New digs for Antipodes in renovated Wellington landmark

Article by Sharon Stephenson
Images by Rosa Woods/Stuff
Nov 27 2019

Elizabeth Barbalich doesn't want to talk about skincare today.  Which is surprising, given she founded the globally successful natural beauty company Antipodes Nature.

Instead, Barbalich wants to talk architecture. Or, more specifically, the opening of her company's Wellington HQ, Antipodes House.  Carved into the shell of an historic 1930s Art Deco building, Antipodes House, the company's global office and only retail store opened in Ghuznee Street last week with a lavish party.

It took four years and around 250 workers to wave the renovation wand over the 2070m2 building, including adding 200 tonnes of steel beams and specialist earthquake technology that burrowed thick micro-piles 30 metres underground.  The result is a four-storey, light-filled office space and roof terrace housing 50 staff, from marketers and product developers to designers and videographers.

"Wellingtonians of a certain age might remember the building as the iconic Bar Bodega," says Barbalich, settling into a chair in her new office on the first floor. "But it started life in the '30s as the Nestle Chocolate factory and since then has also been an RSA and, in the '80s, the famous restaurant, Brasserie Flip."

Barbalich admits she always loved the building and stumbled upon it by chance. "We were lucky the previous owners wanted a quiet sale. It was pretty run down, but we knew we had to restore this grand old dame of Wellington."

It's the latest step in a journey that's taken Barbalich from her kitchen sink to a $100 million retail empire whose cleansers, serums, moisturisers and lipsticks are stocked by everyone from Sephora and Boots to pharmacies, health food stores and duty free shops across Asia, the US and Canada.

"I've always had sensitive and dry skin, so was looking for the ultimate hydrating product," says Barbalich. "Since my three children were young [they're now 22, 20 and 19], I've been keen on healthy food and lifestyles and finding natural alternatives for synthetic products."

It helped that Barbalich had a science degree, so, back in 2005, she started sourcing ingredients and studying the chemistry of formulations that she experimented with in her family's kitchen.

"I spent two years weighing and mixing countless trial formulations at home, until eventually knew I had something that would work. I contacted a cosmetic chemist in Auckland, who'd developed various European brands, as well as a French 'nose' who helps develop scents for products. I then found a local manufacturer willing to take over production and we started with seven products, including a face oil, night cream and a hand cream."

Barbalich admits the first four or five years were tough, when she had to do everything herself, including securing distribution, selling the products, tell the brand story and travelling the country alone, working directly with every store who took the brand on. Not to mention raising a young family.

In 2013, her property developer husband Zoran joined the business, looking after sales into China and financial operations.

Barbalich admits their business dominates family life, with the couple spending most of their waking hours discussing it, or travelling for it.

Up until the move into the new headquarters, staff were scattered around various apartments in a former eye hospital in Newtown that Zoran had turned into a residential development.

"After so many years, it's great to finally have everyone under one roof and to be in such a central location."


This article is republished from Stuff

November 2019.