Monday, 13 December 2010

The Beauty Spot: Samantha Burlton

I talk to Samantha Burlton, founder of So Organic - the one stop shop for an organic lifestyle - and recently voted as one of the most influential people in the UK organic and natural beauty business.

Please introduce yourself to the Beauty Scoop readers - who are you and what do you do?
I’m the founder of So Organic, the one stop shop for an organic lifestyle. We offer everything you need to go organic from top to toe via our website, our store and treatment rooms in Greenwich, London and our mail order catalogue. We stock over 2500 products from more than 50 brands, everything from organic make-up to green cleaning products. Think of us like an organic John Lewis and you won’t be far wrong.

What is your background and what made you decide to get into the organic lifestyle market?
My background is in something completely different; I used to work as a corporate account manager for various big telecoms companies. But cooking is my passion and hobby and when I discovered the taste and quality of organic ingredients were second to none and that by choosing organic I could help the environment, animal welfare and feel I was making a healthier choice for me and my family I made the switch to organic food. But then when I started to look for organic beauty products and things for my home, the shopping experience was much more difficult and no one could give me the advice I needed. This made me realise that there was a huge gap in the market so I created So Organic to meet the needs of people like me, who enjoy quality skincare and pampering products and want to use products in their home and on their children that work brilliantly but are as pure and organic as they can be. If you are short on time and want to feel confident that you’re choosing genuinely natural products that really work, you can order from So Organic and have the products delivered to your door quickly feeling confident that we will have done the legwork to check that the products really work and the ingredients can be trusted.

Why do you think it is important to 'go organic' or at least attempt to incorporate organic products into your life?
These days most of us are concerned about animal welfare, caring for the environment in the choices that we make, and protecting ourselves and our families from exposure to potential toxins. In addition, many people suffer from sensitive skin and allergies and need to find products that can help. Choosing organic products wherever you can is one small and easy step to dealing with all of these issues. Organic is better for you, better for the environment and better for animals, and if occasionally it does cost a fraction more it’s worth it. However, if you usually choose big beauty counter brands of skincare and make-up, you’ll probably find that organic products are in fact cheaper than your usual brand too.

What are some hero products that you offer that could make a small difference to those who are not yet converts to this way of life?
If you’re a lip balm addict then choose an organic lip balm, such as the Basis Lip Balm by Lavera (£2.45 for a 4.5g stick). Most lip balms are made from petroleum oil which coats your skin and prevents it doing what it naturally should do to repair and renew itself. They feel good when you put them on but your lips never improve, which is why you have to continually reapply. Choosing a lip balm made from organic plant waxes gets to the root of the problem, it is absorbed into the skin and helps with repair, and if you end up eating a bit, which of course you will, then wouldn’t you rather be eating mango butter than petroleum?

If you use a body lotion (and you know you really should to keep your skin soft and supple) then make the switch to an organic one as soon as you can. It’s thought that up to 60% of what we apply to our skin can be absorbed into the blood stream and conventional body lotions are made from a whole range of ingredients that have been shown to be potentially harmful. Synthetic fragrance which gives the scent can trigger allergies, parabens used as preservatives have been shown to have a hormone disrupting effect and can accumulate in the body, propylene glycol which keep the product texture stable is similar to anti freeze and made from petroleum and petroleum derived mineral oil used as a moisturiser just as it is in the lip balm is of no positive benefit to the skin. You apply body lotion all over so that’s a lot of product potentially being absorbed, by choosing an organic body lotion you’ll cut your exposure to these ingredients significantly and your skin will feel better too.

What does a day in your life look like?
Very busy! I’m a new mum in addition to running my own business so I don’t get a lot of free time! I’m usually up at 6:00am or 6:30am to try to have a shower, dress and put my make up on before getting Lily up at 7:00am. Then I have a mad rush to get her ready before handing over to her grandparents or her nanny at 8:00am.

My husband, Stuart, also works in the business as our Chief Operations Officer. Living and working together means we have to be very clear about our roles and make the switch between home time and work time. Lots of people say that they would struggle to work with their partner but for us it works brilliantly and we really wouldn’t want it any other way. We try to walk to work whenever we can, we have a beautiful walk across Blackheath and through Greenwich Royal Park so it’s a wonderful start to the day and a lovely way to collect our thoughts and plan the day before arriving at the office.

Every day is different which makes my job so wonderfully interesting. I might be researching and testing new products to add to our range, planning new treatments for our organic beauty rooms or having them tested on me, (a job which requires you to have regular organic facials can’t be bad!). Or I could be writing articles for a magazine or our blog, working with the marketing team on ideas for offers or promotions, or any one of hundreds of other things that I get involved with. I try to take in a healthy lunch from home, but rarely stop for long. I need to use every minute I spend in the office productively as now that I’m a mum I’m very firm about keeping home time sacred and spending it with Lily and Stuart.

Just after 6:00pm we’re back home again with Lily, and enjoying some lovely play time to wind down before her bath and bed at 7:30pm. Cooking is important to me and helps me relax so I try to cook properly every evening and Stuart and I usually sit down to a healthy organic dinner and a glass of wine at around 8.30pm. Evenings are spent on the sofa with a good book or a film; my days of staying up late and partying into the small hours are long gone.

How do you think the organic market has changed since you started your business?
There are now far more organic products available than ever before and the quality is truly excellent. There’s no need to make a compromise in terms of performance, even technical products such as make-up and hair styling products are now available made from organic ingredients and work brilliantly. And it’s not only people who look like eco warriors that buy them! Organic is better for you, better for the planet and better for animals, everyone cares about those issues and these days all kinds of people understand that and are choosing organic.

You also find time to lectures and mentor on entrepreneurship/ small business start-ups - what tips do you have for any budding businesswomen/men?
Don’t think that starting your own business will be a way to get rich quick, or do less work! Yes, there are a few lucky people who make their millions very quickly, but for most starting your own business will involve a lot of hard work, sacrifices and stress. There are huge rewards too, a real sense of achievement when you get the business off the ground and a real pride in yourself and your team when you receive compliments and accolades, but don’t underestimate how hard you will have to work.

You need to be sure that not only do you have a good idea but that it is in something that you care deeply about and will sustain your interest over the long term. Write a business plan and refer back to it regularly, both to check that you’re still on track, and to help you make a conscious choice to deviate from the plan if you need to, but also to boost your confidence when things get difficult. By referring back to your business plan you will be able to see how far you’ve come.

Network well so that you can surround yourself with people who understand the challenges you face. If all of your friends work for big organisations it can be hard for them to understand what running your own business is like. Making friendships with other business owners will enable you to support each other and bounce ideas around.

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