Five Minutes with the Northumberland Soap-maker Who Makes Cosmetics from her Farmhouse
When Bernice Drummond started making soaps from her Northumberland farmhouse in 2008 it was nothing more than a hobby to pass the time. A decade later, she is making cosmetics as a full time job and her business, Lilac & Thyme, is growing day by day
Where did the idea for Lilac & Thyme come from?
I’ve always loved being creative so one day I had a go at making soap and just loved how it turned out. I ended up making more and giving it away to friends, but I was making so much soap I thought maybe I should be selling it. So it grew from there, and a year later I decided I wanted to develop a cream. Most of my adult life was spent flying as long-haul cabin crew and I was aware that the cabin environment was very dehydrating, so wanted to make something to help with that. I had soon created a face cream which I formulated with rosehip oil, vitamin E, grapefruit seed extract and jojoba, and it was just amazing.
What’s the concept of the brand?
During my years of flying I was working in first class, carrying celebrities, so at that time I sold expensive products on board and experienced luxurious cosmetics brands. But I felt it was a very pretentious industry, all very much about names and branding rather than about the actual ingredients. People will spend so much money on branded products because they think that means they are going to be good – but actually some of the cheaper products have got much more honest ingredients. Something that was really important to me was to be affordable while using the best ingredients possible.
‘Where I can I try to use local ingredients.
The barley that goes in my soaps is from
Aireyholme Farm, who are friends of ours
and only about a mile and a half away from us’
So what are your products like?
My range includes pretty much every cosmetic product – lip balms, bath bombs, oils, perfumes, creams, soaps and candles, but I’m still always developing new things and looking at the latest ingredients.
All of my products are handmade on my farm in Northumberland. I have two rooms for my business, one is the studio where I make everything so that’s set up like a kitchenette with a sink and industrial tops in a very clean, sterile environment. Then I have my office area which is where I have all my stock and do all the paperwork, labelling, packaging and distribution. It works perfectly because I don’t have to travel to work, and after years of travelling it’s just absolutely wonderful. My commute is just a few metres as opposed to 350 miles!
I notice a lot of people who say their products are handmade but they’re actually just buying in a base, whereas what I’m doing is making them completely from scratch. For my creams I’m melting the fats down, emulsifying with water, adding a preservative – essentially I make the emulsion from scratch. Certainly with the perfumes I’m blending my essential oils, following my own recipe and then using perfumer’s alcohol so again it’s completely done by me. My soap is made by cold process which is a really ancient technique where you combine oils and fats with caustic soda.
Where I can I try to use local ingredients. The barley that goes in my soaps is from Aireyholme Farm, who are friends of ours and only about a mile and a half away from us. That’s used as an exfoliator in my soaps. Then I do have bees but I haven’t extracted honey at all this year so instead I get it from South Durham Honey, who have the most amazing heather honey which goes into my lip balm. So that’s local too, and it just adds such a beautiful flavour and fragrance to my products.
What are your most popular products?
It’s funny because everything sells at about the same rate. There are sometimes spikes where I’ll wonder whether there’s been a post or has somebody done a recommendation because all of a sudden I’ll sell loads of something, but generally it’s just across the board. I would say that I’ve got my regular favourites, so my day and night creams are very popular. I brought out a cleansing balm not long ago and that’s been really popular as well.
You’ll know yourself there are certain times where you’ll want certain things so in the summertime you might not light candles as much whereas it’s more cosy in the winter. Or on the other hand, I’ve got certain fragrances that are more popular in the summertime, certainly my colognes which are very citrusy and fresh are really popular at the minute. So it’s definitely a bit to do with the seasons and the weather too.
What are your plans for Lilac & Thyme?
Just to keep going and continue to develop. I’m still small scale, so just to be able to grow a little bit more would be very nice. Also just to continue to listen to my customers, I think that’s one thing that I can offer which a lot of big companies can’t. I do a lot of personalisation so that’s something I’d like to develop as well.
I have to say I’ve been very blessed through Covid. I’ve got some really good, loyal customers, and what’s wonderful about this business is so many people get back in touch. I’ll post something out and they’ll say ‘I got my parcel today and I’m so thrilled’. The feedback is just so rewarding.