We’re back with our Meet the Maker series interviewing small business Oakwood Soaperie who create beautiful botanical wedding favours. When planning your wedding it’s easy to get caught up in check lists of what you need to buy, but we think it’s important to take a moment to get to know the people behind the businesses.
Today we are joined by Ceri from Oakwood Soaperie, a Northumberland based small business creating a beautiful range of botanical wedding favours. From luxurious soaps to bath salt shots, Ceri is dreaming up and creating some delightful sounding natural botanical wedding favours.
We wanted to find out more about what inspires her, how she got started, and the process of creating her range.
Beautiful botanical wedding favours for a natural wedding
Hi Ceri, welcome to our Meet the Maker series. Tell us how you first dreamt up Oakwood Soaperie?
I have a background in art and design and after many years of non-creative jobs, I was hankering to get back to designing and making once more. I officially began Oakwood Soaperie in October 2010 after many, many months of researching, reading and formulating recipes while experimenting with natural ingredients and making some basic products.
I was working full time and fitting in building up to launch my business in my spare time. I began at my dining room table which I soon outgrew, and now have a beautiful, rural studio within a National Trust property near my home town where I can make everything and work on my business full time.
Could you tell us more about your making process, from your initial ideas through to the final products?
I’ve always loved natural forms and colours and working with natural ingredients. I find inspiration all around me in nature and in how plants, flowers and leaves can be used not only for decoration but also for their beneficial effects.
I spend a lot of time reading and learning about the properties of essential oils, natural botanicals and how natural ingredients like clays, plant butters and oils can really benefit and condition the skin as well as being incredibly pretty and endlessly versatile. These are the foundations of any of my new product ideas.
I try to visualise the end product right from the early concept stages (especially with the soaps) and factor in any new pouring or decorating techniques I’d like to use to make them pretty to look at as well as lovely to use. I keep a notebook handy and scribble down sketches, ideas and inspiration for design, packaging and presentation whenever it strikes, referring back to it when I’m finalising a new product.
What is your favourite part of the whole process?
Apart from the designing side, my absolute favourite part of the process is the making. I occasionally record ‘Making’ videos for my limited edition soaps which I upload to my YouTube channel. Often this is the first time I’ve made a particular product, so there’s a lot to think about. I do love it though, I think it’s the challenge I love, and physically creating something beautiful that hopefully people will appreciate and admire.
As your products are handmade, how do you ensure that they are safe to use?
Safety is hugely important to me as my soaps and skincare products are used by a wide variety of customers with an even wider variety of skin types. People can be sensitive to so many ingredients, including 100% natural ones. Right from day one I made sure that every recipe and product I make is fully safety assessed by a cosmetic chemist to ensure it is safe to use and of good quality.
There are a host of EU cosmetic regulations and good manufacturing practices to comply with too, so this is a big factor in developing a new item or even just making a new batch of something and recording it correctly with batch numbers, labelling, full ingredient declarations, etc. I hold full public and product liability insurance too, so customers can buy with confidence, knowing everything is covered and as safe as it can be.
We see that you are based in the beautiful grounds of the National Trust’s Gibside Estate. What lovely inspirational surroundings. Is there anything in particular that influences your products?
Being in such an historic and beautiful place every day is such an inspiration to me. My studio is based within the Georgian Stable block and is a mile or so walk through rural pastureland and woodland paths. I regularly spot wildlife on my ‘commute’ to and from the studio, sometimes a shy family of deer, often Red Kites and buzzards all of which are a special treat to see and have a calming and centring effect on me at the start and end of every day helping to keep me focused for the day ahead.
Within the Estate, lies an 18th Century Walled Garden which would have provided all the fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers for the grand house (now a ruin). The Daughter of the Grand Estate was a keen botanist too, so, it is her – Mary Eleanor Bowes – the beautiful rural surroundings, and traditional flowers and natural remedies that would have been produced from the Walled Garden that provide me with inspiration for some of my range.
I am lucky enough to have a garden plot within the Walled Garden too. I grow a small range of flowers and herbs organically, to dry and incorporate into my soaps, bath products and handmade confetti cones which can all be customised to suit.
We’d love to know – have you got a favourite product?
My favourite products are usually the newest, as these pose the greatest challenge to make. My current favourite is Lavender & Ylang Ylang soap, which I designed to complement my two favourite Body Butters and Sugar Scrubs. It’s something about the combination of essential oils that hooks me in every time, it’s quite an intoxicating mix. It was a fairly challenging one to make too, as I was using a combination of different pouring techniques to create a pretty internal swirl running through each bar and a delicate copper swirl across the tops.
Why did you choose to make your business eco-conscious? In what ways does this impact on your work?
I feel that to be eco-conscious in life is of vital importance. I am eco-conscious in all the choices I make wherever I can in my home life, so why not apply these principles to my business ethic as well?
I support other small businesses by buying small and local as much as possible, I choose the best quality, sustainable ingredients and recyclable packaging items, and green printing suppliers I can. I also recycle all the packaging I receive with my supplies orders too. I try to keep our footprint small. Rather than impact my work, I find it enhances it.
I bear eco credentials in mind for every choice I make for my business and think I have built a stronger more sustainable business as a result. There are so many options available now it makes seeking out eco-friendly options a much easier operation than it once was.
Why do you think a couple should consider using your products as favours or gifts for their wedding day?
I can offer a fully bespoke, handmade service, tailored specifically to their requirements. From creating each individual favour, confetti cone or custom gift, to carefully wrapping and finishing them all by hand with love, coordinating with the couple’s chosen colour scheme or theme. I like to work closely with the couple to create something to suit their requirements and make sure they are entirely happy with their special order well before the big day.
If a bride-to-be is interested in buying some of your products as favours or gifts for bridesmaids, how can they go about doing this?
The easiest way is to complete my specially designed contact form for weddings on my website. This can be found here.
It makes the whole enquiry process simple and easy to understand, and also showcases some of my previous wedding favour commissions from my dedicated Pinterest board too. That way they can get a good idea of my work and decide if it is right for their celebration.
Finally, it would be great to find out a bit more about you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
When I’m not working, I’m happiest out in my garden tending my veggie plots or enjoying a high up walk in the hills somewhere with far reaching views. I’m a country girl at heart and nothing makes me happier than fresh air, exercise and the company of loved ones, of the 2 and 4 legged variety. I love to be outdoors, come rain or shine and I find being physically tired at the end of a great day is one of my favourite feelings and the sure sign of a day well spent.
My husband and I try to get out on our bikes as often as we can, and I’ve also recently taken up running – a long lost love of mine. I’ve still very new to it, but I’m loving every minute or getting back into it…so far!
I love to bake too, but rarely get the chance. It’s the occasional special weekend treat if I don’t have a craft fair or art event to attend. My favourite bakes are real bread and cake. If I can incorporate some homegrown goodies too, all the better. My hot favourite for summer last year was courgette, lemon and elderflower cake.
Thank you so much to Ceri for chatting to us today about her botanical wedding favours. Its been great bringing us a little bit of insight into how her small business is run. If you love the sound of her botanical wedding favours then you can find her in our Directory under Favours.