An Interview with Sophia Harding, founder of Palm of Feronia

An Interview with Sophia Harding, founder of Palm of Feronia

Here at Glasshouse we are always looking to expand our offering with intention, seeking out brands and individuals that align with our ever evolving ethos.

With the launch of our Therapy Room last year, we have developed beyond our original roots in hair and beauty to include alternative healing and holistic therapies that support the mind and body as one. Glasshouse Shop has always been a direct reflection of our philosophy, with products curated to allow the experience we offer in the salon to be taken home and integrated into daily rituals. With this in mind, we are excited to welcome Palm of Feronia as our latest arrival, a small batch natural self care range focused on the principles of aromatherapy and crystal healing.

"Crystal healing isn't new - it's been around for thousands of years, through many religions and cultures", muses founder Sophia Harding. "I’ve practiced crystal healing and elements of aromatherapy for years, particularly to aid anxiety issues, so they naturally combined with my products - it wasn’t even a conscious decision at the time. I want Palm of Feronia to bring crystal healing, aromatherapy, and ancient ingredients to people and help educate but in a really open, accessible way, without feeling overwhelmed."

Eager to find out more, we sat down with Sophia to discover her personal take on crystals as a vital ingredient for modern self care and building a sustainable one-woman business. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your own journey and what led you to develop Palm of Feronia; how did the idea for the brand begin and evolve into what it is today?

The passion definitely evolved for me and it was a happy accident that in hindsight seems always destined to be. I suffered from adult acne for over 10 years, starting in my early 20’s and tried everything from going vegan, OTC medications, lots of expensive skincare, lasers, and peels, but sadly nothing worked. Eventually, I had enough and said yes to a very controversial medication - Roaccutane. This made my skin super-sensitive and even raw aloe vera would cause my face to burn. Early in 2019, I began experimenting with natural oils to see what was gentle enough to use and gradually began to make my own products for myself, then later family and friends.

I’ve always been a bit of a knowledge sponge so as soon as I started learning about all the ingredients, it just rolled on and on. I then studied organic skincare formulation and used this as a platform to launch what is now Palm of Feronia.

Feronia is the ancient Roman goddess associated with wildlife, fertility, health, healing, and abundance. How did this end up becoming part of the name of your brand?

Ancient history has always been a big interest of mine. I remember wandering around my grandmother's house and exploring her huge collection of history books and being instantly absorbed, and mythology is something I’ve found fascinating as part of this.

After my skincare journey, I became a little disillusioned with “the next big thing” and harsh, scientific-driven cosmetics that seemed to do more damage than good to my skin. So when I started formulating I was really drawn to products with a long history of benefits that had been used for centuries. Through researching this, I found lots of ancient remedies seemed to spring from Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece and Ancient China. From here, I began delving into Roman and Grecian gods, goddesses and myths and Feronia instantly stood out to me as everything I wanted Palm of Feronia to encapsulate - gentle, healing and comforting - taking sustainably from and respecting the world around us and creating a feeling of good.

How do principles of aromatherapy and crystal healing factor into the way you work with beauty and skincare? Can you tell us a little about the benefits and intention of using crystals in your products?

I'm a big believer in working with crystals in a way that works for you, however. For me, I use crystals as a little talisman that guide my thoughts and feelings throughout the day. For example - if I'm feeling particularly overwhelmed, a piece of Tourmaline (which is very grounding) will bring me back to myself which is why I included it in a relaxing bath oil. Our Neroli Citrine Facial Tonic combines stones that are great for boosting self-confidence and energy such as citrine and carnelian so I'll always reach for these stones when I'm feeling a little stuck or stagnant. Whilst it wasn’t a conscious decision at the time, by infusing these within a blend, it allows the user to create a fully holistic ritual and makes crystal healing a little more accessible.

Aromatherapy has always been a part of my life and again, it wasn’t a conscious decision to make this a focus of the brand but I’m very passionate about the effects. Every plant, flower, spice and herb has an associated fragrance, usually from essential oils - the powerful oils found within that can evaporate into the air releasing their distinctive aromas. These powerful oils can interact with the body to create changes. These interactions are split into 3 routes - pharmacological (the oil enters the bloodstream and reacts with hormones, enzymes etc), physiological (how the oil affects the bodily systems, such as sedative or stimulating) and psychological (when an aromatic is inhaled and the individuals' emotional response to that aroma). Like many plant oils, essential oils have been used for thousands of years, in religious ceremonies, as incense, for perfumery, medicinally and for cooking. There are archaeological examples showing preserved distilling equipment from as far back as 3,000 BC - it really is an ancient practice.

At its most basic, there is something very mood-elevating about taking a few minutes out of your day to care for yourself, but beyond that, I have always wanted to create products that will be firstly effective on the skin through high-quality, natural ingredients. The mood-boosting effects of aromatherapy work to improve your mood, relax, unwind, and re-energise, and the crystal inclusions can help to realign you energetically.

Again, it really wasn’t a conscious decision to begin incorporating these practices but in hindsight, I understand why it works so well. Modern life can be hectic and overwhelming and we just don’t always have time to sit down and practice spiritualism or self-care in the way our ancestors might have. By curating products that can incorporate different facets of holistic self-care, it’s an opportunity to create very effective rituals that truly support mind, body and soul.

Why do you think ancient and ‘alternative’ healing ingredients and principles are making their way into the modern world, particularly over the past few years?

I think that culturally we're more spiritually aware and understanding the importance of taking care of ourselves on all levels. Traditionally physical health was the sole priority, but this has gradually grown to incorporate our mental well-being and now, our spiritual well-being - which means different things to different people.

I'm sure the pandemic had a lot to do with this - we slowed down, we had time to process how we were living, what was working, what wasn't and we began asking questions about what we wanted from life.

What role does sustainability have in your life and work? What are some of the things you do in order to work and live in line with your sustainable ethos?

Sustainability within the brand has always been a non-negotiable because it’s just part of my day-to-day life. Of course, like with anything it’s a balance and I think we all make sacrifices and changes in certain areas of our lives but nobody is perfect and I’d say it’s exactly the same with Palm of Feronia.

Sustainability is an evolution for the brand - some things are easier to implement whilst the brand is small - like choosing glass and metals over plastic - but other changes will become more accessible as we grow over time (such as custom packaging that eliminates all plastic). As a one-woman business, I make everything by hand, it’s inherently a slower, more mindful process with fewer gaps in that production chain that might allow for less planet-friendly decisions and processes to slip in. I see my “manufacturing” process as a real energy exchange and keeping that authenticity is so important to me.

I’m extremely aware of greenwashing and aim to be as transparent as possible regarding the choices I make regarding sustainability. For example, I launched with plantable boxes thinking it would be amazing for our customer experience and sustainability credentials but in reality, so many of the boxes were unusable that it was an incredibly wasteful process so I switched to a more traditional, biodegradable packaging.

Selling products in a world where we already have so much stuff is a weird balance. I used to work for Vivienne Westwood and her “buy less, choose well, make it last” ethos always stayed with me. I formulate products that are good quality, where you’ll want to finish the bottle and genuinely do last!

Palm of Feronia isn’t perfect but every single choice that you can make as a small business is a small step towards supporting sustainability or just choosing profit and it’s a constant process.

How do you go about designing and creating a new product, from initial concept to commencement?

This is something I struggle with but probably not in the way you’d think. I find inspiration everywhere – this comes back to that “mood aspect”. For each product I build out a four-dimensional moodboard, songs, sounds, smells, a feeling, visuals, textures – it's quite literally a mood. I love working with historical reference points – old wives tales, herbal lore and recipes. I love to admit that it’s an incredibly selfish process – I surround myself with things I love, and craft products I love and I hope that passion helps to deliver products that connect with people.

The struggle comes in editing this down – at any given time I usually have 15 or so ideas brewing away in the background but to remain sustainable, I like to take my time and really stagger launches and ideas. I think in churning out ideas quickly, it would be against all the brand values of slow, sustainable and thoughtful production.

Your brand promotes transparency of the ingredients that go in your products. Why do you think is important for consumers to keep track of whats in their cosmetic and skincare products?

This is such a vital pillar of the brand and something that was integrated from the very beginning. Of course, there is a legal requirement to “list” ingredients, but I also want to help break that down further, beyond an INCI list. I love to share where ingredients come from and why they are included because this is all part of the product’s story. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation within the cosmetics industry and transparency is a great way to overcome this.

What are your favourite ingredients to work with?

I have to say, essential oils as a general category. Blending essential oils feels like olfactory painting to me - blending colours and creating a mood story. I’m always drawn to deep, heady and grounding oils - such as Oakmoss and Vetiver because I find them instantly comforting and centreing which is a feeling I’m often seeking by the end of the day. I love their longevity and weaving them into unexpected notes is almost a hobby at this point.

I’m not really into florals or lighter notes, which you can probably notice across the range although it’s something I’m always challenging myself on!

What in the realm of health, spirituality or wellbeing do you feel most drawn to these days?

Crystal healing is always something I’ll lean into and the practices are woven into my day-to-day rituals, but I think wellbeing has really evolved for me personally since becoming a solo-preneur and I think it also naturally evolves as we get a little older and our wants and needs change. A lot of my current self-care tools are focused around preserving my energy. Boundaries are such a huge part of my personal well-being - saying no, creating space and allowing myself time to reset and reconnect with myself. Working with and around gut-feel also ties into this - I’m such a gut-feel person.

I practice yoga - mostly yin or restorative - because allowing myself space to just “be” often creates the best “pings” and I usually come away full of ideas. Taking time to “romance myself” - indulging in things that make me feel good and embracing pockets of joy day-to-day also really help me mentally.

What are your beauty essentials?

I often feel a bit embarrassed when I’m asked this question as I really don’t explore skincare outside of Palm of Feronia and it’s something I really should do! I always have multiple products in various stages of development that I’ll be trialling too so these often make up a lot of my rituals. I can’t live without the Ritual Cleansing Oil and Deep Glow Facial Oil - these are my two desert island products, along with the Hinoki Self-Massage Oil which I use in my bath, as a moisturiser and as a hair oil. I swear by Everyday Humans Resting Beach Face SPF too - it wears really well and never breaks me out.

What do you turn to in order to feel your best; food, self-care, places, rituals and all other practices?

Going to the cinema is one of my favourite things to do. I used to go weekly with a friend back when we both worked together in a corporate job and we’ve tried to hold onto the tradition by going once or twice a month. I love getting lost in another world, no phones, no emails, no distractions. I will say, I’m a cinema snob though so it has to be an Everyman or Picturehouse!

I always joke that I would thrive in the Medieval times but my ideal comfort food is a slow-cooked stew - probably my childhood favourite too. Warming, comforting, nourishing and familiar. I pack mine with as much root veg as I can get my hands on.

One of my goals in life is to live by the sea but I’ll settle for nearby any large body of water! Again, it’s just something I find incredibly safe and comforting and I’m never happier than by the sea, even on a dark and stormy day.

And I guess in line with this - a guilty confession as it’s not the most sustainable choice - but I have a bath every day. Alongside brewing a pot of oolong tea, it is one of the two daily practices that bring me back to myself and soothes me instantly. My favourite ritual is to massage in the Hinoki Self-Massage Oil before getting in, and allowing the oils to warm into the skin and create the most beautifully fragrant bath.

You can shop our full selection of Palm of Feronia both in store and online.