WHEN Fiona Long’s daughter, Kayleigh, told her to sit down, urging her that she ’had to see this’, Fiona braced herself.
“What was so important that she wanted to tell me, I wondered?” Fiona recalls.
“We were in Kayleigh’s home office in Midleton when she received an email from Vogue magazine to say that Inner Zen Organics, my own company of natural skin products, were to be featured each month from December to February to take part in their Inner Glow Campaign. We had been hand-selected by Vogue that were revealing undiscovered natural products to the world!”
What did Fiona say to this amazing message?
“I asked Kayleigh, is this for real?” says Fiona laughing.
“Kayleigh said it looked legitimate and she sent back an email asking to confirm that we were appearing in the print and online editions of Vogue; and we were! I was so chuffed. Saying me and Vogue in the same sentence seems surreal!”
It seems unreal that Fiona is 55 and has four grandchildren, ranging in age from five to 16. She obviously uses all her natural skin care products, giving her an inner and an outer glow?
“Yes, I use all my own skin products,” says Fiona, who worked in M&S in Patrick Street, Cork, before she made the big time.
“I have good genes courtesy of my mother. She would be so proud of my success.”
Fiona, who is mum to Kayleigh and Joe, is originally from Bray, County Wicklow, and she lives in Saleen, County Cork, where she works from.
“I’m in Cork 30 years, longer than when I was in Wicklow!”
So how did Inner Zen Organics begin?
“It began as a hobby, believe it or not,” says Fiona.
“I worked in the beauty department of M&S for 21 years. After school I studied beauty therapy, and it stuck with me.
“Raising two kids, I dabbled in beauty therapy from time-to–time because I always had an interest in it... but it all came together for me in the last few years.”
Fiona was on hand for advice in the beauty department at M&S.
“Customers began looking for more chemical-free products,” says Fiona. “The only chemical-free products available at the store were Pixi and Luxe.”
Fiona had an interest in all things holistic.
“I trained as a holistic therapist and I practised Reiki at all levels, concentrating on Kamsa-Vatki, otherwise known as Indian foot massage.”
Kamsa-Vatki is a centuries old treatment for the feet and calves and it aims to balance body, mind, and the spirit.
“I practised this at home as a sideline,” say Fiona.
“Working at M&S paid the bills. The massage was holistic for me; like soul food.”
When did soul food for the skin kick in?
“I spent a while doing a natural facial course in Dublin,” says Fiona.
“I got a light-bulb moment, thinking this is exactly what I wanted to do - make my own products.
The course covered the basics but then I began doing the research. I did lots of years of research.”
Her colleagues in M&S benefited from her research.
“My colleagues in M&S used to come up to me and say, you know loads about skin-care and make-up; what should I be using for my skin? I made up some facial oils using almond oil and avocado oil. They were all natural without any water added to them. This added to the holistic effect. I supplied a couple of girls at work and they were all thrilled.”
Word spread about Fiona’s natural skin products.
“I got good reviews on Facebook and soon more than 200 people were looking for the products! They all loved them.”
It was time to do business.
“I couldn’t do it for free anymore so I charged people €10 to cover my costs.”
Fiona’s range of natural skincare products increased.
“I went from making face oils to making cleanser and eye cream. I sourced natural ingredients from Bomar in Co. Wicklow, which is a leading industry provider of quality aromatherapy oils, beauty ingredients and supplies in Ireland.”
Fiona mixed oils and skin balms with Shea butters, cocoa butter and various oils, including rosehip oil.
She now needed to expand her operation.
“I converted two rooms in the house; the biggest room which was the sitting room and the smallest room; a bedroom. When I went online two years ago, it went crazy,” says Fiona. “Covid was good to me. People were at home more, they couldn’t go out to shop or browse and they had more time to indulge themselves and to look after their skin.
“My daughter, Kayleigh, is my right-hand woman,” says Fiona.
“She came on board with me this year. She is brilliant at I.T and figures. After all, I can’t do everything! Kayleigh has four children and she does the marketing in the mornings when the children are at school. It was time to go with the times and go digital.”
Kayleigh has proved to be a great little helper to her mother.
“She does it for love,” says Fiona. “I don’t pay her much. Just some pocket money.”
Inner Zen Organics are affordable.
“They range from €10 to €30,” says Fiona.
“I always vowed when I made my own that they would be affordable.”
Fiona took the offer of a redundancy package from M&S last June.
“When I was working shifts at M&S and then concentrating on the business three days a week, it was hard going,” she says.
“The people at M&S are great people and I made great friends there.”
Fiona kindly gave me some samples and I have to say, using the Calming Facial Oil after the Melting Cleansing Balm left my skin feeling like that of a newborn baby. Regular use of The Hibiscus Rose Hydrating mask will give me that ‘zen’ glow like Fiona has over time.
“Finish off with a hot face cloth over the face for a few minutes,” advises Fiona.
She is going places.
“We are hoping to be on board with Enterprise Ireland soon,” says Fiona.
“That will help us to expand the business. Enterprise Ireland is hosting an event at the RDS in January which will attract 4,000 buyers from all over.”
Fiona believes in her products.
“I saw the full potential of my own range. Oxford Biosciences do the analysis and testing of my skin products. There is some science involved. It’s not just melt and blend and then sell the products!
"The products are anhydrous, which means there is no water in them, thus providing a natural barrier for the skin so the product is absorbed at all levels. That gives the skin a more sensory feel.”
Fiona adores the whole process.
“I love it. It’s my baby!”
Sustainability is key to her whole process too.
“Everything I use is recyclable, including the gift boxes, the box filling and the bamboo jars and bottles that I use for my skin-care products.”
Fiona has other helpers too.
“Aideen from UCC helps me with social media, she is marvellous,” she says.
“My husband, Alan, is very supportive. My granddaughter, who is five, comes into the packing room with me and asks to help pack the boxes with the recyclable filling- then she asks, ‘Can I have another job? She says; ‘When I grow up, I want your job!’.”
How does Fiona, now a successful businesswoman, wind down?
“I do Reiki on myself to stop my mind racing so I can go to sleep. I said to my friend; it’s like a runaway race-horse and I have to hang on for dear life!”
Inner Zen Organics is available at Susan Herlihy Ceramics, Midleton, and online at Innerzenorganics.ie