How does Ironwood help to preserve the fragile ecosystem in which it harvests clays?
"At Ironwood, we work with several government agencies to ensure that the operations that we undertake to collect the glacial clay are as low-impact as possible. This also includes some First Nations representation to ensure that the land is respected and preserved."
Each time that we take our yearly trip to the harvesting location, we need to renew our licenses, and checkups are common from government agents when we are on-site and harvesting. The Fisheries and Oceans Canada agency is particularly stringent and interested in preserving the coastline in which we operate."
Ironwood has been harvesting the Glacial Clay from the area for 30 years now, and is constantly improving their processes and operations to make them more efficient, and lessen the environmental impact as well.
Your website mentions that the harvest site is hard to get to and seasonal - can you elaborate? What goes into harvesting?
"Our sites are pre-approved 9 months before we actually go up the coast, so the process begins then. We have 9 sites that we will use, but the most common is a small inlet that is only accessible when the water levels are high enough to pass the barges through without hitting the bottom. This happens twice a year"
Ironwood's process differs from some others, who use "shore mining", as opposed to barges. Ironwood uses barges to avoid damaging the shoreline or forest that borders the shore. Shore mining requires tree clearing and can damage the shoreline ecosystem as well - barges slip in and out of the inlet without damaging the bottom, or shores in the area.
Protective sheets are also used to keep wildlife away from the process.
"The tugs, workboats and barges work together with the mining crews over a span of around 5 days. Once we've bagged up the clay in our big totes, the barges are cleared from the inlet."
How does the Glacial Clay go from raw, natural material, to something that could be used in personal care and industry? What goes into the refinement process?
"We end up using 95% of the materials that we harvest in the final product, so waste is generally pretty low. We're primarily concerned with removing larger debris like fragments of shell or stones.
Once the clay has been filtered, it goes through a sterilizer that uses heat, instead of chemicals, to ensure the clay is sterile and ready to use."
The end result is a pure, fine clay that can be used in lots of formulations. The clays are also COSMOS certified, meaning the clays are organic and do not contain harmful synthetics.
What has your experience been as a harvester/formulator/manufacturer? Do you feel more connected to the final goods as a result of the process?
"We're very proud of our manufacturing processes - working with a raw, natural product can come with some challenges, but we've been able to meet each one without compromising either our mission, or the end product.
When I use the final product as a skin mask, I definitely feel connected to the clays, and the ecosystem that we get them from. It's all a very special feeling, and we're definitely proud of that."
Ironwood also commissions clinical studies on the effects of the Glacial Clays for skincare, and the results lend credence to the claims surrounding the product.
"It's been great to see that the clays have some real benefits for skincare, for both smoothing and exfoliating skin, to drawing foreign materials from pores, to moisturizing, and more"
Any interesting stories or anecdotes from 30 years of harvesting clays?
"When they started in 1988, our first trip up to the harvest area was staffed mostly by ex-military. We spend a good portion of the first trip breaking up ice with hand-tools and harvesting the clay in a way that I would laugh about now"