I travel up North from the sea in Sussex to the docks and warehouse hubs of Brentford, where the likes of Glaxo Smith Kline reside to find an aromatic corner of an estate that’s home to an Aromatherapy empire; Aromatherapy Associates. The buildings tower around me but as I walk up to the entrance I feel the warmth that I just know will lay behind those doors. A light and cheerful greeting as I settle into the reception to gather myself before meeting the technical and operations team behind this famous brand. First is Jim, and then Luke joins us and our mutual exchange of aromatic experiences begin to unfold. We discussed all things Aromatherapy from the IFRA regulations to the customers nose and eye on ‘natural variations’. Sifting through the facts, the research, the evidence and the clinical experience to decide what we then impart as our truth, our messages and our knowledge to our respectful communities of consumers.
I shared my own experience of being in the clinic, sharing what I witness and how I have forged my own opinions about the oils with what I see and do and how very grateful I feel for those insights to be able to read the evidence and the research with the addition of hands on expertise. We discussed oils in the headlines Rose, Frankincense, Rosemary & Lavender.
We talked about how we can truly make changes that are not just following suit or keeping up with trends and instead make changes that really make the difference in the world on a long-term basis. Take the art of a co-operative as an example of this and just how educating the community of growers while still absorbing their hands on, day to day uses and applications of the ingredients straight from the plant rather than the bottle can bring. Education was a real highlight and weaved in constantly throughout our conversations.
As the meeting continues I find myself revisiting my long career in all its facets, my time with an American skincare brand, the teaching, travelling, and COSHH certificates I knew inside out back then and my time with high street retail giant Liz Earle and the way we had customer care at the heart of what we did at all times.
Luke then takes me on a tour after I look curiously at his desk of oils filled with individual oils and potential formulas ‘organised chaos’ he says with a grin! He even has a drawer of Frankincense resin that he brings to the table and we each keep having a sniff as we carry on talking. I enter a room or as he openly admits a ‘man cave’ to see what I imagine my boxes of oils unpacked and displayed onto shelves and a desk would look like, actually on an island worktop to be precise. One of those kitchen islands we all dream of having, the hub, the heart, the centre of the home where families and friends unite to make, create and discuss ideas, recipes and of course the odd emotion or two!
You could see that this was a place where creations are ventured, dabbled and tried, my own space aligned with the same trials and errors but all mine happening on our family dining table, the only space where I can layout all my oils and create simultaneously. It’s also where the homework takes place, dinners and of course general sitting and chatting, in fact our dining table sees quite a timetable of activity everyday!
Here we indulge a little on all the different smells, how they unite in groups rather than alphabetically. I share my categorising manner of giving the oils a personality type like Valerie Ann Worwood and Salvatore Battaglia and we agree that these types of grouping help you to broaden the synergies you can create.
I also realised in this moment that I actually do have a favourite oil, a produce from the leaves of the Orange and most recently Lemon & Mandarin trees and that is Petitgrain. We talked about how a harvest can bring about a different tone to the familiar aromas that unexpectedly become new to us. Do we tease it slightly to keep it in line with what we and our customers know or do we allow the plant to be itself. I actually see excitement in both routes, the challenge of bringing the aroma to what’s familiar while the challenge to see where the new aroma can go, an evolution, a journey somehow.
The look at growth in different locations of the UK, Asia & the Americas where the same concept has to be delivered in places that rate wellbeing and make product choices so differently. In the UK we stick to what we know, we’re incredibly loyal as it happens but we need to see and experience progress and learn how to evolve our routines even within the same range we’re loyal too. In Asia there’s an appreciation for technology and progress and the opinion is generally one that’s open to new things. In America the setting for the product is within a spa as opposed to retail space making it harder to share and instil frequent brand awareness and trust. This brief capture of how a company can grow outside of its birthplace is really an eye opener and I love that idea of seeing how best to make a product accessible to all who need it.
We expand to the importance of true product experience, how to go about supporting healthy lifestyles and encouraging consistent rituals. The importance of this aspect so that customers take a gorgeous package with a quality product inside and really know how to use it and how to get the optimum effects intended to reach them. Imparting this knowledge brings the product alive from the design lab, from the very first in house testers in the office team to manufacturing it, getting it onto the shelves and of course into the hands and up the noses of the consumer as they inhale those originally created synergies of pure Aromatherapy.
Jim said as I left our motto is ‘You never stop learning!’ It’s so true, we learn by every moment but we have to be tuned in to the small stuff, to really notice the details that keep our mind a questioning one.
Here’s to every Ambassador of Aromatherapy may you share, teach, learn and discover this wonderful world of aromatics and the power they have to make a huge impact.
Thank you to Tracey Woodward for the invitation to meet your team and to Jim & Luke for sharing your valuable time.
For this New Year celebration join me in raising an Aromatherapy bottle to the year ahead of us surrounded by an abundance of plant life from every continent around the globe and to respect every drop we use.