Meet the Maker – Abi Jackson from The Sage Apothecary
When Abi Jackson was searching for a natural skincare brand that met her high standards, she found most fell short of the mark, so she decided to take things into her own hands. Fast forward and she is now a trained clinical herbalist with diplomas under her belt and her own skincare brand, The Sage Apothecary, making everything from scratch using the practices and principles of herbal medicine. Each product is jam-packed full of hand-crafted goodness. Here, Abi talks to fellow Folksy maker Louise Crookenden-Johnson about the evolution of her creative business and the power of plants…
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Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do? How did you get here doing this?
Hello! I’m Abi from The Sage Apothecary and I originally started making natural skincare in New Zealand, believe it or not.
Originally, the products were born out of frustration – which sounds a little odd but it’s true. Health, nutrition and wellness have always been topics close to my heart and I desperately wanted to find a natural skincare brand I could trust. I soon found out though that most other products fell short of the mark (I have high standards!), so I decided to take things into my own hands. Initially I did a night class in natural skincare which was run by an experienced herbalist and BANG I was blown away, not just by the fact that I had created something that was 100% natural, but by just how flipping effective they were.
So, since day one it’s always been really important that my skincare formulations are based on the practices and principals of herbal medicine and, somewhere along the journey, I completed two diplomas, one in natural skincare and another in Herbal Studies, then in 2015 The Sage Apothecary came to life.
Fast forward a few years and I am now back in the UK, having brought my formulations with me, making natural, nutrient-dense skincare which I sell online, as well as delivering holistic and botanical facials to the lovely folks of Devon and Cornwall.
I love your brand name and the label designs – a perfect fit for your plant-inspired products. How did that come about?
Thank you! Well, interestingly enough, the word ‘apothecary’ is an old term, stemming from the ancient Greek word ‘apotheke‘, meaning barn or storehouse. However, it later morphed and apothecary became more commonplace in the English language as a derivative of the old French ‘apotecaire‘, meaning someone who ‘stores, compounds, and sells medicaments’. As such the word ‘apothecary’ is synonymous with herbal medicine – the fundamental on which all my products are based.
It’s easy and inexpensive to make a basic natural skincare moisturiser but it’s not until you add all the different layers of the herbs, in different types of extraction that the magic happens. This is because it’s the phytochemicals in the herbs that have all the activity. I have a saying: “If it hasn’t got flowers, it hasn’t got powers.” Truly, that’s where the real difference lies.
And I guess that’s where ‘Sage’ comes in –not only is it a herb but it’s all about harnessing the power of Mother Nature’s wisdom. She. Knows. Things.
I have a workshop and a treatment room which now houses its own herbal dispensary. It has all manner of herbs, roots, flowers, spices, clays, oils and waxesAbi Jackson, The Sage Apothecary
Do you have a special workspace that you call ‘The Apothecary’?
Ha! Yes! I have a workshop and a treatment room which now houses its own herbal dispensary. It has all manner of herbs, roots, flowers, spices, clays, oils and waxes – honestly, I am constantly running out of space. How many herbs does a herbalist need? Well, that’s one more than they already have…
Joking aside – that’s important. I find the only way to get to know the herbs is to play with and experience them – how do they taste, is it warming, tightening, moistening? All of these first-hand experiences allow you to understand how a herb is going to benefit the skin and the body.
What is your process for deciding which ideas for products to take forward?
Hmmmm, that’s kind of multifactorial! On the one hand, through my training in herbalism and nutrition, I have an in-depth understanding of the integumentary system – plus I am constantly working on people’s skin through the holistic facials. Through this I get a broad idea of what people’s needs are by both talking to them and observing how their skin responds.
Other times ideas will come from my own experience and experimenting on yours truly. In fact, experimentation is a huge part of it – because different herbs extract different phytochemicals into different mediums – so it could form a tincture, a glycerite, an infused oil or a hydrosol. An infused oil takes me five hours to make and a tincture six weeks. Then it’s about layering them all in together to get the right balance in the end product. It’s time consuming but the end result is worth it.
I am also very lucky in that I have an eclectic bunch of human guinea pigs who have been with me from day one and they test all my products for me. I ask for brutal and honest feedback in return – it is essential to me that my products get the results that people are expecting. So if I come up with a new idea, it’s going to get put through its paces.
I find the only way to get to know the herbs is to play with and experience them – how do they taste, is it warming, tightening, moistening? All of these first-hand experiences allow you to understand how a herb is going to benefit the skin and the body.Abi Jackson, The Sage Apothecary
What is your favourite part of having a small creative business and why?
Honestly, I think it’s that no day is typical – which is why I love what I do. For example, this morning I’ve had a meeting to discuss a Christmas collaboration with an artisan product maker here in Cornwall, later I will be planning out my priorities for the next quarter and then I’m working on a relaunch of my website.
Being a small business owner, it means I wear many hats during the day (clearly a lot of admin ones today!) but it’s no surprise that I’m most happy when I’m working on new formulations, doing herbal consultations, holistic facials or simply just enjoying the smell of herbs infusing and wafting around my dispensary and clinic.
Customer reviews are such a boost aren’t they? Could you share one that made your day recently?
Completely! This is where the rubber hits the road for me. If my clients are happy, I’m genuinely ecstatic (despite that sounding terribly cliché and obvious – but it’s true I tell thee).
I recently had one customer who put in a sizeable order and asked for it to be delivered to a hotel, which initially sounded strange to me. However, it turned out that she had been living overseas due to work and had returned to visit family. She placed an order while she was in quarantine, hence the address, with the sole intention of taking a load back overseas with her. She told me that she struggled to find anything that matched up to the TSA skincare in Holland and that she wanted to take the opportunity to stock up while she was here. Obviously, I was over the moon with the lengths she had gone to.
It’s stories like these that build my confidence and remind me that sometimes when it’s tough (like the last year and a half), you must keep on going!
If you look at each product’s ingredients you won’t find one toxic or unpronounceable chemical but you’ll find the names of flowers, herbs, barks and fruits because nature has everything you need, if you know where to lookAbi Jackson, The Sage Apothecary
If you have a product that you really like but doesn’t sell well, do you stick with it or let it go!?
In the early days I would have perhaps clung on to it, but these days I am happier to let it slide (if I feel I’ve definitely marketed it and explained it properly), as I know my appetite to invent new formulations doesn’t seem to wane!
That said, the range here in the UK is a stripped back version of the New Zealand one, as I have had more time to hone and learn what people are after. It’s been an incredible journey to date.
Which other makers and creatives do you admire? Whose work do you hanker after?
I am a bit of a sucker for pottery so locally to me I really love Shore Fired Pottery and I’m hankering after a set of Becci’s amazing mugs to accompany my herbal tea… it will happen at some point, I’m certain. I also admire the work of Hannah Wheeler – she’s a portrait artist here in Bude and recently did a video call series with musicians during lockdown. The results are stunning.
Since day one it’s always been really important that my skincare formulations are based on the practices and principals of herbal medicine.Abi Jackson, The Sage Apothecary
If you get time away from the business how do you like to spend it?
I am a big fan of music, so I’m very keen to get out and see some live bands in the not-too-distant future. Other than that, I love escaping into a good book with a cheeky glass of wine or walking my demented Lakeland Terrier, Eggs, in the wilds.
Assuming we are out of lockdown, how would you like next year to look?
The back end of this year and next is likely to result in some serious change for me. I’ve just completed my BSc in Medical Herbalism, so after a well-earned and significant rest, I will be expanding my services to include herbal medicine consultations both in person and online. This will enable me to make bespoke herbal tinctures and teas for people – I see this as a real step change and I am looking forward to being able to help people – both inside and out.
Get 15% off all products by The Sage Apothecary with code MEETTHEMAKER – valid until 15th August 2021
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Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Louise Louise Crookenden-Johnson from LouiseCJceramics.
Read our interview with Louise here – Louise Crookenden-Johnson
Shop Louise CJ Ceramics on Folksy – folksy.com/shops/LouiseCrookendenJohnsonCeramics