White Witch is an Irish company with a difference. Not only is it the first company in Ireland to go plastic-free with its packaging, it’s also vegan and BPA-free with a range of organic, ethical skincare.
Based in Connemara in Co. Galway, White Witch is very environmentally-conscious and believes that nature shouldn’t pay the price for human beauty. From start to finish, the process is handled by the White Witch team themselves. They speak to the growers, the suppliers and local people to acquire the best quality ingredients harvested in the most ethical way. All of their products are made using wild flowers, plants, oats and seaweed from the unspoiled coast and meadows in front of the Atlantic Ocean.
We spoke with founder, Ruth Ruane, about the company that means so much to her and what she sees for its future.
“The very first product I made was for my daughter,” she says. “I was using up a big bag of oats. Her skin was dry when she was a baby, so I would put the oats into a muslin bag with some herbs and use it in the bath. I then noticed how my hands were always very soft after bathing her so I decided to make one for my own bath.
“Instead of using muslin bags I used a special biodegradable material and I hand cut and sewed the sachets. They were wonderful to use. After use, they could be thrown into the compost heap. I had one bath sachet that was filled with seaweed. My rose bushes started to thrive when I started throwing the sachets around them. They were like large tea bags. They made a great fertilizer.”
Being a plastic-free company is very important to Ruth and her team. White Witch is the first Irish company to turn their back on plastics and look for alternatives instead. “I was the first,” Ruth explains. “It is over 13 years ago now. At the time. I remember a journalist and business woman saying to me that nobody is going to care what material the packaging is made from. How wrong she was.”
Ruth hopes that other Irish businesses follow suit and look for more eco-friendly packaging options. She has some advice for young Irish entrepreneurs looking to lessen their footprint on the world. “They should ask themselves why they are doing what they are doing,” she says. “When I started and wanted to make skincare products I asked myself ‘Does the world need this?’ Think about the impact what you are doing is having on the environment. Think about your suppliers. Can you ask them to cut down on the plastic they are sending to you, for example can they use recycled paper instead of bubble wrap? A business needs to minimise as much as possible.
“It’s difficult and so challenging and not always possible,” she continues. “Sometimes it can be a case of radically changing the business depending on what it is. Look for small steps to start with. Ask: ‘Do we need this?’ ‘Is there a non-plastic alternative?’ Look for one difference that can be made, and then another and keep going.”
Ruth is optimistic about other companies following White Witch’s lead. “Always look into the future and at what could be. Keep things really simple. For example, we use the boxes our supplies come in to make boxes for shipping out our products. We are now experts at scaling down cardboard boxes. We use cellulose based scotch tape instead of plastic tape for example.”
She also encourages her customers to take part in reducing, reusing and recycling the packaging that her products come in. “One customer sent us photos of her daughter’s slime collection stored in White Witch jars,” she says.
A plastic-free environment isn’t the only thing that’s important to Ruth. She takes a holistic approach to formulating her products and creates them around positive energy, away from the internet and phones.
“This was always important to me,” she explains. “In fact, years ago we made a range of soaps called ‘enchanted soaps’. We asked the soap maker to sing to the soaps as she was making them. It was a novel idea and the soaps sold very well, but the idea really accentuates the fact that we pay so much close attention to the energy that goes into making the products.
“During the production process, it is important for anyone coming in contact with the products to be well and in good spirits. Our thoughts are focused on what we are making and who we are making them for. So not only in the stage of selecting and preparing the ingredients but also in the blending, the bottling and the boxing. It’s all important to us. The most important thing to us is customer satisfaction and not harming anything or anyone.”
White Witch has its sights set on the future and a range of new products are on the horizon. Ruth, who is certified as a natural perfumer by the International Perfume Foundation, is planning to release a line of vegan solid-perfumes. “We don’t have a set date in mind,” she said. “Ideally for this winter. I’m not going to give too much away except that there are three perfumes.”
The company also plans on expanding their line to include balms and creams for children. “I really want to do this,” Ruth says. “I am always torn between what product to bring out, as before I rebranded I had a huge range of 26 different products. All of them were good, so it’s hard to choose.
“The Regenerating Balm actually came from a product called Bridget’s Balm that was made for all sorts of skin problems, from nappy rash to stretch marks to insect bites and itchy skin. The formula is still pretty much the same. It’s vegan now so we don’t use propolis anymore, but it still does the same amazing job and can still be used on babies’ bottoms.”
“We also want to re-release a hair product in a new and improved formula,” she says. “The big question with this one is: Is the world ready? This is going to be very special.”
As an independent business, White Witch is very much family-run, and Ruth garners the help of her children in some of the elements of the manufacturing process. “The team behind White Witch has changed a lot over the years,” she says. “When it started it was just a team of one, myself. Then once my eldest daughter Karma was older, she started helping out. She could run the manufacturing process completely by herself by this stage and is better than I am at a lot of aspects of the business. She has such a keen eye for detail and is OCD when it comes to quality control, which is a good thing. I would trust her with every aspect of it. She understands the ethos.
“My younger children help by putting labels on the boxes when things get really busy, though I do have to bribe them. I have seven children so that is a lot of helping hands! 🙂 Caitriona Ni Chonghaile is White Witch’s sales representative and a White Witch angel. White Witch would not exist now without all she has done.”
As a lifelong vegetarian and nature-lover, Ruth loves working with natural ingredients, particularly oatmeal. “Oatmeal is safe enough for newborns and soothes irritated and dry skin. It contains natural saponins that lift dirt and grime off the skin. It also contains natural emollients that create an invisible protective barrier on the skin’s surface, preventing it from drying out and protecting it from harsh elements and from contaminants.
“In its whole form (rather than the extract that we see in products like Aveeno), it contains nourishing b vitamins and antioxidants as well as protein. Another reason that I pick oatmeal is that it is the first ingredient I ever used at the beginning of White Witch, so I feel I have to honour it.”
Ruth’s personal favourite product from the White Witch range is the Deep Cleanse mask. “I use all the products,” she says. “I love the anti-age moisturiser, but I find that using the Deep Cleanse mask has reduced my need for a moisturiser as my skin is more balanced and self-moisturises. I have fallen in love again with the Wild Flower cleanser, which is based on our very first baby bath product made with oats. Whenever I use this product I get compliments on my skin.”
White Witch products are making their way into high street stores around Ireland, but ethos is important to Ruth. “We are getting there!” she said. “We would definitely like to see them in selected retailers around the country. We are choosing retailers that understand and value the uniqueness of our product and who believe in the ethics of our brand and those same retailers are choosing us too so it’s working out. At the moment, we are stocked in Dr Clare Apothecary in Sea Road and we are in The Health Store in Swords in Co. Dublin.”
She hopes that someday White Witch will be a world-recognised brand that will give something to the community and will show the way to others that quality products can be made with no plastic.
Keep an eye out for White Witch’s summer solstice offer! You can get 15% off everything with the code SOLSTICE18 from midnight 20th June to midnight 22nd June. White Witch will also run the Wild Flower competition on Facebook and Instagram, so stay tuned.
White Witch® is registered by The Vegan Society. No animal products or by-products are used in manufacturing. Every product except the Exfoliant Face Mask is gluten free. There is a small amount of gluten in the oatmeal.