Max Kater is the lovely lady behind the country’s most-popular cleaning brand Murchison-Hume. To take the mundane (cleaning) and make it marvellously on-trend is no easy feat, but the US-based mum has done it, with stylish and safe products for the home that range from hand soap to laundry detergent, upholstery cleaner to dog grooming kits.
In this interview, Max talks to me about why she started the brand, her active love of social media, MH’s new candle range and an exciting new collection that she describes as major.
You started Murchison-Hume because your son had a bad reaction to many household cleaners. How long ago was that and what was it like establishing the business back then?
Looking back, it seems like a Lifetime ago. Those were the salad days before we had employees! Charlie was a baby and I could only work between nap times. And a little more when the baby was asleep.
The funny thing was that I assumed I was being so careful because I always bought “eco-friendly” products even before Charlie was born. He was always a sniffly/sneezy baby, but I didn’t really understand why until I pulled him out of the bath I had just cleaned: His skin was red from the waist down (exactly on the water line). He had been suffering from the heavy synthetic fragrance load and the “chemical cloud” I created every time I cleaned.
We took him in for testing and sure enough, we was diagnosed with allergic sensitivities to the most common ingredients in cleaning products. From that moment on, I vowed to find a safe, plant-based cleaning product that worked. Finding none that I liked, I decided to make my own and here we are!
The products are so popular. What’s it been like watching (and working on) the brand’s rise to fame?
Thank you! I suppose it’s a bit like watching your children grow up. Sometimes, you are bursting with pride and can’t believe how lucky you are and other times you just want a nice cup of tea and a lie-down in a darkened room.
The packaging is instantly recognisable. Can you tell me about the process that went into creating the look and feel of the products?
When I left my job in Fashion to be a stay-at-home Mom, I couldn’t understand why everything made to maintain your home had to be so ugly. Why does neon coloured plastic and “pine” scent dominate the cleaning aisle? It’s revolting!
Our aesthetic actually evolved out of my collection of vintage apothecary bottles. I wanted our cleaning products to look a bit like that. Sort of retro/modern. The real turning point for us came about last year when we introduced the icon labels. I also collect silhouette portraits and have one of each of our family members from the artist Karl Johnson. I love them. I think they’re at once graphic, modern and totally classic. Plus, now people can instantly identify our products from one another. That’s important when you’re rummaging around under the sink.
The Murchison-Hume brand is so active and involved on social media. Do you love engaging with customers and the community?
Yes, I do. I never sleep and have 10 arms like an Indian Goddess. I am making dinner, washing my hair and posting something on instagram even as I type this.
You’ve recently introduced my favourite decor piece of all time to the MH range – the candle! How did that come about?
The candles! We hesitated for ages because there are so many candles out there. But most of the soy based ones are sloppy and can’t throw a scent. I went to the very best candle-maker (that is a real thing) in Los Angeles. He designs candles for everyone from Oprah to J. Crew and he taught me the whole process from creating the perfect scent to wicks, vessels and wax composition. I am now a certified candle maker. Another arrow for my quiver!
What’s your favourite or most-used product from the Murchison-Hume range?
Oh, that’s a bit tricky for me. It really depends upon my given needs that day. For example, Zeus decided to pee on Domino while we were out walking today (we try to discourage that kind of behavior) so it was Best in Show Waterless Wash to the rescue. Plus there was a little salsa incident earlier at lunch, so a travel size Garment Groom is always in my bag. You can see why I started a cleaning products range, can’t you? Real life is messy.
What’s next for the brand in 2015 and beyond? My cats Emi and Mim have requested a cat-related product.
Oh, we have some serious design cat-nip for you (but nothing for cats, sadly). I never like to lift the curtain early, but here’s hint: we are dipping our toes into the beauty pool and as always, we are working with the best of the best! It’s going to be major.
>>> Explore the range of Murchison-Hume cleaning products and candles over on their website.