Bondi-based Kirsten Shanks is the type of woman who makes you want to change your life...
She radiates health, speaks with conviction and passion, and moves through the world in a way that makes it impossible not to crave whatever it is she’s having. From a daily meditation practice to regular herbal teas, to a diet full of whole foods and organic veggies, she is living proof that beauty radiates from the inside out.
But make no mistake – Kirsten is no lady of health-focused leisure. As a naturopath, herbalist, nutritionist and the founder of renowned health and wellness enterprise Orchard St., she is an entrepreneur to be reckoned with.
We spoke to Kirsten about her approach to wellbeing, life since becoming a mother, and the trials and tribulations of managing a business with a young family. With her balanced lifestyle and honest words, we’re ready to drink from the Orchard Street cup.
Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo | Go to www.orchardstreet.com.au
Tell us about Orchard St. and what inspired the launch...
From the moment of conception, the intention behind Orchard St. has always been to share the experience of wellness. I am a Naturopath with a deep reverence for the plant kingdom, and I try to weave plant medicines through every one of our creations so that they may become part of a lifestyle; a daily ritual that honours health and celebrates nature.
In the six years since our launch, as the community has become more receptive, I’ve expanded our offerings bit by bit to become an all-encompassing ‘holistic health’ brand. We offer several ‘ways to wellness’; our juices, smoothies and elixirs, our herbal medicines and apothecary products, a suite of lifestyle or daily ritual products and plant-based edibles, available in our shops.
The concept came into focus in my mind’s eye in a crystal clear moment in New York, early 2012. The following year, back home in Sydney, we launched online as a holistic juice cleanse program; a platform to weave mindfulness and plant medicines into collective awareness.
Our first store, The Dispensary in Bronte opened soon after, as a storefront for my naturopathic clinic, and a tangible experience to balance the online offerings. Excited to explore new ways to weave plant medicines into food and beverages, we then opened the two Elixir Bars (Bondi then Paddington) in rapid succession.
The growth of awareness in the last four or five years since opening the stores gives an encouraging insight into the receptivity of customers to plant-based eating; in the early days we would have people walking out daily, bewildered that we only use fresh nut milks, served mushroom lattes and couldn’t make them a bacon and egg roll! These days almost anyone is willing to try an elixir or raw treat as greater awareness of the benefits of plant-based eating have expanded.
What do you find most rewarding about what you do?
Without a doubt, it’s the people I encounter daily, so many of whom I would never have met without the business. What a unique blessing to be introduced to such creative, passionate, powerful souls, each doing their part for the greater good.
The community of customers, creatives, dreamers, drifters, fellow business owners, journos, practitioners and staff near and far. Oh the staff. I have such deep respect, gratitude and love for the souls who have collectively made up our business over the years. I absolutely treasure my general manager. We truly are a sum of our parts.
Humans aside, it’s the potential to positively impact lives. What a gift! To share access to the wonders of the plant kingdom, a taste of mindfulness, some relief from niggles of the body and mind, a glimpse, even if only momentarily, of a healthier, happier way of being.
Have you always been on a path of healing and helping others through wellness?
The women in my family have always lived on the land in New Zealand as nurses and healers. I always knew I would be in the healing arts. A childhood in the coastal jungles of Borneo and adolescence in rural New Zealand lent time in nature to being an integral part of life.
The sciences were always my strongest subjects at school, due to a pure fascination with Mother Nature. I’d often borrow the microscopes from the science lab at high school, spending hours at home peeking into in the intricacies of plant life. Even teen partying days were typically on the land, dancing in fields and raving under the stars.
These adolescent years also bought a darker personal journey to navigate the link between food, emotional and spiritual health. Unfortunately, the messaging around healthy eating in the ’90s was still targeting fat as the devil, and like so many young women I was a victim of the fear this created. The diet industry has a lot to answer for in many people’s negative relationship and misunderstanding of nutrition.
The path to understanding the meaning of true nourishment ultimately led me to study Naturopathy, with the degree’s large focus on holistic nutrition. Food became medicine of the most wondrous and natural kind. An innate trust in the healing power of nature was rekindled.
What did your life look like when you were living in NYC?
In retrospect, I realise now that my time in New York was both intensely dark and powerfully bright. I went there to be with my (now) husband James, flying out the day after my dear mum had been released from hospital after many months of invasive and intensive cancer treatment. The transition into the intensity of the city was too much. As vibrant as New York is, I also found an impenetrable hardness people seemed to develop there, a kind of impersonality, void of the conscious connection I was yearning from the collective.
Seeking to rediscover a lightness of being, I dove into all of the mind, body and spiritual offerings available; woofing on farms upstate, studying and teaching yoga on the rooftop of our apartment block, socialising, volunteering at co-ops, delving into my meditation practise, exploring the ‘raw vegan’ lifestyle so prolific at that time. With James’ support, I had the luxury of opportunity to navigate my way through it all, eventually culminating in that crystal clear light bulb moment in lower Manhattan when I found myself in a cold-pressed juice bar and realised I had to take this home. The momentum of Orchard St. hasn’t faltered since that moment.
What do your days look like now?
Mornings have always been a sacred time for me, one that anchors me, connects me to myself As a new mum, very sleep deprived, or with my precious Sonny in arms, this was the time I longed for the most. No matter how loving and supportive and willing to help a partner may be, (and James is pretty good), carving out space for a new mum to reconnect to herself is incredibly hard.
These days, with Sonny almost three and typically sleeping until the sun rises. I often have an hour or so for myself before he wakes up.
On rising, I cleanse my face, teeth and tongue, then settle outside with a candle, some music and put on the kettle. I drink tea and meditate for about half an hour. Then I have a short 20-minute yoga or chi-gong practice. Once Sonny wakes we have cuddles and morning songs, then breakfast and pack his lunch together.
We wake up James with a coffee, then he takes Sonny out to walk our dog Queenie.
Sonny is in now a lovely local daycare three days, and we have an incredible nanny for a half day or more if needed. Along with a brilliant father in James, the carers I’ve had for Sonny have been the most instrumental part of making motherhood possible.
Returning to work days after birth… Orchard St. owes a lot to these people! It goes so far beyond just someone to look after your child – for someone to care for them lovingly enough that you can leave them with such peace of mind that you feel comfortable to focus on work. It really does takes a village.
My work days run from 9-4 pm and are largely driven by the creative process. Meeting, conceptualising, researching, developing and planning. I try to make a lunchtime yoga or barre class most days too or run down for a dip in the sea to break things up.
After collecting Sonny, it’s back to the dog park or beach for a play, then home to start getting dinner ready, followed by bath, PJs, story time and so on.
What does a typical day look like when it comes to food in your family?
Sonny is a huge eater! I’ve endeavoured to expose him to most foods, just avoiding anything highly processed or additive rich. We really don’t keep any sugary foods in the house, but I don’t have an issue if he eats them on occasion when he’s out and about.
His breakfast is typically bircher muesli, a berry smoothie or pancakes (made with mashed banana or pumpkin, an egg or two, and a little coconut flour.) For lunch Sonny usually has leftovers, or I whip up a little frittata or wrap. He has a bento snack tin I fill with fresh fruit and veggie crudities, seeds, crackers and carob treats. Water is his only drink through the day, sometimes he’ll have some cool chamomile tea at night.
For me, on waking I have a big glass of water or two, with apple cider vinegar and a few drops of ocean minerals. Then several bowls of pu-erh or oolong tea. I find my nervous and digestive systems work best with small meals every few hours, also my body type tends to drop weight quickly so I do need to keep mindful of eating enough.
I’ll sip on a smoothie for breakfast, then when I start work I’ll pop next door to Orchard St. for a coffee (on coconut milk, spiked with our adrenal blend – bliss – and often some lion’s mane for cognition enhancement). Mid-morning I’ll have half an avocado with nut butter on sprouted crackers or bread, with sauerkraut and a large green fields juice. Before lunch, I usually move my body with a walk, midday yoga or barre class, then tuck into a big raw salad for lunch, always with avocado, occasionally with an egg or two. Green tea follows…
Mid arvo is typically raw chocolate, and some activated nuts and dried berries. Sometimes another juice. Sometimes half an avo. Always more tea, usually herbal – our energy or immune blends are my faves, or gynostemma.
Dinner is shared around the table. Veggies dominate but to avoid a mutiny I let the boys have meat a couple of nights a week. As the main shopper for the family, I can ensure their meat comes from organic and humane sources, but I let James cook it. Go-to meals in our house are miso broths, simple fish and greens, Sri Lankan veggie curries and zucchini pasta piled with greens and fresh herb pesto.
Then more tea. Digest or Calm at night. I do love tea.
Has motherhood changed your approach to wellness?
Yes, in so many ways. My spiritual practice was the most noticeable to me, and I have spent the last three years redefining it. It took a few months but once I realised I was powerless to the flow, I could accept the deepest lesson of surrender.
Motherhood is your practice. It shines a light on your attachments, your unaddressed issues and your tendencies when times are tough. Moving through the challenges and expectations upon yourself is your practice. Finding true peace amongst it all. It brings the realisation that the goal of any wellness endeavour goes far beyond any personal health goals. It’s simply to become a better person. A better mother. This is what it’s all for.
Buddhism has always been a spiritual discipline I hadn’t felt much affinity with before becoming a mother, with its large discourse on suffering. Why should suffering be an inevitable part of life? Bliss and transcendence are so much more appealing. Yet as a mum, while you experience more love and joy than you dreamed possible, there is also loss, anguish and guilt as you adjust to a new way of life, of being.
I came across Sarah Napthali’s book ‘Buddhism for Mothers’ in the early months, and it became my go-to resource for insight and clarity. It tends to be my gift for most new mums these days.
Years before pregnancy I’d already softened to any dietary doctrines but found myself strongly featuring those I simply tend to avoid; carbs, sugar and coffee! I finally understood what all the fuss was about!
Early pregnancy was riddled with morning (all day) sickness, and toast became my only food friend. Open the freezer at any point and a variety of loaves would come tumbling out; gluten-free, sprouted, ancient grain, zucchini, corn and pumpkin breads, several Iggy’s rolls. Motherhood also birthed a sweet tooth. In the early months of exhaustion, chocolate became an afternoon ritual (one that still continues almost three years later). And coffee. Oh, the coffee.
What about business? Has becoming a mother shifted anything in the way you manage your time and your company?
Nothing has taught me more about the art of prioritising than motherhood.
With my family all in NZ, we’ve had carers for Sonny since he was only few weeks old, initially just a few hours between feeds. Any time not spent with my baby was riddled with guilt in these early days, until I worked through this, so I was determined not to waste a moment of it. Time spent on anything not crucially important was deemed irrelevant. I would literally walk into the stores and pull anything not selling off the shelves. Stepping back to be with Sonny throughout each day, bought a constant objective perspective of the business, providing insight and incentive for change. I created a mother’s version of the ‘4 hour work week’!
Motherhood also birthed an even stronger creative drive, a stronger yearning to bring greater health, joy and light into our community.
How do you encourage healthy eating, mindfulness and gratitude in your own family – and particularly with a toddler?
By example. I try to keep very light-hearted and joyful about meals. It’s not hard, given how excited I do get about creating, and eating, wholesome food.
I try to avoid any tension at the dinner table. While I would always prefer Sonny to finish his plate, to reap the nutrients his precious little body needs, if he is upset or refusing to eat I won’t push it, rather leave it than create a negative association with meals. Likewise, if it’s been an emotional day or there’s any tension between James and I, I’d rather save it for later, scrap the mindful eating and all plop down on the lounge floor for a nature doco. An occasional TV dinner is better in my books than an emotionally charged meal!
I love talking to Sonny about where food comes from, and with whole food eating it’s really not too far! The gratitude is important, particularly given he does eat animal products. So we thank the chicken for their eggs, the bees for their honey and the goats for the yoghurt. I do gently discuss where meat has come from, and the importance of only consuming ‘happy animals’, but I am determined not to convey my emotional response to meat eating for risk of creating a bias in him. I acknowledge this is selfish; choosing the nourishment of my precious child over the lives of animals, and the health of the environment, yet it will remain so until he makes his own conscious choice to avoid meat.
How do you maintain your levels of mindfulness and calm while running a thriving business?
I’ve been meditating for just shy of 20 years now, studying and practising yoga most days for the same. I’ve studied and read hundreds of books on healing arts, spirituality and theology. While I’ve still got a lifetime of work to do, this insight has become deeply ingrained into my being, I have cultivated the ability to tap into that sweet spot of inner stillness, most of the time. As you recognise the nature of business, as an entity of its own, even if an expression, an extension of me, you are able to detach from it.
Before motherhood, my centre of calm was so unshakeable that while I could fully sit within, and work through, the intensity of business stresses, I was able to avoid imbibing them.
The first year of motherhood shook this up. Orchard St. went through some huge challenges, our investors parting ways in my late pregnancy, leaving no capital to continue. There were many times James would sit me down with a heavy heart and tell me it was time to accept we had to close the doors. I couldn’t. With a powerful desire to save our business, I gave all of my spare strength to this as a new mum. I was in meetings with potential investors only four days after Sonny’s birth, without even acknowledging the newborn quietly bundled up outside the door.
What simple tips do you have for mothers who are looking to incorporate more healthy habits into their everyday?
Go gently. You have so many to-do lists and pressures, getting healthy shouldn’t be yet another thing to get to. Wellness isn’t a destination but a way of being you have a lifetime to explore.
Harness the healing power of herbs. The plant kingdom offers many powerful botanicals to assist you through these times.
Eat as closely to nature as possible. Tend to your body’s nutritional needs. You deserve to be as nourished as your child.
Rest. Prioritise sleep whenever possible. This will do more for your nervous system than any medicine or practice.
What are your little list of loves?
AVEDA – The only hair products I use. I admire their full transparency of ingredients and support of farmers in developing nations to eliminate chemicals. They also deliver the expectations for colour, care and style much organic hair care misses.
SHAGG HAIR – My local, and beloved, Aveda salon in Sydney’s Bronte.
ALL THAT REMAINS – My daily uniform! What a heavenly range of fabrics, tones and styles Leah continues to create.
BARRE BODY ONLINE – I’ve loved weaving Emma’s classes into my weekly flow for a few years now, but as a new mum with less time, I found her huge selection of online classes incredibly handy.
NAGNATA – I’ve never been able to stand the feel of lycra, so have been incredibly grateful for the light, breathable, wool blend active wear creations of dear friend Laura May.
MUKTI ORGANICS – A recent addition to our in-store offerings, Mukti has created an incredible, organic and therapeutic skincare range.
THE AYU – The scent of a natural woman.
THE BEAUTY CHEF FIX BALM – Always in my handbag; the lip balm, moisturiser, baby bum cream… Carla’s skin refiner is also an incredible toner.
MONTESSORI APPS – Sonny is loving learning with these!
ORCHARD ST. ELIXIR POWDERS – Naturopath formulated with potent organic herbs, the ultimate adaptogenic support for new mums.
IN BED STORE – Anything, everything.
LEAH FRASER – Weaving dreams into reality with her magical paintings, Leah is the most wonderful of artists.
CLOUD HIDDEN TEA – Sam’s range of teas, hand sourced from small organic farms, are part of my daily ritual.
SUMMER & STORM – Would have Sonny in this heavenly kids wear daily, brilliant colours and designs, if he wasn’t such a gorgeous little grub!
CLEOPATRAS BLING – Adorn me in anything Olivia creates. The most divine alchemist of gold!
THE BROAD PLACE – The courses, the letters, the programmes and the books. If you haven’t visited or signed up to Jacqui’s offerings, bring this into your life immediately!
NIMBUS & CO. – A beautiful team and space. Love having these infrared saunas in the midst of our Bondi community!