How is everyone keeping? Any meltdowns to report? I, for one, am just that bit more comfortable with temperatures returning to a more bearable kind of warmth, although I loved all the gorgeous sunshine nevertheless. Delicious evening swims, cold beers in the garden... we certainly made the most of our fine weather. I won't lie though, there have been some clouds hanging over me regardless of the glorious summer vibes... Suffice it to say, it's very hard being away from your family at times, when travel is restricted and expat living is reduced to... well, simply being too far away from your loved ones in need. While work was and continues to be a welcome distraction [BIG THANK YOU to all my lovely clients, old and new], some proper and real time off is imminent.
For now though, let me make good on my promise to introduce you to some fabulous women! Let them inspire you as much as they inspire and uplift me with their force of nature temperaments, incredible skills, warmhearted wit, and altogether loveliness! As per my journal posts in June, the following forms part of a new series on here titled Female Reflections. In irregular intervals, I plan to interview inspiring women whose voices I would like to amplify and whose stories I would like to give another platform. The aim is simply to share with you the joy that meeting these characters has brought me. Perhaps, like me, you also experience a lot of friendly curiosity around your favourite makers, shakers, movers, artists, or even people in general. If so, then this is for you. Keep reading more about their process, typical day, background, and inspiration or motivation.
After (re)introducing myself in June, I am now very happy that my wonderful friend Fiona Burke from Little Red has agreed to be part of the Female Reflections series and share some insights about her work and life as a maker.
Many thanks, Fiona, for being an interviewee for Female Reflections. Many will have met and know you as the cheerful mastermind and all-round wonder woman behind organic seaweed skincare brand Little Red. You’ve also been a well familiar face all over Cork farmer’s markets for many years, having started out as artisan cheesemonger with Straw Bale Cheeses.
- For those who are new to your work, how would you describe the products you create, what does your range include?
At Little Red, we hand-make a range of face & body personal care products imbued with the wonder powers of wild Atlantic Irish seaweed. These include face & hand creams, cleansers, serums, balms, butters & infused oils. They are completely natural, organic, & crafted from scratch – we do not use cosmetic bases.
- What would you say are the core values of your brand altogether?
All natural, organic, sustainable, hand-crafted, cruelty-free, honest….
- Now that we know a bit about your handmade goodies, how do they actually come into being? What is your personal making process, from idea to finished product?
Transforming the concept into actuality is fun! I love the experimental process – mixing, measuring, making mistakes (absolutely vital – without which we would not learn) – made all the more rewarding when the result is a working product. I usually give samples to friends & family (my own personal guinea pigs), & ask them for feedback relating to texture, workability, scent & overall fell-good factor. When I think I’ve nailed a formulation, I will send samples to be tested by my testing company in England, wait for three months for the go-ahead, then proceed to bring the new product to market.
- What would a “typical day” in your maker’s life look like, if indeed there is such a thing as a typical day (or even week)? Are you working on Little Red full-time?
I am so proud & happy to tell you that operating as owner & maker at Little Red is my full-time occupation! So on days when I work from home, I wake up & journal from my bed for a few minutes. Usually then I prioritise a quick yoga practice – time spent on my mat could be as little as ten minutes, but ideally twenty or even thirty. This calms my nervous system & prepares me both mentally & physically for the day ahead, particularly when I’m extra busy. I try to eat well, so enjoy a breakfast of fresh fruit, pancakes or granola, or eggs & avocado with juice, all with an obligatory mug of coffee! There are always emails to check, orders to prepare, & general admin to attend to. If I’m in production in my workshop (conveniently located across the yard from my house), I try to get in there early to get big batches made in one go. At some point in the day I break for an hour’s walk in the hills with my dogs. Often I will make business calls from my walk, but I try to mindfully take that time out from work & family life. This makes me more productive in general.
As most self-employed people will attest, there just aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week! End of working days roll around fast, & if I’m on dinner duty, the pressure’s on to cook for our family of five. Teenage activities, lifts here & there, or sometimes a Zoom yoga or Zumba class will take up an evening. Recently I’ve gone back to horse-riding, which is complete escapism from busy life, and reminds me that we are meant to have fun, relax & unwind in our lives. I return to my family a (hopefully) better mother.
On market days I rise & shine at 5.15, as I currently live a good hour’s travel from my weekend markets. This is where I do most of my socializing, as well as marketing & selling Little Red. I consider myself so lucky to be part of the West Cork market community – a wonderful network of artisan makers, many of whom I get to call friends. By the time I get back home, sort out dinner & walk the dogs, I’m ready to hit the hay…and maybe do it all over again the following day…
- How come you decided to make cosmetics? Have you set out, always knowing this was what you wanted to do? What professional and/or personal background journey brought you to where you are now?
It was there in the back of my mind for many years before I allowed myself the time to indulge…I have always had a strong interest in all things natural that benefit our health & wellbeing. When I was trying to decide what to study in college, I was steered towards the sciences, because I had a strong aptitude in that area. So I opted for Engineering, which I now know was not my true vocation. However, the training & tools it provided me with have been invaluable in many facets of my life, including the formulation of Little Red recipes.
When I left my job as a mechanical engineer with an aeronautical company, I had an epiphany to jump into markets, so I set up an artisan cheese stall selling top quality Irish & continental farmhouse cheeses & accompaniments (again: health & wellbeing). That was twenty-one years ago, and run by my partner, is still going strong.
Once my three kids were all in school, I decided to do a course in herbal remedies, which led me to making creams at my kitchen table, which led me to selling them from our market stall, and the rest is history. It made perfect sense to include the superfood that is seaweed in different forms in my creations. I grew up in Clare, where a love for eating a bag of fresh ‘seagrass’ (dillisk) from a brown paper bag on the prom at Lahinch was instilled in me when I was still in nappies. Whether we ingest it or apply it to our skin topically, seaweed in its many forms can benefit our bodies & immune systems with its wonderful selection of trace element, antioxidants, vitamins & minerals. As an island nation, we have some of the most beautiful, nourishing resources on our shores – so I do my best to harness some of their goodness through Little Red.
- Where do you get ideas for your creations, how do you try and test what works?
Often it’ll be suggestions from customers, friends, or a personal need for a product with a different purpose. It may even be an accidental blend of scents or feels – I use my intuition. Of course I use all my own products, so I definitely know what I like and what works for me… Having the market platform is invaluable for testing what customers like. You are there in the moment with them, so can get a sense of their reaction, and if they truly like your creations.
- What motivates you to keep making and coming up with new products?
There are many more ideas swirling around in my head –again, it’s a matter of having the time to create them. Listening to customers’ & friends’ needs, keeping an eye on what’s out there in the market, lifestyle changes, harnessing the benefits of the latest wonder oils & other ingredients…all these factors & more influence what I get up to experimenting on in my workshop. Currently I’m putting the final touches to my re-brand, which will be rolling out later in August, which I’m super excited about! It’s been a while coming…It’s good to change things up every now & then.
- Lastly, is there something that you always wanted to share, yet never got asked to? Maybe your proudest moment or any advice, words of wisdom or other bits that you feel your clients or even fellow makers should know about or could benefit from? Relating to work or life, as you see fit.
I have alluded to it in the past, but it’s not something I bring up very often…
When I worked as an engineer in my twenties and was the only female in our engineering office at the time, I was treated ‘differently’ to the lads by my immediate boss. I get on pretty well with most people & created relations with my colleagues all over the company, which allowed me an insight into their perception of how I was being treated, & provided me with the truth that I wasn’t just ‘imagining things’. Over the course of a year or so, my health & self-confidence deteriorated. I love my food, but breakfast became no longer an option as I felt sick every morning heading into work.
It’s not all doom & gloom however… When I finally could put up with the situation no longer, & had a breakdown of sorts, this is when I had the light-bulb moment to quit & move on to market pastures to set up my own cheese business, & ultimately led me towards creating Little Red. I have been my own boss ever since with absolutely zero regrets. So the whole unpleasant situation acted as a catalyst in getting me on the path that was right for me, for which I am truly grateful. In hindsight, it was a gift. Nowadays, I work hard, play hard, am responsible for Little Red & answer to my customers, but it’s ultimately me who calls the shots. I have designed my work & life according to my needs, desires & lifestyle and can provide for my family.
I guess my message here is this: if you’re not happy in a situation, more often than not you can change it. It may mean serious upheaval & the destruction of your current life as you know it before you can create one that you’re happier with…but isn’t it worth it to achieve happiness, contentment, fulfillment? Rather than plodding along mindlessly & not living life to the max? This applies not just to your work/occupation, but to relationships & so many of our other ‘realities’ today. We are masters of our own destiny & have the innate power to be masters of change. We are here to make a difference.
"In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "...be the change you wish to see in the world".
Now if that is not inspiring on so many levels, then I don't know what is!!! If you’re also a big fan of Fiona’s freshly scented creations and lush textured creams, check out her website www.littlered.ie or find @littlered on social media for more. Otherwise, visit her beautifully presented market stalls at Skibbereen Farmer’s Market (Saturday) and Schull Country Market (Sunday) throughout the season. You’ll always be greeted with a friendly smile, some banter, and a generous spritz of fancy Little Red sanitiser! Not to be missed…
I sincerely hope you enjoyed this instalment of Female Reflections and will continue to read about the marvellous women who form part of this vibrant community. This is only the beginning... plenty more empowering inspiration to come and so much to learn from!