As part of our series My life in crafts we’re interviewing friends of The Crafty Kit Company to learn more about their lives, and discover how they started their creative businesses. This week we’re speaking to Dr Sally Gouldstone, founder of East Lothian-based company Seilich Botanicals, who create sustainable natural skincare products using wildlife friendly botanicals, grown in their own wildflower meadow in Scotland.
Each year Seilich uses their profits to expand their meadow, aiming to create a wildlife friendly company that gives back, rather than takes from nature, and are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to create a new, enormous meadow in the heart of the Lothians - read on to learn more!
Have you always lived in Scotland, and what brought you to East Lothian?
I grew up in Lancashire in an old farmhouse in quite a remote location: we had no neighbours nearby, and couldn’t see any artificial lights at night. I went to university in Edinburgh to study ecology, and at first I was so excited to live in such a bustling city! After university, my work led me to spend a lot of time travelling, in Bolivia, Belize, and Madagascar. I found myself feeling the need to settle down somewhere more peaceful, and moved to Pencaitland, which is so beautiful!
How and why did you begin making your own skincare products?
When I was studying and working I became completely fascinated by plants, particularly in Madagascar, where there are so many undiscovered species. When I returned to Edinburgh I wanted to switch my focus to Scottish native plants, and so decided to study for an MA in plant taxonomy at the Royal Botanic Gardens. I then continued my studies with a PhD, after which I continued to work at the Gardens until I had my daughter.
While I was on maternity leave I began growing plants and experimenting with creating all-natural skincare products. As a scientist, you’re constantly taking extracts as part of the research process, and I discovered that natural skincare shares many of the processes and techniques that I was already using in the lab, so decided to learn more by taking a course in it!
What inspired you to found Seilich Botanicals?
After returning to work, and commuting into Edinburgh again, I realised that I wanted to spend more time with my daughter, which starting my own company would allow me to do. I’m also passionate about conserving nature, and wanted to make a positive impact on the local environment here in East Lothian. I knew that planting a wildflower meadow would be one of the most effective ways of doing so, as a meadow is a highly effective carbon sink very quickly. While a tree will take 20 to 30 years after planting to integrate into its environment, within 12 months one square metre of meadow will support so many beasties, and will completely transform a dead patch of land!
I wanted to prove that businesses can be a force for good: instead of setting up as a social enterprise, or waiting for funding or grants to begin making a difference, I realised I could get started straight away by creating and selling natural skincare products, room mists, and herbal teas, which could support the development and growth of the meadow. Alongside selling products, we also regularly hold workshops at our still where you can learn to make your own botanical extracts and skincare.
How did you choose the name Seilich Botanicals?
Seilich is the Gallic name for willow - and is also my daughter’s name! It seemed the perfect fit to represent our ethos, and our aim to share our love for the natural world and encourage others to engage with nature, too.
What inspires your products?
Our products are very much inspired by the plants that we grow, and change through the seasons: 80% of our ingredients are grown in our meadow, and we try to source everything else from other independent businesses here in the UK. We harvest in a sustainable way, only taking plants that grow plentifully, and then create products that work best with their properties. One of my favourite ingredients, for example, is wild carrot, which is one of the last plants that we harvest at the end of summer, when nature is beginning to wind down for the autumn. It has the most beautiful scent, and creates a wonderful essential oil that we use in our skincare.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love being outside in nature, walking in the Lammermuir Hills, which are such an undiscovered gem! This summer I’m really looking forward to walking the Herring Trail from Dunbar to Lauder - it’s 30 miles long, but unbelievably, women used to walk it every day, carrying herring in baskets on their backs to sell at the market.
What advice would you give to anyone who’d also like to try to make a positive impact on the natural world?
I’m very much inspired by the idea of the sphere of influence, and thinking about what we can all do in our own environment. I firmly believe that together we can all make a difference by taking small, positive steps: if you have a window box, for example, you could plant a miniature wildflower meadow in it! And if you have a garden, I’d encourage you to ‘think like a bee’, rather than a gardener, choosing plants that will support bees and other beasties, even if they might not at first look as attractive as other flowers.
Can you tell us a little more about your crowdfunding campaign?
Having seen the impact our wildflower meadow has had on local wildlife, this year we’re expanding our meadow into an adjacent field, creating an enormous 8 acre wildflower meadow! A meadow of this size would provide habitat for around 20 million wildflowers, support thousands of pollinating insects, and sink around 641 KG’s of carbon every single year. However, as you might guess, creating wildflower meadows is an expensive task (the seed alone will cost around £8000), but given the success of the original meadow we feel that it’s an investment worth making. We know that the meadow will thrive in the local conditions, and that local wildlife is raring to move in! In addition, our business model ensures that management of the meadow going forwards will be taken care of, with profits from product sales being used to look after the site and its inhabitants.
So, in order to create a meadow of this size, we need to raise some funds! We’re currently running a fundraising campaign where you can exchange a donation for all sorts of wonderful treats, from limited edition wildlife prints to skincare products, wildflower seed to meadow experiences (e.g. yoga workshops), not to mention the fuzzy feeling you’ll get from knowing you’re giving nature a helping hand.
To find out more and to make a donation, click here.
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