Interview by Naomi Mdudu, The Lifestyle Edit
Pure organic candles are all the rage now, but that wasn’t the case when Nicola Elliott started her brand, Neom Organics back in 2005. That’s because the magazine editor turned entrepreneur is the woman responsible for spearheading the movement. Since setting up shop, she’s made it her mission to create the kind of products that are beautiful to look at but also push the envelope when it comes to their organic credentials and aroma-therapeutic benefits.
Wellness is her business and she anticipated the demand for ‘conscious’ products long before anyone else did. That’s partly why Neom has been so successful. That, and the fact that Elliott has used her voice as a leader in the wellness space to kick start conversations about the importance of self-care, particularly as our lives and jobs become increasingly high pressured and high stress. Here she shares her start-up journey and the lessons she’s learned along the way, as well as her top tips for keeping healthy (and sane) amidst a busy lifestyle.
On what sparked her transition from journalist to entrepreneur…
My life was pretty hectic when I was living in London working as a journalist – I’m talking 60-hour weeks as well as a jam packed social calendar – and I was totally burnt out. I really noticed that my own wellbeing, and that of my close friends, was being affected by the stress and demands of a modern day busy life. The worst offenders? Poor sleep, stress, low energy and mood swings. This kick started my own wellbeing journey. I trained as an aromatherapist and nutritionist and from there, together with my business partner, launched Neom Organics in 2005.
The eureka moment…
While I was still working as a journalist, I had been experimenting with tinctures for my friends that really worked, but the real lightbulb moment for the brand came when I was looking for some organic pampering gifts for my very green-minded but glamorous sister. What was available to buy in the shops was uninspiring. I had to either choose something glam that was full of synthetic chemicals or head to a health food shop and buy something with great organic credentials but stuffed in a brown paper bag. So right from the start I knew our products had to be 100% natural and also had to have a luxury feel. No-one else was doing that back then so I had a good feeling!
I would be here all day if I listed all the challenges – all start-ups face difficulties – but you have to stay positive, focused and remember why you started.
Neom isn’t your average beauty & wellness brand…
We create 100% natural fragrances for the mind and body, each providing true therapeutic benefits to relieve stress, aid sleep, boost your energy or lift your mood. We really believe that wellbeing starts with the little moments; the shower drops at 6am that leave you energised and ready to go, the light of a candle that can help create a tranquil calm zone in your busy family home. We want to help you take the small steps, that can help you feel your best every day. Now more than ever, we’re about helping you manage your own wellbeing in the simplest, bite size ways.
On the growing appetite for ‘conscious’ products…
More and more of us are rejecting chemical-filled products for more natural alternatives. They’ve become so mainstream – we don’t have to go to our local health food store to find them; they’re everywhere and they are the trend. The media, the accessibility of information on the Internet and the role brands are playing in educating their customers has all had a part to play in that transition.
I always knew this would happen. Our lives are crazier than ever so I knew customers would increasingly need wellness products and advice. I read a lot about where the industry is going and I use social media to keep up too. I also listen to our customers and my friends. They are always my starting point for new ideas or product development.
Great people are everything – especially their skills, their insights and their passion. Everyone at Neom believes in our joint goal to inspire busy people to lead naturally healthy lives.
The biggest challenges she faced starting the business…
I would be here all day if I listed all the challenges – all start-ups face difficulties – but you have to stay positive, focused and remember why you started. When we set out, we wanted to create 100% natural candles, which are actually really difficult to make. Everyone said “you definitely can’t do that” but eventually, we found a way and ‘scent to make you feel good’ is still our mantra.
The plain fact is that creating organic and natural product is actually quite tricky, not to mention more expensive – you can’t be sure if a particular plant or ingredient is going to have a good harvest or not. For example if Geranium Oil becomes in short supply, the price goes up. It’s not like working with chemical mixes where you just press a button and you can churn out as many as you like. And with organics, you have to batch test all the time because the ingredients used are all slightly different.
The side effect though, is that consumers get products that are second-to-none. Because we blend, re-blend, and test all the time, each and every product is as close to perfect as we can possibly make it. Being made in the UK too, means we can jump on a train to our lab and do it ourselves.
How her team has evolved since starting the brand…
At first it was just my business partner Oli, and I. We took things into our own hands and self-taught. I’d be at night school studying everything there was to know about essential oils, while Oli was uploading the latest version of illustrator onto his laptop to design the packaging.
We slowly built the team, based on the opportunities that were presented to us at that time. Different businesses have different needs, so one might instantly need a commercial director, whereas a digital whizz might be more relevant for another. Now, we have over 40 employees. Great people are everything – their skills, their insights and their passion mean everything. Everyone at Neom believes in our joint goal to inspire busy people to lead naturally healthy lives.
Juggling work & motherhood…
I think in general, working mothers are really hard on themselves – it’s really important not to look around and see how everyone else is doing. We need to stop beating ourselves up about everything and comparing ourselves with other women.
Taking time for yourself is number one. I loathe saying ‘me time’ because it sounds like this indulgent, unnecessary, luxurious, ‘put your feet up while everything else goes on around you’ time, which is completely counterproductive. I strongly believe it’s not a luxury to switch off for half an hour in the evening with a good book, it’s not a luxury to take a 20-minute power walk at lunch time – it’s a necessity!
On staying healthy with a high pressure, fast-paced role…
It’s the small moments that can help improve your overall wellbeing. No one really has time to practice yoga every day for two hours (if only!) so it’s about finding things that work for you; that spritz of perfume before you go into an important meeting that makes you feel powerful; the five minutes breathing exercise at your desk when you feel overwhelmed; the cup of tea and quick catch up with a colleague at 4pm. It’s taking those small moments that will ultimately power you through your day and keep your overall wellbeing in check.
On her style…
I don’t think it’s changed too much since my magazine days. Our office is pretty casual so I usually opt for jeans, shirts, lots of gold necklaces and an oversized bag. If I have an important meeting, or an event, I’ll dress up a little more. Fail-safe for me is a patterned floaty dress or skirt with a chunky heel.
Working mothers are really hard on themselves – it’s really important not to look around and see how everyone else is doing.
The self-care rituals she swears by…
I place a high priority on taking care of myself and my personal wellbeing. After all, we need to be healthy and happy ourselves to be able to take care of others. I always try to take a little time out for myself each day, whether that’s a run in the morning, or a relaxing bath in the evening, just having that time to switch off from being a mum, wife and boss is super important to me. Also, a good night’s sleep is key. Nothing affects how you feel as much as sleep or lack of it. Take time to create a routine. I always read my book, if only for 5 minutes, to help me drift off and I take two magnesium capsules and spritz my pillow with the Perfect Night’s Sleep Pillow Mist. It’s my favourite part of the day.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not sticking to your self-care routine. Life gets crazy and things slip, but I think it helps to have a tool-kit so that when you feel like your routine is off-kilter, you can pick a couple of things from your kit to focus on. The things that work for me are baths, fresh air (even if it’s just a 5-minute walk in place of my usual run), unplugging for at least an hour a day, and reducing my alcohol intake (although I never say no to a glass on a Friday night!).
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs…
Be a self-starter. Oli and I did a lot of the learning ourselves in the beginning. We knew we had a great idea but initially, we had to do a lot of things for ourselves. If you don’t know something, learn about it. There are plenty of resources out there to educate yourself – get online, read the expert business books – these are great places to start. Getting ahead in business really is all about getting on with it and working hard. Don’t dwell on problems and barriers that you come up against. Make finding a solution your number one priority so that you can move onwards and upwards. And also, being successful isn’t necessarily about reinventing the wheel. Our first five treatment candles were the first of their kind – we had taken the idea of a fragrance candle but introduced a whole new organic side to it and discovered the aroma-therapeutic benefits they offered. If your idea or concept isn’t brand new, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, just make sure you do it better than anyone else has before!