There are heaps of natural skincare businesses springing up in Ireland, UK and Europe at the moment. It's a huge area of growth as more and more customers are thinking about what they put on their skin. How do you choose which brand is for you? The choice is overwhelming, even for me.
So you may be wondering what's special, different and unique about Lucy's Soap Kitchen, Handmade Sensitive Skincare?Well here you go...
It's been one whole month since I unveiled my new branding for Lucy’s Soap Kitchen. A new name and logo with vibrant colours I love. Who knew 'pomegranate' was such an amazing colour! In fact - who knew it was even a colour?!
But why did I take the plunge and rebrand?
When I first started selling my soap and skincare 3.5 years ago I didn’t know where my business would lead me. I had a romantic ‘rose tinted glasses’ vision of me making and selling a variety of crafts and thought calling myself 'Made in Lucy’s Kitchen' would leave the way open for it all to come under the one brand ‘umbrella’.
A steep learning curve and a huge investment of time and money, in soap selling admin and assessments, later and I knew I needed to concentrate ALL my focus on skincare.
What also followed over the next 18 months was the realization everyone thought I was selling food! My brand name “Made in Lucy’s Kitchen” didn't help. More than a few people have actually taken a bite of my Sugar Scrub Cubes! Event organisers never got my business name right. They always called me Lucy's Kitchen. As I began to focus on my online presence I also wished many times I had included ‘soap’ in my brand name, to help with basic S.E.O.
Even though I knew my name wasn’t ideal it was always too much for me to tackle and didn’t seem worth the upheaval. But 2016 has been a changing point for me. Why??
At the end of 2015 I had got focused on my business vision. Where I wanted to go, where I didn’t want to go, what was working for my family’s needs, what was not and what needed to change.
I got sharp on my numbers, realized I needed to streamline my range and increase some of my prices.
I wanted to produce promotional banners, point of sale & a brochure but with no graphic design skills I approached a graphic designer, Vicki Nicolson, from brandingtherapy.co.uk, whose work I had followed from afar, for help. We had some brilliant skype chats (a great way to chat business by the way - a new one for me but one I'll definitely be doing alot more of!) and I quickly realised this was a unique opportunity for me to make those changes (that were now obvious with hindsight) and the focus and direction this would actually give me.
With some brilliant photography by Rooskey based Jason Christopher jcphotograpy.ie, branding and graphics support from Vicki, I feel incredibly proud of Lucy's Soap Kitchen. With a focus on sensitive skincare, that's natural and gentle for all the family and my very own soap kitchen being built here in my Leitrim home the future is decidely soapy!
So it has been a long time since I last wrote about the eczema hell that my family have been through. As I write this I'm all too aware many people in the world are living in such horrific circumstances that it makes me feel shallow calling it 'hell'. But our world was for that time of "eczema hell" almost totally self centered. Looking after Emmy and her skin occupied much of my time and alot of my mental attention.
Her eczema really started to manifest itself strongly from her being 7 weeks old. This is a photo of her at 8 months during a typical night.....
For 2 years I hardly slept, really, I hardly slept. Probably the longest stretch I ever got on a good night was an hour and a half (with 3-4 hours of pacing with a screaming baby in beteween) Usually her sleep cycles were around 40 minutes before coming into light sleep and totally waking up due to itching. Poor thing look at her skin, it drove her demented, its no wonder she couldnt sleep. The emotions you go through are from nurturing caring mother to sheer desperation just wanting the noise to end and to just somehow sleep. I don't want to write about it anymore as it was just awful and it makes me very sad to think about it.
So what practically did we learn that we can pass on....
We have a brilliant dietician and paediatrician that support us. I exclusvely breastfed for 6months. From 4 months I knew when I consumed egg or milk around 3 hours later Emmy's dreaded itch began. Although our medcal team are brilliant - they didn't believe this would affect Emmys excema the way it did. So little is supposed to transfer into mothers milk but I can assure you it most certainly does. Without any doubt.
So I completely cut out eggs and dairy. At 6 months she had a pin prick test and bloods done. Sure enough milk and egg showed. Not as strong as we thought it would but her physical reaction to it was alot stronger than her allergy test would indicate. From 6 months she has had a brilliant appetite but if I, in a moment of weakness, had a piece of cake then I would have the constant disturbed night time scratching and 3-4 hours of pacing and screaming (not just crying, inconsolable screaming).
So DIET has been all important to us.
As she got older on occasion she has been given dairy directly (on one occasion by my mum "ah, it won't hurt her that much, just a little will be alright....") As well as the severe hives, swelling and itching her behaviour was very extreme. Crawling into cracks between chairs, refusing to come out, dragging herself along the floor, headbutting walls, scraping her head off the walls and floor. She was 18 months old. And I include this as she has only behaved this way when exposed to foods she has a supposedly 'low to moderate' allergy to. There is, in my opinion, a definite connection even though our dietician and paediatrician didn't think this connection was there.
A couple of my friends asked me if I would stop breastfeeding and I considered it but as a family we felt the benefits still far outweighed the negatives. She just would not accept infant soya (we have huge reservations about it anyway but I was so desperate I tried to introduce it more than a few times). There is one other (nasty tasting) milk infant substitute but if its not introduced very early on it isnt accepted very easily by the little one. Very few options for a parent in this situation.
It is really important to say that anaphylaxsis (life threatening) allergies are on the rise. Latest research indicates that when an allergy manifests itself and the food is eliminated and the child is never exposed to it that if an accidental exposure later occurs the likelihood of anaphlaxsis is increased.So tolerance of a food is what the doctors are aiming for. So there may be a minor reaction but this is preferable to a life threatening reaction. After months of not eating egg and milk when my dietician explained this research I did begin to introduce a small amount (ie a small amount of milk in 3 mugs of tea/day - no more latte's for me) into my own diet. So Emmy had a small exposure without eating it directly. It affected her skin but I didn't want to inadvertently be the cause of her having an anaphlactic reaction to it. For this reason it is important to work with a dietician if you are thinking about eliminating a food type completely.
So my diet and Emmy's diet have been very important factors in our managing the severity of her excema.
My next blog posts will be about the role of the skin protein FILLAGRIN and importantly the practical things we have found that help our management of the excema. It is still part of our daily lives (and always will be) so needs constant maintenance, without which very quickly her skin would deteriorate. BUT she is 2 years and 4 months now and I have started to get more sleep. I can get a run of 5 hours now which is just amazing. That light at the end of a dark tunnel is getting thankfully beginning to get brighter!
I am really delighted to have my natural handmade soap and sensitive skincare products available with The Leitrim Design House at the The Dock, Carrick on Shannon, in lovely Leitrim. It's been available there for over a year now & it always makes me feel, just a little bit, proud that they feel it is good enough.
I made the deicision this year not to wholesale my Natural Soap & Skincare products but to concentrate on my direct online shop. Selling products at a wholesale price makes it necessary to sell more to make the necessary financial return. This in turn means making more product. For me making & selling Handmade Soap is a lifestyle choice. I want to spend time with my small family without having constant deadlines adding to the pressure I sometimes feel. I still have deadlines and work commitments but they are mostly self dictated. When it gets too much or the children need me more, I can still choose to slow down. And I do.
So, back to The Leitrim Design House! This shop is the only exception to my wholesale rule. They are close to me in my home county of Leitrim & easy to pop into for a chat & restock. They fly the flag for a lot of local Leitrim makers that I respect. It helps to raise my profile but also it reassures me that my product is a high enough standard to be sold in a premium venue like this. Perhaps I shouldn't need this reassurance - but if we are honest I think we all do at times.
This is the little selection from Made in Lucy's Kitchen, Natural Soap & Skincare, that you will find on their shelves
At the end of October 2014 I received an email asking if I would be interested in stocking products within the Leitrim Design House, based in Carrick on Shannon. I am growing in appreciation for this opportunity that I currently have.
Yesterday I attended the 'Essence of Design' Seminar, held in the Design House, chaired by the straight talking creative mentor Eddie Shanahan. I presumed it wouldn't be beneficial for me personally. I am not college educated, not attending trade shows or aiming to wholesale trade internationally. I thought the series of small lectures by each of the speaker panel would be directed towards people with those 'design qualifications'. I was wrong. It was insightful, practical and I enjoyed it. Here are 7 'nuggets' of advice I gleaned from the panel today; Heidi Higgins, Fiona Mulholland, Rebecca Marsden, Eddie Shanahan, Naomi Draper, Blaithin Ennis and Una Burke.
1. Develop your business in achievable baby steps. There is no rush (only perhaps in your own head-this part is a Lucy-ism).
2.) One off statement pieces are all well and good but to maintain cashflow a more widely accesible 'diffusion collection', that doesn't detract from your satement collection, is key.
3.) Housekeeping & admin skills are the core part of your business. Without them you have no business.
4.) Get in your car and take your product to the retail outlets that you feel are a good 'fit' for you. Business never just 'happens'.
5.) Use good images that stylise a lifestyle, not a 'trend'. The age of 'trend' is gone.
6.) Train regularly to find support and update your skills to use new technology that will enable you to move your business forward.
7.) Always meet your customer direct and learn from their feedback how you can improve your product.
Its very heartening when creative businesses in all avenue's face similar challenges and have the same concerns& thoughts as you. Who knew, I'm not so different after all ;).
There will be more seminars and training to follow from the Leitrim Deisgn House during 2015 and if you have the opportuinity to go, take it- it will help!
Keeping good records is one of THE most important things in business. I can improve in so many areas BUT I do keep great records! I like at least one thing to be organised, it keeps my brain happy. Things are often chaotic at home (currently you actually risk not coming out again if you venture into my office) but, if I'm pretty much on top of my admin, I can cope with all of that because I feel I'm still in control. It means I know what is selling, more importantly, not selling and can adjust as necessary. One important thing that my Overview of 2014 has clearly shown me are my 5 Best Selling Products...Some were a surprise...................
In 5th Place...Loveheart Bath Melts Gift Box.....These are a little winner especially during the colder months. They are so nourishing for the skin and a great time saver as I don't know too many of us that have time to moisturise our bodies the way we should! Just pat yourself gently dry and hey-presto, silky smooth skin. These were mostly bought to be given as a gift but I know alot never made it.
In 4th place....Lavender & Eucalyptus Salt Soak......Despite concerns here in Ireland about water charges and spiralling water costs people are still soaking and easing those aches and pains. Through the year we have worked hard at 'tweaking' and perfecting these therapeutic blends. Lavender and Eucalyptus came out on top in the battle of the baths...
In 3rd place.....TLC Balm....Our TLC Balm is such a handy all in one tin. It's had great feedback from people that garden, have their hands in water all the time and have contact dermatitis. I havn't personally worn any makeup for almost all of 2014 (it just irritates my skin) and would use this on my face numerous times during the day. Yes, my skin probably glows permanently from the butters but I really don't care, my skin feels great!
Should you have been travelling our Bornacoola road this late summer during the wee small hours you will no doubt have seen some unusual 'going's on'. My husband, in his underwear, (it was very hot!) desperately pacing the road - baby attached in pouch, still screeching. You will have probably heard me banging on the bedroom window, whisper shouting "put your trousers on" and "come back it'll wake the neighbours". In the future it will be a funny tale to tell but when you are in the throws of it night after night let me tell you it is anything but funny.
And so begins my little tale of how excema affects our daily family life.
Emmy was 6 weeks old when the cradle cap on her scalp began to take over her neck and face. I had heard of baby excema but naively thought it would pass when her 'hormones regulated themselves'. I have an arsenal of oils in my HQ (as you might imagine) and began using them systematically to see which was most effective at reducing the dryness, red spots, blotchiness and itching. Fast forward to now, 9 months old. The glands on the back of her head apparently associated with cradle cap and excema are always huge and swollen and she pulls at them alot. This is Emmy at 1.30 am during a 'flare up'.
It is impossible for her to sleep and is constantly itching her face and neck. During an especially bad flare up she is banging and scraping her torso and tops of her ankles and wrists off the bed. When it is like this the only thing for it, is to get up, say goodbye to my oh so comfortable bed and distract her. (Yes my name is Iggle Piggle, Iggle Iggle Iggle Piggle.....oh yes I'm singing too at this point) Aloe vera cut straight from the plant has been, by far, the most effective treatment. Mind the spiky bits. It's cooling and stops her scratching within 15-30 mins. Aloe Vera in pre-bought tubes I found were not effective. Anything petro-chemical based has so far increased the redness and symptoms.
24 hours after this peak it seems to begin to calm, the redness reduces and her skin forms crusts. I can now use avocado oil and my homemade 'Emmy's Balm' (based on my 'TLC Balm' but with a few adjustments). Even these annoy her skin during the middle of The Flare Up but do a very good job inbetween of keeping her skin moisturised.
We have had to increase bathing her since she loves tucking into her food and insists on smearing it all over herself (my heart sinks every time....) and I add some of my favourite avocado oil to the warm water. I use a teeny tiny touch of either my own 'Butter Me Up' or 'Bleating Lovely' Handmade Soap Bars. She gets smothered in the avocado oil whilst her skin is still a little damp. I have also started using soap nuts (they are really a berry) to wash our clothes and am trying it for home cleaning too.
Infants with excema and allergies are notoriously bad sleepers. During the particularly bad period I mentioned at the start I decided to unashamedly start co-sleeping. Emmy is awake every 2 hours without exception (during the good times I can settle her within about 10 minutes or so but during a bad time this waking will last up to 3 hours long- hence the desperate pacing) it has kept my family sane and mostly still smiling.
During this week she had bloods taken for allergy testing and we are awaiting an appointment with a dietician and dermatologist. I cannot wait to get the help. I have some new oils to try including an organic hemp oil (extra rich in ceramides), virgin organic olive oil and Aloe Butter (oh the dermatologist is just going to love me ;) ). Never has a young infant eaten vegetables so joyfully and this week she started taking her first steps so Miss Emelia is certainly developing ahead of her milestones and thriving despite this annoying itch.
Our little story will be continued and hopefully next time we might not be so 'sleepless in Bornacoola' .....Oh and don't be afraid to drive down our lane will you? It's much colder and any pacing is done in the kitchen (with the curtains drawn ;) )