An Interview with Serena Wise, Mount Sapo

An Interview with Serena Wise, Mount Sapo

Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword in the last few years, having been even more magnified amidst prolonged periods of uncertainty. Products that encourage us to ground and centre ourselves are no longer a niche market, instead shifting to become tools to support our wellbeing.

Enter Mount Sapo, the latest brand to join the shop, founded by Serena Wise in September 2021 - just two weeks after the birth of her daughter. Having worked for years as a successful art director living in London, she gradually concluded that this hectic lifestyle was no longer serving her. Determined to find a way to redirect her attention on what her body felt, she began developing Mount Sapo, grounded in the belief that “the simple gesture of touch offers a much needed moment to get out of our heads and tune into our bodies.” Mirroring our own ethos at Glasshouse, the Mount Sapo All-Over-Oil was specifically designed to be multi-purpose, so the ingredients chosen nourish you from head to toe. We sat down with Serena to find out more about navigating the shift from London to East Sussex, becoming a mother and the importance of daily rituals.

What made you start Mount Sapo? How did you go about developing the idea for the brand?

It came about at a time when I was generally not very good to myself and living in an unsustainable way. After years working as an art director in advertising, I had the realisation that whilst my mind had been perpetually occupied, I had in fact become, completely disassociated from my body and felt this way for potentially years.

This set off an awareness around spending less time in my head and refocusing on my body. It was this that led me to create Mount Sapo – a brand that encourages a daily practice of soaking up sensations and what otherwise goes ignored.

I launched Mount Sapo with the All–Over-Oil, as this was something I had been making for a few years for myself or friends, and I noticed how the simple gesture of touch and applying the oil all over was a way to get out of my head and into my body.

Image: Mount Sapo

Mount Sapo feels like it sits at the intersection of beauty and wellbeing. Have you always been interested in either of those, and what made you develop a product in these areas?

Absolutely, I only now am really starting to connect all the supportive practices I was into reading about or trying, or women I admired, as a child through to my twenties and now as a new mum in my mid-thirties – they are all related to this thought of being ‘in’ your body. But I am particularly interested in this through the lens of modern life, what is actually achievable or can make a cumulative difference to our wellbeing. My commitment to caring for myself and my body has always wavered between really good intentions and then the first thing that is dropped at times of stress – therefore I am really keen on ensuring Mount Sapo offers small actions we can consistently do for ourselves, for those like me who don’t always find it easy to prioritise ourselves.

My interest and switch to natural products and approaches is something that came about after my Mum passed away from cancer in my late teens. For me, it made sense to consider what our largest organ is absorbing. But this fascination existed alongside a whole host of incredibly unhealthy habits throughout my twenties!

I think a lot of us can relate to that! How do you think your experience as an art director has influenced your shaping of the brand?

Working in beauty and fashion advertising has definitely influenced how I’ve approached some aspects of the brand, but in some ways, I see them as very separate worlds (perhaps naively!) as Mount Sapo is so personal to me. I started working on this around 4-5 years ago (but launched in September 2021), and at the time I felt there was a space for simple, joyful products, that you instinctively want to use because they spark joy when in your hands, or in your bathrooms. Colour was a huge part of this – and something I wasn’t seeing at the time.

That definitely comes through in your Instagram and campaign imagery, it feels really joyful and unique. What are your inspirations? Any artists, emotions, music, films, time periods or countries?

The world of Mount Sapo, in terms of imagery, has always been very personal to what I would want to see – often this is unexpected imagery that captures pure joy, or a really tangible or visceral sensation in the body. For example, this could be referencing artist Jeffery Shaw’s 1970’s immersive inflatable sculptures to visualise the lymphatic system.

Jeffrey Shaw, Aqua-Airground, 1972
Image: Jeffrey Shaw, Aqua-Airground, 1972
At the start of developing the brand, there were a few key images, phrases, people and songs that I kept coming back to – as for me they all embodied how I wanted people to feel when applying the product or engaged with the brand:
  • The song by Mary Margret O’Hara – Body’s in Trouble, which I’ve listened to an unhealthy amount
  • A (not your typical) Martin Parr image of families on the beach in Italy – this was my colour reference
Martin Parr, Amalfi Coast
Image: Martin Parr, Amalfi Coast
Fernando Botero
Image: Fernando Botero

What are the ways you can use Mount Sapo?

The All-Over-Oil was specifically designed to be multi-purpose and can be used as face oil, body oil, cleansing oil, bath oil, massage oil, hair oil, beard oil, cuticle oil, Gua Sha oil and brow oil.

We love products that work harder and can save bathroom shelf space and time! Why was it important to you that you launched with one product that does many things rather than creating a line of products?

The aspect of designing products to be multi-use and hardworking is hugely important to me and will be for all future products. I have a strong desire to be using less-but-better skincare products and reduce the amount waste. I also believe when a product is multi-use it furthers that engagement with the body as a whole. When I can apply something that was specifically designed to work as well for faces as for knees and feet – it allows me to notice my entire body, hopefully with some curiosity and care.

Can you give us a quick rundown on the ingredients and why they are included?

I believe simplicity and the use of ingredients that support our skin’s natural barrier are absolutely key to healthy functioning skin.

The All-Over-Oil includes a blend of 18 plant oils that manage to be lightweight yet extremely nourishing (this is what makes it so brilliant as a face oil and body oil because they’re silky, light and non-clogging oils!). As someone with psoriasis and some sensitivity, it was important for the blend to be repairing, calming, reduce inflammation, whilst clarifying the skin.

Every ingredient plays its part, but I particularly love jojoba as it’s brilliant for all skin types and is the closest to our natural sebum, argan oil for skin protection and repair whilst being incredibly nourishing for your hair, rosehip oil as it’s so nutrient-dense – packed with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and Omega-6 fatty acids, seabuckthorn, as it’s this golden superhero when it comes to restoring the skin. Then plum kernel and calendula oil, as they’re the ultimate soothers for stressed skin!

The essential oil blend (clary Sage, Rosemary, Palo Santo, Lemon, Palmarosa, Lavender, Ylang Ylang, Geranium, Vetivert) creates this mood-brightening scent that works to balance and ground, whilst also uplift.

Do you have any recommendations for practices that you can incorporate Mount Sapo into?
  • Self-massage – either on the face or body or focus on one specific body part each day
  • Aromatherapeutic bath – you can use just a few drops or be generous and luxuriate in it
  • Body brushing – if your skin is a little sensitive it can help to use oil with your body brush or you can use it after
  • Auryvedic hair oiling – slightly warm some oil and massage your scalp in circular motions and then work the oil from the root to ends
  • Gua-sha – a good few drops is the perfect slip for using your gua-sha stone on your face and neck
  • Oil & warm cloth cleanse – massage a few drops into the skin as you would a cleanser and remove with a warm cloth or flannel
Mount Sapo

Image: Mount Sapo

Do you have a personal favourite use or ritual for your all-over oil?

My favourite at the moment is a few drops in the bath as it not only smells incredible and makes it feel really luxurious and special – but it also means you emerge already moisturised (which is perfect when I’m feeling lazy!) The scent is really grounding and comforting, so it works nicely before bed.

How did/do you continue to navigate the change between living in London and working full time, to the move out of London and becoming an independent business owner?

I am very much still navigating this huge shift, and perhaps I will be for a while! Moving away, becoming a new mum, art directing for clients whilst running and trying to grow my own business, is a constant juggle and I am always trialling new ways of finding balance. Launching Mount Sapo two weeks before the birth of my daughter Roe was a little naive but has made the two experiences inextricably linked and more special for it.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed or like ‘doing it all’ is an impossible quest, I’m often comforted by Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks. He reminds us ‘there will always be too much to do’ and efficiency is a trap (you just generate more to do) – instead we should focus on a handful of things that matter most to us.

Has becoming a mother changed your viewpoint on self-care?

As a new mother, I am constantly thinking about the dynamic of self-care and what we model – particularly, having a daughter. A recent post by Nicola Jane Hobbs, Feminist Psychotherapist and Stress researcher really struck me – it read; ‘Growing up, I have never known a relaxed woman’. She explained how she knew phenomenal, productive, ambitious, loving, fierce women. But these were also stressed, anxious, self-critical, exhausted women. It made me think exactly of my mother’s experience and how little I saw her prioritise her needs or create time for herself and what that cost her. As that could easily end up be my own experience, I am making in real effort to change this narrative for my daughter and for myself.

Serena and her daughter, Roe
Serena and her daughter, Roe (Image: Mount Sapo)
Current favourite podcasts/books/accounts to follow?
  • I’m a massive On Being and Krista Tippett fan. Particularly the epsiodes with John O’Donohue
  • The Inner Landscape of Beauty and Christine Runyan on What’s Happening in Our Nervous Systems?
  • Gabor Mate’s book ‘When the body says no’ and any podcast where he’s interviewed is insanely inspiring to me.
  • Tara Brach’s Talks and podcasts – this episode is great for those that try to control. She looks at how we can ‘be’ more rather than always trying to ‘do, do, do’ because of fear.
  • I will forever be a massive fan of Daphne Javitch’s @doingwell and her incredibly simple yet effective principles you can return to.
Image: Mount Sapo

    What’s next for Mount Sapo? Are you working on anything new you can talk about?

    I’m currently working on different multi-use products and tools – but taking my time to get them all just right! All new offerings will be rooted in providing an opportunity to connect with your body so that your mind doesn’t exist independently of it – but not necessarily always in the form of a skincare product. Although I’m excited to say that there will be a few more of those!

    Words: Sadie Perry, Serena Wise

    All imagery courtesy of Mount Sapo, unless otherwise captioned