Written by Livvi Alderson-Tuck
Ever caught yourself rummaging through your endless heap of skincare products, half used, half loved and full of ingredients you haven’t half a clue about? Join the club. It’s not unusual that every time we open our bathroom cupboard, we are affronted with a cacophony of chemicals of which we have no idea the effect they have on our skin, good or bad.
Zaffrin O’Sullivan, a lawyer working in television, had the same realisation. She was frustrated with the fact you couldn’t find clean, simple skincare that wasn’t full of chemicals which served no other purpose apart from ‘making the product smell expensive’ or having a certain consistency.
So she did something about it. She created Five Dot Botanics, a plant based, streamlined skincare brand, where all the products are made up of five ingredients alone. No additives, no unnecessary fuss, no secrets, just effective, gentle skincare.
We sat down with Zaffrin to hear more about the journey of Five Dot Botanics, from a blog about honey to taking investor calls whilst in labour...yep, she’s a superwoman.
At what point did you know you were going to stop what you were going to start your own business?
I had been working in TV as a lawyer for 20 years, but I was never the kind of person who believed you had one job for your life, I’ve always been an advocate of doing multiple things. During my second maternity leave, I had an itch that I wanted to start a business. But for that you need money, which at that point, we were pouring into being parents for the second time. So I initially started a blog about beekeeping, something I am passionate about, as a blog can be done with basically no funding but teaches you so much, it’s like a little MBA. I learned how to tell a story, how to identify an audience, all the technicalities about domain names, everything.
I started then using my own honey to make all these natural products, from beeswax wraps to lip balms; I had visions of becoming the next Burts’ Bees! I could see a gap in the market as well as a global trend, and that was natural skincare. I’m a big nature lover so it was something I was genuinely passionate about, but I also knew it was tapping into what people wanted; a trustworthy, transparent skincare brand.
What were the first steps you took to transform the idea into the business we know today?
Well this was a two pronged attack really. First, we needed the science to work. It’s all well and good having this concept of minimal skincare, but it needs to be founded on science. I was recommended a fantastic cosmetic scientist, who still works with us today. I told him our idea for initially eight products, which he refused, saying he would work with us on one. He is so high in demand he could dictate that, but he said he agreed based on the fact we are the only company to have ever approached him wanting to add less into our products, rather than whatever hero ingredients are on trend.
We then brought a designer on board, again, someone still with us today, to help translate our message and story into a strong aesthetic. So I guess our first steps were to find experts in their field and let them do what they do best.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced along your journey?
I would say we haven’t had any massive challenges but instead lots of little ones, particularly in the last year. Brexit has obviously posed its problems, we had to stop EU shipping overnight. And COVID has had an impact as our ingredients come from crops all over the world. Our factory won’t start production on a batch unless all ingredients are present, so with the virus delaying delivery times, that’s been a challenge. However, I think my experience as a lawyer, being a problem-solver, has helped me navigate these.
What has been your personal highlight from your journey so far?
Brian [co-founder of Five Dot Botanics] and I are not the best at celebrating our highlights, but there have been plenty. One instance was when we got the call from our investors saying they wanted in. I had had to re-pitch while heavily pregnant, we’re talking days past my due date. I was actually in the hospital being induced when we got the call to say they wanted to back us; I never told the investors where I was or what I was doing at that moment as I didn’t want there to be any reason to stop their confirmation. It was a huge highlight for the company, but straight after we were caring for a newborn so never really had a chance to acknowledge it. But I do remember having my boobs out with a newborn in my first board meeting surrounded by middle aged men; crazy but definitely a highlight!
Hibana is all about inspiration - beyond your business and category, where do you find inspiration?
I am a prolific consumer of everything, particularly art and books, so I find a lot of inspiration there. I am also an avid beekeeper, and find the practical process of tending to the bees, the quiet, the moving of your body, the concentration, almost meditative. Bees are extraordinary, they have been around for 25 million years so when I’m around them, it forces you to slow down and be grateful for the fact we are even alive.
And lastly - what have you enjoyed purchasing recently?
I love buying second hand as well as supporting artisan craft makers. I enjoy treating myself every couple of years to a special piece of art. I love Katherine Jones’ work, she’s an incredible print-maker who I love to purchase from.