Named after two shipwrecks on Scilly, Phoenix and Providence skincare adopts a kinder, more natural approach to nourishment.
In conversation with owner, Ella – an advocate of slow and mindful living – with a Scilly story to tell.
Please tell us a little about yourself and how you found yourself on Scilly?
Having finished my law degree and spent some time travelling, I was at home in Devon with my parents feeling very jet lagged and wondering what to do next with my life… I saw a seasonal job advertised on Gumtree for a position on a flower farm on St Martin’s for six months. With a view to saving money for my next trip, I thought I’d get in touch and see if they were still looking for anyone. This was in the early hours of the morning and by 9am I had the job! I arrived on St Martin’s in January 2009. Despite it being deepest winter and pretty wild over here, I quickly fell in love with the beautiful place, the pace of life and of course, I should mention the island baker Barney, my now husband!
What is it like to live on Scilly and bring up a young family there?
Island living is dictated by the seasons, from the busy tourist period at the height of summer, to the very quiet, short winter days. The tides and weather dictate whether you can boat to the other islands and when and whether the freight boat can arrive. As the natural elements are beyond control, you learn to live in sync with nature, slowing down and going with the flow. Starting a family has rooted me to these special islands even more. My children are constantly sandy, muddy or wet and have such freedom and access to nature that I think they’d be too feral to adapt to mainland life! Being part of a small community, they are used to talking to people of all ages and it is a very nurturing environment for them to grow up in.
You currently live on St Martin’s, is this your favourite island?
Despite being a small archipelago, all of the islands have their own unique beauty and character. But yes, St Martin’s is of course my favourite! St Martin’s is renowned for being the island with the most beautiful sandy beaches. We also have great friends on the island; it is a very creative and inclusive community.
What was the inspiration for creating Phoenix and Providence?
I don’t have a career background in skincare, but it has always been a passion of mine. I used to spend all of my pocket money in Boots and a lot of time pouring over the beauty pages of magazines. Since having children, I became a lot more aware of using natural products in our home and so started experimenting with making my own skincare products.
When my children were very small, swimming became my place to find some head space, to tune into myself and immerse myself in nature. I began to wonder how I could bottle the feeling. After giving this idea some serious thought, I knew I wanted to make natural products that not only nourished the skin, but also encouraged a moment of self-connection, much like swimming does. Each product has a ‘ritual for use’ breathing exercise you can follow. I truly believe that a few minutes focused on your breath can make a big difference to how you feel in your day.
As well as being a readily available and nutrient-rich ingredient, using seaweed also links to the islands’ heritage of kelp burning. Kelp was burned on the islands from around 1680 to the last recorded kelp burning in 1835. The ash from this was then used in glass and soap making. Phoenix and Providence are the name of two shipwrecks sunk on the Isles of Scilly – Phoenix in 1680 when the kelp burning began and Providence in 1833 as the kelp burning ended. Providence means the protective care of nature as a spiritual power and Phoenix represents the rising from the ashes, quite literally in this case.
How did you learn to make the products?
I studied for a diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation. This was a great introduction into how to formulate natural products and how to consider which ingredients to use. It also gave me a very useful understanding of the legal requirements and testing for products to be sale ready.
How do you harvest the kelp?
I harvest the seaweed at low tide from St Martin’s flats which is a few hundred metres from my home. I am very conscious of foraging for seaweed in an ecologically friendly manner, so I use scissors to cut the seaweed, ensuring it can grow back. The variety I harvest is Bladderwrack as it grows plentifully and is the variety used most commonly in the beauty industry. Once I have a wheelbarrow full, I take it home and give it a rinse before laying it out on my purpose-built racks to dry.
How are the resulting oils, balms and salts created?
Once the seaweed has dried it is either ground to be added to the bath salt mixture or infused in organic, cold-pressed oils. The infusion process takes a full month. The seaweed is then drained, leaving behind a beautiful nutrient rich oil.
What are the benefits of using seaweed in skincare?
As well has being very hydrating, seaweed is full of vitamins and minerals that are amazing for the skin. It is high in Vitamin C and amino acids that help skin tone and texture, while it’s anti-inflammatory properties from naturally occurring zinc and magnesium, help soothe skin.
How do you select the other ingredients?
I wanted to create a curated collection of skincare and each product is made with carefully selected ingredients depending on its purpose. For example, the addition of sea buckthorn to the Soothe Hand and Body Balm is used for its healing qualities, while the oils selected for the body oil are lighter and quickly absorbed by the skin. All ingredients used are organic and from sustainable sources. For the products with a fragrance, I have created individual essential oil blends that are designed to refresh and calm the mind, much like a walk along the beach.
I understand that you have a passion for wild swimming...
When I am in the water I am completely in the moment. I am focussed on how my body feels, how I am moving and what I can see. When I am swimming my controlled breathing is an instant way to calm my parasympathetic nervous system, meaning that whatever has happened in the day washes away. I love being immersed in nature and supported by the sea; you get a real sense of perspective of the world. My favourite place to swim has to be at Little Bay on St Martin’s. Even on the greyest day the sea is always a beautiful colour. There is a plethora of wildlife to keep me company, both above and below the water. It is one of the most peaceful places you will ever find, unless my children are there!