Brexit beauty: The homegrown heroes behind the UK’s booming grooming industry

Whatever happens come 2019, we won’t have to worry about looking and feeling fabulous. YOU’s Beauty Director Edwina Ings-Chambers salutes the homegrown heroes behind the UK’s booming grooming industry.

If you should happen to find yourself driving through the Woodstock vicinity of the Oxfordshire countryside you might want to stop off at the Ila headquarters, housed in five barns on an idyllic farm. For it’s here that the cult organic beauty brand – specialising in body, bath and spa products (the bath salts for inner peace need to be tried to be believed) – bases everything from dispatch to training. It is also the site of all its manufacturing, which takes place in its own dedicated barn.

Admittedly, its approach to manufacturing is unorthodox. The all-women team listens to Indian chanting music (a CD recorded by Ila founder Denise Leicester herself) while working. ‘The girls love it,’ laughs Denise. The premises have also been feng shui-ed and laid out according to sacred geometry. ‘Manufacturing is such an important part of our brand,’ says Denise. ‘When Ila first started that was going to be one of the things that differentiated us. I didn’t want to have someone else making our products.’

British beauty brandsIla is one of a growing number of British beauty brands choosing to manufacture their products right here in the UK – and emphasising the fact that they’re doing so. After years of focus on South Korean beauty innovation, and despite Italy being the centre of colour cosmetics and the expertise of French skincare lying just across the Channel, this home-front movement is like a form of Brexit beauty, a refocusing on the skills available on our own shores. And it isn’t just about one (wo)man bands making artisanal soap in their kitchens either. Ila, for instance, is sold in 40 countries and has a turnover of just over £2 million. Organic beauty brand Neal’s Yard invested £5 million in the expansion of its eco factory in Dorset and has a turnover of £38 million. ‘The idea that our products are “homegrown” is very important to us, and by keeping production in-house it enables us to have complete control and transparency over the production process,’ says operations manager Vickie Best. Other big hitters are making it here too: Penhaligon’s, Jo Malone London and Elemis.

Still, just how many brands are producing here and the exact value they provide for the British economy is something that neither gets much focus nor appears to be surveyed in detail. Current figures suggest that the British beauty industry is worth £17 billion and employs more than one million people, but how much of that is manufacturing isn’t clear – which seems a shame given that the South Korean government recognised beauty’s earning potential and supports it as an industry; as a result the region has become a leader in the global beauty market. No such support has come from the British government – though it has long since woken up to the power of fashion – and the Brit beauty business gets no glamorous industry photo ops at Number 10. Make-up artist Millie Kendal, together with Anna-Marie Solowij, her co-founder at beauty retailer BeautyMart, is hoping to change this and has launched the British Beauty Council. Its aim is to help raise awareness of the beauty industry in all areas including trade and industry, product registration and production, its contribution to the economy and even school-leavers being shown career opportunities in beauty. They’ve also commissioned Oxford Economics to produce a ‘state of the industry’ report.

What we do know, however, is that, according to Mintel, 24 per cent of UK consumers say they prefer buying British beauty and personal care products, and much of what we’re producing leads the way in the natural, organic and spa-based product arena with a focus on skincare. For those brands that do decide to create as well as make their products here, as with Neal’s Yard, control has a lot to do with the decision.

‘I’m a control freak,’ admits Sue Harmsworth, who founded natural spa brand Espa (now owned by the Hut Group). ‘When we started we used contract or third-party chemists and manufacturers but when we took outside investment in 2008 we decided to build our own factory because we wanted more control over quality. Now Elemis does all of its manufacturing in Somerset [at its own plant] and has its own chemists, biochemists and product development team. It’s from here that we export to 60 countries.’

It’s also easy to make your production line work here, says Charlotte Semler of Votary, where both she and co-founder Arabella Preston have fashion backgrounds. ‘What’s interesting is that with fashion, even if you’re trying to make in the UK, you have to supply the fabric, trimming, zips, everything yourself; all the manufacturer provides is the thread. Because there is no UK supply chain for fashion – it disappeared 50 years ago. But the British beauty supply chain is complete at every stage – from oils to bottles to people who will print labels. It’s wonderful!’

British beauty brandsIt isn’t just about practicalities; patriotism also plays its part. ‘Being British is really key for us so we always wanted to manufacture here and it’s a huge part of our USP,’ says Rebecca Hopkins, co-founder of natural beauty brand Balance Me. ‘It isn’t because the quality is necessarily better here, but we feel we can get the best of what we need here and certainly don’t feel we’re lacking anything.’ Out in the global marketplace, agrees Denise Leicester, the Made in Britain brand ‘means a lot; it carries integrity and trustworthiness and we have a reputation for bringing very good things’.

For Marks & Spencer, it’s about finding the right place to make the right product ‘where the relevant experts are; we’re dedicated to making the best possible products in each category,’ says Karen Day, merchandising lead at M&S Beauty. ‘A large proportion – about 50 per cent – of our skincare, bath and body and fragrance is made in the UK,’ she explains, much of it at its Plan A eco factory.

‘I want the best, that’s always what I’m aiming for, so I manufacture a lot of products in the UK, but not everything,’ says the pragmatic Jo Malone, MBE and founder of Jo Loves. ‘So fragrance, for instance, is created elsewhere but I do work with some of the fragrance houses here and I love them.

‘British companies are always willing and want to try to fulfil whatever is in my head. Remember, manufacturers don’t just produce things, they also ensure that they are compliant for every territory that you’re going to, and our manufacturing plants are amazing for that,’ she says. ‘I think the quality of what we do here and the passion we put into it really shows.’

Made in Britain: the inside story

‘Some of our brands don’t like us to discuss that we make things for them, but I’d say we fall into two camps and we have to keep those two sides of the business balanced,’ says Kirstie Wykes, head of sales at Hampshire Cosmetics. ‘We have a lot of well-established brands that go across all sorts of beauty areas – haircare, skincare and men’s skincare. Some of the brands have been bought by big global players but we’re lucky that they still want that made-in-Britain feel so we’ve been able to keep the manufacturing.’

The other camp is start-ups. ‘We take a punt on a new brand and decide which ones we think will be successful. It’s a lot of work to develop and make a range, so we must back the right ones,’ says Kirstie.

But the job is more than that, she adds. The company constantly looks at new ingredients ‘and we think about cutting-edge technology that we can offer our customers’ to keep ranges updated and trendsetting. They must also keep on top of any legislation on ingredients so that they can reformulate where necessary. ‘For example,’ Kirstie says, ‘we haven’t used microbeads [in any of the brands we manufacture] for years as we knew this issue was coming.’

The British beauty brands leading the way in the UK

Bamford

The story Owned by the Bamford family (of JCB fame), the organic spa-based product line was extended last year to include skincare. It uses a contract manufacturer that it was introduced to by the Soil Association, which certifies factories as organic.
Why smitten with Made in Britain? With the family’s JCB heritage, made in Britain is always of importance to them, but they are also very aware of their green footprint and making and selling locally.
Loved by They simply couldn’t break confidences, but think of that glittering Cotswolds crew and you get the idea.
Bestseller Restore Elixir, £75, bamford.com

Jo Malone London

The story Founded in 1994 by Jo Malone and her husband Gary, the label is now owned by Estée Lauder Companies and has become a global luxury brand.
Why smitten with Made in Britain? The UK is in the brand’s DNA: ‘To ensure the best quality most of our products are made in England,’ says Celine Roux, vice president of global product development. The candles are fully British, ‘made entirely by hand in the English countryside using a traditional approach where as many as 16 people will play a role in each creation, using both age-old skills and the latest techniques.’
Loved by Absolutely anyone who has a bathroom.
Bestseller Lime Basil & Mandarin cologne is still a classic, but try the new Honeysuckle & Davana collection inspired by the English countryside. From £47 for 30ml, jomalone.co.uk

Frances Prescott Skin

The story Facialist and make-up artist Frances’s clients would bring her their multi-product skincare routine to ask her advice and usually she’d say they only needed about two of them. Which got her thinking about making her own multitasking products that you could take anywhere and which require only a splash of water.
Why smitten with Made in Britain? ‘I think there’s a lot of talent here but we can be bad about singing our own praises,’ says Frances. Plus she was impressed that the small manufacturing firm she uses employs ‘nearly everybody in the local district, and I love that community spirit’.
Loved by Women and men for its practicality – plus make-up artist and social media celebrity Lisa Eldridge is a fan.
Bestseller There’s currently only one product: the Tri-Balm. It cleanses, exfoliates and moisturises all in one. £46, cultbeauty.co.uk

JOGB Living

The story Founded by a former beauty director, Jo Glanville-Blackburn, these 100 per cent plant-extract artisanal candles centre on mood creation: MoJo, GoJo and SloJo.
Why smitten with Made in Britain? ‘For anything to have my initials GB written on it, it had to start in the UK, right?’ says Jo. ‘It isn’t easier or cheaper, but when it comes to creating something unique and exclusive it’s all about communication and trust. We work face to face with our suppliers and we know they care about the quality of every aspect as much as we do.’
Loved by All the beauty editors and anyone who has a nose.
Bestseller SloJo Relaxing Candle, £65, jogbliving.com

Lixirskin

The story The brainchild of dermo-pharmacy doctor Colette Haydon, who has formulated many a top product for other brands. Now she’s going it alone with a concise range of products that work together for the best results for all ages and skin types.
Why smitten with Made in Britain? ‘Throughout my career I have worked to support British industry as it has supported me, and I continue to see the innovation and care it puts into the manufacturing of skincare formulas,’ says Colette.
Loved by The entire beauty press and influencers – they’re swarming over it.
Bestseller Universal Emulsion, which acts as a day moisturiser, night cream and serum base. £29 for 50ml, lixirskin.co.uk

Roques O’Neil

The story Founded by Michelle Roques-O’Neil, this natural beauty brand harnesses all her experience as a treatment therapist to create a line of products inspired by the brand’s message: stress less, live more. It uses ingredients such as crystal tinctures…and Michelle performs reiki on the essential oils.
Why smitten with Made In Britain? ‘I’m really proud of it being a British company,’ she says. ‘And I think we’re very innovative here.’
Loved by Yasmin Le Bon and Kate Moss.
Bestseller Himalayan Detox Salts, £40 for 400g, roquesoneil.com

Ormonde Jayne

The story Founded in 1998 by Jayne Pilkington with a focus on room spray and candles, the company now has a cult following for its fine fragrances and a line of efficacious as well as wondrous-smelling body creams. The focus is on handcrafted products but the body lotions and soap are outsourced to contract manufacturers.
Why smitten with Made In Britain? ‘The standard of workmanship here is very high and I completely trust them,’ says Jayne.
Loved by Emma Thompson, Goldie Hawn, Bryan Ferry – who else do you need?
Bestseller For women: Ta’if fragrances, £90 for 30ml. For men: Montabaco Intensivo, £195 for 50ml; selfridges.com

Alexandra Soverel

The story Top facialist Alexandra launched her natural vitamin-and-fatty-acid-packed skincare line in 2005.
Why smitten with Made In Britain? It’s largely necessity as the products are all hand-blended in its own lab in London’s Queens Park, and even for large retailers such as Net-a Porter orders will be given with a two-week lead time to ensure products are all freshly blended. Loved by Aristocratic circles and movers and shakers, but Alexandra will never name names.
Bestseller Angel Balm Deep Pore Cleanser/Regenerative Mask, £19 for 15ml, alexandrasoveral.co.uk