Profile: Sonya Driver, creator, Eco Tan
"I wasn't eating or sleeping and lost all my life plan, so I started having anxiety attacks," says Driver of the time after her pilot husband called to say it was over. "I'd given up my job, as an international Qantas attendant, to look after my girls. I was a single mother living in a tiny house, broke. My self-esteem really suffered. I thought I was unlovable, unvaluable. You get divorced and a lot of nasty things get said and people talk about you. I thought I was dumb; a stupid person. Everything about me was wrong."
When the opportunity to join 12 male builders from her church who were travelling to East Timor came up, she was quite sure God had got the wrong girl, but was still willing to give it a go. "I was thinking, 'God, I don't do camping!', and God was going, 'I know!'."
A hairdresser by trade, the husky-voiced, Sydney-born, Gold Coast based Driver set up a temporary salon, in the dust, to wash women's hair.
"They'd never had their hair shampooed and conditioned, so I got the guys to go down to Dili to buy shampoo and conditioner. The joy it brought to their spirit! Their wild, fuzzy, matted hair turned soft and silky, and they lined up every day to have it done. It nearly broke my back, and I slept under a metal survival blanket. But I came home with no depression – my spirit was changed from giving."
Her experienced recharged her batteries enough to give her the energy to continue developing the tanning products she'd started working on. When researching healing creams her sister could use on her melanoma scars, she became acquainted with – and angered by – the ingredients used in some of the products, and so her research into organic tanning methods began.
"I started individually researching the ingredients and found many of them were toxic and shouldn't go near your skin," she says. "The thing that upset me most was the fake organic and natural claims. There might be one organic ingredient, but the rest is petrochemicals, preservatives, artificials, synthetics... It created a fire within me. So, I became a bit obsessive. I developed a passion – it gave me something. I started getting in samples, mixing it, spraying people. There were a lot of batches, a lot of money wasted. It took me a long time."
The end result is a product certified by the Organic Food Chain (OFC), a Government-approved certifier, made up of 70% certified organic ingredients, including pigments, herbs, fruit extract, flower extract and chamomile. The product is now stocked in chemists, health food stores and beauty salons across the country, as well as the Gwinganna Health Retreat. In the words of her nine-year-old daughter, Charlotte, "God took something bad, mixed it with something good, to make something beautiful!"
But the best thing, she says, is being a mentor for women.
"I'm getting a lot of emails from women, single mothers, thanking and encouraging me," she says. "There's been dark times where I've wanted not to continue, but I knew that wasn't an option. There are so many single mothers out there, so many women with low self-esteem, and I never realised. It's honestly tough, but there are women out there who are doing worse than me."
Visit the Eco Tan website to find out more.
Girl With a Satchel