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This post has been long, long, long overdue on the blog. As you will have read from my 2017 #SkinGoals, a family emergency lead to an unexpectedly long hiatus from blogging and this write-up (which I had been working on for months) never got finished. It was originally scheduled to go up over the summer, then on Small Business Saturday (both US and UK dates), then before Christmas (then after) and now here we are. I have been so excited to talk about this for such a long time now and I can’t wait to finally share all my favourite places to shop with you.
Last year I got to spend much more time in Europe than I had planned, but the upside of that is I was able to discover so many incredible British brands, as well as experience what it’s really like to be a beauty consumer on this side of the world and let me tell you, it’s very different to the US. It’s not easy to get ahold of some brands (if at all), prices are usually higher and products pretty much always launch months later than back home. Despite that, there are some passionate individuals who have literally made it their business to expand, diversify and support small/new/indie brands and bring us the best the industry has to offer.
The skincare market has changed some much over the past few years and green beauty is now a “trend” that has taken off like crazy. You can buy brands like RMS Beauty, Captain Blankenship and Kari Gran at Sephora, Moon Juice and Earth Tu Face on Net-a-Porter and Selfridges launched Kypris in the UK. Green Beauty is big business and bigger retailers are eager to cash in on this burgeoning billion dollar industry and while I think it’s great that more people have access to these brands (and the brands themselves can reach a wider audience), it’s important not to forget how we got here. Long before Leahlani was in Urban Outfitters or Indie Lee on Cult Beauty, independent retailers were taking a chance on these (at the time) unknown and new brands, helping them thrive, grow and succeed all without the security of blogger hype or a built-in customer base. Many niche retailers have even shared the financial (and sometimes personal) risk and burden to co-launch a brand because they truly believe in them. Not only that, the business of green beauty is something they passionately believe in and goes beyond merely turning a profit. That’s why I want to showcase my old and new favourite retailers that I have come to love and rely on for all things skincare, green beauty and beyond.
Of course, I had to talk about this lovely place first because not only is Content one of the OG niche retailers in the business, but this is where my green beauty journey began. I have talked about this before in my first ever blog post (here) and in my Best of British feature on them (here), so many of will you already know why I love them so much. I have been a customer for almost four years now and my very first purchase was a Tata Harper trial kit (below). Back then I was completely new to green beauty and had no idea where to begin, so finding Content was such a turning point for me and set me on a new and exciting journey in to skincare and natural beauty.
The amazing founder and now author (woo!) Imelda Burke is largely credited with making green beauty desirable and cool, way back when it was anything but. Launching in 2008, Content became a beacon for those looking for something more (or less in the case of inci lists) than mainstream brands had to offer. They have always been passionate about launching the best products and were the first to bring Tata Harper to the UK back in 2010. Since then, they have gone on to launch numerous now popular brands like La Belle Lune, May Lindstrom and Pai, with their most recent launches being brands like Plant Apothecary, Elde, Dafna’s Skincare and Lue by Jean Soe.
I have discovered so many great brands and learned so much about skincare thanks to Content and Imelda, and if you’re passionate about green beauty then you have to check them out. They have a small but mighty shop in London where you can get facials, acupuncture, nutritional advice and massages, or pick up some samples and play around with makeup brands like RMS Beauty and ILIA. If you’re outside of the UK they have a great newly updated website that offers free worldwide shipping, samples and the cutest gift wrapping. Imelda also just recently launched her first book “The Nature of Beauty” (here), which I bought as Christmas gifts for a lot of my friends and highly recommend if you love skincare and/or green beauty.
I discovered Victoria Health a few short months before finding Content Beauty and I credit both of them with getting my health back on track (more on that here) and sparking my passion for skincare. Gill (co-founder) and Imelda are true industry trailblazers and my personal skincare gurus. Just like with Content, I have discovered so many amazing products thanks to Victoria Health launching brands like iS Clinical, NIOD, The Ordinary, In Fiore and so many others. Gill is fiercely passionate about products that innovate the market and her recommendations have never failed me. She also writes the best newsletters and after reading what she wrote about CAIS I immediately ordered it and the rest is #Deciemania history!
Even though Victoria Health has become a major skincare destination (thanks in part to the recent launch of The Ordinary) they are so much more than that and my first order was actually all supplements. They have an amazing in-house pharmacist (co-founder Shabir) who writes informative and incredibly helpful therapeutic articles about health, diet and supplements etc that helped me to take control of my health issues and in turn heal my skin (blog post coming soon). Victoria Health was literally a lifesaver for me and if you’re suffering from any health issues or can’t seem to get your skin in check no matter what products you use, then get in touch because Gill and Shabir have been in the industry for decades and really know what they’re talking about.
This 360 approach to wellness, beauty and life in general is part of the reason I have been a loyal customer for many years now, long before I joined Instagram or started blogging. 2016 was a rollercoaster year for Victoria Health full of highs and lows (we miss you, Sally), but they have kept working hard and there is so much more to come. If you haven’t checked them out yet, now is the time. There is so much in the works from NIOD and The Ordinary, but until then check out their excellent beauty selection featuring OM Skincare, Julisis and The Chemistry Brand. Also, be sure to sign up for the newsletter because they frequently have NEOM candles at half price and very generous GWPs.
An Esthetician opening a beauty shop is kind of a genius idea and is one of the many reasons this absolute gem has quickly become a favourite place of mine to shop and hang out when in London. I was lucky enough to meet some truly incredible people last year and husband and wife co-founding duo Pam and Nick are two of them. Pam is a Level 4 Clinical Esthetician (trained in the US and UK) and opened Mortar & Milk to offer bespoke facials and a better retail experience, which is exactly what she has done and in the most beautiful way. This is where I fell in love with de Mamiel and discovered one of the best products I have ever used (more soon), so believe me when I say you need to know about this place.
So, aside from being insanely aesthetically pleasing with exposed brick, dark wood, a marble and subway tiled counter, a comfy couch and the most instagrammable sink (I want to move in!), what makes this place so special is the people and Pam knows her stuff. I don’t want to say too much because I have a full blog post coming about it, but this is where I got the facial I was raving about over the summer. At the time, I couldn’t share the details as the website hadn’t even launched yet, but now that it’s up and running I can finally openly declare that this is where I got the best “proper” facial I have ever had. Yes, ever. The results were incredible (until this happened) and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Mortar & Milk are only a few months old having opened in May, but you need to check them out. Pam and Nick are so welcoming, the Store Director Ruth is gorgeous and hilarious and I could (and did!) talk to Manager Sophie for hours. Their collective energy and passion is like nothing else and they’re more like a close knit family (that you’ll wish you were a part of) than co-workers. My first time in the shop I was there for almost 5 hours and I felt like I was hanging out in a friend’s amazing flat. No other retail space has a vibe quite like this and I didn’t want to leave, which says a lot. You can check out the treatment menu here and the brands they stock here, but if you’re in the London area pop in and say hello. You will be hearing more from me about Mortar & Milk very soon, so stay tuned!
I stumbled upon Sable Beauty while hunting for my favourite Brightening Toner from Aster & Bay and was so happy to see the brand available in the UK, along with a whole host of other hard to get US brands. One thing that’s so different about beauty shopping overseas is there isn’t the same access to brands but thanks to this place you can get your hands on One Love Organics, Herbivore, Bottega Organica, Coola and so much more. Sable Beauty have an expertly curated selection of incredible green beauty brands, so if you feel like you have been missing out then this is the place for you.
What I love so much about Sable Beauty is that the founder’s journey in to the skincare world is like so many of our own. Yassira Zaandam was suffering with adult acne while working as a highly successful international lawyer, yet couldn’t get her skin under control, thanks in part to the bad products and advice she was getting from mainstream retailers, which is why she just had to open her own virtual space. She wanted a place that would offer a straightforward, trustworthy and personalized approach to skincare shopping for those who don’t have the time to spend hours searching for the “right” product. Even though the shop is online, you can live chat directly through the website and get recommendations in real time, which I think is so cool and very helpful. I was lucky enough to interview the gorgeous Yassira and will have that up soon and in the meantime you can read more about Sable Beauty here.
I first discovered this lovely place back in 2013 when they had the Indie Lee limited edition box (below) and I just happened to be in London for the holidays visiting family. I immediately ordered the box, but after browsing the website I had to place another order because I was so impressed by their selection of brands. Whenever I come to the UK I always check out what they’ve got because even though their selection is small, they only stock the best and many are exclusive. Founded by Liz McCarthy who has worked in the industry ever since being on counter at No.7 in Boots, A Beautiful World is all about luxury, niche, results driven brands like Josh Rosebrook (an exclusive since 2014), BRAD Biophontic, GM Reverie, Dahliana and YTTP. Liz totally gets it when it comes to the beauty industry, what luxury really means and is deeply passionate about supporting niche brands. Places like this give new and indie brands a chance to thrive through providing them with a platform to grow a global presence and they can’t do that without our support.
Liz is a prime example of when a retailer is more than just a place that sells products. She travels all over to discover, support and test new brands and created A Beautiful World as a “destination hub for knowledge and expertise”. She believes that being a niche retailer can help “build and further establish the green beauty community” and that’s exactly it. Niche retailers are a huge part of what has propelled the green beauty industry to what it is now and places like this were there in the beginning helping to make it all possible. Liz was gracious enough to let me interview her and until that series begins, above are my top picks from the site.
One of the things I love about niche retailers is the genuine passion the founders have for beautiful ingredients, exceptional customer service and doing much more than simply selling products, which is why even though it is based in the Netherlands, I had to include Reina Organics on this list. Rayna is a one-woman unstoppable force that believes in empowering her customers and bringing them the very best brands, which she has absolutely done. Thanks to Rayna, gorgeous brands like Leahlani, Henne, Mahalo, MUN, La Bella Figura, MOSS and Laurel are now available across Europe and that is a huge deal. Custom charges and import duty taxes are no joke when ordering from the US and thanks to Rayna you don’t have to deal with them anymore if you want to buy these brands.
Of course, with Brexit and the US Economy, exchange rates are all over the place, but it is still cheaper and faster to order from within Europe and I appreciate that Rayna is working hard to give customers on that side of the world better access to these type of niche brands. It’s expensive business stocking international brands and we have to try to continually support businesses like this so they can expand their stock, provide competitive prices and keep adding new brands. If you haven’t checked out Reina Organics yet, above is a selection of products I’ve got my eye on.
If there is one skincare category that is the hardest to get a hold of in the UK it has to be Asian Beauty. Until this site launched I didn’t even bother shopping for brands like Cosrx, Benton, Aromatica and Klairs when in London because the only place you could get them from was Amazon or international sites with extensive shipping dates. I have had a burgeoning love affair with KBeauty for years now after discovering the power of snail filtrate (thanks to Mizon), but this year I barely indulged in any of the brands until I found this place.
Buttermilk was founded by the lovely Jenna, who qualified at the London School of Beauty and Makeup and understands that this is a major gap in the market over here. Asian skincare brands are among some of the best in the world and their technology and formulas are usually years ahead of western mainstream brands, so having access to them in Europe is important if you consider yourself a true skincare fanatic. Buttermilk only launched a few months ago, but they already have a great selection of brands that I would love to see expand even more. If you’ve been waiting to try some Asian skincare then here’s your chance. Buttermilk currently have a great sale going on that you can check out here.
Since I first started writing this post it seems like so many new niche brands have popped up and not only that, new niche retailers too, so I had to include this place even though I haven’t shopped with them yet. I first discovered this French niche retailer through my fellow skincare addict friend Ing, who let me know they sell two of the major niche brands at the top of my shopping list – Siam Seas and Okoko Cosmetiques. The company only launched last October so I know absolutely nothing about them, but I’m so excited because as well as the two aforementioned brands they also stock Wabi-Sabi Botanicals, Bella Aura and LILFOX. These are five brands that I believe are currently not sold anywhere else in Europe, let alone the UK, which is huge news. I plan to place an order soon and these are just a few of the things I have on my ever growing wish list.
The Unusual Suspects
Now, the reason these next two are called “unusual suspects” is because they don’t technically fit the category of niche retailer, but at the same time they are still among my favourite places to shop and they stock and support new and independent brands, so I could not leave them out.
First up out of the unusual suspects had to be this stunning beauty destination because it completely took me by surprise and I cannot recommend this place enough. Nestled in the heart of Notting Hill and minutes away from the beautiful Kyoto Gardens, it is completely unassuming on the outside, but once you step through the doors you are transported to an incredible beauty oasis. Josh Wood is an award-winning hair icon and while the Atelier focuses on that, you can do so much more there. They offer Su-Man facials, body treatments, everything hair related you could possibly need and most surprisingly, lots of skincare. Yes, skincare and they stock everything from NIOD, de Mamiel and Aurelia (my faves) to Charlotte Tilbury, Su Man and Mauli. This is a brilliant use of a waiting room/entry way and the best part was I could browse the shelves completely uninterrupted as everyone else was off getting their treatments!
If you’re in London and need to get your hair done, then you have to try this place. My sister (who is quite the blow dry connoisseur) had one here and was so happy with the results that when I asked for her thoughts she replied, “It was the dream, it was as if I had been going there for years, he just knew exactly what I wanted.” Those were her exact words and when it comes to hair that is a huge statement. Even if you don’t need anything hair related, I still highly recommend this place, if only for the peaceful skincare shopping.
Now, considering Liberty is one of the oldest and biggest department stores in the city, it is in no way a niche retailer, yet at the same time their beauty halls are worlds apart from their harshly lit, blaring music, packed and chaotic counterparts, so if big is what you’re looking for then this is the one I recommend. The space is like a gorgeous stately home with dark wood, marble and gold all over and feels cozy and chic. They stock everything from bigger brands like Hourglass, Sisley and Diptyque to new and niche brands like Vilhelm Perfumerie, Soaper Duper and my favourite – Votary. They also have an amazing treatment room where you can get Biologique Recherche (and buy P50), Omorovicza, Aurelia and Skin Laundry ( just be careful of the sunscreen) facials as well as brow, mani/pedi and hair services. They have a gorgeous cafe on the 2nd floor with healthy, delicious treats and the expertly curated Perfume Hall (check out the stunning ceilings along with Byredo, D.S. & Durga and Ideo) is not to be missed. If you only have a day and need to do it all in one place then this is where to do it.
Now more than ever, this above quote has significant meaning. The green beauty trend is getting bigger every year and niche retailers won’t be able to survive without our custom. They are an integral part of the green beauty community and without them, many, many brands would not be where they are today. It’s so easy for bigger retailers to snap up indie brands once they’ve become popular because there’s very little risk involved and they have the revenue to offer amazing giveaways, discounts and GWPs that secure sales. As I said, this isn’t exactly a bad thing because more exposure for these small brands means they can continue to grow, but without the niche retailers giving them a start in the first place, a lot of these popular green names that we now see on Cult Beauty, Space NK and Net-a-Porter (full disclosure: I have a haul from here coming soon, but how that happened will be explained in the post) wouldn’t even be on these retailers radars. That’s why I think it is so important for us as consumers to support the niche retailers supporting niche brands so the industry as a whole can continue to thrive and evolve in a way that doesn’t lose the essence of what started it all – a true passion for the power of nature and the personal conviction that consumers deserve better. I know many of you want to be more “conscious consumers” this year and I think shopping small is a great way to do that.
P.S. – if you’d like discount codes for any of the retailers above, please let me know and I will add them!