Growing up in the North Yorkshire Moors meant that nature was never far from Cecily Fearnley’s mind. Her family’s company researches, manufactures and supplies herbal medicines, but for a while it seemed unlikely that Cecily would follow her kinsfolk down the natural remedy route.
Originally completing a law degree, Cecily was well on her way to realising her dream of becoming a human rights lawyer when she returned to the family firm to earn some extra cash to fund her studies. But Cecily never returned to her legal lifestyle, staying on at the company to become managing director in 2010.
Having suffered from eczema and sensitive skin throughout her life, Cecily seized the opportunity to challenge herself and branch out into natural cosmetics. And so Sweet Cecily’s began trading in 2011. The company’s beautifully floral packaged skincare products is completely free from parabens, petrochemicals and harmful preservatives. They range is also completely SLS and animal cruelty free.
We caught up with Cecily to hear more about her herbal apothecary.
Tell us about when Sweet Cecily’s began and why?
In the last week of term at university, my father asked if I would be able to work in the family business over summer. I finished my last exam on a Friday afternoon, packed up my life that weekend and headed home to start work Monday morning. It was quite different to studying law, but something close to my heart so it wasn’t a difficult move to make. To cut a long story short the summer became a year, one year turned into two, and then I became managing director of the firm.
Over time, I developed itchy feet for a new challenge. My brother had also come back to work for the business and we formed a great team, which meant that I had the opportunity to think about branching out. I’ve always loved being creative and making things with whatever I could lay my hands on. I decided to learn how to make lip balms as we had all the necessary ingredients on site anyway.
I never planned to develop this into a full product range; however my dad and those around me were so encouraging about the concept of a breakaway brand that I started spending most weekends and evenings concocting different ideas.
When did you find time to learn about cosmetics?
It was June 2011 when I made my first hand cream, three years after graduating. It was a long process of reading books and watching things online, followed by sourcing ingredients that I was happy to use – no nasties allowed. I was so proud that I finally perfected this new skill.
Once I had the basics, the opportunities were endless. Which herbs I could incorporate, and what oils worked well together and how was I going to make something that would help people who, like me, had struggled with eczema.
How do you source your ingredients?
Due to our longstanding herbal medicines business, we have some great connections and reputable suppliers at our disposal. We use organic ingredients wherever possible and also fairtrade when we can. Our shea butter, for example, come from a cooperative in Ghana supporting women in work.
In the beginning it was a big job to find base ingredients we were happy with, such as the emulsifiers and the preservatives, but once that was sorted the job of finding the active ingredients and different flavours and smells was just a case of getting lots of samples in and having a play around with formulations.
Do you think growing up in rural North Yorkshire influenced your connection to nature?
Most definitely. It was never something I had to learn as such, as I have never known anything else. Between the ages of six and 14 I had a combination of home education, Steiner school and also a time at our local primary school where there was just 20 students. This meant that I was able to really explore the world and spend time outside learning about what was around me. Growing up, we were taught how to cure minor ailments with natural products, such as using calendula ointment on burns or cuts, ginger and lemon for colds, or oats in the bath for itchy skin.
I have strong memories of going blackberry picking with my mum and little sister, making nettle soup, and even attempting to sell what herbs I’d collected outside our house – bearing in mind we lived down a mile long farm track so the only passing traffic were either cows or the odd rambler.
Sweet Cecily’s ethos states: “through community, co-operation and support, great things are achievable”- what is your experience of this?
With little to no budget, we took to social media for market research, product suggestions, product testing and much more. Before we knew it we had begun a really exciting new way of working. Through Facebook and Twitter we found ourselves with a loyal group of people who really wanted to see Sweet Cecily’s succeed.
We wanted people to feel like they had a real part in the finished products, so each and every hand cream, face cream or lip balm now has a little story attached to it as to how it came about, such as our Mojito Lipbalm that was dreamt up by my sister’s old university housemate!
Do you have a personal favourite product?
My favourite has to be the Soothing Skin Cream. One of the big motivators to learn how to make natural skincare was my personal battles with sensitive skin and eczema. I had tried what seemed like every cream going, and would like certain elements of each but had never found something quite right.
The Soothing Skin Cream brings together the herbal extracts of borage, hemp and vitamin E, with the richness and moisture of cocoa butter, topped off with propolis. Propolis is a fantastic natural ingredient, which is collected from the beehive. Bees have no immune system, so it is crucial that they protect the hive from infection. To do so, they line the entrance to the hive with propolis, which is collected from tree resin and plants to ‘disinfect’ themselves before entering the hive. When used by humans, propolis has natural antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties and can be used both internally and externally.
Because of the all round benefits of this cream, I not only use it on any eczema outbreaks, it is also great for burns, bites, and even for reducing the redness of spots,
What would you say were the summer must haves from your range?
The first thing I always reach for at this time of year is our Citrus and Walnut Body Scrub. I love the combination of the exfoliating granules, but also the nourishing inclusion of shea butter and castor oil, which helps cleanse and brighten winter skin while giving it a boost of moisture. I would follow this up with Coconut Body Butter to really evoke the smell of summer and holidays. Needless to say, I am never without my Pina Colada lip balm which goes everywhere with me.