This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re excited to introduce you to Tanya of Ravenscourt Apothecary.
LBC: What inspired you to take the leap as an entrepreneur?
Tanya: It all started when I left Washington, DC and relocated to Europe in 2013. It was a year of a lot of change, transition and moving around, as I managed to have lived in three capitals of three different countries: DC, Dublin and London. There was a lot going on and I felt a strong urge to have something of my own, something that would be my brain child. Being vegan, I tend to read the labels and ingredient lists a lot more carefully than the next person, and I guess that transpired into the desire to know exactly what went onto my body as well as in it. I started making natural skincare products – just for myself at first. It all started with a single lip balm and spun out of there. I simply taught myself along the way and continue to do so.
LBC: How would you describe what you create?
Tanya: Ravenscourt Apothecary is focused on botanical perfumery and mineral skincare. I blend together Victorian literature, essential oils, natural cosmetic clays and plant infusions. My literary scents are all named after famous book characters: Mr Darcy, Dorian Gray, Heathcliff, Jane Eyre and Alice in Wonderland are some of them. I take great comfort and inspiration in the Victorian era literature. All my botanical fragrances contain no alcohol, phtalates or hormone disruptive chemicals. Same goes for my vegan palm oil free soaps: most of them are unscented and are based on high quality pure oils and butters. I love working with natural clays – they have healing and detoxing properties – so I use them in my soap line a lot. I also make natural beeswax lip balms, salves and have recently started making body butters and lip tints. I have more ideas for new products that are in the works now.
LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?
Tanya: I actually sat down and wrote a business plan. It helped me have a clear(er) vision of what I wanted my business to be like. I wanted it to be ethical, vegan/vegetarian friendly, and giving back to animals. I still stick to these rules: that’s why my products never contain any palm oil or animal products (although I do use ethically sourced beeswax). A portion of the proceeds is regularly donated to several animal charity causes.
LBC: Walk us through a typical work day.
Tanya: There really isn’t such a thing as a ‘typical’ working day when it comes to Ravenscourt Apothecary. When you run a small business, one of the beautiful things about it is that you have that luxury to respond to the business needs as you go. One day it may be working on restocking the products you have low inventory of, another day I’ll be reshooting product photos, yet another day I might sit down and make sure all my bookkeeping is up to date. There will be some visits to the post office, tinkering with the labels, updating the listings, thinking of new scent combinations and new clays to try… That way it never gets boring.
LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?
Tanya: I would definitely advise deciding on the business branding and identity first and foremost. You have to know what makes your business unique, what your selling points are, what sort of ‘voice’ you’re going to use with your customers. Make sure you know who you are and why you are special, and stick to your guns. The second thing would be product photography. It is especially crucial for businesses that rely on e-commerce exclusively (like I do!). Have basic photography skills, or invite/hire someone who does. The nicer your product photos are, the better they will sell. Finally, I would say just make sure you are prepared to evolve. I went through several products design versions before I settled down on the current one. If something doesn’t quite work, change it. As your business grows, so will you.
LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?
Tanya: I get overwhelmed a lot in my line of work! The natural ebb and flow of business can seriously affect my day. My regular Ashtanga yoga practice keeps me in check. I think it’s important to keep things in perspective, and see the bigger picture rather than get upset about the small stuff. When things get to be too much, I do my practice and it really recalibrates me. Apart from that, I think it’s a mistake to get too hung up on one area of your creativity or business. Personally, I am also a photographer and I regularly write about creative culture for Ohh Deer. When I have some down time with both my Etsy shop and my website, I focus on these two other things. Essentially, my writing, photography and my handmade business feed off each other.
LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date?
Tanya: I cleaned up my photographic act, so to speak. I went from a very decorated and propped up environment to shoot products in to a much more bare and stripped down, minimalistic look. My sales have soared since.
LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?
Tanya: I learned that my business has to be proactive rather than reactive, when I was hit with Valentine’s Days sales earlier this year and simply didn’t have enough materials, stock or packaging to deal with that. It resulted in me having to place a few urgent orders from my suppliers. So now I like to be prepared for a sudden seasonal influx or orders.
LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?
Tanya: I donate regularly to charities that deal with wild animals welfare. I hate to see what we are doing to this planet and other sentient beings, and I try to undo at least some of that damage: sign a petition, donate a few pounds to a valid cause. A portion of my proceeds goes to Defenders Of Wildlife, Greenpeace, WWF and SumOfUs.
LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox you can’t do without?
Tanya: The internet!!! My business is entirely powered up by it. I sell products, blog about them, communicate with customers and like-minded community through social media – all of it is done online. I think that’s the beauty of the 21st century business: the world is your village. Other than that, keeping tabs on what I spend and how much I make – good bookkeeping is key to understanding how your business is really doing. And finally, using my husband as a sounding board. If I get an idea for a new approach or product, I voice it to him. He’s an integral part of my business, as he designs Ravenscourt Apothecary labels for me and acts as a full board of advisers. You can see more of his work at the Harry Duns website.
LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If we blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?
Tanya: By now Ravenscourt Apothecary is a flourishing business. My vegan clay-based soaps are supplied to spas and skincare boutiques. It has a steady following and a loyal client base. I’m living comfortably off what I love doing and have money in the bank.
What is your spirit animal?
Tanya: Red panda! I have yet to see a more adorable and fun creature, they are just so full of playfulness.
What is a favorite quote and who said it?
Tanya: “I’d rather be me any day”. It’s from “First Love, Last Rites” by Ian McEwan. It gently nudges me to let go of comparing myself to other people. Another one I just read the other day. “You’re not lost, you’re taking the scenic route”. It was just something off the internet, but it spoke to me directly. Sometimes life gives you setbacks, or you feel like you’ve veered off course due to circumstances partially or completely beyond your control. It’s important to be able to not beat yourself up, refocus on the things you want to achieve, and simply get going again. Think of it all as part of your human experience that inevitably enriches your life.
If you were given a million dollars, but were not allowed to keep a single penny for yourself, friends or family, how would you spend it or give it away?
Tanya: I would build a red pandas sanctuary. 🙂
Connect with Tanya + Ravenscourt Apothecary all around the web:
Thank you, Tanya, for sharing your fabulous talent + awesome line with us. We look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for Ravenscourt Apothecary.
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