Last month, Liz Earle, MBE, beauty creator, author, TV presenter, charity founder and co-founder of Liz Earle Beauty Co. decided to step down from her namesake beauty brand. Here she reflects on the last 22 years and looks forward to the next chapter.
Following the announcement that I have left the beauty brand I love so much, I thought it only right to reflect on life and times with those who have shared my story and been such an important part of this incredible journey over the last 22 years and more.
My career in beauty began more than thirty years ago when I moved from working for Molton Brown (then a small, niche hairdressing salon with a few naturally inspired hair products) into the world of writing for magazines, with a job as a junior on the glossy monthly magazine Woman's Journal. It was here I was encouraged to write, with inspiring mentors who gave me small snippets of beauty news to fill the pages, moving onto longer features about beauty and wellbeing. I discovered a genuine love for writing and research. In that pre-internet era, I spent much of my time interviewing academics and researchers face-to-face, visiting research labs, studying in libraries and immersing myself in the world of wellbeing.
The early 1980s was a time when the link between what we eat and how we look was being established. The news that essential fatty acids in foods could change the way our skin looks and feels was a dramatic revelation, especially as I was prone to eczema and my own skin is so dry and sensitive. I wrote my first bestselling book, Vital Oils, in 1991, helping to pioneer the health link with 'good fats,' such as olive oil and fish oils, to improved beauty and wellbeing. I then wrote several more books, including Save Your Skin (1992) and Eat Yourself Beautiful (1993), which was written to accompany a BBC TV series of the same name. In fact, I'd already started my television career thirty years ago, as part of the original line-up of contributors for ITV's first daytime TV show, This Morning with Richard and Judy. I spent many happy years there travelling up to the Albert Dock in Liverpool to the TV studios, where I cut my teeth on live broadcasting, phone-ins, outside broadcasts and exotic location filming. I moved on to the BBC, where I co-hosted the first TV show devoted to beauty called Beautywise, following this with my Eat Yourself Beautiful slots. Loving the buzz of live TV, I joined the line-up at GMTV as a roving beauty reporter, filming backstage at the fashion shows in London, Milan, Paris and New York, as well as sitting alongside Lorraine Kelly on her morning shows, where we'd chat about all things beauty and wellbeing. It was during this time that I also hosted my own afternoon TV show, Liz Earle's Lifestyle, filmed from my home in Putney, where I had the delight of introducing 'unknown chef' Gordon Ramsey to cook in my kitchen, had supermodel Linda Evangelista sharing the contents of her make-up bag in my bathroom and even taught the late, great Jackie Collins how to play croquet in my garden!
It was around this time, in 1994, that my good friend Kim Buckland, called me one morning with her brainwave of an idea. She said the time was right to combine my knowledge of ingredients and beauty products with her marketing and logistical skills, and create a range of reliable, trusted, luxurious yet affordable skincare - and that it should be called Liz Earle, as this was a name already so well-known and trusted in the world of beauty. And so a new beauty brand was born. In 1995 we officially launched Liz Earle Naturally Active Skincare with just four high-quality, botanically based products: Cleanse & Polish, a hot cloth cleanser based on natural oils and used with a Japanese-style muslin cloth (in a similar way to the famous facialist Eve Lom); Eyebright, Instant Boost Skin Tonic and two Skin Repair Moisturisers - one rich in avocado oil for my dry skin and the other lighter in texture to suit Kim's oilier skin type. Little did we know then that the business we founded together on our London kitchen tables would later grow into one of the biggest British beauty brands of all
We started in mail order as we believed this was the best way to reach the most women, and it enabled us to provide the best customer service, too. We couldn't afford a retail shop, so we printed beautiful little brochures and mailed them out to friends and family, who helped spread the word. The first mail order set-up was back in my Putney home, with my guest room turned into an office and my music student younger brother stuffing jiffy bags in the basement! After a year or so, Kim announced that she was moving with her family to the Isle of Wight and asked me what did I think? To be honest, I was nervous. Despite growing up as a child on the Hampshire hillside overlooking the Island, it seemed so far away. For my first visit to her new home I packed sandwiches and a Thermos of tea to sustain me, only to discover it was only a shortish drive from Putney down the A3 and a 9 minute hovercraft crossing to reach Ryde. Kim and I would meet at her home and also spend time on the flagstone terrace of Biskra House Hotel, a beautiful Victorian house overlooking the sea, which we later bought and turned into our first headquarters.
Having founded the brand in London, we now re-located and based our offices on the Isle of Wight - and this seemed the natural place to grow and develop our range. We employed our first 'famous five' customer service operators, who would pick up the phone, write down the order, turn to a table to beautifully hand-tissue-wrap every product and then pop it in the post. Today, the system is vast and so much more automated, and our hand-tissue wrapping service for every product long gone.
Shortly after Kim and I launched our branch, I had a call from an old friend Lorna McKnight, who I'd met when she was a skincare buyer at Harrods. She had been setting up the beauty category for QVC, and invited us on to be the first beauty brand to launch our sales outside of mail order on television. For the next fifteen years, I would be on-air promoting our products, which was natural for me as I had spent so long working in daytime television - but I definitely missed hosting my own TV shows, as supporting the beauty brand meant I lost many of my TV contracts. During this time, I also launched a small range of jewellery on QVC, but stopped as the beauty company grew ever larger and more demanding of my time.
As the beauty brand grew, Kim and I worked ever longer and harder, bringing in a brilliant management team to structure and manage our growth. We won so many product and customer service awards we lost count, we launched on QVC in the United States and were honoured with MBEs from The Queen. Our days were long and often stressful - and inevitably took me further and further away from my first loves of research, writing and my television work too. As small companies grow, they develop into their own corporate entities and, as any successful entrepreneur will concur, it can be a real rollercoaster ride as a successful brand morphs into a multi-national corporation.
So it was that in 2010, my co-founder and I, together with all our other investors, stakeholders and management team, made the hard decision to sell. This was not a decision we took lightly but we all felt it was the best way to allow the brand to grow, supported by an experienced international beauty team. Because my name is on the bottles, it's easy to assume the brand was built and run just by me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kim was the instigator behind building this amazing brand, and together with her management team, they ran this incredibly successful and fast-growing business. By the time we came to sell in 2010, I was a minority stakeholder in the brand, and could not have controlled the decision to sell even if I had wanted to. The brand was sold to Avon, as, at the time, they seemed to genuinely understand how very special and precious the Liz Earle beauty brand is. Unfortunately, boardroom changes at the top of the giant Avon corporation meant that soon we were dealing with a very different set of directors. As a result, Kim made the difficult decision to leave. I decided to stay to support the beauty brand in whatever way I could as a Global Brand Ambassador.
2010 was a milestone year for me in other ways too. I had my fifth child at the age of 47! Something I genuinely was not expecting to happen... As an 'elderly' mother, I took some time off to recover and enjoy what was (definitely!) to be my last baby. I also founded my charity LiveTwice, which gives opportunity to communities in need, and is something I had wanted to do for a long time. Working in the world of botanical ingredients has brought me into close contact with many communities in developing countries, notably in East Africa, and I wanted to put something back here. I'm pleased to say that LiveTwice now funds projects in several African countries, as well as in Europe and the UK also. After the sale of the beauty company went through, the first cheque I wrote was to buy Noah's House, a children's home-from-home respite house we started in the West Country. I guess being a new mother made me even more thankful for the health and wellbeing of my own family.
For the last seven years now I've been working with the Liz Earle Beauty Co. as their Global Brand Ambassador, and seen the company change hands again (from Avon to Walgreens Boots Alliance in 2015), all the while returning to my first love of writing and TV, with the launch of Liz Earle Wellbeing and a regular spot back on This Morning, the first TV programme I worked on. I feel like I've come home. It's been truly wonderful to be able to publish my own quarterly magazine, where my editorial team and I can share so much of the good things in life, to help us all look well, live well and be well. I've written several more books, from Juice to Skin and now my most recent and significant yet, The Good Gut Guide. And I have more interesting works in the pipeline too. Inevitably though, it's taking an increasing amount of time. To do anything really well needs dedication and focus. So, it is with mixed feelings that I feel the time is right to leave the beauty brand that will forever carry my personal name. Sadness for leaving the company, but also excited for the future and for the many new opportunities and partnerships that lie ahead. I feel extremely fortunate to have the chance now to expand and develop in other areas. I've been overwhelmed at the outpouring of support and love for my brands - and am looking forward to the future. A friend recently described this move as "Liz Earle un-plugged" and it does feel a little like that. Watch this space and I hope you'll join me as the journey continues.
With love and best wishes,