Just five years after they began manufacturing and supplying ethical spa products, Blackheath couple Naomi and Paul Whitfield’s iKOU has been named Australia’s best regional business in the Telstra national business awards.
Mrs Whitfield said she was delighted with the win. She and her husband were “incredibly proud to have achieved this on behalf of the Blue Mountains”. She said they were the only NSW winners at the awards announced last week.The couple started the iKOU brand in their kitchen; the company now employs 23 staff.
There are 370 products carrying the iKOU label, including skin care, candles, bath salts and herbal teas. The Whitfields supply world-leading hotels and spas including the Park Hyatt, Emirates and Six Senses Luxury Resorts which operate through Asia.
The manufacturing is done at a factory in North Katoomba using natural Australian ingredients and iKOU offsets the process with solar and wind power.
Earlier this year iKOU won the NSW regional business award. They then benefited from mentoring by last year’s winners, who helped show them “the need for inspiration, vision, determination and passion”, Mrs Whitfield said.
The couple will act as mentors to next year’s finalists.
The group managing director of Telstra Business, Will Irving, said the judges were impressed by the couple’s clear vision to create an ethical business and their tight financial management.
“IKOU has displayed its passion to build a profitable yet ethical business and has been astute by mitigating their risks through diversifying from retail into premium hotels,” Mr Irving said.
The Whitfields continue to expand. They will open a store in the QVB in Sydney in November and are looking at opportunities in Japan.
They are also repackaging some of their products to allow for easier shipping and considering bilingual labelling.
Mrs Whitfield couldn’t tell the Gazette what prize money they might receive. “Money isn’t our motivation,” she said. “We just wanted to create an amazing brand that would become known internationally” and winning such a prestigious award “gets your brand out there”, she said.