Cork entrepreneur Tracey Ryan has added an innovative twist to natural skincare products by producing a range that is made with only edible ingredients.
Mandarin, honey, comfrey, and avocado butter are just some of the ingredients that go into the Bia Beauty natural skincare range which is now sold in over 100 outlets around the country. Ms Ryan says the fact her products are theoretically edible gives her a unique selling point. She recently made her first sale in the UK and now has plans to explore the German market,
A graduate of CIT’s herbal science degree, Ms Ryan started by making natural moisturisers for her baby in 2010. “I’ve always had the idea that if you couldn’t eat the ingredient then you should not put them on your skin. Skin absorbs about 60% of what you put on it,” she explains.
In 2011, she was expected as part of the course to develop a natural product, write a business plan, and market it. Ms Ryan took her first product — a moisturiser made with herbal infusions, nut and seed oil, and fruit extracts — and began selling it at farmers’ markets
“After the project was finished, people called me looking for more and I decided that think there might be a business in it,” she says.
An internship at the Rubicon Centre followed, which led to an eight-week PINC programme for female entrepreneurs. By that time, she had eight products and a business plan.
A small loan from a credit union and some South Cork Enterprise Board funding helped Ms Ryan take it to the next stage. “I had the products tested and invested in graphic design, photography, and a website,” she says, adding that she spent time sourcing edible ingredients from the food industry.
With the help of €10,000 investment she secured from entrepreneur Niall Harbison in a competition, Bia Beauty was able to move into a manufacturing unit in Cork’s Marina Commercial Park in early 2012.
Launching a Rude Health Expo at the RDS that September, the company signed with a distributor and began building a customer base and collecting awards.
“Winning the Tatler Beauty award for our Detox Body Scrub in 2013 was a major boost — we were able to put it on our packaging,’’ says Ms Ryan, who also won a Vodafone start-up medal in 2013. At the end of 2014, Bia Beauty won the Cork Innovates bursary which provided €30,000 worth of business support.
Entering a skincare market dominated by major players with huge advertising budgets was a challenge. But Ms Ryan says she has made good use of social media, which helps to “level the playing field”. Bia Beauty now has more than 10,300 likes on Facebook.
In 2012, Ms Ryan’s husband Gavin joined the company full time. Previously a graphic designer, he has now taken charge of production. Bia Beauty also has two part-time employees and recently took on a third full-time employee.
The majority of clients are pharmacies and lifestyle stores but the company also sells to health food shops. Current customers include Avoca, Meadows & Byrne, and Lloyd’s pharmacies. The company recently signed with a second distributor and sent its first UK order to a store in Manchester.
Ms Ryan plans to get clinical trials carried out on her products in order to be able to prove their efficacy. She says best-selling products now include Skin Superfood, Mellow Mandarin Moisturiser, and a body scrub. “In April we will launch a new product and, in the long-term, we are making plans for a men’s range.”
And later this month, with the help of Enterprise Ireland, Ms Ryan will be visiting a trade show in Nuremberg to investigate the potential for selling to Germany, which there is a strong demand for natural skincare products.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved