Raven Botanicals is an award-winning skincare brand inspired by the rich heritage of the natural landscape. Galvanized by their mother’s encyclopedic knowledge of plants and a free-range childhood in rural Scotland, sisters Arabella and Charlotte Harvey turned their passion for plant-based potions into a small business at the height of the pandemic.
Upscaling production from the kitchen table meant facing the challenge of building their brand – Raven Botanicals- in a way that matched their ethical, social and environmental principles. They share their story of growing a green business.
We’ve blended potions since childhood and as we’ve transformed our passion project into a small business, we’ve been keenly aware of how our commercial practices chime with our personal outlook and ethos. We’re an environmentally conscious brand with a focus on creating beautiful natural products that work. We’re so proud of the formulations we’ve created and the positive impact they are having on people’s skin, but we also want people to feel great about buying from us.
It’s trickier than it might sound to cut through the noise and get to the heart of sustainability. We know the beauty industry is a major contributor to the world’s waste problem and there are no usable products that are 100% ‘zero waste’. Consumerism in beauty involves using, rinsing away and replacing products, which introduces them to a cycle of waste. Our responsibility as a growing brand is to recognise and respond to this problem in the best ways we can, to limit and account for our impact.
As we prepared to launch, we found a bewildering array of routes for packaging materials, labelling options and ingredient suppliers. Some businesses cleverly market their products to appear eco-friendly and ethical when they aren’t, and ‘green washing’ is something we have learned to be very careful of.
Recycled doesn’t always mean recyclable, vegan doesn’t always mean cruelty-free and even some sustainability claims don’t stand up under scrutiny.
We are passionate about sourcing ingredients responsibly. We love working directly with producers and use many locally sourced and UK-grown botanicals in our formulations.
These include a nutrient-rich sea buckthorn oil from berries handpicked on our own East Lothian coastline, nettle from our own land, lavender farmed in Fife and mineral-rich sea salt from the Firth of Forth. We also use several other gorgeous UK grown botanicals like white poppy, borage and hemp.
A growing global appetite for natural skincare means that pressure on precious natural resources is increasing. As many brands clamour to find the newest ingredient on the market, it’s hard not to be aware that some plant species are rapidly coming under threat because of illegal poaching or unsustainable harvesting practices.
Where we can’t source an ingredient produced in the UK, we take great care to check the sustainability and ethical credentials of our suppliers. Close attention to supply chains is a must because harvesting techniques have a direct impact on the sustainability of the ingredient itself, as well as the communities involved in picking it.
Frankincense is a good example of a widely used ingredient in beauty that comes with some serious sustainability challenges. This precious oil comes from the resin that exudes from small cuts made in the bark of the Boswellia tree. It’s one of the world’s most ancient commodities, having been used and traded for nearly 5000 years.
In recent times, pressure on the frankincense supply chain, lack of regulation and unfair pay for workers has meant that Boswellia trees are being cut too early, too deep, and too many times. The terrible result is that populations of the tree are declining.
Entire communities depend on the frankincense industry, and we don’t believe that simply boycotting the ingredient will provide an ethical solution. Instead, we buy from a supplier who funds a fairly paid cooperative to harvest frankincense according to sustainable practices.
We’ve learned to persist in asking the right questions so we can be sure we’re not indirectly supporting child labour or the decimation of vulnerable plant species by overharvesting. Where we experience obfuscation or dishonesty from an ingredient supplier, we simply take our business elsewhere. We are confident that our high expectations and buying ethos can help drive positive and lasting change.
Packaging products is an interesting balancing act as we need to find the most eco-friendly option we can while ensuring that what we are using is fit for purpose. As a small brand, we also need to buy in small quantities because we don’t yet have the resources to purchase and store tens of thousands of bottles. For now, we’re packaging our products in widely recyclable aluminium and glass.
We encourage our customers to reuse pumps and droppers and we offer refills with aluminium lids. We protect our products in transit using a plant-based compostable filler made from corn starch rather than paper shred. As well as using less energy to transport, this clever material dissolves in water and won’t pollute waterways. We watch innovations in the sustainable packaging world with interest and will always strive to mitigate our environmental impact by making changes and improvements where we can.
Our business isn’t just financially driven. We operate our business in a way that reflects our personal values of fairness, kindness and our passion for cooperative working. Profit is essential in enabling us to grow and progress but we’re also creating a business that people feel proud to support and engage with.
Since we launched, we have made regular donations of products to our local Women’s Aid. We know that self-care and self-worth are inextricably linked, and part of our mission is to help people feel good about themselves. Ripples of positivity can start with a small act of self-care and have a profound impact on individuals and the people around them.
We donated a full day of sales in February and 50% of all our sales in March to support humanitarian aid for Ukraine. We are only a small business, but this means we can be agile and responsive. Last financial year, our amazing community of like-minded buyers enabled us to donate well over £4000.
We support the Eden Reforestation Project and fund the planting of one tree in Madagascar for each product we sell, helping to combat the devastating impacts of deforestation and climate change on woodland and coastal habitats. We are also presently funding the restoration of 29 acres of native woodland and wildflower habitat in rural Scotland.
We love where we live and recognise the need to protect and preserve precious wild ecosystems and the biodiversity they support. Raven Botanicals is also cruelty-free and we’re in the process of gaining independent accreditation.
We’re proud of what we’ve been able to achieve in our first year of business. We’ve seen the feel-good factor in action, and it’s been inspirational. We’re now looking at other ways we can embed our personal values within the business at every level going forward, including the potential for a business model that gives employees stakeholder opportunities. Ultimately our business is about empowering people, and our experience in developing Raven Botanicals has given us confidence in our instinct to be generous with what we have.
Consumer expectations are changing, and buyers want to support brands that are planet positive. We believe that by supporting and learning from one another, small brands can drive real change and make a lasting and positive difference