Exclusively Ours for a Sustainable Summer

Votary founders Arabella Preston and Charlotte Semler share the practicality behind their ethical skincare brand, the real meaning of fragrance-free, and the one product that really removes sunscreen. In conversation with Jamie Rosen.

The Conservatory: What does it mean for you to be an ethical brand?

Arabella: For us, it’s always about common sense, making small changes that make sense. We are vegan and cruelty free, and we make everything in small batches.

Charlotte: And we try to be realistic about what gets recycled. All these plastics that have recyclable symbols often don’t get recycled. But glass bottles do. Even if someone chucks it out the window, it does no harm. And in the end, it breaks down into sand.

TC: What process do you use to develop products?

Charlotte: The first thing is very personal. What do we want on our skin? Generally speaking what we want is natural and preservative-free, but we also use man-made ingredients like retinoid, which is a hardworking, well-proven synthetic.

Arabella: We made the Intense Night Oil because I wanted to start using a retinoid but I didn’t want something that would make me go red and have my face fall off. I thought, ‘Why can’t we have a beautiful natural plant oil base and put one, hard-working retinoid in there?

TC: What drove you to formulate this way?

Arabella: I was working as a makeup artist and doing beauty writing but my skin wasn’t feeling great, I hadn’t found my thing. Around that time I was sent a cleansing oil. It was a eureka moment – my face was really clean, not dry, not tight, and my skin feels really soft and plump. But it was made of mineral oil, which doesn’t suit my skin. In a very audacious way I sat down at my kitchen table, and made one with natural plant oils.

Charlotte: It’s the Rose Geranium and Apricot Cleansing Oil, which is still our bestselling product.

Arabella: And it’s ideal for summer. I’m doing a lot of FaceTime consultations with clients and a lot of them are having issues with removing their SPF, and problems with breakouts. SPF is made to be water-resistant and it’s quite difficult to get off the skin. You’ve got to take it off properly with cleansing oil and a cotton face cloth.

TC: What do you say to those who are still hesitant about using oil on their face?

Arabella: When you spend a couple of minutes massaging it in, it’s instant gratification for your skin. I would always prep my client’s skin with face oil before makeup. You get that lovely slip, you get the blood flowing, you get that glowy, plumped-up look. We are meant to have oils in our skin, and as you age your lipids decrease. Natural plant oils are the most similar to what’s in your skn.

Charlotte: Our Super Seed Fragrance Free Facial Oil has cult status in the UK. When we first launched, there wasn’t another fragrance-free facial oil on the market – that means there’s no man-made perfume and no essential oils. It’s blend of 22 seed oils that are like health food for the skin. All the oils in it are cold-pressed on the same farm in the Midlands of the UK and bottled under the same roof. You want to be in the shed on the day they’re pressing strawberry seed oil – it smells like strawberry jam!

TC: Where do you think sustainable beauty is headed?

Charlotte: What we’re beginning to realize is the whole idea of science versus nature is a false dichotomy. Nature and natural ingredients are scientifically proven to have really significant effects and customers are seeing it on their own skin. People really understand that natural is not just better for their skin, it’s better for the world.