We’ve been pen pals with Tanja Gruber since early 2016, when she first got in touch with us about her young product line called Max & Me. What we have been increasingly impressed by, each time we connect with Tanja, is the complete and utter devotion behind this brand. Year after year, they've proven to be the real deal in a world where the terms "green" and "high-vibe" can at times be overused.
In this thoughtful, thorough interview, our pen pal covers Austrian farming history, tales of visits to suppliers in far-flung destinations, and secrets to lasting love. It's the perfect thing to cozy up to on a February Sunday, and it'll give you a deeper understanding of the incredible lengths to which Tanja and Max go to create these gorgeous products.
Read on to learn more.
Ayla: Max & Me is our first brand from Austria - which is the birthplace of biodynamic farming. While the EU's regulations on ingredient control are strict, we understand Austria takes it to a new level. Can you tell us more about this?
TANJA: Yes, so true — Austria is considered to be Europe's “No. 1 organic farming country.”
Austria was the first country in the world to establish national regulations for organic farming, ten years prior to the first regulations established by the European Union. Today, over 16% of Austria’s farmers and almost 20% of the farmland are managed under the high environmental standards of organic farming. Austria considers organic produce to be more than just niche products: the objective is to make “organic” as widespread as possible so as to preserve the good quality of soil, water and air for generations to come and nurture health inside out.
Instead of promoting productivity, Austrian farm policy, introduced in the 80’s, prioritizes quality of ingredients over quantity. And even earlier on, Austria was a pioneer in preserving the integrity of the land’s natural resources: in 1927, the first organic farm in the world was registered here, based on the findings of researcher Rudolf Steiner. His biodynamic vision, which encourages study of the natural rhythms of the sun, the planets, and the moon for guidance on planting and harvesting, is quite widely adopted — and it is what we also look for in our partners when sourcing. The goal is to protect and nurture the vitality of the plants for the most active, vibrant, and aromatic results.
One of my favorite aspects about running a handmade, organic skincare company in Austria is that you are naturally incentivized to be as sustainably minded, eco-conscious, and forward thinking as possible. Austria often sets the sustainability and safety standards in the European Union, so the barriers to entry as a skincare company are very high, and you have to comply with certain government criteria just to begin your business.
But being sustainably minded is second nature here because it’s accessible: it is a broad consumer demand, not necessarily restricted to certain socio-economic groups — and our team is motivated to go above and beyond common sustainable business practices.
Just like our ingredients, we carefully research, source, and design our production process. We are very particular about only certain materials coming into our studio and into contact with the ingredients: our equipment has to be “organic” in nature, as minimally processed as possible, and yes — also high-vibe. Our absolute favorite production pieces are our large, old-school apothecary glass vessels, which have a gorgeous teardrop shape. Within these, we mix every single oil blend and let it sit in the traditional way of blending. We take the truly handmade nature of our production very seriously.
To top all of this off, we are organically certified by BDIH, a German based certifier that maintains one of the strictest standards in the world for ingredient control and sustainability and prides itself on an extremely small acceptance rate of brands that get to carry the logo. They regularly check our studio and all ingredients and take great pride in being as meticulous as can be. Certification by BDIH ensures participating manufacturers are held accountable to a strict standard and clear regulations that are highly regarded internationally. Importantly, this enables consumers to make a very informed and healthy choice when they see the BDIH Logo. With all the greenwashing going on right now, I think it is so important to have such organizations worldwide for the protection of consumers.
Ayla: You studied at the Austrian Academy of Kinesiology for 4 years, where your training included kinesiology, energetic healing, and aromatherapy. What did that training involve? What were the most interesting things you learned?
TANJA: My training at the Austrian Academy of Kinesiology still sings and swings inside of me. Those days were so full of insights — deep workings within ourselves, learnings about the power of my own energy and how it could influence how I feel, what I attract or magnetize into my world, how it ripples out into this world, and how I can help heal people. The lessons about how I can shift energies — and thus ignite healing impulses in body, mind, emotions and spirit in myself and others — were deep.
Much of my study involved chakra work, acupressure work, meridian work, breathwork, working with the chi, sound and auric fields, and meditation. But of course the days and weeks spent with energetic aromatherapy were my beloved, dearest and most cherished. They invoked my innate healing abilities and fine-tuned my ability to work energetically with plants. I learned to open my perception so that I could see and feel what is around us always but does not necessarily unfold before the physical eye. It encouraged me to value the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspect of every moment in time, of every situation, to get the whole picture and to have all the healing potential I could at my disposal.
Ayla: You believe in ensuring that the products you create are infused with love. We're so impressed that is true from the beginning as you come up with a product concept, to the process of ingredient sourcing - you visit 80% of your ingredient suppliers in person! - and all the way to the end, where you and Max blend products together in your own manufactory. Tell us a little more about the journeys that you took with The Intuitive and Circle of Protection. What did you have in your mind as you created these two wonder products?
TANJA: We see plants in a very holistic way. We believe that only when we manage to build a deep relationship with the respective plant will it open up to us and give insight into its secrets, into its healing potency. It is the same as with close friends: the more time you spend with each other, the more trust is built up, the more you open up, and the better you are as a team.
There are always core plants, best friends within my formulations which inspire me which I identify with strongly. When formulating The Intuitive, I wanted this Botanical Facial Mist to be a great energy worker and also transform the skin. What first sparked was Palo Santo with its spiritual meaning, strong protective forces, sacred character, and incredible skin healing properties; its ability to support heightened energy in the body, elevating soul and spirit, deeply resonates with our high-vibe philosophy.
Palo Santo has long been worshipped by indigenous cultures for its purifying, energy clearing, and harmonizing powers. Stories about its magic are handed down from father to son under the Ecuadorian sun. Our distiller, a visionary alchemist, lives with his family in the heart of the Ecuadorian National Park, in deep harmony with the tree. He is the primary researcher, innovator, distiller, and educator about Palo Santo oil in the world, and the vast majority of information that is known about this oil has come from his work. He has found his life’s purpose in working with Palo Santo. He also uses his foraging initiative to actively engage with the Ecuadorian government in organic reforestation of other areas that have been impacted by negative human interference. His efforts to protect the forest and engage with locals to forage Palo Santo confirmed to us that his distillery was not only the most potent and vibrant source we could find, but also the best partner for our company.
Among the other plant healers that define the bouquet of The Intuitive, there is also Immortelle, which holds a beautiful sourcing story of its own: we brought it with us from the island of Corsica. Sourcing, to us, means getting into a relationship — not just into contact — with indigenous healers, multi-generational organic farms, and inspiring ingredient experts. We source from a very small handful of growers worldwide that are passionate, dedicated, and holistic. The vibrancy of an ingredient is nurtured by the subtle energies of the surroundings and, most importantly, by the practices of people who harvest each ingredient. It’s our privilege to work with such incredible humans around the world who trust us with the continued life cycle of their sacred plants.
With more than 600 species and subspecies, Helichrysum bears a secret: there is an extremely rare species on the island of Corsica that by far exceeds the healing talents of all the others and which is unique in this world, acknowledged for its special powers. We took our kids and traveled to the charming French island of Corsica to find a source for our products. After discovering the island's mountainous areas where Helichrysum grows wild, softly dancing in the breeze, we finally found our distillery: a family owned business, small, dedicated, and deeply connected with the plants. Standing next to the extraordinary head distiller, watching as he did his work, we knew we had found our treasure. We fell instantly for the love we felt in his work and the rich, herbaceous, wildflower, honey-like bouquet of this exceptionally beautiful Helichrysum. Rich in active ingredients, Helichrysum italicum is renowned for its healing impact on hard-to-treat skin issues like sunburn, acne, couperose and rosacea, hyperpigmentation, scarring, traumatized skin — and traumatized souls — while also benefiting maturing skin.
By intentionally sourcing directly and as often as possible, we are also honored to be able to support a diverse community of people around the world including small multi-generational farms and distilleries, native tribes like Amazonian WaiWai Indios, women’s cooperatives in Morocco, and native tribes in Vietnam — especially when it comes to sourcing Listea Cubeba, one of the leading ingredients of Circle of Protection.
With this golden-hued body oil blend, I wanted to create a guardian of skin, soul, and spirit to draw good energies into your life, protecting you from environmental challenges, digital pollution, and the elements as well as shielding and strengthening the subtle body. With a regular ritual, Circle of Protection helps harmonize your inner and outer worlds, bringing a sense of balance and peace.
One especially beautiful ingredient of this sensorial beauty is Litsea: energetically, it attracts white light and cosmic protection. In Vietnam, the saying goes that whenever you feel desperate, lonely, or in need of urgent help, Litsea will connect you with your guardians and help to intuitively guide you through what you have to do. This seemed perfect, as Max & Me is meant to be an invitation to explore a new dimension of beauty beyond the physical.
Litsea cubeba, or May Chang, is an evergreen tree found in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and China. The essential oil is derived from the peppercorn-like fruits of the May Chang tree, and has a most citrusy sweet aroma that creates an uplifting effect while promoting relaxation. We found our Litsea cubeba source from the Northern rainforest in Vietnam while traveling, and we proudly work with trusted native tribes to bring this beautiful oil directly to Vienna, as fresh and potent as possible.
Litsea can help to balance the nervous system, counteracting stress by releasing fear, impending panic attacks, nervousness and insomnia: warding off negativity attracts positive vibes and welcomes the light into places where it is needed. For the skin, it lends its mastery to oily, congested, and breakout-prone skin. It's one of the reasons that Circle of Protection is especially good for teenagers, pregnant mamas-to-be and anyone experiencing hormonal fluctuations that can manifest through the skin. Plus, you've now got a hotline to your guardians should you need them! ;)
Ayla: We can't ask you questions about Max & Me without asking you about your relationship. You and Max met through friends 10 years ago, and it was a whirlwind romance (meeting in December, buying your house together in February, and marrying at the end of June). Tell us what you think are your secrets to lasting love.
TANJA: What I experienced is that deep love calls you to rise to your highest version and vision, and as an eternal student to almost everything, I love this call for excellence very much. A conscious partnership indeed helps you grow and flourish. There is this misconception that once you meet your soul mate, all is rainbows and unicorns. I believe that you must have done your homework first to be able to enter into lasting love. Your homework on self care, on self love, on healing past wounds — so you know who you are, what your mission is, what you want, what you deserve, and of course what you can give. See to it that you are nourished and balanced so that you can give out of fullness.
Also, you need to take on responsibility for your own feelings and emotions and not throw them on the other one to solve them for you. There is only one person that can make you happy, and that is you. You are your own healer. And do not happily float on your relationship without contributing: I truly believe in building and inspiring and nurturing your relationship every day, afresh.
1. You have to give it all to get it all.
Map out the ideal partner and then be it! Treat your lover the way you want to be treated. You want him to surprise you? Surprise him and take joy in all the preparations and his delight. Perform acts of love throughout the week. Don’t wait for his birthday to come. Slip little notes into his pocket every other day.
2. Give your partner top priority – take time
Hear your partner, see your partner and be fully there when your partner has something to share. The more love, time and energy you invest in your partner, the more your relationship will rise and shine.
3. All is energy — stay high vibe in your thinking, feeling and acting
In every moment of your life, you can decide which energy will guide you. Is it from a place of deep understanding, acceptance, and unconditional love, or is it from a place of hurt, expectations, projections, and fear? Talk from a position of love and empathy, of deep understanding and support.
4. Give everything in the Now
Every moment is the most important moment in your relationship.
Each thought, glance, spoken word, everything counts and carries energy. So only give your finest, highest. Live as a gift to your partner. In every moment, you are either giving and receiving, or rejecting and expecting or demanding. Open your heart to your partner, always. Feel your heart beating. That pulsing feel, that latitude, that openness ripples out into the world around you. Choose that you give fully. Live every moment with your partner as an offering of love. Every moment is a miracle.
5. Grow together
The two of you are a team, accomplishing things, backing each other up and supporting each other deeply.
6. Rise and shine
Do something together which you both cherish, like creating a skincare company as we did, or taking everyday walks, which we also do, or cook together, travel together — yes we are into this, too. Be eternal students together. This is so much fun!