If you don't already own a handful of Thankyou's iconic hand washes and personal care items, chances are you definitely will in the near future...
If the chic and statement-making packaging doesn’t draw you in immediately, the brand’s ethos and the story behind its inception surely will. Justine Flynn is one of the faces behind the brand, and to put simply, her road to entrepreneurship and running a social enterprise is nothing short of inspirational.
“I was 19 and at uni when my boyfriend (now husband) Daniel came to me and his best friend Jarryd with an idea – what if the $600 million Australians were spending every year on bottled water could be used to get water to people in need around the world? He’d been doing research for an assignment when he came across the figure that 900 million (now 780 million) people didn’t have access to clean water. It really affected him and the more we talked about it, the more mind-boggling it seemed that so many people have to walk for hours just to get water, when all we had to do was turn on a tap — and yet we were still buying bottled water. We knew there was a really amazing opportunity there. It was a crazy, hectic, stressful, wonderful and rewarding first few years…”
With a simple but powerful desire to “make things right with the world”, Justine together with her husband Daniel and friend Jarryd created Thankyou, a socially-minded company which now boasts a range of over 55 products including water, personal care items and baby essentials that commits 100% of their profits to end global poverty. This is a staggeringly impressive business built with heart and compassion at the forefront of everything they do.
We caught up with Justine to get a little more insight into her foray into business, how she got involved with charity work and what her involvement looks like now as a mother, how having baby Jed has impacted her approach to her career, and what’s coming up next for a brand that is, quite literally, changing the world for the better…
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your family. Where did you grow up and what type of childhood did you have?
I grew up in Mackay in North Queensland. The humidity was real and I was never far from the beach. I grew up with my younger sister and brother, and my parents were amazing.
One story that sticks out from my childhood was the time we had literally nothing but a roof over our heads. We had medical appointments in Brisbane so mum and dad decided to make a holiday out of it. We were away for six weeks and in that time, all of our possessions were stolen. It was quite tough when we got home because spending six weeks on holiday and paying for our medical appointments meant we were broke! But my parents managed to turn an awful situation into a joyous one. We received bags and bags of op-shop clothes from our community and learned firsthand that it’s really not stuff that makes you enjoy life. It’s the people.
Have you always been focused on charity and philanthropy? How did this develop?
I remember being as young as 12 sitting on the carpet at school listening to my teacher, Miss Morrison, share her adventures of visiting communities in South-East Asia and Africa. She had such passion and really urged us to think and care about more than just the world we live in. I remember being deeply moved and deciding I wanted to be part of making a difference. When I was 14, I had the opportunity to visit Miss Morrision in Indonesia where she had moved. I visited and worked in remote communities and stayed at a children’s home.
Seeing poverty at such a young age had a massive impact on me. I remember making a decision that whatever I chose to do ‘when I grew up,’ I wanted to use the opportunities I had to help those who didn’t.
Then at age 16, I was in business class and got nominated to enter a state-wide competition. My team won the comp and I went on to represent Queensland nationally. This passion for business was something I could see aligning with my skills and I knew in my heart I’d found my ‘when I grow up’ dream. I knew it was going to be working in a business that was dedicated to making things right.
How do you encourage your son to look outward to see the reality of the world, while balancing that with the fierce protection we all feel toward our children?
We talk often about some of the realities. Yes, I need to dilute it a bit for a three year old to comprehend (especially since even a 32 year old like me can barely comprehend the injustice), but I can already see he has great empathy and compassion. One night I was talking to him about how there are many children who don’t have mums and dads, or food or houses. He responded with, “I know! Let’s help them! They can all come to our house and you and dad can be their mum and dad” I responded cheekily with “Well, they would have to share your toys…” but he was surprisingly totally thrilled at the idea. Another night I said, “Jed, one day when you grow up, you are going to change the world”. He responded emotionally and said, “No mummy, I don’t want to change the world when I grow up”. I was a bit concerned, thinking maybe I’d gone too hard on this particular topic and was thinking what to say next when he added, “I want to change the world while I’m still little”. I nearly died. Something that Daniel and I preach all the time — that you’re never too young to make a difference — was being said back to us by our three year old.
I would love to get Jed to the field as soon as he’s at an appropriate age, so he can be familiar with the realities that some children his age face. I’d love to see the barrier of ‘us and them’ be removed for this next generation. I am convinced that, just like I did as a 14 year old, children these days are able to connect and engage with each other, despite language barriers. Of course, Daniel and I always make sure we are in-tune with how Jed is processing emotionally as he goes on the journey.
What tips do you have for parents hoping to encourage a worldly, empathetic view of the world with their children?
Each child is different and has different levels of sensitivities so it’s important for the parents of young children to be in-tune with your child’s emotional awareness and journey with them to the level they’re at. It’s all about ‘baby steps’— literally and metaphorically! I’ve been focused on drip-feeding information to Jed until I feel he’s at a point we can openly have conversations. He is still only three, so usually those conversations are quite brief but I know it is sinking in and he is processing. I would also say speak to them at a level they can understand and answer questions as honestly as you can.
Give them attainable goals and something they can do. I tell Jedediah that our first step in making a difference in the world is as simple as showing love and care to people around us. He takes that very seriously and just LOVES people so much. We have also just started having moments of gratitude where we reflect on the things we are most grateful for.
In saying all that, I am only three years into the parenting journey! So just as every new parent, I am no pro. I am still just ‘winging it’ at this stage and hope it all works out in the end!
Tell us about the inception of Thankyou.
I was 19 and at uni when my boyfriend (now husband) Daniel came to me and his best friend Jarryd with an idea – what if the $600 million Australians were spending every year on bottled water could be used to get water to people in need around the world? He’d been doing research for an assignment when he came across the figure that 900 million (now 780 million) people didn’t have access to clean water. It really affected him and the more we talked about it, the more mind-boggling it seemed that so many people have to walk for hours just to get water, when all we had to do was turn on a tap — and yet we were still buying bottled water. We knew there was a really amazing opportunity there. It was a crazy, hectic, stressful, wonderful and rewarding first few years. We had some massive wins and some massive setbacks but now, more than 10 years later, our water, personal care and baby products are stocked in over 5,500 retailers across Australia and New Zealand and we’ve been able to give $6.2 million to fund clean water, sanitation, food and child and maternal health projects around the world.
What inspired the launch of Thankyou Baby?
One of the things I’m most proud of is how the products we make fund programs that tackle poverty holistically. We started funding safe water in communities, which was great, but we found people were still getting sick because they weren’t able to practice proper sanitation and hygiene. We also became aware by being confronted on the field with the reality that women were losing their lives due to not having access to a toilet in their community, which meant they had to leave the safety of their village to relieve themselves. This left them vulnerable to being attacked, so we launched the personal care range to fund the installation and maintenance of toilets and hand-washing facilities alongside our funding for safe water.
Now we’re working to tackle another facet of extreme poverty: maternal and child health. Right now, every 103 seconds, a woman dies in pregnancy and childbirth because she doesn’t have access to basic health care. Every year. 2.7 million babies won’t reach their first month of life. 99% of these deaths happen in developing countries. These figures are appalling and we knew we had to do something about them.
Through the crowdfunding efforts from Daniel’s book Chapter One, which offered people the opportunity to pay what they want, we launched Thankyou Baby in 2016. The range includes super absorbent nappies, thick and strong wipes, shampoo, lotion, wash, massage oil, ointment and nappy balm that fund safe births through the build of birthing centres staffed with Skilled Birth Attendants and healthcare including pre and postnatal care. For me personally, it was important for us to create products that I would use on Jed. I’m really proud of our range and do use them with Jed (although he’s thankfully out of the nappy stage now!).
What type of mother do you aspire to be? Do you subscribe to any parenting philosophies?
I’m still at the stage where I’m constantly smothering my child with kisses. I’m sad at the thought that one day that might be weird, so I’m making the most of it now! We decided when we had Jed that we would parent in a way that was him joining our family, not the other way around. This meant from infancy, he has learned to adapt to our busy lifestyle. As a baby, he always being passed around between our family and friends, and he’s a well-known and beloved visitor at Thankyou HQ. He’s also a frequent flyer! We believe that children are very perceptive and they grow out of what atmosphere is within the home, so we make sure we keep our household full of love, joy and peace, even if Daniel and I are stressed about work or have a million things going on. It’s all about balance, though, because I think it’s also important for children to see their parents journey through the tough times, be vulnerable and talk things through. We’ve had moments where he’s seen us both cry but we have just made sure it is bookended with joy and peace and that he feels safe, secure and loved.
We’ve been on an incredibly wild journey recently where we’ve had to move house every week for about five months. It was tough on us all, but completely out of our control at the time. We did what we could to support Jed throughout, and to be honest, he handled it with so much grace (more than us!). He is a very strong-willed, independent boy, so we have to nurture his trailblazing nature with strong boundaries but also giving him space to explore and imagine.
Has your approach to work changed at all since becoming a mother?
I learnt the hard way to ensure I prioritise my health and wellbeing over work and being a mum, because unless I take care of myself, I’m not doing either justice. From a work perspective, this meant letting go of being as hands-on and entrusting more responsibilities to others. It has certainly been contentious as I take my responsibilities seriously, but at the end of the day, I need to prioritise my family and my health first and if that means not being as responsive to things such as emails, then that’s what I have needed to do. There will always be things to do, people having expectations or requirements of me, so I’m learning to be more selective with which ones are the most critical and productive, and put my focus and energy there.
You’re at the helm of a large company, while being a busy mother. How do you make it work? Do you have any mum hacks/tips!?
I’ve had to get to a point where I accept I can’t do everything myself. Someone once told us, “You pay for what you don’t pay for”. For example, if you don’t pay for someone to clean your house, you could end up paying for it in other ways such as being tired and cranky and having less quality time with your kids and spouse, or missing out on a few hours of work! My health, energy, time with family and a happy home is something I am willing to invest in. In the past, we’ve had support around the home with a cleaner once a week and a nanny. We have neither at the moment, but we’re also in a place where we’re not travelling as much so can support the running of the home ourselves… nearly, it’s still all a bit chaotic!
Another thing that’s important for me is scheduling some quiet time in my life. I love to just be in silence, as it is really rejuvenating for me. This could be a walk on the beach, or just prayer and meditation in the comfort of my lounge early one morning.
Who inspires you?
Right now, I have a lot of people — mostly women — in my life who are experiencing hard times, and I’m finding it incredibly inspiring to see how they find their strength, dignity and confidence through tough times and walk ahead in grace. When I tell them they are inspiring, they are confused — they ask how I could say that about them when they might have been crying, having a vent, feeling weak or hopeless or even at times feeling victimised. But I tell them the very fact that they choose to be vulnerable, to open up about their feelings, to show they are human is what makes them inspiring. Because they then are able to go on to make courageous, bold decisions, to show kindness to those in their world and be a rock to those they love such as their children, partners, family and friends. Nothing is more inspiring to me.
Where do you look for motivation when things get tough?
For me personally, it’s through my faith in God. I would be lying if I said anything otherwise. It has been an anchor to me since I was a teenager and has guided me through the storms, comforted me, given me hope for my future and confidence and security in what lies ahead. It’s where I start and end each day, and walk through each moment. Jed often hears me praying out loud for people, thanking Him for things I am grateful for, or asking Him for help in challenging situations — even the ones that seem silly to bother Him about, like our car running out of petrol on the freeway! He has come through for me every single time, and I am so grateful.
What does a typical day look like in your family?
We’ve just gone through a big change as a family. When we were in Melbourne, it was very intense, involving back-to-back meetings during the day and at nights or weekends, and we would often crash at the end of the day on the couch with Uber Eats and leave the dishes till the morning! (Not amazing!).
Since moving to New Zealand, Daniel is present a lot more, we get up early, get out of the house together around 7:30am, drop Jed at his kindy, then drive to work and park, walk to a cafe at around 7:45am, have a coffee together for 10 mins, walk back to the office, have separate meetings throughout the day, sometimes coming together for management or board meetings. Then 5:15 pm, we collect Jed, head home, have dinner together and then the bath, book, bed routine begins and he is down by 7 pm. We then spend the next few hours either debriefing on the day, working, doing chores or watching a movie together — depending on where we’re at! As I said, this is a very new routine for us, and we are just LOVING having this season of so much quality time together as a family. It’s just so nice to have a routine too as we’ve never had one before! I have cut back my hours and am working only three days a week so I can spend more time with Jed before he goes to school. This is a challenge for us financially, but we’re willing to take that challenge because as I said before, you pay for what you don’t pay for! We are willing to pay for quality time with our 3 year old as it is a much greater investment and it’s the last time he will ever be this age!
What are your goals with Thankyou?
We really believe that it is possible to see the end of extreme poverty by 2030. In saying that, 2030 isn’t that far away and there is a LOT to do. Our goal is to continue to make game-changing moves that challenges the status quo so we can empower humanity to choose a world without poverty through buying our products.
What is next for the brand?
We’re currently preparing our next move as a brand. For us, it’s a culmination of what we’ve learnt in the last 11 years — what’s worked, what hasn’t and while we’re still quite some way off our next big adventure, we can’t wait to bring it to the world. Stay tuned.
What’s on your current little list of loves?
- More quality time with Daniel and Jedediah than we have ever had before
- Seeing how Jed is growing up and transitioning from age three to four, seeing his creativity and inventive ideas and his personality just shining through
- More beach time now we are living in New Zealand
- Apple Cider Vinegar Chicken — a Sarah Wilson, slow cooker meal
- Hot chocolates with coconut milk (preferably a refined-sugar free one!)
- The Speed of Trust by Steven Covey Jnr
- DoTERRA oils
- Working on some new projects within Thankyou and getting back into pioneering again
- It may sound staged to say this, but I am HONESTLY loving the two newest products our team have brought out, the new Hand & Surface Spray Sanitiser and the Rosewood & Geranium Bath & Body Oil. They are just DIVINE!