A few years ago whilst attending an event at Johnston’s of Elgin’s Edinburgh store, I was captivated by a beautiful fragrance that hung in the air. After following my nose I came across numerous candles and diffusers from a Scottish brand, Essence of Harris. I was just about to take note of the company for future reference when I was greeted by an enthusiastic chap who immediately introduced himself. Out of sheer coincidence, it was none other than Founder and Managing Director of Essence of Harris, Jamie McGowan. His passion for the brand was immediately apparent as well as his adoration for the place of inspiration behind the fragrance business; the beautiful Isle of Harris. He encouraged me to visit and experience first hand how enchanting the Scottish Isle is and to truly feel the renowned white Hebridean sand between my toes.
Fast forward a few years, and after having a slight obsession with many of the products, I just had to arrange a visit. (See my previous post on my trip to Isle of Harris). Whilst in Isle of Harris, I took the opportunity to visit their Tarbert Store and also met Jamie who kindly took me on a private tour of the factory. It was fascinating to hear his story of how everything came to be and the passionate way he speaks about his business and the island on which he calls home.
I caught up with Jamie to find out more about him, his career and Essence of Harris.
Isle of Harris is truly captivating. Being born and bred on the mainland Scotland, what initially attracted you to the Isle of Harris and how long have you been living here?
I initially came across to the island to manage the local hotel. That was eight years ago! I was hooked on Harris, and I met my wife Deenie here, so the rest is history.
What was your motivation in creating the home fragrance brand Essence of Harris?
I started a facilities management company on Harris about seven years ago, and whilst I was out cleaning windows I noticed that everyone had home fragrance in their homes but none of theproducts were local, nobody was making home fragrance on the island. With such beautiful natural surroundings on the Isle of Harris, myself and my partner Deenie wanted to capture this tranquillity and create products which would allow anyone to enjoy a piece of Harris in their homes.
I understand that each of the scents in your range are inspired by the stunning beaches of Harris. I was wondering who decides on the fragrance notes to include in each of the products?
All of our R&D is conducted in-house by our team here in Harris, it’s a lengthy process, but it needs to be meticulous to ensure the scents we create are fitting for the brand, and will be enjoyed by our wonderful following of customers. We test burn everything before it is released, to ensure the fragrance is enjoyable, the scent throw is good enough and that the candle burns evenly.
The home fragrance market has increased dramatically over the past few years, in your opinion, what makes it so lucrative?
Our sense of smell is the sense most closely linked to memory and certain fragrances can be highly emotive; evoking memories, creating relaxation, or helping someone to feel vitalised when they need it most. I think more people have started to see the power of fragrance, and the benefits of creating a calming environment at home, and that is why the home fragrance market continues to grow. People have started to make their wellbeing a priority, and creating a sanctuary of calm in people’s homes is something we love to do.
Essence of Harris has flourished and I understand that there are accompanying bath and body products too. What products are next on the Essence of Harris wish list?
We are just about to launch a new product to our bath & body collection, but I can’t give too much away just yet! Keep your eyes peeled to our social media at the beginning of September for the launch, it’s an exciting addition to the range.
When I visited your store in Tarbert, I felt it to be a relaxing and friendly ambience which is synonymous with Harris. How do you manage to carry the same charming DNA through into your Glasgow store and any other future stores?
That’s exactly the feeling we want everyone to have in-store! We are delighted you had a relaxing time. Our team are brilliant both in Glasgow and in Tarbert, they offer the warmest welcome to everyone and project the ethos of the brand in how they talk through our product ranges and story. We’re fortunate to have been able to surround ourselves with a team of people who feel as passionately about the Essence of Harris journey as we do.
Your business brings a little essence of Harris into the homes of thousands of people and has highlighted Harris as a place for people to visit. What words of encouragement would you give to people who haven’t yet visited the beautiful island?
Once you feel the sand between your toes on a Harris beach, you will understand the magic of this island. I feel incredibly lucky to live and work here in the Outer Hebrides, and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t made the journey over to the island yet to do so. Like so many places in Scotland, be prepared for every type of weather! But when the rain clears and the sun shines down on the island, there really isn’t anywhere better.
Essence of Harris is an obvious asset to the Isle of Harris, in what ways has the business helped the community?
We owe so much of our growth to the unwavering support of the local community in the Outer Hebrides, and we’re thankful that we have been able to grow our business and our team on the island. The majority of our team are islanders or people who have moved to the island who are under the age of 30, and it has been so encouraging for us to be able to showcase the fact that people don’t need to move off island to build a career. Six of our employees started on graduate placements or apprenticeships and have all built their skillset and confidence to thrive in their particular field. Our hope is that our team go on to start their own businesses, using the skills they have picked up at Essence of Harris to nurture their own ideas and add to the vibrant business landscape prevalent in the Hebrides.
It has been a very difficult time for businesses during the pandemic. How have you adapted through this period and is there anything new that you have learned through this unprecedented time?
In March, just as the UK was going into lockdown, we switched production from home fragrance to sanitiser to meet the demands of the local community. We gave it out free of charge to key workers, front line services and vulnerable residents on the island, and it was a real honour to be able to provide a bit of safety and comfort to people in such an uncertain time. I think the pandemic has taught us all to slow down and focus on what is important. We were able to sit down (virtually) as a team and plan for the year ahead, and focus on many of the things on our to do list we hadn’t got to yet in the chaos of everyday life! We were fortunate to have kept busy throughout lockdown, and can’t thank our customers enough for the support during this time.
Your company tagline is ‘Hand poured Heartfelt’ and after visiting you in Harris, it is clear to see why. Are there any other words or phrases in which you would use to describe the Essence of Harris Brand?
We have recently changed our tagline to HOME HEART HARMONY which we feels captures the hand poured ethos of our brand, the importance of our island home and the tranquillity which we hope our products evoke for all of our customers.
Thank you so much Jamie for your time and I can’t wait to come back and experience Harris again.
Head to the Essence of Harris website to check out their fantastic range of products.