TAMA People: Gabrielle and Luke, Founders of ACTIVIST Mānuka

TAMA People: Gabrielle and Luke, Founders of ACTIVIST Mānuka


Activist is a Mānuka Honey company founded by wife and husband, Gabrielle Mirkin and Luke Harwood. Their shared passion for the earth and natural products can be traced to their childhoods in New Zealand.

Tell us about yourselves, how did you two meet?
I met Luke in Auckland New Zealand when I was 22-years-old and we have been together ever since. He’s my partner in life and work and my true soul mate. We have travelled the world together, lived in three different countries, experienced many different lives together and birthed three babies; Cisco River, Tallulah Blue, and our third baby being ACTIVIST. Luke is amazingly creative and has the most beautiful wild ideas; things I could never dream up. We both used to have very different careers; Luke had a fashion brand for thirteen years and I worked in publications designing magazines at Conde Nast and Hearst publications. We now reside in Topanga Canyon, nestled into the Santa Monica Mountains with our two small children. Our house looks out towards the Pacific Ocean facing New Zealand where we spend a lot of time during the year and where the birthplace of ACTIVIST was.

What inspired you to start ACTIVIST? 
I was living and working in New York City as an Art Director at Vogue magazine. Shortly after my 30th birthday, I became very sick literally overnight. I had many scary neurological symptoms and was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. The disease I experienced was from more than just the tick bite which causes Lyme disease; my body and mind were so toxic from living a life completely out of balance, that my glass just overflowed. I was constantly overstimulated and depleted. My mind loved the idea of a big city, but my physical body did not.

After a month spent in Switzerland at a Biological Medicine Clinic, I returned to New Zealand, where my husband Luke and I spent a year living quietly on our piece of land in the Coromandel. Some beekeeping friends asked if they could place some hives on our land and we happily agreed. It was a transformative year. As my health began to improve, I became deeply interested in natural foods, preparing all our food from scratch, including nut milks, bread, granola, green juices, chocolates, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut. I really believe in the human body’s innate capacity to heal itself if provided with the right tools — one of these being nourishing foods from the earth and Mānuka Honey. Luke and I felt a pull towards creating a business that reflected our interest in the natural world and Luke’s life-long passion for surfing. We began noticing the activity of the local bees as we walked through the thick native bush to get to the ocean. We became so aware of the bees’ activity, that we learned to tell the time by their movements and began to understand their key role as environmental indicators. That was a magical moment for us. We felt the need to build a business that was in tune with our lifestyle and passions. We felt like we had kind of lost that, and that year in the Coromandel brought that back.

At the time, we talked about creating a honey brand as ‘a romantic idea,’ but we didn’t take the possibility seriously until we returned to the United States and started to look at the way Mānuka Honey was presented on the world stage. A lot of the time, there’s this amazing resource made by bees and the beekeepers are doing a passionate and labor-intensive job, but it ends up being sold offshore and being diluted by mass distributors who dump it into chain stores and label it with whatever numbers they want (Mānuka Honey is graded and scientifically tested for its potency). We saw an opportunity to do something really beautiful — to work with the beekeepers to tell a transparent story while elevating Mānuka. And so, ACTIVIST Mānuka was born.

What is your favourite part of owning the business? 
ACTIVIST is a family business and an extension of our lifestyle. We have a huge passion for New Zealand and making sure New Zealand resources are presented well on a global stage, with essence and a true story. It was not a smooth ride by any means; but a very passionate one full of perseverance and love. We have two children, Cisco and Tallulah, so ACTIVIST is our third baby. Running a business and being a mother is really difficult, but something I would never change. I am so very grateful every day that I get to do what I do and also work for myself. It’s an immense blessing.

One thing I am most proud of is the immensely beneficial results that ACTIVIST has on so many of our customer’s lives. I receive messages every day from customers (many who I now have personal relationships with), expressing their gratitude for our products and the efficacy they have for whatever ailment they are treating. One customer suffers from horrible stomach ulcers and was on antibiotics for months which only made him worse. Our Mānuka Honey 1000+MGO has cured his stomach ulcers and he can’t be without it now. Many women express how our Mānuka Honey Mask 850+MGO has completely healed their skin from hormonal breakouts, acne and eczema. A customer this week has been using our Raw Mānuka Oil on a fungal infection and it has completely cleared up after weeks of using strong prescription fungicides that did not work. Other parents write to me so thankful that our Raw Mānuka Honey and Mānuka Immune Elixir have kept their children strong and healthy while returning to school.

How do you integrate ACTIVIST products into your daily routine?
I use ACTIVIST religiously every day. I start with a teaspoon of 1000+MGO first thing in the morning with my warm lemon water for immunity. I add Mānuka to smoothies, tonics, teas and granola. I use it topically daily if my little boy gets a cut or scrape, an insect bite or sunburn. I use 850+MGO Mānuka Honey Mask every night as a face cleanser and natural face mask. I will eat a teaspoon in the afternoon when I am tired and need an energy boost. At the first sign of a sore throat, I double-dose Mānuka Honey. I use our Mānuka Honey Mask as a daily face wash, weekly face mask, and as a spot treatment along with Activist Mānuka Oil. I use our Green Botanical Serum morning and night, which contains a potent infusion of land and sea botanicals including Mānuka and kawakawa oils, wild-harvested algae, New Zealand avocado, kiwifruit seed oil, and blue tansy.

Describe your morning/evening routine
At home in Topanga, our mornings consist of early rising, making an oat milk flat white with Canyon Coffee (or a green juice on the weekends). Breakfast is usually granola or grain-free pancakes with lots of ACTIVIST Mānuka Honey. I make school lunches during the week and both our kiddies, Cisco River (seven years old) and Tallulah Blue (three years old), head off to their schools. My mornings are busy making sure our kids are well nourished and set for the day ahead with their friends and teachers. We live in the Santa Monica Mountains, and in the evenings we go for a family hike together. We always cook and eat dinner together early as a family which is really important to us. My boy Cisco makes the salad every night and adds things that he picks from our garden such as wild fennel, herbs, and sour grass! In the summertime, we will have a swim together in the Pacific Ocean or the pool. Bath and shower time consists of a nightly ACTIVIST Mānuka Honey Mask ritual followed by a few drops of ACTIVIST Green Botanical Serum (my kids use both these products too!).

Can you take us through your current daily self-care rituals?
My favorite things to do are swimming in the salty ocean, hiking in the thick native New Zealand bush, yoga and cooking nutritious meals for my friends and family. I would like to do a lot more of all these things this coming year, as well as surf again with my husband. They nourish my soul and being! 

A Mānuka Honey Mask every night is an essential ritual of mine, I also cleanse my face with this mask each morning on waking. This is followed by a few drops of ACTIVIST Green Botanical Serum. Each day my kids and I take a teaspoon of ACTIVIST 850+MGO Mānuka Honey as well as a dropperful of our Mānuka Immune Elixir. These two things have kept our whole family healthy and strong this entire year (so far!). I also make cups of dandelion tea with lion’s mane mushroom and our 300+MGO Mānuka Honey throughout the day. I diffuse our Raw Mānuka Oil all day in our ACTIVIST studio. The smell is green, sweet, herbaceous, medicinal and spicy and the antimicrobial properties of the oil cleanse the air from germs, especially at this time of year when everyone seems to have colds and flu.

What is your favourite style of movement? 
I have a long time love of yoga and even did my teacher training in India when my son was 1-year-old. I try to do some sort of movement everyday. I love Ethereal yoga studio in Topanga Canyon where I live. I go for long walks in the mountains where I live. Walking is my meditation and one of the only times I can switch off, be present and clear my mind. I have also recently started enjoying pilates which I have found tremendously helpful for gaining strength back following having babies. Awen Pilates in Topanga is my local.

What are three items you always have in your fridge? 
Sparkling water, lots of fresh herbs and greens, farm eggs from my neighbour’s chickens. 

@activistmanuka ~ www.activistmanuka.com


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