14th Apr 2021
The story behind our bespoke bath and body products, handmade in partnership with Pure Lakes in the Lake District.
As she uses a piping bag to squeeze handmade hand cream into tins destined for Tebay Services, Claire Mc Keever could be mistaken for a pastry chef icing a cake. Indeed, the zesty scents wafting out from the mixing bowl filled with a fresh batch of Myrtle & bitter orange hand cream suggest that it would be good enough to eat.
“We don’t use any artificial perfumes at all,” says Claire, filling each tin carefully to the brim. “Every scent you can smell is essential oils. The ingredients we use are natural and unprocessed: this cream contains coconut butter, beeswax, sunflower oil and avocado oil.”
Claire and her husband, Gareth Mc Keever, are the owners of Pure Lakes, producers of handmade natural face, body and haircare products and the makers of our bespoke wellbeing range. Claire is a former actor and salsa teacher; Gareth a former stockbroker. The story of how they came to buy a natural skincare company and return to Claire’s native Cumbria to run it is a reminder that sometimes, if you really want something, you just have to ask.
“I’ve always had an interest in natural skincare; it was a bit of a hobby for me,” Claire says. “It comes from my grandmother. When I was little and I hurt myself she was always rubbing in homemade lotions and potions.”
She and Gareth were long-standing mail-order customers of Pure Lakes when they lived in London. The company was founded in 2006 by Iain and Sandra Blackburn to produce handmade affordable luxury skincare. “The products reminded me of home and I really loved their ethos,” Claire says. “It was all about being completely natural. I thought: this is what I want to put on my skin.”
After becoming the parents of young children, Claire and Gareth realised they needed a change from their high-pressure city life. “We wanted to run a business of our own,” Gareth remembers. He was also a fan of Pure Lakes – he used to send their bath and body products to his parents in Northern Ireland to use in their B&B – and he made a cold call that turned out to be life-changing.
He rang up Iain and Sandra to let them know that if they ever wanted to sell their business, he’d be interested. And as it happened, they did. The Blackburns had decided to step back, gradually, so they could spend more time with their grandchildren. “It just fell into place, really,” Claire says. “We got really lucky.”
The Mc Keevers worked alongside Iain and Sandra for two years while buying Pure Lakes in stages, eventually taking full ownership in 2016. Claire retrained as a formulator, completing an apprenticeship with Sandra and taking courses in natural skincare, while Gareth took on the sales and marketing side of the business, building up relationships with producers of their sustainably grown natural ingredients – such as the women’s cooperative in Burkina Faso that supplies their shea butter.
With their sustainable pedigree and beguiling scents, Pure Lakes products then caught the attention of Tebay’s Services’ head of lifestyle, Tracey Clowes, who was looking to commission local makers to produce our bespoke ranges. She and her colleague Diana Hall worked with Claire and Sandra to create exclusive essential oil blends that reflected the landscape and spirit of Tebay Services.
“Westmorland was the inspiration,” Tracey says. “The places we are, the scents of the land and the life we live here – in touch with nature and its properties. We did lots of scent tests and Pure Lakes produced hundreds of different samples until we found the blends we were happy with. We loved what Pure Lakes were doing and we loved having the chance to blend our different approaches and skills to come up with something unique.”
The resulting scents – Myrtle & bitter orange; Lavender, petitgrain & black pepper; Rosewood & mint; Basil, grapefruit & ylang ylang – were used to create a range of body washes, handwashes and lotions packaged, like Pure Lakes own range, in recyclable biopolymer bottles. Their natural fragrances, Gareth says, are gently invigorating in a way that suggests the great outdoors. “There’s a freshness to them that is evocative of the Cumbrian landscape.”
Working with Tracey and her team, he says, has inspired him and Claire to create new products, such as tinned soaps and reed diffusers. Their most recent innovation is home spa kits – gift boxes containing body butters, salt scrubs and facial treatments – which launched in our Farmshop at the end of 2020. “We very much value the relationship we have with Tracey and the whole Westmorland team. They have really helped us develop our business.”
Since taking full ownership of Pure Lakes, Gareth and Claire have expanded their team – which still includes Iain and Sandra one day each week – and increased their product range. They’ve outgrown their Staveley workshop and hope to move production to Far Sawrey, the Lake District village where they live with their three young children. “We’re not trying to be Estée Lauder, but it feels great to employ local people and feel that you are supporting local services,” Gareth says. “We love our quality of life and the sense of community.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of their new profession, Claire says, is positive feedback from customers. “People ring up all the time and tell us that our products have really helped them with aching joints or dry skin or eczema,” she says. “Being able to help somebody feels really wonderful. It’s the whole point of getting up in the morning and doing it.”
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