Meet the newest member of the City Inspired family - our Winter 2021 vendor Skin Solace! We spoke to founder Chioma about re-branding during COVID-19 and the importance of prioritising self-care.
How did Skin Solace come to be?
I had just come back from Ghana and I had this shea butter, coconut oil concoction that I used to use on my skin, my kid’s skin, my hair - everywhere but then it ran out! I started to wonder where I could get it from. I looked, it was three simple ingredients, and I thought okay I can make this myself. That’s how Skin Solace started.
It was originally called Soap Solace - I was looking at soaps and did a soap making course. But it’s kind of grown organically into what it is now. When I came back from Ghana in 2016, I did a whole year of going to markets and really formulating recipes. Then I fell pregnant with my third child and it lay dormant for two and half years really. [However] it was still in my mind. People were buying it and really enjoying the products. So I rebranded in 2020 - I “pimped it out” basically! With proper branding, proper marketing so it would appeal to a wider audience and not feel so crafty but more of a high end product. It is handmade, all natural and it’s environmentally friendly in terms of not using plastics.
How did you rebrand and revamp the business?
I always had in mind a vision for Skin Solace and once I decided that I was going to come back properly it put my efforts into the branding. I feel like the ingredients that I use in the products are top end, good quality ingredients like argan oil, shea butter, mango butter and all the essential oils. I suppose there has been more of a shift, especially if you think about the vegan market as well, people are moving towards more handmade, natural skin care. I didn’t want to be one of those brands that you purchase once but I wanted to build customer loyalty, a relationship with my audience.
I also wanted to develop this idea of self-care - thinking of myself as a working mother, as a wife. Sometimes we get pushed to the bottom of the priority list and I wanted to give people something, even men, to make everyday luxurious. You start your day with a nice soap and you use a butter that is good for your skin and feels good, something that you’ve invested in. I really wanted to bring the emphasis of self-care to Skin Solace - making your first thought of luxury when you think about skin care. The branding had to be of such that is attractive and that it’s not crafty or looks cheap but it looks like business. A lot of thought was putting into designing the brand and finding something that classy as well.
You’re a psychotherapist by training. How does that impact the products you make?
My aroma range is five different scents for different states of mind and they all bring about a different mood. If you’re struggling with anxiety, you might use the Moxie candle or Profuse candle. If you’re wanting to relax your mind and just chill then you could use the Lordiness candle because it’s formulated for that. If your aim is to concentrate then Riveted candle. They’re all developed for different states of the mind. In each set, there is a candle, body butter and a soap to match. So you can bath in it, you can cream yourself in it and you can smell it too! You can have the all day effect.
It is tied into my psychotherapy practice, thinking about well-being, thinking about mental health and creating moments where that can happen and be attended to as well. I think that’s what makes Skin Solace a bit different. Others have no focus on these things. [They focus] on whether it smells nice or if it has good ingredients but it’s not so much about mental health. That’s what sets Skin Solace apart from other contenders in the market.
What's the creative process, how do you design and mix your shampoo bars?
Shampoo bars are formulated to bring hair and skin benefits. So they cleanse the hair and take care of the scalp at the same time. It starts with the base ingredients, which butters and oils bring the most benefit, then botanicals are added such as nettle and green tea also thinking about the benefit to the end user. Then the next step would be to think about the essential oils holding their skin and hair benefits in mind.
Everything sold by Skin Solace is always produced with the benefits being the most important thing and then aroma.
What is your favourite product?
Moxie is one of my favourite scents. Whenever I smell it I just smile. It is about uplift and it’s a citrus blend. I also like Lordiness because it is about luxury, self care and relaxing. It smells like luxury, if luxury had a smell!
I love my lotion bars as well. They’re really convenient for this time of the year if you need a touch of moisture. I have them in my car and in my bag. They’re simple ingredients just cocoa butter and avocado oil. I use unrefined oils and butters so that they have the natural aroma as well and they’re not stripped of any of the natural benefits they hold. That’s another thing about Skin Solace. I don’t use refined products so that you get the maximum benefit.
I get my ingredients from a lot of suppliers in the UK. It’s going through the ingredients and the prices, the quality of the product. I also make sure that they’re organic, environmentally friendly and practice fair trade as well because I think that’s important - especially when I’m buying shea butter. Currently I get my shea butter from Ghana. I want to make sure that the money is going in the right places and everyone is paid fairly.
Tell us more about your subscription boxes! How do they work?
It’s just launched this month! I suppose subscription boxes are the way of the time now. People like to have things delivered. I think that’s even more so with us being in a lockdown - no one can go out shopping. I think again self care is one of those things that gets forgotten. People can subscribe to a box, either monthly or bimonthly and know that there’s something to look forward to. It’s a way to remind them about themselves and taking care of their own mental health, giving to themselves. When people subscribe, I make sure that they have different items every month or a different variety of the same things. I may then source bath bombs or other things to be added to the box. I try to use all Skin Solace products in my boxes.
What does it mean to you to be Black owned business?
I’ve never seen barriers, I’m not denying that being a Black woman maybe does create difficulties when you’re starting a business or trying to establish yourself, but I’ve put those to one side. I’m doing my business and I’ll push my business. I love to interact with other Black owned businesses. I love to be thinking about growing our community and growing our wealth within our community - recycling that Black pound between us so that we can all grow. It’s about sisterhood as well or community where we start to unite and think about each other as business partners and business owners. I think it’s important that we start to move that way and to start to think about it collaboratively. I think we have more power, more impact if we start to move that way. I think that’s what is happening which is great. It’s about time too. I’m happy to be part of that.
I always support Black owned businesses and give any knowledge that I can that will support them. If one grows, we all grow. The bags that the candles come in are made by a Black tailor, my bath bombs are coming from a Black lady who makes those in Wales. Where possible, if I am getting something in, it is from another Black owned business to ensure the whole line is Black owned so everyone is benefiting at some point.
Greatest accomplishments and challenges as a business so far?
For Skin Solace, I’m amazed at how much it’s grown. I’m sitting here and I’m looking at candles and boxes! It’s amazing that I created these things, it is what it is. I had an idea of what it would look like and it’s actually manifesting. I think that’s an achievement, actually just realising that something in my mind became real and it’s a product that people enjoy. A brand that is being known in the UK. It’s daunting isn’t it? Starting out you invest heavily in these things and you’re not certain that people will see what you see. But it’s really motivating when I get feedback from people that they see what I see. They enjoy the products.
Being organised and being proactive rather than reactive are my biggest challenges. And keeping it moving, persevering even when sales taper off and you think people have become disinterested. It’s not about you, it’s the world you know? It’s holding in mind that we are going into a recession. People aren’t going to be spending as much and recognising that is real for everyone in business. It’s also trusting that things will pick up and persevering during these difficult times, keeping the vision alive. It’s not easy for business right now so it’s having that belief that this is something that can survive. And I think it is.
How are you adapting your business to COVID-19 environment?
Skin Solace was relaunched during COVID, it started this way. Nothing has really changed for it. When the lockdown was lifted sales went up and when it came again they went back down. It’s up and down which is happening to everyone because no one is certain of anything. People are being furloughed, all sorts of things are happening to their finances so they are spending in accordance to the economy.
Working with soaps, candles and body butters, people will always need those things. So I know that people will still be interested in these products. Also there are people who are still earning and I think for those people it’s important that they are looking out for themselves. There’s a tendency to work longer hours because we’re at home. Skin Solace really helps with that because at the end of the day you have something to look forward to - it’s needed during COVID.
New plans for 2021?
Skin Solace was scheduled to be in John Lewis in Nottingham during Valentine’s week but with lockdown that will be postponed. So hopefully it will be Mother’s Day week and this will be huge for Skin Solace to have a physical presence in John Lewis. I’m looking forward to that and the boost that gives to the business. There’s new products being launched - we’ve got a shower oil coming, different oils and soap boxes. There’s lots of things in the pipeline for Skin Solace. I’m developing a travel bag (thinking of when lockdown is over!), a small body butter, a small lotion bar and soap so that you don’t have to worry about having liquid when travelling.
Advice for black creatives?
It’s not about developing other skills but using what you have already. Look at what skills you have, what trade you have and develop it into a business. I think sometimes people get stuck in thinking that they need to get other skills but a lot of the time you have it already. It’s just a matter of developing that and being creative with the skills you have. It’s also asking for help as well. We don’t know everything and there will be things that people don’t know about business. Be careful about who to reach out to and make sure you do your checks about that person - make sure they know they’re stuff. But don’t be afraid to ask. If you see another Black owned business that is doing something, ask if they can support you. They may not always be forthcoming but there’s no harm in asking and hopefully if we’re moving towards this idea of community, people will be more receptive to seeing others as allies rather than competition.
It’s also scary to start a business. It takes money to invest. But if you feel passionate about it and you believe in what you’re doing then do it, trust and know that it will pay off. It will not be instant but if you keep pushing at it, it will grow into something where you can reap the rewards from it. I have plans for what Skin Solace and where it is going to end up. I know it’s going to be a long journey but I believe in that journey and I know I can make it happen.