, quite poor maybe in our eyes, but they were so content. They had a completely alternative way of looking at the world. I delved into some of the rituals they used in their own lives and applied it to my own.”

In practice, Connolly, sought out ethical, natural and cruelty free materials from the Peruvian rainforest and the Andes, which she then used to create the signature Nunaïa serum.

“We call it our soil to skin ethos. Everything involved in that process is very particular. From the product to the packaging.”

Nunaïa Founder visiting our growers in the Peruvian Rainforest ©Nunaïa 2018
Nunaïa Founder visiting our growers in the Peruvian Rainforest ©Nunaïa 2018

Connolly cites Nunaïa as being part of the ‘slow beauty‘ movement. “We’re wired to have this constant frenetic movement, and feel as if when we’re not rushing, we’re doing something wrong,” she says, “What we’re trying to do is carve out those moments of self-care at the end of the day. If you have 30 secs or 5 mins. Every woman should be able to take that time to wind down.”

Nunaïa Nourishing Radiance Serum ©Nunaïa 2018

Having won a recent award for ‘Best Sustainable Luxury Brand in South America’ in the wellness category by South America’s leading sustainability centre – Centro de Lujo Sostenible based in Buenos Aires, Nunaïa is making as big an impact in the lands which inspired it, as it is in Europe.

If Connolly could see us all make one change in our lives it would be, not only to make little adjustments to become more sustainable in the everyday sense, but to also focus on our own wellbeing:

We all have the same worries and if we can just stop and take a little bit of time to think ‘Okay, how am I doing?’ then the effect that can have on our families and on the wider community can be massive.

We need community and that sense of connection is vital. Creating that sense of connection through ritual is what’s driving Nunaïa.

Keep up to date with Nunaïa via the company’s Facebook page and Instagram.

Colin J McCracken
Colin J McCracken

Director and Executive Editor

Colin J McCracken is an Irish editor and writer of both fiction and journalism. Coming from a background in education and film, his passions are split between the environmental and the entertaining. Constantly striving for a more sustainable existence and trying to balance it while simultaneously buying too many books.