Illustration by Sandra Contreras
Willow Organics was founded by Sue Stowell in 2005. Just a few weeks ago she opened her first pop up shop in London’s Kings Road, so we decided to track her down and find out more about this luxury organic skincare brand.
What made you first approach skincare in an organic and natural way?
For a long time I have believed that eating organic food unadulterated by artificial additives is better for our health. We have had an organic vegetable garden for the past 18 years and grow all of our own vegetables as well as keeping free range chickens. There are many harmful chemicals used in farming and in the making of conventional beauty products and we don’t know the long term effect on our selves or our environment, so luxury organic beauty products were the only route I wanted to take when I started Willow Organic. I was also adamant from the start that I would use biodegradable and recyclable packaging that would fit in with Willow as a luxury brand.
Sue Stowell by Avril Kelly.
How did you set up Willow Organics?
I had been an interior designer for several years when I decided to make a career change. I was asked to design a Thai themed spa at Careys Manor Hotel, Brockenhurst in The New Forest and became involved in finding organic products for use in the spa treatments. There were very few if any beautifully packaged and genuinely organic products, many claimed to have 100% organic oils but when you looked at the ingredients they only had say 3% oils and the rest was made of synthetic materials. Many had cheap plastic packaging. I travelled to Thailand to look for artefacts to put in the spa and when I saw these beautiful silk boxes I had a Eureka moment; I thought how lovely the products would look in these gorgeous boxes. I saw a gap in the market for genuine organic beauty products in luxurious boxes. It wasn’t easy to find manufacturers who were able to make organic products because preservation can be tricky – in fact it was far more complex than I had imagined. We had to use different companies to make the fragrance and the final products, the bottle manufacturers wanted had a huge (to us anyway) minimum order of 10,000 units and the pumps to fit these bottles were only sold in 15,000 lots. The labels and ribbons were made by yet more companies and the European legislation was a nightmare. But we got there eventually and started selling at charity fairs to raise brand awareness and create a data base.
Why did you decide to make Willow a luxury brand?
I think that girls appreciate beautiful things. All of our boxes can be kept and used for storing trinkets and they look lovely in the bathroom or on dressing tables. And of course being a luxury brand does make us stand out… but that wasn’t the initial idea.
What is the philosophy of Willow Organic and what makes it so special?
Organic and Gorgeous. There are now many organic skincare brands on the market that seem to favour the pharmaceutical style packaging or the brown paper and string look, so we would like to think that Willow stands out because of our luxury silk packaging and first rate organic formulations, as well as the fact that all Willow Beauty Products are made in England. We make organic products that really look, feel and smell beautiful and they really work. Willow Organic products have soft natural scents rather than over powering chemical fragrances, so you can pamper yourself with a clear conscience. There are lots of other brands out there that call themselves ‘organic’ but their ingredients are not certified organic and in fact their products contain only a small minority of organic ingredients.
Illustration by Kayleigh Bluck.
You have a prominent men’s skincare section on your website; why is this market important to you?
Men are taking more care of themselves, and they are conscious of the environment. We have regular male clientele who buy our products – the face and body wash and black rice exfoliating soap in cedarwood and spicy citrus are particularly popular. We sell a great many of our men’s gift boxes at Christmas, and have been told that they made a very pleasant change from socks and ties!
On average, what percentage of organic ingredients do you use in Willow products?
On average our products are over 85% organic and some are 100%, but that isn’t to say that the remaining 15% are not organic. The Soil Association has strict guide lines, so for example if an oil is changed, perhaps by heating or separating, or if the fragrance from organic Jasmine flower buds is extracted by means of alcohol, then they may not choose to allow it to be called organic under their criteria. In order to be certified organic all the ingredients must be approved.
How easy is it to use all biodegradable and recyclable packaging?
All of our packaging is biodegradable and/or recyclable and meets high standards of sustainability – for example our filler is made of corn chips which you can put on the compost heap. It is a fine line however, because people obviously don’t want their products damaged when they receive them, so we use the minimum of packaging but enough to protect the products whilst in transit.
Illustration by Werner Fismer
What key product would you suggest for an individual thinking of moving towards a an organic skincare regime?
A good place to start would be replacing the soap that you use on a daily basis. As well as lovely hand soap we make a very gentle hand wash in two delightful fragrances; Lime & Lavender and Orange Lime & Bergamot. We make everything you need for a daily routine: lovely cleanser, toner, exfoliator, face mask and a wonderful moisturising face balm.
As Christmas is fast approaching, do you have any gift products to recommend to our readers?
Yes, our gorgeous limited edition Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh candle costs £38. and the oils it contains are very expensive so it really smells of Christmas. These precious oils have been used since biblical times for their soothing, calming and spiritually uplifting properties. The candle contains a piece of real gold leaf and comes in a gold box with a gold organza ribbon.
What else would you like to do with the Willow Organics brand in the future?
We would love to have several shops in London; in Sloane Square, Marylebone, Covent Garden, Notting Hill, and perhaps Richmond. Then we’d like to expand into Manchester, Bath, Bristol, Edinburgh, Birmingham. And of course we are planning to export into Europe and then the Middle East and the Far East: China and Japan are very enthusiastic about beautifully packaged organic luxury beauty products.
You can visit the Willow Organics pop up shop at 340 Kings Road, London SW3 5UR (between Cath Kidston and Bora). There’s a special shopping evening on 8th December, with mince pies and mulled wine plus 10% off everything and free gift wrapping. Nice!
Abby Wright, Avril Kelly, Black Rice, candle, Careys Manor Hotel, Certified organic, Cleanser, Exfoliator, face and body wash, face balm, Face Mask, Frankincense, Gold, hand wash, Kayleigh Bluck, Men’s skincare, Myrhh, Sandra Contreras, Soap, Soil Association, Sue Stowell, Toner, Werner Fismer, Willow Organics
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