Monday 24 October 2016

The beautiful business of Connemara's seaweed skin care

Former dermatology nurse Deirdre Ui Chathmhaoil's Ri na Mara seaweed based, skincare products are a big hit all around the globe

Published 16/10/2016 | 02:30

Ri na Mara director Deirdre Ui Chathmhaoil wants to bring her natural products to a global market. Pic: Ramona Farrelly
Ri na Mara director Deirdre Ui Chathmhaoil wants to bring her natural products to a global market. Pic: Ramona Farrelly

With more and more modern consumers exploring natural options to replace skincare products often laden with harsh chemicals, Ri na Mara, a small, family-owned, Connemara-based company is giving many of the beauty industry bigwigs a run for their money.

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"I started out as a staff nurse in a dermatology unit," director and founder of Ri na Mara Deirdre Ui Chathmhaoil explains. "I was always passionate about natural skincare and natural treatments and applications for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. So to get a better understanding of natural skincare I studied cosmetic science and when I graduated I became a member of the Society for Cosmetic Scientists. This gave me a better understanding of ingredients and different applications, which were natural, but which really benefit the skin."

Deirdre realised that the perfect ingredient for her success lay right on her doorstep.

"We live in Spideal, which is the perfect place to live as we are surrounded by so much seaweed," she says. "I had always known that it has such an abundance of proteins and minerals, which really benefit the skin, so I began to explore this."

In 2002, Deirdre and her husband Seamus began researching ways they could develop a sustainable family business from seaweed.

"We spent two years researching the different types of seaweed and aqua culture businesses," Deirdre explains. "We travelled a lot in Europe, especially in France, where they use a lot of seaweed and they have a number of manufacturers for skincare products and lots of thalassotherapy baths. Initially, we looked at setting up thalassotherapy baths in Spideal, but the more research we did, the more we knew it would suit us better to manufacture skincare products because we could export and we decided there would be a better market in that."

Throughout these initial years of market and product research, Deirdre and Seamus discovered that many of the types of seaweed being used by big skincare companies in France, Italy and Spain, were readily available at home in Connemara in better water.

"The west coast has the same types of seaweed and Galway has really pure, pristine waters too," Deirdre explains. "Seaweed is really a treasure trove of vitamins and minerals, which are good for health, for healing, for nourishing, for moisturising and they absorb very easily so they are good for hydration of the skin too."

Deirdre and her family thought long and hard about the products they wanted to created and exactly how they wanted to create them.

"We wanted to use natural botanical extracts to compliment the marine algae to have as pure and as natural a product as possible, and we wanted it to be totally Irish," Deirdre says. "So all of our products are made in Ireland and there are no parabens or chemicals, so Ri na Mara really is unique and sustainable skincare."

Since its launch in 2004, Ri Na Mara has grown into a flourishing family business with the help of daughter Mairead and sons Brian, Seamus and Padraig, who have grown up working alongside their parents.

"Our four children would all help out all along, even just selling the products at the Galway Christmas market or different shows. They have all been involved," Deirdre explains.

Ri Na Mara launched with six products at Showcase Ireland in Dublin 12 years ago.

"Initially we launched with the face moisturiser - which is still the most popular product - the body cream, the body lotion, the face mask, the shower gel and a bath product," Deirdre explains. "Then after our initial launch we needed to get it onto the shelves and set up a distribution network, so we approached different health stores and pharmacies and we distributed it in the North and South of Ireland and we also supplied to some hotels and spas as well."

Cracking the export market was the next hurdle facing Ri na Mara.

"We attended a lot of trade shows in America and we have a distributor there and we have been on the US shopping channel QVC about three times and that has been very successful for us; they sold out in our products on QVC every time it featured and that has really built the brand for us in America very well," Deirdre says. "We have a lot of customers in America and we attend trade shows in Germany, but now we are concentrating on the Middle-East; we work with Enterprise Ireland, who have an office in the United Arab Emirates."

"When you go to export to all of these different countries there is a lot of administration involved and a lot of time spent registering the products," Deirdre adds. "We have spent over a year to register our products for sale in the United Arab Emirates and have just appointed a distributor there for the next two years, so that is a market we are really concentrating on and trying to build our product there."

But while breaking into new markets is a priority, Deirdre is also keen to keep Ri na Mara's product line evolving to continue to meet her customers' needs.

"We hope to strengthen our position in the global market and appoint new distributors internationally," Deirdre explains. "But we are also extending the product range at the moment.

"Last month we launched a cleansing water and before Christmas we have a number of other new products such as facial oils, a facial serum and an eye cream coming on stream. We are always looking at new products and new trends and trying to build our existing product range."

"Our customers are very savvy," Deirdre adds. "They want good quality, natural, Irish products. So in order for us to satisfy all of the different concerns people have, we have spent a lot of time getting that formula right as well as offering a no fragrance, no colour, no alcohol and no parabens product."

However, getting Ri Na Mara's message out there amidst a loud chorus of beauty brand giants has been a steep learning curve.

"These big companies have massive marketing budgets and we do not, we are a family business, so we have to be a bit more creative in terms of getting our message - that our products our unique, natural, luxury and Irish - out there to people," Deirdre adds. "We have to reach out to our customer base, so we attend a lot of trade shows, 30 a year sometimes, to promote our products. You have to get out there and build your brand, you have to show people your products, let them sample it and seek out your customer."

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