Shea Alchemy – Beauty in the Making

shea christmas
If you’re looking for a beautiful handmade gift for Christmas look no further than the artfully arranged tins with Crayola-coloured labels that decorate the Shea Alchemy stall at Broadway Market.

Founder and creator-in-chief Sally, bundled against the chill air, smiles and invites you to try some samples. What will it be rich body cream? Luxurious lip balm? Salt scrub? She sells over two dozen organic beauty products made with ingredients including Shea butter; organic oils such as coconut, almond, hemp and jojoba; and organic herbs. Each formula was invented, perfected, hand-made, and packaged by Sally, along with her business partner Emma.

A former marketing manager for Random House, turned freelance designer, turned cosmetics creator, Sally has the verve and confidence of a woman who has carved her own niche. At the end of the day, after packing away the bright baskets and remaining stock, Sally retires to the pub, orders a half-pint, and reveals the secrets of Shea Alchemy.
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Initiative:

I was a marketing manager at Random House for 15 years or so. Then I had kids, and wanted to see them. In those days my industry wasn’t terribly child friendly. I could see the writing on the wall, so I set up as a freelance designer and writer for the publishing industry.

The idea of making my own hand cream came much later. I’d bought some natural creams in the States but they were terribly expensive, so I thought, “Maybe I can make my own.” So my daughter, who was about 10 at the time, and I went off to Neil’s Yard and bought a load of ingredients.

Experimentation:
I bought a book off the internet and my daughter spent a happy week stirring pots in the kitchen to make hand creams for my friends for Christmas. With that first batch I didn’t realise was that if you don’t use some kind of preservative the cream will go off. I gave a load to my publishing clients then had to send an email saying: “I’m sorry, but your hand cream will go mouldy if you don’t put it in the fridge.” It was incredibly embarrassing.

Education:
When a friend suggested we try to make a business of it we realised we would have to learn to do things properly. We found a course online that taught us how to make professional creams. The secret is emulsifiers…

Application:
Because I’m a designer and worked in marketing I had all these skills I could apply to my new business. I wrote the flyers, made the posters, and designed the labels for the creams. It was great fun doing the little tins and thinking up the name. Then we got a stall the local farmers market at Alexandra Palace – this was 7 years ago – and it went really well. We found a niche because we were selling creams for a reasonable price.

Collaboration:
The web designer I worked with in my design business, Mike, is a really nice guy. When I started Shea Alchemy he set up our website. Now there’re three of us: Mike, myself, and Emma, my best friend, who lives in York. She makes creams and sells them in markets and Christmas fairs in the North.

Confidence:
Men always seem to ask things like: “What about growing distribution?”

When I first started it threw me. I thought, “Should I be doing more?”

Now I’m more confident. I’ve done it for this long time and it’s going well. Our web sales are great, we grow every year, we make enough money, and we’re happy.
I enjoy pottering around the kitchen making creams. I like being in control of the publicity. In order to be big we’d have to get a factory then we’d have to get sales reps and so on. It would be a totally different operation.
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Audience:
People love the fact that I’m at the market, and that I make the product in my kitchen. They like that we get water [used in the creams] from my cousin’s farm in Northamptonshire. I could get a factory and invest a lot of money, but what would be different in the end? Would I be happier? I don’t think I would. It’s a lifestyle choice, and we all like it.

Next generation:
My daughter Claire was involved from the beginning, working with me, sitting down thinking about the website, how we were going to sell, and so forth. She studies Arabic and last summer she went to Hebron and used what she’d learned to help the local women set up a community to sell their embroidery.
My niece, Emily, set up her own textile business, Talented Apple. She studied costume design at Edinburgh Art School and was working in a theatre but found it very stressful. So she started her own business and absolutely loves it.

Self-determination:
I used to have more money, a company car, and all that. Now I’m a barrow girl. But I enjoy my life. I’m freer; more in control. When I decide to do something it’s done. There is no going around to other people, trying to get them to agree. I like making decisions and going with my gut feeling. If you’ve got drive, if you’re passionate, you can make a business work.

For more info: sales@sheaalchemy.co.uk
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/sheaalchemy

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Find Shea Alchemy

LONDON
8th December
Broadway Market
London Fields, London E8
10-5pm

9th December
The New Camden Passage Market
10-4pm

10th December
Shea Alchemy has a stall in the foyer of the Whittington Hospital (Archway)
10-4pm

15th December

Broadway Market
London Fields, London E8
10-5pm

16th December
The New Camden Passage Market
10-4pm

17th December
Shea Alchemy has a stall in the foyer of the Whittington Hospital (Archway)
10-4pm

22nd December
Broadway Market
London Fields, London E8
10-5pm

23rd December
The New Camden Passage Market
10-4pm

YORKSHIRE

5th to 10th December
York Yuletide Festival
Parliament Street
York City Centre
10:00 – 5:00
Open until 8:00 on Thursday

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2 thoughts on “Shea Alchemy – Beauty in the Making

  1. Wow! How inspiring. I wonder how much the success of Sally’s business is down to her marketing and design background? I am endlessly fascinated about how an idea goes from just that, to become a net that supports someone financially and fulfils their desire to be creative and expressive, alongside helping others. Well done to Sally for making it work. Great interview!

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