The FHT talks to Wendy Stirling of Botanicals about developing her own skincare business
Wendy Stirling is founder and managing director of Botanicals Natural Organic Skincare. Botanicals was founded in 2004 and was one of the first UK companies producing 100% natural and organic skincare products – all of which are certified by the Soil Association.
When do you recall first taking an interest in skincare products?
I’ve always loved the great outdoors, the beauty of the UK countryside and the wealth of nature that surrounds us. I’ve also been fascinated by nature’s larder and the wonderful natural remedies that can be used for our health and well-being.
But my interest in natural skincare products really began when I first saw through the illusion of advertising and branding in the cosmetics industry.
Thirteen years ago, my nine-year-old daughter Zoe (now 22), had an alarming reaction to a shampoo that claimed to be natural. Like most people, I trusted what was printed on the label.
The shampoo had ‘herbal’ in the name and clearly stated that it contained ‘herbal ingredients grown under organic conditions, with no petrochemicals’.
However, because of the severity of my daughter’s reaction, I tasked myself with finding out what she had reacted to and soon realised that, while the shampoo’s herbal ingredients may well have been grown under organic conditions, with no petrochemicals, the shampoo itself was full of them.
The more research I did, the more astonished I became at what brand owners can include on their packaging to make it appear natural and environmentally friendly.
By using clever wording, they can make blatantly misleading claims without falling foul of trading or advertising standards. We now call this ‘greenwashing’.*
My passion for this cause led me to research the market for authentic, natural and organic skincare brands, but there seemed to be very few available. I therefore decided to create my own range and Botanicals was born.
Tell us a little bit about Botanicals…
Based in rural Leicestershire, we research, formulate and hand-make a full range of products for face and body that use the pure power of plants to promote health, beauty and well-being, for both the consumer and the environment, and by using certified organic ingredients to do so.
All of the Botanicals range is developed using strict performance and ethical standards, offering ecological products derived solely from sustainable, natural resources, free from artificial colours, fragrances and petrochemicals, including parabens.
Botanicals products also smell divine, are aesthetically pleasing to use and produce clearly visible improvements in the look and feel of the skin.
I also believe there is a real need for artisan-produced skincare products, particularly for those with skin sensitivities. Botanicals products are made in a very different way to commercially produced skincare products and this is reflected in the results they achieve.
For instance, all Botanicals’ products are made fresh, in small batches, to preserve their active botanical properties. Our processing methods also ensure the vital life-force of the plant isn’t destroyed by heating or over-processing.
I’m also extremely proud that Botanicals has won many awards and industry accolades over the years and is one of only a handful of companies specialising in skincare products to have its entire range certified by the Soil Association.
What are the benefits of using natural and organic products?
Quite simply, natural and organic beauty products are better for our health as well as the beauty of our skin. Although everyone can benefit from using the pure power of organically-grown plants, it’s particularly beneficial for those with sensitive skin, as this is more susceptible to the effects of man-made chemicals, found in many conventional skincare brands.
Recent studies show we absorb as many toxins through our skin as through the foods we eat. Daily cleansing, moisturising and deodorising can mean a cocktail of hundreds of different chemicals being absorbed by the skin, directly into our bloodstream.
It makes as much sense to choose skincare products made with natural and organic ingredients, as it does when choosing food. But there’s a real difference between the regulations governing the labelling of food and those for personal body care products.
‘Natural’ and ‘organic’ are misused terms in skincare. Unlike food, there’s no legislation governing these terms. Products labelled ‘organic’ can contain as little as one per cent of ingredients derived from natural or organic origin.
Authentic organic beauty products benefit from being free from pesticides, genetic modification, hormone-disrupting chemicals and other toxic chemicals.
Additionally, the latest study by the Soil Association proves that organic crops, fruit and vegetables have up to 60% higher levels of anti-ageing antioxidants present than their non-organic counterparts.
The investigation, which looked at 343 studies, also found that organic crops contain significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals.
Botanicals has a strict ethics policy based on personal and environmental health and well-being. How important is this to you?
Extremely important – it’s what we have built the Botanicals reputation on.
We chose to become a Soil Association licensee because we are not prepared to compromise, either the integrity of our brand or the ingredients we use.
We also believe Soil Association accreditation gives our customers the reassurance that Botanicals is not greenwashed and is serious about its natural credentials.
Tell us about how the Botanicals range is used in the therapy industry.
Botanicals products are used by holistic practitioners, aromatherapists, reflexologists and beauty therapists, and in a variety of treatments, including massage, facials, reflexology, natural face lift procedures, manicures and pedicures.
Our customers range from therapists working part time from home, to Claridge’s and Face Gym at Selfridges in London.
What ingredients are most important for Botanicals products?
Rose and camellia are at the heart of the Nourish face care range and mandarin and chamomile at the heart of the Gentle face care range.
Other key ingredients include rosehip, avocado, apricot kernel, coconut, sesame seed and evening primrose oils, as well as certain extracts and essential oils including lavender, lemongrass, chamomile, ginger, ylang ylang, tea tree, green tea, marigold and palmarosa, to name a few.
We’ve also recently extended the body care range to include three new products containing wild rose and rose geranium. We take great care to select ingredients that are rich in anti-ageing antioxidants as well as nourishing and nurturing benefits for skin.
Shea butter, cocoa butter and jojoba are also commonly used. In fact, shea butter is my favourite ingredient that we use, as it’s wonderfully healing and nourishing to the skin and also incredibly versatile.
I also love the fact that producing it provides much needed work for women in Africa, where it’s sourced. Shea butter finds its way into most of the products I formulate.
What do you think is key to running a successful business?
I believe it’s imperative to have a passion for the business you’re in. With passion comes the drive and belief to see your dream come to fruition and for me that’s seeing other people enjoy and benefit from using our natural organic skincare products.
Also to surround yourself with the right people; especially people who have strengths in areas you might be lacking.
Having a good, loyal team behind you is equally as important as having a passion for your business. It’s also important to have a good business model that works. At Botanicals, I feel we have all three of these factors.
It is our intention that Botanicals remains a niche brand, rather than having our sights set on becoming a mainstream brand. I strongly believe mass production would be detrimental to the quality of the product we offer, which people love and respect and which we have built our name and reputation on.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
I love everything about my job. I start planning my tasks from the minute I wake up in the morning and only stop when I go to bed at night. I don’t really see it as a job, more of an expression of who I am. But if I had to choose one part that I find particularly rewarding, it’s the creative side of formulating.
I love creating formulas that make people feel good and that make a difference. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear people’s stories about how my formulations have helped them feel better in some way.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Juggling so many different tasks and making sure they are all done well. I have a fantastic team of people working with me, but I’m still ultimately responsible for everything, from making sure we are stocked with all our raw materials, bottles and jars, through to paying suppliers invoices, organising production and dealing with our PR and promotional activity.
As the entire Botanicals range is certified by the Soil Association, a great deal of my time is also spent dealing with regulatory compliance.
What’s next for Wendy?
I love my job! It’s so exciting owning a brand and very rewarding to see it become increasingly recognised and winning awards.
Botanicals is continuing to grow – we had our best year ever last year – so hopefully this will continue.
*Based on the term whitewashing, meaning to hide unpleasant facts, greenwashing is doing the same in an environmental context. Companies can spend more money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than they might on changing to more responsible business practices.