Lismore enterprise ‘cleans up’ on sowing of wild oats

Returning from England with her husband and children, Karen Cottier bought a farmhouse with outbuildings on a 3ac patch in Lismore, Co. Waterford, that she now uses as a base for a soap and bath milk making enterprise. Flahavan’s organic oats from Co. Waterford, are a key ingredient.

Karen and her business partner, Deirdre Meany, are behind the natural skincare brand Wild Oats. This, the enterprising duo said, is beloved of local farmers, the farrier, the vet and the A.I. man.

The area may be well known for its community silage weekends but Karen and Deirdre assure Agriland that they’re a sweet-smelling lot around these parts.

“I started making the soap at my kitchen table at a time when my daughter was doing her Junior Cert. There wasn’t a free surface in the house at the time,” recalled Karen, who has a background in marketing and architectural conservation.

Gort native, Deirdre, a scientist who previously worked in pharma, food and cancer research, tweaked the formulations after she joined Wild Oats.

The two women knew each other socially and decided to join forces in 2016, working from an outbuilding at Karen’s home.

“It is a typical old single-storey stone farmhouse with a courtyard. My husband and I were attracted to it because we just love old buildings. When we relocated from the UK, we originally looked at Cork but fell in love with Lismore. We had always lived in rural areas in England.

wild oats“We did a lot of restoration work to the interior and did our best to sympathetically restore the exterior so that it blended in with the outbuildings and the landscape. I feel that we are custodians of these buildings,” Karen said.

Keen to develop a natural beauty brand with locally-sourced ingredients, she found the setting inspirational.

It is fantastic to live and work in a rural area where the hedgerows are untouched. We have a wild garden all around us, full of natural ingredients such as elderflower and wild garlic. It is like having a natural supermarket on your doorstep.

“I think the local farmers thought we were bonkers at first, but now they are really supportive, tipping us off on where we can find the best ingredients for our products. We also grow our own herbs. We make everything by hand, from the cutting of the ingredients to the trimming, and the grinding of the oats.”

Having tripled their turnover in 2017, it’s all go at Wild Oats. “Our products are just going into the Kilkenny Shop which is very exciting. They are also on sale at Cork airport; Terminal 2 at Dublin airport; and in shops in a lot of tourist destinations such as Galway, Clare and Tipperary.

“The range was sold at Kildare Outlet [Kildare Village] before Christmas and it was fantastic to see Wild Oats on sale alongside big brands such as Molton Brown,” said Karen.

A spokesperson for Kilkenny Shop commented on the brand, stating: “Wild Oats is one of five enterprises that successfully got through the Kilkenny Shop’s Open Call initiative where applicants entered a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style process, with the winners being showcased in six-week pop-up shops.”

wild oats

Karen continued: “We will be exhibiting at Showcase Ireland this weekend and one of the things we will be looking at is developing a relationship with distributors in different countries. We have targeted Poland and eastern Europe because of the interest there in natural products. Ireland is synonymous with nutrition and a green landscape.

People are beginning to approach skincare in the same way as food. Just as there is a lot of interest in what we put into our bodies, there is growing interest in what goes on our bodies.

“People are looking for products that are full of goodness. They want to know about the ingredients,” Karen asserted.

Deirdre noted: “The skin is our largest organ. Daily exposure to harsh chemicals and synthetics found in some commercial products can have a longterm effect on our skin and our bodies.

“By getting back to basics, using natural skincare with natural emollience, we give the skin a chance to be cleansed, moisturised and renewed with traditional ingredients which are carefully chosen to soothe – not irritate – the skin.”

January, Karen said, is normally really quiet but this year they have hit the ground running. “Some of our products have tended to be seasonal – to fit in with the tourist season or Christmas – but our seasons are getting longer.”

The business partners currently employ one person full-time and also take on seasonal workers from the locality.

“We are in a very rural area, 3km from Lismore, near Mount Melleray, and it’s great to be able to run a small business from the locality, and get such strong local support.”