Trading Stories: How a family illness led to new skincare products

Trading Stories: How a family illness led to new skincare products
Geraldine Quinlan of Aurora Natural Skincare

How did you first get interested in skincare?

I have a lifelong interest in healthy living and sustainability. I got more interested in natural skincare while studying Sustainable Horticulture in Kinsale College of Further Education. I learned about growing herbs and flowers such as calendula (marigold) that are really good for your skin. This peaked my interest and opened up a whole new world to me. I wanted to find out more about the power of botanical extracts so I went to London to study Natural Skincare Formulation and started experimenting!

Around this time my younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. There’s less than two years between us and we’re very close. It was heart breaking to see the effect the treatment had on her. One of the many effects was that her skin became very sensitive, she tried many big name products and reacted to them all. So she asked me if I could make something to help her. I was glad to help and formulated a face and body cream to calm and strengthen her skin. After seeing how quickly the condition of her skin improved, she asked if I could do anything to help her son who has had eczema all his life and had a bad outbreak on his face. My nephew used the balm I created for him for two weeks and it cleared completely.

How did you start the business itself? 

I started small and have built the business up step by step. I started by selling the products at markets and craft fairs. I got a great response from customers and have developed a community of loyal customers who buy the products online through Etsy and Facebook. I’ve had huge support from West Cork Local Enterprise Office and did the Greenshoots course for emerging entrepreneurs. This has all helped me gain the knowledge and skills I need to scale up and grow the business.

Tell us about your products?

The products are all 100% natural and hand made in small batches in my workshop in Bandon.

The two main ingredients in all the products are seaweed and calendula. The seaweed is harvested locally and I make the calendula oil myself. The reason I chose these as the two main ingredients is that they help reduce redness and inflammation and help the skin cells regenerate. Which is great news for people who have sensitive skin or suffer from eczema, psoriasis or rosacea.

There are five products in the range, a daily moisturiser, night treatment balm, body butter, repair balm and hand cream.

How did you develop them and try out different types?

Developing each product takes months. I listen to my customers, to what they were asking me for and take note of what products are most popular. When I keep getting asked for a particular product or to solve a particular problem, I go away and create different formulations. I usually try them out myself first just to check the consistency and aroma. Once I’m happy with these I get friends and family to trial them for me and I take their feedback into account. When I’ve finalised the formulation for a product I then send it off to a Cosmetic Chemist to be tested to comply with EU laws.

Geraldine Quinlan of Aurora Natural Skincare
Geraldine Quinlan of Aurora Natural Skincare

How do you source your raw ingredients?

I source the raw ingredients from small producers as much as possible like my friend Rosy in Scotland who runs Meadowsweet Organics, she supplies me with herbs that I use to make some of the oils. I source the seaweed from a neighbour who runs the Wild Atlantic Way Products. She harvests the seaweed locally for me.

Do you think everyone should move away from artificial products and towards natural skincare?

Yes I do. The more I research ingredients in high street products the more worried I get. But it’s not easy because big companies are now realising that people want more natural ingredients in their skincare. They use muted/natural colours and highlight the natural ingredients to make you think the product you’re buying is natural and they don’t tell you about the other synthetic ingredients.

Customers can find this confusing because they think they are buying a natural product and it can turn out not to be. I run talks and natural skincare workshops informing people about the risks of some of the more questionable ingredients and the benefits of making your own natural skincare.  

Tell us about your customers.

I have two main types of customers, the first are people who have sensitive skin or are dealing with a skin problem like eczema or psoriasis and are looking for a natural solution or alternative to using steroid creams prescribed by doctors. They often find me after trying lots of different products and are amazed at how well they work.

The second group of people who buy my products are women who are tired of all the claims big companies make. They have been using them for years and have lost faith in them and want to find a natural alternative.

Tell us about Etsy and your online sales. Where have you sent products to?

Etsy is a great platform to use for online sales. It helps me reach people all over the world. I have sent products to Turkey, the UK, a lot, and America. There is a lady in Salt Lake City who loves Aurora Natural Skincare and buys them for all her family.

Tell us a bit about the Cork Craft Collective.

Cork Craft and Design is a great organisation for crafts people here in Cork. It really helps us promote ourselves through the exhibitions and events during Cork Craft Month. I took part in the Meet the Maker series, where I gave a talk about the benefits of making natural skincare and ran workshops teaching people to make their own natural skincare. They also have a gift shop in St Patrick’s Woolen Mills in Douglas next to On the Pigs Back where customers can choose from a wide range of amazing locally crafted items.

What's in the future for the business?

At the moment I’m scaling up the business. Soon I’ll be expanding into shops. I’m going through a rebrand. I decided to change the name to Clann Botanicals as I felt it was more true to the origins of the range. It all started with helping my family and they have been a huge support to me in my business, so I wanted to bring them with me on the next stage of the journey. I’ll be launching the new branding at the Taste of West Cork Market Day in Skibbereen this weekend. I also run Natural Skincare Workshops every month at An Tobairin Health Shop in Bandon. I’d love to run more of these in the city and online so that people everywhere can learn about making natural skincare.

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