RIOFLECTIONS with Sophia Harding founder of Palm of Feronia
What inspired you to start Palm of Feronia, and how did you come up with the concept for it?
The passion definitely evolved for me and it was a happy accident really. I suffered with adult acne for over 10 years, starting in my early 20’s and tried everything from going vegan, OTC medications, lots of expensive skincare, lasers, peels, but sadly nothing worked. Eventually, I had enough and said yes to a very controversial medication - roaccutane.
This made my skin super-sensitive and even raw aloe vera would cause my face to burn. Early in 2019 I began experimenting with natural oils to see what was gentle enough to use and gradually began to make my own products for myself, then later family and friends.
I’ve practiced crystal healing and elements of aromatherapy for years and have used them to aid anxiety issues, so they naturally combined with products - it wasn’t even a conscious decision at the time.
I’ve always been a bit of a knowledge sponge so as soon as I started learning about all the ingredients, it just rolled on and on. I then studied organic skincare formulation and used this as a platform to launch what is now Palm of Feronia.
What makes Palm of Feronia unique from other brands?
I think in the way it is truly holistic and “mood” driven. The brand and products can add a whole other dimension to your wellbeing routine, but can also create small, accessible sacred rituals to elevate something as simple as removing your makeup at the end of the day.
Yes, I want to make products that are effective, but also products that can tilt your mood, help you recentre and really bring you back to yourself in a world when we are all moving at 101 miles per hour!
How do you stay innovative and continue to bring new ideas to your brand?
This is something I struggle with but probably not in the way you’d think. I find inspiration everywhere – this comes back to that “mood aspect”. For each product I build out a four dimensional moodboard, songs, sounds, smells, a feeling, visuals, textures – it's quite literally a mood. I love working with historical reference points – old wives tales, herbal lore and recipes. I love to admit that it’s an incredibly selfish process – I surround myself with things I love, craft products I love and I hope that passion helps to deliver products that connect with people.
The struggle comes in editing this down – at any given time I usually have 15 or so ideas brewing away in the background but in order to remain sustainable, I like to take my time and really stagger launches and ideas. I think in churning out ideas quickly, it would be against all the brand values of slow, sustainable and thoughtful production.
How important is transparency of ingredients to your brand, and what steps do you take to ensure that your customers are fully informed about what they are using on their skin?
This is such a vital pillar of the brand and something that was integrated from the very beginning. Of course, there is a legal requirement to “list” ingredients, but I also want to help break that down further, beyond an INCI list. I love to share where ingredients come from and why they are included because this is all part of the product’s story.
There is a lot of confusion and mis-information within the cosmetics industry and transparency is a great way to overcome this.
Can you tell us more about the ancient principles of aromatherapy and crystal healing that your brand is focused on, and how you incorporate them into your products?
Crystals have been used by many cultures throughout history as a tool for healing. Native Americans would use quartz to foresee the outcome of hunts and to heal imbalances in the body. Ancient Central American cultures would use turquoise and jade as protective amulets and to worship the gods so it's a very ancient practice.
Crystal healing as you see it today is a big amalgamation of lots of different ideas and traditions, but with (typically) an emphasis on the seven chakras - energy centers in the body. Each crystal will have a connection to one or more chakras and can be used to amplify and "work" this energy.
I'm a big believer in working with crystals in a way that works for you, however. For me, I use crystals as a little talisman that guide my thoughts and feelings throughout that day. For example - if I'm feeling particularly overwhelmed, a piece of Tourmaline (which is very grounding) will bring me back to myself which is why I included it into a relaxing bath oil. Our Neroli Citrine Facial Tonic combines stones that are great for boosting self-confidence and energy such as citrine and carnelian so I'll always reach for these stones when I'm feeling a little stuck or stagnant.
Whilst it wasn’t a conscious decision at the time, by including these within a blend, it allows the user to create a fully holistic ritual and makes crystal healing a little more accessible.
Aromatherapy has always been a part of my life and again, it wasn’t a conscious decision to make this a focus of the brand but I’m very passionate about the effects.
Every plant, flower, spice and herb has an associated fragrance, usually from essential oils - the powerful oils found within that can evaporate into the air releasing their distinctive aromas.
These powerful oils can interact with the body to create changes. These interactions are split into 3 routes - pharmacological (the oil enters the bloodstream and reacts with hormones, enzymes etc), physiological (how the oil affects the bodily systems, such as sedative or stimulating) and psychological (when an aromatic is inhaled and the individuals emotional response to that aroma).
Like many plant oils, essential oils have been used for thousands of years, in religious ceremonies, as incense, for perfumery, medicinally and cooking. There are archeological examples showing preserved distilling equipment from as far back as 3,000 BC - it really is an ancient practice.
Safety is incredibly important when working with essential oils. Given their powerful chemical makeup, it’s important to always follow recommended usage guidelines and to never use neat oils on the skin. Essential oils are generally the last ingredients on an INCI (ingredient) list, meaning the lowest in volume (you can see this with our products). Less definitely is more and you only need a little to reap the benefits. In fact, using more can cause severe rashes or sensitivities.
It’s worth noting that each and every product at Palm of Feronia is assessed by a third-party chemist to ensure our blends are formulated with the correct concentration of essential oils to ensure a safe and effective product. Many people are sensitive to some or all oils- it’s always important to patch test first just in case!
Our blends are an easy way to introduce essential oils into your daily routine - whether that’s with a geranium and Douglas fir infused morning cleanse thanks to our Ritual Cleansing Oil, or a refreshing boost of tea tree, arbor and orange from our Neroli Citrine Facial Tonic.
What are some of the benefits that customers can expect to experience when using Palm of Feronia products, and how do those benefits set your brand apart?
At it’s most basic, there is something very mood-elevating about taking a few minutes out of your day to care for yourself, but beyond that, I have always wanted to create products that will be firstly effective on the skin through high quality, natural ingredients. The mood-boosting affects of aromatherapy work to improve your mood, relax, unwind, re-energise, and the crystal inclusions can help to realign you energetically.
Whilst many products on the market focus on one or two of those effects – Palm of Feronia is truly mind, body, spirit and soul!
Do you have to believe in aromatherapy and crystal healing to use your products or can the products benefit you anyway?
Absolutely not – and I’m sure many customers don’t! Many of our customers are intrigued and would like to learn more, and the range definitely make these practices a little more accessible, but if you just wanted a lovely fragranced bath oil that will make your skin super-soft – we have that!
What are some of your favorite products in the Palm of Feronia line, and why do you think they are particularly effective or unique?
This changes weekly! At the moment, I’m loving the Deep Glow Facial Oil. The weather is grey and miserable in the UK so it’s bringing a little sunshine and energy-boost to my mornings with the inclusion of sunstone and confidence-boosting Carnelian. My skin also really matches well with it and it adds a little visible glow. I also suffered with a lot of pigmentation and scarring from my acne treatment and I really do believe the inclusion of clarifying and skin regenerating essential oils in the blend has helped to heal this over the years.
Have you received feedback from a customer that made you realize how unique and special your brand truly is?
As with many women in business, I’ve been constantly plagued with imposters syndrome, but one stand out point was when I began hearing feedback from the Moonstone Sleep Spray – it genuinely works! I once had a chronic insomniac message me to say they’d missed a flight after using it as they’d not set an alarm.
Can you speak to the role of visual aesthetics and design in your brand, and how you use those elements to create a unique brand identity?
My background is fashion and photography but I also spent a long time working with digital designers. I’m a Libra sun so aesthetics are so important to me. I love to see beauty in all things and, in all honesty, I just wouldn’t be passionate about a brand I didn’t adore visually.
This can be a bit of a blocker as I don’t take the “fail fast” approach with the visuals – I'm a real perfectionist and this holds things back sometimes.
The brand is a real reflection of the things I love to have around me, it’s literally my heart and soul. I think if you stepped into my home, saw my wardrobe or even the colour palette of my three cats! – you'd see the connection.
How does nature play a role in your brand, and how do you encourage customers to connect with nature through their use of your products?
Again this really comes back to that mood aspect. Of course, our products are sourced from nature but beyond that, nature and the earth is just incredibly grounding. I’m someone who feels instantly recentred and re-invigorated in woodland and particularly by the sea and so I wanted to bring those elements into the blends.
A good example of this is the Ritual Cleansing Oil – it's all about that kinship with the earth, grounding yourself in nature and coming back to yourself.
Is there any artists, musicians, or other creatives who have inspired your work with Palm of Feronia, and how have they influenced your brand?
I find inspiration in so many places but one area I’d specifically mention is the small business space. I’m incredibly lucky to be part of a vibrant small business community in the UK, especially in my local area. I really surround myself in this space and have made many great friends within the community.
There are some brands, such as historical jewellery brand Musee Roo, that feels so aligned to Palm of Feronia – with the same values and reference points. Sometimes seeing how these elements are worked in another form of craft really helps me to look outside of the cosmetics space and consider ways to be truly innovative.
How do you envision the future of natural self-care brands like Palm of Feronia, and what role do you see your brand playing in that future?
The last few years, with the major changes we all felt during a period of lockdowns, encouraged many to stop, slow down and really take care of themselves and it feels like that tilt is continuing.
With a world that moves so fast, and is more and more digital, I think taking time to connective with yourself, with nature and reset is going to become increasingly important.
I don’t have grand ambitions as a brand and I think this helps me to stay core to our values. I want to continue to offer small sacred rituals for everyday use and encourage people to work in a little piece of self-care.
How do you feel about expanding to Denmark through RIO RIO studio with Palm of Feronia?
Delighted! Working with stores both online and IRL is so important to me and is something I built in from early on. I want it to be accessible to all, and it’s always such an exciting moment to watch our products head off to all parts of the world to be enjoyed. I can’t wait to see everything go live 😊