When Keilly Shirra’s daughter was born in 2003, it opened up more than a new chapter in her life as a mother. It was to unknowingly kick-start the prelude to a chapter, which would see Keilly become her own boss and establish her growing business, Mad About Nature, which makes luxurious all-natural handmade soaps.
Keilly’s daughter was born with eczema and fuelled a passion to start using natural skincare products which she knew would be free from harsh chemicals and unnecessary synthetic ingredients which dry-out and damage skin. On a trip to London’s Covent Garden, Keilly discovered a homemade soap stall which would change her life.
“I didn’t even know you could make soap,” confessed Keilly. “This stall in London was selling little pots of cream for eczema and natural soaps. I started chatting with the lady about how she made her products and she revealed it was very much like cooking and following recipes. I was mesmerised.”
Off the back of that chance meeting, Keilly enrolled on a soap-making course in Norfolk and enjoyed a day of making her own soaps. Keilly instantly became hooked.
“My house started to fill up with all these weird and wonderful soaps I’d experimented with and I was giving them to my family and friends to try. It was around that time that a friend recommended I start selling them.”
After looking into the regulations around selling cosmetics and arranging safety assessments, Keilly headed out to her first craft fair in Quorn.
“I was so inexperienced – I was selling bars for £1,” laughed Keilly. “However, I sold everything I had and my journey creating and selling soap began.”
Eager to turn her passion for crafting soaps into a business, Keilly was forced to overcome a number of challenges – none more so than getting her head around elements such as safety assessments, correct labelling, adhering to EU standards and regulations, insurance and good manufacturing processes.
“I also had people go off and copy my ideas,” revealed Keilly. “Now, I find it quite flattering and it makes me want to be more creative and keep ahead of my game. However, the biggest challenge was expanding the business whilst caring for my young children. I’ve found myself getting up at 3am to make products and package them, and trying to fit in all my work around them. Being a working mum is really hard sometimes – but I wouldn’t change it!”
Keilly found out about The Sir Thomas White Loan Charity through a friend’s recommendation at a time that she was keen to create more working space.
“The process was a bit like Dragon’s Den – but nicer,” admitted Keilly. “I had to make a business plan and know where I wanted to take the business; I really had to do a lot of research. It was daunting, but a good exercise in knowing your business.
“I had a loan of £12,000 which I used to convert an old garage at home into a workable space and turn it into a workshop,” she continued. “It’s like a mini kitchen in there with a sink, worktops and storage. It needed rebuilding from the inside-out. I also invested in lots of materials, new labels and computer equipment, and paid for deposits to attend big events.”
Moving forward, Keilly will be attending a number of big events before the end of the year and have a stall to big retailers like the National Trust and the Woodland Trust – and her advice to anybody considering The Sir Thomas White Loan Charity is simple; go for it!
“Our biggest growth has been selling to the retail and wholesale market,” said Keilly. “We supply from small independent retailers to individuals who go off and have a stall themselves. We’re just about to feature in the Woodland Trust’s catalogue, which goes out to 65,000 subscribers.
“If you think you have a good idea, are willing to put in the hours into your business and have a passionate drive – then do it. Do your research and have some ground experience first to know it will work.
“Applying to the charity is a brilliant way to take you to the next level.”
For more information on Mad About Nature, please visit www.madaboutnature.uk
To find out more about The Sir Thomas White Loan Charity’s interest-free business loans, please click here