Clara Challoner Walker is founder of cosycottagesoap.co.uk. The company makes natural bathing, skincare and cleaning products. Free from plastic, palm oil and additives such as SLS & Parabens, Cosy Cottage Soap makes products that are kind to the skin, kind to the planet and kind to the community.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
Until five years ago, I worked for a large, international technology company. I was lucky to have experienced lots of travel, responsibility and some great, interesting projects which I loved. But discovering I had breast cancer was the trigger for a big re-evaluation of my priorities. I decided that when I was well, I would create a business of my own, offering an alternative to commercial personal care products: not ‘traditional’ products re-badged as ‘green’ but something that was genuinely different, better for the environment and better for our health.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
My degree, many years ago, was in Chemistry and Cell Biology and since then, I have always maintained a fascination with cosmetics and how their chemistry impacts our bodies and the environment. The idea for Cosy Cottage was born from this long-term passion and the trigger to make it happen was my recovery from breast cancer as I learned more about the potentially harmful ingredients found in cosmetic products.
How did you achieve awareness?
I have heard people say that ‘women work while men network’ and I set out to prove that wrong. I developed my ‘elevator pitch’ and shared it verbally, in writing, by any means and wherever I could. I accepted all invitations and I spread the word. In parallel, social media was a valuable tool and I taught myself how to use it to communicate as widely as possible.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Through talking about my passion to anyone who would listen, I managed to make connections, secure start-up premises and support from York University and consulting from Biovale, a local NGO. Through Biovale, I secured further introductions to other local growth funding sources in Yorkshire. As my network and reputation grew, the helpful connections grew too.
What are the key successes?
Making a positive contribution to my customers’ health and to the environment is first and foremost. Alongside this though, being able to offer enjoyable, flexible employment opportunities, contribute to the local community and support selected charities are important elements. It’s that whole package which I consider to be the greatest successes of the business.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
The ‘eco’ marketplace is a very competitive place. I’ve had to learn quickly about evaluating competitors and finding ways to stand out from the crowd. I’ve overcome the challenges by continuously refreshing our products and updating our offering, to keep customers interested and serve them in the way which meets their needs.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We acquired our first ‘bricks and mortar’ shop in Malton, North Yorkshire, in September 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, to run alongside our online store. Despite the difficulties we were surrounded by in 2020, I believed that experiential shopping locations in town centres, rather than large out of town malls, offered an exciting future for post pandemic retail. I plan to open more stores, the majority in Yorkshire, over the next few years. To keep our offering fresh, we have generated some great ideas within our team for new products, ranges and strategies too.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
So many people and so many women, in particular, underestimate their capabilities. As a result, they’re too scared to follow their passion, take risks and believe in themselves. If you have a vision, every conversation you have is a chance to test out and build support for the vision. Everyone you manage to convert to your vision is one of your customers for the future. If you can’t get your vision to resonate with people, it will need refinement but first and foremost, have confidence in yourself and your capabilities. With passion and commitment, we can all do so much more than we think.
Can you share top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Listen to your customers and put their needs first and foremost. Having listened, you might need to jettison some pet projects or change something to respond to your customers’ priorities. You can do that without moving away from your core vision or losing your passion; it’s about constant refreshing and adapting to respond to your customers.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
- A visionary who is consistently challenging our perceptions. She exemplifies the strength of young people and shows us how much they can teach the rest of us (older) people.
Queen Elizabth II
- Throughout her lifetime, she’s been the epitome of selflessness, dignity and supreme commitment to her duty.
- A heroine of the French resistance and thought leader in both music and dance. As if that wasn’t enough, she was a carer for disadvantaged children and an icon for women of colour.
- Her contribution to the world of chemistry is legendary and the impact of her work on the lives of cancer patients and their loved ones, is nothing short of miraculous.
- He was the archetypal blend of resolute commitment to purpose blended with humility and gentleness.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
‘The future depends on what we do in the present’ – Mahatma Ghandi
‘Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood’ – Marie Curie
Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links
LinkedIn: Clara Challoner Walker