One of the wonderful things about my job is that over the course of the last few years I’ve met an amazing amount of inspiring women. Mothers, leaders, entrepreneurs… if I’m ever struggling in one area of my life I know there’s a woman I can look to who will help re-ignite my mojo, re-discover my purpose and enthusiasm.
Jenni Retourné is one such woman. We met a few years ago when she was running a successful beauty PR agency and representing one of my favourite brands, Neom Organics. Back then her passion, industry knowledge and joy de vivre were evident – enough for me to delight in working with her, anyway – and it’s no surprise to me that she’s started her own beauty brand, Willowberry Natural Skincare.
I’ve been trialling her products over the last few weeks, a cleansing balm, day cream and skin oil, and have loved them. Using natural ingredients of the highest quality, all are made in Britain in small batches to ensure quality and freshness. My personal favourite is the Nutrient Boost Treatment Oil which has become a night time staple, and with British Beauty Blogger giving it her stamp of approval you know it must be good!
I wanted to find out how Jenni went from PR to beauty brand founder so I sat down and fired some questions at here. Here’s what she told me:
What was the ‘trigger’ that led to you starting Willowberry? Have you always wanted to launch your own business?
I have wanted to launch my own brand for a long, long time. I’ve worked in the beauty industry for nearly 15 years – as editor of a trade beauty magazine, then as owner of a beauty marketing company. I’ve worked with so many niche beauty brands and I would think: I want to do what you’re doing!
I am passionate about natural skincare, health and wellbeing, so I wanted to create a skincare brand that focused on the skin’s wellbeing, by choosing natural ingredients that are loaded with nutrients – vitamins, antioxidants and essential fatty acids (just as we would feed our bodies), to nurture the skin. I also wanted to take my skincare products a step beyond natural by only using unrefined natural oils and butters to retain maximum nutrients, to make a real difference to the skin.
It can be scary to make the leap to launch your own brand, but in the end I decided to bite the bullet and get on with it. It would be my one big regret on my deathbed if I didn’t do it.
I started taking the steps to create a brand back in January 2014. Just one month later, I found out I was pregnant – so it was like I was creating two babies at the same time! 3 ½ years later I finally launched Willowberry.
I imagine it takes a lot of knowledge as well as passion to launch a skincare brand. How does one go about incepting formulations and testing product before launching to market? Did you have the input of scientists?
The first thing I did was go on a course to learn how to formulate natural skincare – I think it is important to understand the process of formulation yourself so that you know your products inside out. I also did a course on cosmetic legislation, as there are so many legal requirements to adhere to when you sell skincare products.
Following that, I spent a long time researching ingredients and creating initial formulas for my first 3 products: a Cleansing Balm, Treatment Oil and Day Cream. I would then trial the products with volunteers and adjust the formulas according to this feedback. The formulas changed a number of times before I was totally happy with them.
The Day Cream was particularly hard to get right and this delayed the process by a long, long time. When you create a water-based product such as a cream or a lotion, you have to use emulsifiers to combine the oil and the water, and you have to use preservatives to stop bacteria and other micro-organisms from growing. I was adamant I wanted the formula to be as natural as possible but I just couldn’t create a formula myself that remained stable, using natural emulsifiers and preservatives.
So I enlisted the help of a cosmetic chemist, who took my very strict brief (poor man!) and adjusted my formula to create an amazing moisturiser using 100% naturally derived emulsifiers and preservatives – no mean feat!
I would now always enlist the help of a cosmetic chemist when creating a water-based product. But in hindsight I am so pleased I went through the long process of trying to create the Day Cream myself first, because by the time I enlisted a cosmetic chemist, I knew what I was talking about and I knew where I could stick to my guns instead of having to compromise with my formula.
When all the formulas were finalised, they were sent off to a lab to go through the necessary testing procedures to ensure they were stable and safe for use – as well as peace of mind, this is a legal requirement with beauty products.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I never need an alarm clock as my daughter wakes me up by 7am! So after snuggles on the sofa, I drop her off at nursery before sitting down at my desk.
I always try to update my social channels first thing, then my day can be filled with anything from packing up orders, working on our PR, new product planning, writing our blog posts and newsletters, creating marketing material, planning for events, formulating new products, batch-making our oils and balms, labelling products… as a small business owner, no two days are ever the same and you are involved in every aspect of your business.
Networking is essential in business, so I also like to get out of the office to meet up with industry friends or attend industry and networking events.
Who else inspires you in the world of business?
I am inspired by the many entrepreneurs out there who have started their own business – whatever industry it may be in. I love an entrepreneur story and I love reading articles, blog posts and books about people who have created thriving brands – these stories fuel the fire in my belly because I think; if they can do it, so can I!
What one piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of starting their own business?
Keep on trucking! When you go through the process of creating your business, there will always be hurdles along the way – you just have to find a way of leaping over them. Don’t be put off – you have to have strength, determination, guts and sheer grit to turn your dreams into reality. But everybody has to start somewhere and you have to keep moving forward, otherwise your dream could still remain a dream 10 years down the line. If you don’t give it a go, you will never know what could have been.
What’s been the biggest surprise to you in the process of starting Willowberry?
How much people are willing to help. When I launched Willowberry I had an old school friend get in touch through Facebook and offer me the chance to pitch for his work’s Christmas corporate gifting contract (I got it!); I had an industry friend literally say ‘what can I do to help?’ – she has industry friends in high places and got my products into their hands; I had so many likes and shares from friends on Facebook to help spread the word… I couldn’t believe just how supportive people were and how much they want to see you succeed – this kind of support has been invaluable and I am blown away by it.
What’s your favourite part of running your own business?
It is SO hard to pick just one thing – there are so many things I love about running my own business. If I had to pick one thing, I would say I love being my own boss and creating a brand that is totally in line with my own values and vision. I am hugely passionate about Willowberry and I love going to work each day.
And the least favourite?
I suppose the only negative thing I can think of is not knowing what your income will be from one month to the next. But with redundancies so common these days anyway, I don’t think being employed would give me any more security! Before I launched Willowberry I ran my own marketing business for 7 years, so I couldn’t ever imagine being an employee anymore.
What’s next in 2017 for Willowberry?
We are currently working on producing sample sets, as we get asked for these a lot. We are also creating some gorgeous gift sets in time for Christmas so look out for those – these will all be sold exclusively on our website.