“The first time I saw a breadfruit tree, I cried”
The humble breadfruit flower is the key ingredient in a new line of beauty products by 22-year-old Kenna Whitnell, here in Samoa to meet her suppliers for the first time.
Ms Whitnell, founder and chief executive officer of Altilis Beauty discovered the antioxidant properties of the breadfruit flower while studying bio chemistry with Dr Susan Murch at the University of British Colombia, during her bachelor’s degree in 2017.
By November that year, she had a full suite of skin care products, all founded in the extracts of the breadfruit flower.
“The flowers, when you extract them, have this beautiful smell, it’s like kind of like molasses and citrus, it’s really interesting,” Ms Whitnell said.
“And that’s why I focused on the flowers. But when I tested for bioactivities and potential skin care benefits, I was just blown away.”
Thanks to Dr Murch’s 15 years of work in Samoa, she was quickly put in touch with Natural Foods International and began sourcing a steady supply of flowers to her laboratory in Canada. Today, she has over 1000 regular customers benefiting from her research.
“The breadfruit is responsible for eliminating sunspots which is really good, especially for people with light skin as it can lead to cancer. So it’s good to stop those in their tracks,” Ms Whitnell said.
Natural Foods International gathers breadfruit flowers from a network of farmers on Upolu and Savaii. Ms Whitnell has been able to meet some of those farmers on her first trip to Samoa this week, and show them what she has been making out of their labour.
“The ladies that collect the flowers, they’re like oh, you’re the crazy garbage lady, because they think it’s waste. They ask why are you paying me for garbage?”
“I’ve been showing them the products and a lot of the women at the factory have been using them on their skin and they love them. It’s changing perspectives and the idea of what is garbage and what you can do with it.”
The most important thing for Ms Whitnell is to develop a product that won’t affect food supply. Going forward, breadfruit will be an important source of nutrients and so she doesn’t want to touch the fruit itself.
“It’s important to support tree crops,” she said.
Unlike rice and wheat, breadfruit trees are a powerful tool against climate change and food insecurity, Ms Whitnell believes.
UBC has small breadfruit trees growing in bins, which don’t have root systems and don’t fruit. So until her trip to Samoa, Ms Whitnell had never seen a tree in all its glory.
“Being here has inspired me so much. The people, the landscape, breadfruit trees are majestic and I had never seen one like that in person.”
“I almost cried, just this is so beautiful,” she said.
“They’re so important to the culture here and to really see that in person has been very impactful and inspiring for me.”