We speak to two Irish skincare companies that are at one with nature
Taking care of your skin is a top priority in these days of smog-infested cities and the stress of the 9-5 (thats a.m. as well as p.m.). So when choosing what skin care range you want to use, it’s great to know you can buy locally and also environmentally friendly.
Ireland has a massive history of home-grown companies that utilise the wealth of natural sources of health and skin care native to our landscape. We caught up with 2 of our favourites to find out why they chose the natural route and what their products has to offer that the chemical-laden ones don’t.
Little Reds nourishing and enriching products are all founded on the use of Atlantic Irish Seaweed.Taking advantage of its abundance in nature and also its unique antioxidant properties gives her brand a truly Irish flavour. I've always found even being near the sea to work wonders on my body and mind; Little Reds products distill the invigorating yet calming nature of the sea into beautifully packaged jars and tubs. Owner Fiona Burke fills us in what makes her brand distinctly Irish and what its like running her own business.
Where did the idea for Little Red stem from and where does the name come from?
Little Red stemmed from a love of all things natural and organic along with a curiosity about how to make my own skincare products. I had always wanted to make my own, with a love of alchemy & trialling & testing (my background is in Engineering), I was eager to learn how. Then a couple of years back, I did an evening course with an inspiring Cork-based herbalist, Nikki Darrell, who covered a range of medicinal & herbal remedies, but also made a basic face cream with our group. It felt so good on the skin! I took the recipe home, & started playing around with it in my kitchen, adding essential oils & my own twist. I made a few small batches & sold them at Christmas markets. They were well-received so I decided to go further, 'up my game' and get a proper packaging and a logo designed.
This is where the name came in: my graphic designer was trying out variations of my logo and asked me to throw some names at her - no matter how silly or absurd they may seem. "Little Red" was a nickname that I had been given at my cheese-mongering market stall in West Cork due to my red hair & small stature. I proposed the name and it just kind of stuck.
What does a day in the life of the Little Red company look like? Do you enlist friends/family to help with the production?
Because Little Red is still a small company I cover a multitude of aspects of the business i.e., sourcing raw materials, production, product development, marketing, sales, research, social media - you get the general gist. So on a production day, for example, I'll hop over to my workshop across the yard (a wooden chalet which we lived in until our third child was born), while the family is still sleeping, and get cracking on preparing the ingredients for the hand cream/lip balm/face cream or whatever it is that I'm making. In between the production stages, I'll check my emails to see if I received orders online or whatever, grab some breakfast, make notes and plough ahead with making a large batch of creams at a time. I love the peace and quiet and meditative aspect to hand-crafting my creams. Sometimes I will have my friend Astrid helping me. If I have online orders, I'll pack those up, and arrange to get them sent out asap. Sometimes I try and squeeze in a social media post, though I must confess, not often enough! There just aren't enough hours in the day.
As well as Astrid helping me with production, she has also worked with me at craft fairs, for example. Because she knows exactly what goes into the products, she's great at informing customers and therefore is an invaluable asset in selling Little Red. If I'm bogged down with any decision-making, she's good to bounce ideas off too! My daughter, Suairni, (now 9) sometimes helps me with boxing and labelling and her older brothers will have their turns as well as my partner Christian. He's great for packing up big orders but is also very handy with carpentry.
So the last couple of years, I've commissioned him to make display units for selling my products at events. The majority of the time I'll find the designs I want on Pinterest and then Christian crafts them for me from beautiful seasoned timber. These I have used to display my products at the RDS Christmas Craft Fair, for example, and they are always much admired. At some point I will probably have to upscale and source more employees - this is the step that I find one of the most daunting as you can always take a hit yourself but if you employ someone else you want to be sure that you have enough business to be able to pay them.
The range seems tied to your childhood - going from the amazing “About” page on your store; how much do you feel this personal connection with the foundation/ingredients of the products and the locale where they are made has enriched the experience and production for you?
Seaweed in all its forms is a source of inspiration, satiation and wonder for me! I love to swim in it, bathe in it and am more than happy munching on it in its many shapes and forms. It is a powerful healing ingredient, a superfood, whether it is ingested or applied to the skin topically. There is so much to learn about all its different uses and it constantly excites me. As an island nation, I believe we Irish don't use it enough. I was lucky enough as a child growing up in Co. Clare, to be introduced to eating dillisk by my parents anytime we went to the beach in Lahinch. So anytime I eat it nowadays it brings me right back there. My mother used to also make 'blancmange' or carrageen moss pudding which her six children would devour in no time.
Though I now live in Cork, I love to use carrageen moss from the west coast of Clare in all my creams. Nothing against Cork seaweed! But it's important for me to keep that Clare connection going - it's not just personal - it's my heritage, my (sea)grass roots if you like! I also like to support the family-run business who provide me with the seaweed - they've been doing it for generations; harvest it sustainably and also have organic certification. Then the beeswax I use is unbleached, with traces of propolis and honey and from West Cork(!), so I feel justified in using the best of ingredients from both counties. My children were all born and are being raised in Cork and I also know many wonderful producers in West Cork, so I am more than happy to source whatever I can from the area.
Of course the seaweed and beeswax I use are Irish, and any water in the creams comes from natural springs from the land I live on, full of minerals and nutrients. Then the organic base oils that I use - for example avocado and jojoba oils cannot be produced in our Irish temperate climate - so I buy them in from organic companies. Where possible I buy essential oils and packaging from Irish companies.
What have been your best sellers to date?
My 'hero product' and best-seller has to be my hand cream. It's a very gift-able product, and seems to appeal to guys 'n girls across the board. It has an uplifting, fresh, citrusy scent, and is packed full of healing goodness from seaweed, calendula, myrrh oil, etc...I know I must be doing something right when I receive emails out of the blue from happy customers whose cracked, bleeding hands have come good from using Little Red Hand Cream. It's the ultimate reward. Having said all of that though, my face creams are gaining popularity: the lip balms are well-received little pocket rockets and the cleansers and body butters also have their following.
Do you attend Markets or is your business conducted mainly via the online store?
I love markets! I have been a market-trader for almost 18 years now, since I left my engineering career behind. Most of those years I have spent selling farmhouse and artisan cheeses around Cork, Clare and Kerry from my cheese stall. Christian has taken over the cheese business now but sells a small selection of my products from that stall. More recently, I have set up my own separate Little Red stall at some of those same markets.
Because my products are all about the 'feel' and less about the 'visual', it's very important that I get out there and promote my brand, by offering people to try my products. I make everything myself so it is a source of great pride to me to be able to tell customers that I am the producer. When I sold cheese, it was never my own creation, so there's a different appreciation from the punters when it's your own baby. I also sell at Bloom in the Phoenix Park every June and of course at various Christmas craft fairs in the lead-up to the holiday season. Last October I also sold at the market in the Dingle Food Festival, which was most enjoyable.It blew me away how well organised it was with its laid-back feel and the eagerness of the crowds to approach all stalls and try out various new and different products.
Last summer I started attending Skibbereen market in West Cork. It's just brilliant. I know many of the traders there from down through the years, and it's a haberdashery of quality food stalls, eclectic bric-a-brac and antiques, amazing crafts and jewellery produced in the region. Bantry is another old reliable, taking place every Friday, and peaking during the summer months with plenty of holiday-makers.
Markets are vital for me in that I need to introduce people to my products, and allow them to smell them and experience them.
Are there any other skin care brands in Ireland that you admire/love?
The natural skincare industry in Ireland has really taken off, which is great to see. Though we share the same ethos, each of us producers take a different slant on skincare and of course each brand has its own individual look and unique selling points. It's difficult for me to single out other skincare brands because we mostly all know each other but I think Ruth's Skincare highlighting palm-free ingredients is so incredibly important in this day and age.
In the last couple of years in particular, my family has become aware of non-sustainable palm oil being used in so many foodstuffs across the board; but unless you actively read the label, you could be blissfully unaware of the consequences of buying a jar of peanut butter, for example. Now when I take my kids shopping, they will often think to check the ingredients for palm oil, amongst other ingredients.
Eco-friendly and organic are two characteristics that I admire, not just in skincare products but as a consumer in general. Usually the big brands have massive marketing budgets and campaigns and can afford to sell to the masses in ways that little fish like myself never could. Also, the term 'natural' is more in vogue now than it ever was and a product can be mis-represented as 'natural' because it boasts some natural ingredients but also contains chemicals. Never mind the big guns though - if I can continue to promote Little Red with the same ethos using organic, sustainably-harvested ingredients in environmentally-friendly packaging, I'll be a happy bunny.
Check out Fionas wonderful, enriching creations over at www.LittleRed.ie or check out her stall at the Skibbereen or Bantry markets
Ruth O'Loughlins brand is focused on providing a palm-oil free alternative to the major brands. Choosing to eschew the use of palm-oil due to the destruction its harvesting leaves in its wake, her aim is to show that you can nourish your skin without hurting the planet.
What inspired you to start your business?
I had been working in Health Matters for a couple of years and had been learning all about natural skincare. I thought I'd try my hand at making soap as I love trying new things and thought it would be a fun hobby. When I set out to make my first batch I found it very difficult to find recipes which did not contain Palm Oil or tallow (animal fat). As I was not comfortable using either of these ingredients I decided to do more research and develop my own recipes.
What made you decide to go Palm Oil free?
Deforestation for Palm Oil has a devastating impact on critically endangered Orangutans, as well as a huge number of plant and animal species. We are destroying the environment for something we don't actually need. Palm Oil is hidden in everything from snacks to skincare to cleaning products.
What advice do you have for people trying to avoid Palm Oil?
There are literally hundreds of different names for Palm Oil which can make things very difficult when you're trying to avoid it. When buying products that don't specifically state that they are Palm Oil free there are two things I would suggest. Do a quick scan through the ingredients and if there's anything you don't understand, look it up. You can also email the company and ask them if they use Palm Oil or Palm Oil derived ingredients.
How do you feel about sustainable Palm Oil?
I don't have a lot of confidence in 'Sustainable Palm Oil'. There's no denying that there is a lot of corruption in the Palm Oil industry so just to be safe I stay away from it altogether. If you chose to use products which contain 'Sustainable Palm Oil' I would suggest doing your own research rather than putting blind trust in these companies.
What's been the biggest moment so far for Ruth's Palm Free Skincare?
Two moments stand out for me in my business. About a year after Health Matters took on my soap I got an email from Kathleen Harris from The Irish Times saying she'd tried my soap and wanted to feature it in her column. I still have a copy of the article (hopefully the first of many!). The second big moment for me was when Evergreen Healthfoods decided to take on my soap in all seven of their stores. I was over the moon as Evergreen is such a fantastic company.
What's next for Ruth's Palm Free Skincare?
I'm working on a few projects at the moment and I'm very interested making Ruth's Palm Free Skincare 100% vegan. You'll just have to wait and see!
Take care of your skin and support a greener environment over at www.ruthspalmfreeskincare.com or you can purchase them in-store from Evergreen.ie and other stockists nationwide