Business: Sweet Escape Products and HIM Products

Business Mum Sharon McCrea is from the model village of Sion Mills in Co Tyrone, and has five children, three grandchildren, three dogs and a host of waifs and strays.

I asked Sharon how did she started her businessman’s she said, “I’m a firm believer that everything we do and everything that happens to us has a reason that will unfold. How I got into business just clarified that for me. Choices I made as far back as I can remember have probably led me to where I am now and how I look at things.

I was the stereotypical nerd at school and loved everything about learning, as a pupil in an all girls school we were basically given the choice of commerce, arts or sciences. When it came time to choose what career path and subject matter to take I was torn between art and computers, both of which I had a deep passion and flare for. Luckily I choose to study business studies, commerce, computers and believe it or not typing lol. So started my life in Information Technology, I had a great career in this field that took me to south wales where I had a fantastic job with the police service, doing systems analysis, implementing massive organisational changes with the changeover from mainframe to personal computer networks and teaching officers how to use commercial applications, intelligence systems, national and operational systems all very exciting for a girl just out of her teens. When I returned home with my young family, I worked in private training companies as a training manager, which was chaos and involved long hours creating courses and marking. The last straw for me was when I lost my job because I took time off, being told that if I had time to do that, then I clearly was not for them. So I took the time out to re-evaluate and began studying web technology while looking after my family. I also used this time, driven by a tighter budget to use my creative flare once again upcycling furniture and creating art within the home.

“Because when it comes to my offspring I will fight with the fangs of a wolf and the claws of a dragon and noone and nothing will stop me from protecting them”J.S. Weatherhead

When my fourth child was born with infantile eczema was my pivot point. He did not sleep day or night, cried constantly and this went on for over a year. I was pregnant with my fifth child exhausted and determined to find a solution to my sons visible and very vocal pain. The medical treatments were a merry-go-round of ointments, creams and steroids which just alarmed me. So I used the sleepless nights to research traditional, simpler alternatives that would not cause side effects like the treatment he was on. As his older sister had been lactose intolerant, I had already had some idea as to the impact what we eat had on the body and despite the Drs refusal to get him checked understood the cause of his skin problem. So began my journey into natural skin care and the dangers of chemicals and processed foods and the creation of my business and passion. The soap I created for him was used to wash him and his clothes and essentially launched a business”

Sharon makes 100% natural products for you and your home that allow you to indulge in life’s little luxuries, whilst giving you the knowledge that you are doing your bit to save the environment. I asked her what this involves and she said, “We currently sell candles, reed diffusers, wax wraps and soaps, but will be rolling out and ever expanding range including face oils, bath products cleaning products and bathroom accessories. I am working with other local artists and crafters to produce the accessories, products and packaging to maintain the high quality and handcrafted standards I wish Sweet Escape Products to be known for.

The candles are made with a unique blend of rapeseed wax and beeswax that unlike most candles it cleans toxins from the air rather than producing them. The use of the 100% natural wax along with the cotton, lead free wick offer a soot and therefore toxin free burn that lasts up to 45 hours or more. Essential oils are used to create gentle aromas that will give any space a spa feel.

We produce a range of different essential oil scents but can produce custom scents for corporate gifts, wedding favours or for use in private establishments such as hotels. We offer brides to opportunity to blend their own signature scent for their wedding, which can be reproduced for anniversaries etc.

The soaps we make are the keystone to the business. The soap I made to care for my son’s skin condition are what started it all. Made with locally sourced fresh ingredients that are teaming with skin benefiting properties, including Rapeseed Oil, Hemp Oil, fresh raw honey and pure goats milk. You will not find any filler ingredients in our soaps, we keep everything pure and simple, everything has a purpose. Each soap is unique, with its own blend of essential oil and a key ingredient. I have been self indulgent and named each bar on a favourite, motivational or upbeat song (imparting my eclectic bad music taste on the world one bar at a time lol) The key ingredient are super skin nourishing and super indulgent boosters and cleansers, including spirulina, baking soda and activated charcoal, raw silk proteins and 24 carat gold.

To cater for the men in our lives and ensure they are looking their very best, I will be launching a mens brand HIM Products later this year. This will include much the same as the ladies products alongside shaving soaps, beard oils and balms, and accessories such as traditional shaving brushes, beard combs and brushes etc.”

Her biggest struggle in her business has been getting people to realise that you don’t have to be a vegan or hippy to go green!

She explains, “Changing people’s mindsets and getting people to understand my outside the box thinking has at times been the biggest struggle. Yes, I have the usual issues of any mother in work regarding time, finances, focus and distractions etc but we are women and we deal with those issues on a daily basis anyway. We cope.

Times are thankfully changing, people are much more tuned in and aware of the issues we face with the environment and how each of us impacts upon it. Social media and a more educated consumer have made it easier for more people to discuss the problems and it’s now more socially acceptable to look for natural alternatives. Our history is steeped with women who understood nature and its benefits and we persecuted and belittled as witch, mad or tree hugging hippy … yet now we look to their work to help us.

You know when you start deep cleaning a room and you clean one thing and notice how dirty it makes the skirting boards look, so you wash them, which makes the walls look grubby, so you give them a fresh lick of paint,but then the curtains look drab … this is just what it’s like when you start looking at the ethics of the things you make or do. This is also where you also learn to compromise and know your limitations.

Im proud that very determined that Sweet Escape Products is seen as an ethical company and have taken this ethos to the very core of the business. From the start I stubbornly stuck with idea that we have all the resources we need all around us. Primarily we use local produce to create our products which satisfied my drive for top quality fresh ingredients that I knew were being produced ethically, but caused a quandary … they are small local farmers and companies who cannot afford the expensive organic certification. Then when you look at the whole organic title, what does that mean? Did you know that to be termed an organic product, you only need 1% of its contents to be certified organic! This was a ridiculous and expensive situation so I turned my back on the whole certification route, unless my products are 100% organic I see no point in calling them organic. For me that’s like calling a meat pie vegan because it has peas in it. This is just one of many such dilemmas I came across and highlighted the outrageous “green washing” of goods that is widespread in the beauty and skin care market. The use of plastics is another pet hate and I have spent so much time looking for natural packaging alternatives, I could have been selling years ago if the packaging options we have today had be available and reasonable.

I set up the NATURAL CHANGE facebook group to both illustrate my own going green journey and all the ethical dilemmas along the way, build a community of people doing likewise and to educate and encourage others to do the same. Groups are great for sharing tips, clever ideas and posing questions that we need to ask ourselves.”

What advice would Sharon give to someone who wants to develop a product or service in Northern Ireland?

“Above all else, stick to your guns, if you believe in what you are doing and you know it works do not let others dissuade you. Everyone dreams of having a super supportive group of friends and family, but that is not always a reality. Sometimes an overly supportive group of “yes that’s lovely, you’re amazing” people can be just as detrimental. Do not take the world on alone though, surround yourself with people who understand your call, find your own support group through groups like this, with people that will let you vent ( and get it) that will offer you advice, honest, unbiased opinions and realistic solutions.

Also … stop worrying about what other people think of you. Shed the small town “who does she think she is” mindset and remember that Those that matter don’t mind and those who mind … don’t matter!! Freeing yourself of the self doubt is hard enough without worrying about what others think.”

I asked Sharon what is her favourite thing to do to relax?

“To relax I need to get outdoors and enjoy a little bit of peace and grounding whether that be on top of a mountain or with my feet in the sea. I think I need to realise sometimes just how small and insignificant I am in the bigger scale of things and put things into perspective. Yeah I so do sound like a hippy … someone find me a tree that needs a good firm hug!”

What event / experience are you most proud of?

“I am most proud of where I and my family are right now, as I said before everything happens for a reason. I have been through an awful lot in my life both good and bad, each thing shaping who and what I have become today. So I regret nothing, enjoy the present and stay excited for the future. So as my business tagline states “I love what I do and who I do it for” … as long as I have that I am happy.”

Facebook: @SweetescapeUk and @HIMproductsUk

Instagram: @SweetescapeUk and @HIMproductsUk

Twitter: @SweetescapeUk and @HIMproducts