Colleen Harte: I made my friends go for endless long soaks until I’d developed the perfect bath oil
Colleen Harte, from Tyrone, tells Helen Carson what inspired her to take the plunge into business with a new beauty range, Lucy Annabella Organics.
A gorgeous new organic bath range is fast becoming the darling of beauty bloggers ... and it’s made in Co Tyrone. Lucy Annabella Organics specialises in the purest of aromatherapy bath and body products and luxurious scented candles, and is the creation of Ballygawley-born Colleen Harte.
And the high-end merchandise, which is full of green chic with tempting names such as Cloud Nine and Date Night, are completely down to Colleen’s diligence in sourcing the purest aromatherapy oils. Her lavender, for example, is supplied by remote mountain growers in France.
Seeing the range now in its sophisticated packaging, it’s hard to believe Colleen’s top-selling bath milk was perfected in her bath at home, and the process was so complicated she nearly gave up her business dream.
The indulgent range includes a variety of treatment oils, shower gels, body lotions, the famous bath milk and candles.
Colleen (28) says the products are like “sisters” so you can team up a treatment oil and bath milk with the same fragrance for a more holistic experience. Oils used include lavender, ylang ylang, spearmint, lemon, camellia, rose, patchouli, frankincense and more.
Business is in the blood for Colleen, whose family run Quinns Corner, a restaurant in Ballygawley, which was also the family home for many years to her parents, brothers and sisters Shannon (22), Eoin (25), Kerrie (27) and Donna (30).
“When my parents decided to build their own home separate from the restaurant we couldn’t believe how wonderful it was. It was like ‘This is great, living away from work’, as we hadn’t known anything else while we were growing up.”
Family has played a big part in the building of this brand — the name Lucy Annabella originates with Colleen’s grandad who called her this as a child.
After studying A-levels Colleen
wanted to be a masseuse, but was ‘talked into’ going to university where she studied psychology: “You couldn’t study what I was really interested in at university.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, after one term at university, Colleen left to pursue the knowledge she needed at a course in clinical aromatherapy and complementary therapy in London. During this time she also worked from home during breaks, making products which would be the beginnings of Lucy Annabella Organics.
“I have always worked from home; I had to, it was a way of making money when I was a student. After my studies I went to Melbourne with my thenboyfriend, Ciaran, who is now my husband.”
While there Colleen worked at the Langham Hotel Spa where she built up her repertoire of massage techniques and knowledge of
aromatherapy oils. “I was really interested in how aromatherapy oils affected the body and loved the work of Welsh clinical aromatherapist Rhiannon Harris Lewis. She specialised in the use of the oils for relaxation in massage, and believed they had to have therapeutic and medicinal benefits.”
As well as treating conditions like anxiety and stress, practitioners believe the power of aromatherapy oils can be useful for everything from alleviating labour pains to relieving the symptoms of asthma and hayfever.
“Rhiannon believes we should use aromatherapy oils everyday. I loved the fact there were blends for many conditions and wanted to work on blending full-time. In France oils are used as medicine.”
For this reason, French growers are fastidious in their production of lavender and other flowers which will be used in oils. “Farmers there treat their land like it is their baby,” explains Colleen.
But what does she say to those nay-sayers who claim there is sparse evidence to prove the power of plants?
“As much as I love nature, aromatherapy is supported by science. A lot of money has been spent on laboratory tests in England to provide this. There is no point making big claims when these cannot be backed up by science — I am a bit of a chemical head. We still need conventional medicine, aromatherapy is not an alternative but a complementary therapy. That is why organic regulation is so important, this gives us the science to support it.”
Launching a successful business, though, needs a lot more than just belief in the product — Colleen needed money, too. “As my father ran a restaurant in Ballygawley and farmed, I knew how difficult it would be to get backing. In fact, I didn’t think there’d be a chance the bank would give me a loan to launch a luxury brand in a recession. As encouragement my uncle told me ‘If the bank give you the money, I’ll double it’.”
Happily, Colleen did secure the loan, though — and didn’t need her uncle to make good on his |promise. While Colleen may sound fortunate, the development of what is now one of Lucy Annabella’s top products, the bath milk, nearly drowned her business dream.
“I wanted the bath milk to be the best. As a woman I loved bath milk, but they all stuck to the bath afterwards. What is the point of a luxurious relax in the bath when you’re faced with the bother of cleaning it afterwards? If I wanted someone to buy my product, it had to be easy.”
And even in these tough times, Colleen was sure there was a market for her products. “While women are counting the cost of everything now, they still want to spend money in SpaceNK,” she says. “It may be a more controlled spend, but they will still do it.”
Virtually every friend and family member was enlisted to try and try again the endless prototype bath milks until the formulation was perfect. “At one stage someone said to me ‘Is this really worth it?’ and I did feel like giving up.”
But thankfully Colleen persevered and now the bath milk is one of the most coveted online products. “A beauty blogger reviewed my spearmint and lemon candle and declared ‘This sounds wrong, but it really works’.”
While the range is available online, the products are also showcased at trade shows all over Ireland. “I know before I buy a candle I want to smell it, that is why it is so important to get people touching the product.”
And with product development, manufacturing and marketing all happening from Co Tyrone, this really is a dynamic one-woman business. At this stage, though, other local manufacturers in Northern Ireland are also part of the Lucy Annabella brand.
Colleen adds: “The candle maker is in Portaferry and obviously I have to source the oils I use from abroad. Everything else is done here.”
They were made-up too
- Aerin Lauder, grand-daughter of the late, great Estee Lauder has recently launched her own line of capsule make-up and skincare products. They can all be combined to create a stunning natural look.
- Make-up artist Bobbi Brown created a line of lipsticks in 1991. Today her make-up range is sold across the planet.
- Louise Redknapp has teamed up with make-up artists to create a multi-functional make-up range aimed at mums on the run.
- Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop in the 1980s providing skin care in reusable containers and it was the first cosmetic brand to stop using animal testing. Anita died of a brain haemorrhage in 2007. At the time The Body Shop had close to 2,000 stores world wide.