Abi and Margaret Weeds of Essential Care in Suffolk
"We'd like to continue breaking the boundaries in creating unsurpassed quality organic, ethical health & beauty products, so even more people can enjoy their benefits and lead a healthier, safer lifestyle."
Essential Care was set up as a family business in 2003 although Margaret has been creating her own skincare products since the 1970s. The company remains a family operation, with Margaret creating the products and Abi taking care of the business.
Essential Care has won numerous awards and commendations including the Natural Products Europe / Soil Association award for Best Organic Bodycare Product in 2009, TIPS Midwife-tested awards for best organic baby care, Green Beauty Bible awards, three silver medals in the UK Beauty Awards, and the 2006 RSCPA Good Business Award for Cosmetics.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
Abi: Essential Care's products are the creations of my mother, herbalist and aromatherapist, Margaret Weeds. Her philosophy has always been to use organic and avoid synthetics; she became an organic gardener long before it was fashionable. We founded Essential Care together with my Dad, Colin. Right from the outset we wanted to give people an independent guarantee that we are genuinely organic, so we opted to put our products through organic certification. We chose the Soil Association because their standards are the highest in Europe.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
Abi: Up at 7.30am, then to the laptop with cup of tea in hand where I go through emails before Claudia (my daughter, aged two and a half) wakes up. I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home in London most of the time, spending one day per week at our premises in Suffolk. At 9am I hand Claudia over to her other granny and then tackle the day’s agenda. I can’t say I have a typical day, but I do write a lot of emails and spend a lot of time on the phone... I come into contact with customers, packaging suppliers, designers, journalists and most importantly, the rest of our team. With Claudia I now have to stop work at 7pm which is pretty healthy!
Margaret: Up at 6 to 6.30am, I make the most of the early morning peace to focus on technical issues, new ideas or projects as well as catch up on e-mails. Though still overseeing production, I’m now able to devote much more time to product research and development, but a typical day can suddenly turn into helping create new packaging design or meeting a journalist’s deadline. Lunch is as long as it takes to consume a light snack, but I do try to stop working at around 6pm and enjoy a small glass of wine. After dinner, I may do a little more work or simply prepare an optimistic 'to do' list for tomorrow!
Who are your customers and where are they?
Independent stores, therapists and private individuals in the UK, France and Germany, plus 15 distributors across Europe.
Organic principles – why do they matter?
They form the only sound and safe basis for a healthy and sustainable cycle of life both now and in the future - if we are to have one. Organic principles lead by example to take care of the world we live in and those we share it with and encourage us to reduce pollution, damage and waste.
What does the Soil Association mean to you?
It is the benchmark in the UK and Europe for organic standards. We would always have faith in a Soil Association certified product because we know what it requires to become a licensee!
What is your greatest achievement?
Creating the first ever Soil Association certified shampoo.
How do you plan to progress in the future? What is your vision?
We'd like to continue breaking the boundaries in creating unsurpassed quality organic, ethical health & beauty products, so even more people can enjoy their benefits and lead a healthier, safer lifestyle.
If you were starting all over again, what would you do differently?
Outsource more periphery work to the experts from the outset and focus on our strength, which is product creation and formulation.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
You can only achieve what you believe in.
Who or what's your biggest inspiration?
Abi: Many people inspire me but perhaps from sport, people such as Paula Radcliffe and Steve Redgrave and from politics, Nelson Mandela.
Margaret: Abi drives me to have the confidence to break the boundaries.
What is the key to your success?
Abi: Having truly wonderful products, thanks to mum’s years of hard work, and never resting on your laurels. It’s important to make sure you are doing what your customers want.
What do you love most about what you do?
Abi: When our products make a meaningful difference to someone's life, such as clearing up skin problems like eczema.
Margaret: Working closely with my family who are helping me to realise a dream.
What keeps you awake at night?
Abi: Figuring out what I could do better.
Margaret: Formulation and raw material challenges.
What single thing would most improve your life?
Abi: More sleep! Some of my best ideas definitely come to me while I’m trying to sleep.
Margaret: A huge budget.
What do you find most frustrating about what you do?
Consumers trust the word 'organic' in relation to food and drink, but the lack of organic legislation for non-food products has caused much confusion to the general public who may not realise that a product labeled ‘organic’ possibly isn’t and could contain the chemicals and potential allergens they were trying to avoid.
Any unusual hobbies or past careers?
Abi: I am a former British champion in orienteering (a mixture of cross country running and a treasure hunt, usually in a forest). I've represented Great Britain on international teams several times.
Margaret: I was a natural therapist for over 20 years specialising in aromatherapy, massage, reflexology and herbal medicine.
How can the organic market be improved?
For health & beauty products, introduce legislation that prevents unsubstantiated use of the word 'organic'. We need to bring everything into line with food legislation. If not there's a real danger that the reputation of organic food will be tainted because consumers will see products, such as shampoos, described as 'organic' that are laden with chemicals. That apart, the status quo is exploiting consumers who aren't in the know because they're often paying a premium for a product that they believe is produced to organic standards which may be far from it.
How can we get more people to buy organic?
Educate them about the urgent need to look after the environment and their health. Demonstrate that organic products are the highest quality and fantastic to eat and use.
What's the main benefit of being organic for you?
Organic certification gives us an independent guarantee of authenticity that consumers can trust.
What other organic ventures do you admire and why?
Green & Black's, although it belongs to Cadbury's now, it has done a good job of raising organic awareness to the general public.
Supermarkets - good or bad?
Some, such as Waitrose that care about the producers, quality issues and sustainability of supply, are good. Not so those that subscribe to intensive farming methods and don’t encourage good local producers or give them a fair deal.
What is the biggest threat to what you do?
Companies/brands continuing to be allowed to market uncertified 'pseudo' organic bodycare. It misleads the public into thinking that the quality is the same as certified organic bodycare, undermining the integrity and efforts of those dedicated to the organic movement.
What's the best thing about organic farms?
Other than the obvious biodiversity and environmental advantages, there is the possibility of inviting children to visit them to learn about organic ideals.
What's the best thing about organic food?
Abi: Eating as much of it as you like because you know it's good for you…
Margaret: The taste, its wholesomeness and the loving care taken to produce it!
What is your favourite meal?
Abi: Moules marinières followed by most things out of a Jamie Oliver cookbook.
Margaret: Perfectly cooked, really fresh food that's lovingly prepared and cooked by someone else; served with lovely wine - all organic of course!
If I was Prime Minister I would...
Abi: Decouple our foreign policy from the USA's, introduce a continental-style health care system, increase public transport subsidies and force the rail companies to be more flexible, promote sustainable food in public institutions and enforce the use of solar panels and alternative energy in all buildings.
The world would be a better place if...
Everyone had a job.
I'd like to be remembered for...
Any contribution to the sustainability of our planet.
When were you happiest?
Abi & Margaret: Now.
What is your greatest fear?
Not achieving what we’d like to do and are capable of.
What is your favourite word?
What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?
Abi: Champagne and Green & Black's chocolate.
Margaret: A few good books and a good supply of our Mosimix!
Is the customer always right?
Right and wrong is always a matter of opinion!
To find out more about Essential Care visit www.essential-care.co.uk