Belfast Telegraph

Positively glowing

A Co Antrim-based self-tanning business has won a host of celebrity fans and is now celebrating a cash injection from private investment, writes Margaret Canning

Every parent can identify with the expense of meeting the changing needs of their offspring.

Alyson Hogg, the founder and chief executive of Northern Ireland fake tanning company Vita Liberata, says that it's no different when your child is a rapidly growing business.

Her scientifically-based tanning products, made in Ballyclare, Co Antrim, are listed in Boots, Debenhams, House of Fraser and international beauty chain Sephora.

Vita Liberata is also sold in 16 European countries, in South Africa, Australia and the US.

But Ms Hogg, who said that she "never does things by halves" has set her sights on a global presence. For this reason she decided to seek a tie-in with Dublin private investment firm Broadlake Capital, which paid a seven-figure sum for a 47% stake in Vita Liberata.

She said that the time was right to seek the investment, which was announced last month.

"We have been a small, struggling family owned company doing amazingly brilliant things with no core capital.

"We couldn't continue to grow the company without some significant investment from wherever it might come, and that meant that I would have to give away the equity.

"We want to be a global brand and we are well on our way to (becoming) that.

"To get to where the company has its own trajectory to grow a brand, you have to move forward.

"It can't go backwards or rest on its laurels.

"Vita Liberata was almost taking me to a place where I had to follow. Its needs were changing from those of a little baby to those of an unwieldy teenager."

The fame of Vita Liberata, which she set up in 2003, has been spread by her evangelical enthusiasm, an export-driven approach, and - in the UK at least - the use of its products on TV shows like the X Factor, as well as getting the thumbs-up from celebrities like Kelly Brook, girl band The Saturdays and Denise Van Outen.

But Ms Hogg, a former TV presenter and broadcaster - and one- time communications director for the Women's Coalition - found that planting the company on an international stage required cold, hard cash.

"We needed finance for international business and international marketing. Those are very cash-hungry animals."

Their first big listing was with UK retailer Boots, and, as well as in the big chains, it is now also found in small but highly exclusive venues such as the beauty parlour of Four Seasons George V Hotel in Paris.

Ms Hogg is tight-lipped about exactly how much has been ploughed in by Broadlake Capital. But she said she won't be seeing any of it herself.

"None of it's in my pocket. It's all in the business. I haven't taken any personal gain out of this.

"The work is like a child that sucks up all my time - that and my five other children."

The success she has found with Vita Liberata hasn't been handed to her on a plate.

"I am a very tenacious character and I think I probably would accept the term driven. I can be driven in all kinds of ways.

"I like to get a thing done and get it finished and I don't know how not to work hard at something. I don't know how to do a thing by halves."

She agreed that not 'half' doing things is "a great habit, but not necessarily for the people who are around you".

It was to her father, a founder of pre-cast concrete specialist Macrete Ireland, that she turned for business advice when her business began to gain momentum. "He told me never to stop."

"There have been a few times when I have thought, I'm not going to stop. Somebody else is going to have to stop me first. So it's that kind of clinging on. If you're going to do something this big it's very hard."

Ms Hogg said she wakes up at around 5am to start working and will only switch off in front of escapist TV drama Desperate Housewives and "the rugby".

That dedication is necessary because she has so much to do. But Ms Hogg said that she is surrounded by equally enthusiastic staff - there are 15 Vita Liberata staff altogether, including scientists who have developed technology such as the patent-pending Pheno2 formula for its two to three week tan.

"Self-tanning is full of very passionate people who work very hard and we have been growing at such a phenomenal rate that it has been infectious for everybody (who work here)," said Ms Hogg.

That enthusiasm and strong work ethic has been repaid by orders coming in faster than they can meet them.

She attributes the popularity of the products to the company's focus on cutting-edge technology and using organic and non-toxic ingredients - and, importantly, striving to avoid the biscuit-like smell that plagues other fake tans.

But she said she isn't kept awake at night by fear that the vogue for tanned skin will wear off.

"Even Erin O'Connor, a model who's famed for being pale, has been tanned by us to take the blue shade off for underwear or swimwear shoots.

"People really won't lose that desire for healthiness. When you look at your skin with fake tan on, you think: 'Maybe I have been on holiday,' and 'God, don't I look good.'"

"It's a feeling of happiness and joy, and that's really where everything comes from. And because I'm a woman too, I appreciate why we do this and why we get excited over this."

There were two other offers for a stake in the company, but Broadlake won the day.

"I felt Broadlake was the best as I felt they were very experienced and had a broad back and the wherewithal," says Ms Hogg.

"They were very detail-driven and ready to get under the skin of the brand to understand what we were offering."

With the support of Broadlake the company will continue targeting Europe, Australia and other territories. "It's anywhere that's hot and people have realised that tan is not good for skin," Ms Hogg said.

And with the company having experienced its growth through a recession, she feels there's nothing to hold it back in seeking even more.

Tan-tastic organic product range is snapped up by top stars

Vita Liberata aims to set itself apart from the multitude of other fake tans on the market by emphasising that it is 80% organic and contains botanical extracts like pomegranate, melon, grape, silk proteins and gingko biloba. Another major selling point is its scientific credentials, including the Pheno2 technology which has gone into the Phenomenal two to three- week tan range. The range also includes tinted and untinted mousses and gels and spray tans in three shades in Hawaii, Ecuador and Brazil, depending on the intensity of the bronzed glow you're after. The brand has tapped into our obsession with celebrities. Its website features the photographs of around 30 famous people who have used Vita Liberata products, from models Yasmin Le Bon and Erin O'Connor to X Factor's Matt Cardle and Rebecca Ferguson.

Investment firm eyes growing niche in global beauty market

With its seven-figure deal to buy 47% of Vita Liberata, Broadlake Capital in Dublin has bought into the fastest growing facet of the health and beauty sector - self-tanning. In January the private investment firm acquired the watercooler division of Deep RiverRock, also based in Northern Ireland, from Coca-Cola HBC Ireland. Broadlake Capital chief executive Pete Smyth said it was "excited" about taking Vita Liberata to a global audience. "The growth trajectory and potential of the business combined with its new product development capabilities make this a very exciting investment." Belfast law firm Tughans advised Vita Liberata on the fundraising process and David McCloy of financial advisers Beltrae Partners brokered the deal. A new banking facility to supply working capital was also secured through the Bank of Ireland.