Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Photo Tents for Christmas

One massive issue for us as a start up has been photography.  Editors, Websites, Internet shops etc., all require high quality images.  There are two sorts, editorials and hero shots.  The hero shots almost always have to be on white backgrounds, of high resolution and crisp.

I say here and now - "I FAIL!"

Despite Carla's great photography my limited technical ability and impatience editing has turned fantastic photographs into a great big blob of blurry mess.   Despite great tools on the web such as PicMonkey for collages and Fotofuze for better definition or even the ever popular photobucket which allows me to write text and special effects - I've have usually come up no better in my photography than this:

Now this little shot may look adequate when only a small image but increase the size and you can rapidly see that the image is of poor quality, poor definition and the fact that I shake like a pneumatic drill hasn't helped the blurring of the bristles.  I've used photofuze to brighten the image but it lacks so much that is necessary for a good internet image.

Answer to these problems?  Well, there are many.  First and foremost - we need good lighting.  In Northern Ireland that in itself proves to be a major difficulty.  Not helped by the fact that we live in an old and typically dark fisherman's cottage.  Still on the right day, with a clear sky and some sun you can get good quality photos.  Secondly, A good camera is essential and we tend to be struggling with a little digital camera bought for Tobin's birth a couple of years ago.  The 3rd problem however was that of a clean white background.

So, without further ado - let me introduce you to one of Carla's Christmas presents.

The tent, with a clean white background and some tripod lights gives a much brighter feel to a drib and dab day as seen outside the window.  The photo of the "S" is as it is photographed in the tent without any touch-up.  (you can see the corner of the tent getting in the way a little on the right hand side.

Now, I am learning how to use photoshop and Gimp etc for photo editing and cropping but to demonstrate the difference the tent in itself makes to a photo I wanted to show you these - editing done in the same way as the apple - a little fotofuze.

How much better do they look.  They are crisp, clear and gorgeous!  How much better will a little photo editing help?

Monday, 6 January 2014

New year - New lines....

Much of last year contained product testing, costings and EU listings due to new cosmetics changes.  We had just tested and launched a range of products that went with the fruit soaps when we were forced to re-vamp our entire product range and focus on an entirely new product line.

To be honest I am not even sure we have had a chance to formally introduce them.  I must do that later next month.

In the interim period though we managed to experiment with a few new styles of soap-making and play around a bit with natural colours.  None of which excited Carla as much as this castile soap with alkanet and spirulina.  The colours where bright and in your face initially but just look at how it ended up.

Nothing short of stunning.

Now, for the skin conscious among you - what is in this bar and what can it be used for?

So for 5 months of last year we experimented and produced our main lines.  But the above little experiment opened our eyes to the wonderful potential of castile soap (soap made with just olive oil as opposed to a blend of oils).  We could make castile soaps for each of the lines, reduce our overheads, our costs and remain fairly traded.  It would help with postage and produce a hard bar (which when you blend the oils can make a moisturising bar - but one which is quite soft and doesn't last too long).

So, knowing that Castile soaps need to cure longer - we are already starting our batches for Christmas 2014 and in the interim are keeping our blended soaps which cure in a 6-8 week period - the debate for the minute is whether or not to use organic palm oil to keep the bars hard.

Its an ethical decision.  We had wanted to remain palm oil free but frankly, the soap suffers.  It can be a fabulous skin product without palm oil or lard - but without it the soaps don't last too long and go mushy far too quickly.

In the interim, we are opting for a sustainable and organic palm oil provided via Aromantic and Akoma both of which are business' we both trust and respect.  That said, despite our love of both companies the oil they sell is certified by the RSPO (Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil) which is not highly regarded by any environmental organisation that I'm aware of - you can find out more of the probems with it on this link  Whilst using these oils as a stop-gap we still anticipate being Palm free by the end of 2014.  One can but do our bit to save the wonderful Orangutan

Palm oil is in so many food and cosmetics products. Palm oil and its derivatives are used in a ubiquitous array of packaged foods, including ice cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate products, cereals, breakfast bars, cake mixes, doughnuts, potato chips, instant noodles, frozen sweets and meals, baby formula, margarine, and dry and canned soups. It can be labelled as anything from palm kernal oil to vegetable oil and is cheap and easily sourced. The difficulty is that rainforest are being devastated in order to make Palm Tree Farms and species, environment and people all suffer as a result. The Orangutan has become the face of this campaign through organisations such as Rainforest Action Network.  And, as we launched our products in 2013 we decided to not only go Palm Oil free but to ensure we used some of our income to protect rain forest from being exploited for more Palm Oil Farms and crucially, to protect the rights of the indigenous people who live in the rain forest - hence our support for both Cool Earth and Survival.  As Carla is native to Brazil who's ancestors were native to Brazil both the rain-forest and rights of the people are something we personally want to get involved with.

At best we can be palm free and use our profits to make a difference. At worst, if we really need to use palm oil then we can source it sustainably, ethically and organically/wild-crafted.

As a cosmetics business however - we think Palm oil is a wonderful product. Great for making a hard bar of soap which lasts. It just grates at our conscience however to claim to be an ethical company when we are aware of so much devastation and difficulty around this one ingredient.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Craft Fairs, Stalls and Displays.

In the run up to Christmas we had been spending a little bit of time and money to enhance our presence at craft fairs and stalls.  I wish I could say that the investment paid off.  I confess, my belief in doing charity craft fairs has now ended.  The next person that can convince me to do a charity/community craft fair deserves high praise indeed.

That said 2014 will see us committing to St Georges Market in Belfast for a short period to see if we can increase our presence in Belfast as well as make more money from sales rather than solely from the internet.

So here is a little of what we have been up to...

It started with the crates.  We needed something that provided multiple layers to ensure we could get a wide variety of our lines out on display without it looking cluttered and difficult to differentiate.  We needed something that would be easy to pack and display, was visually eye-catching and offered us a way to keep changing the format so people wouldn't keep seeing the same old week in week out.  Something that didn't offer a blank canvas that the products would fade into but would instead enhance the appearance of the products.  We think we found the answer.  The white crates work perfectly to bring out the colour of the products whilst the blue ties in remarkably well with our brand colour.  The odd bit of blue in the display really draws the eye and the best bit is that we can carry much of our stock in the crates to and from the market.

Much better than a flat table and tablecloth!

Carla had a few ideas of how to develop the stands for craft fairs.  Some of which haven't materialised yet but one which has are the letters for ScENT.  Carla has been working with Little Roots to come up with some letters for the stall.  Here is a quick look at what they have been working on together...

Personally, I can't wait to see the rest of the letters.