Jamie McGowan shares the ethos of lifestyle brand Essence of Harris and tells Karen Peattie how the natural beauty and heritage of the remote island in the Outer Hebrides is embedded in its products
Its natural beauty and white sandy beaches have long drawn tourists to the Outer Hebrides but it is the Isle of Harris in particular that seems to cast its spell with its element and rich natural heritage calling out like a siren.
For Jamie and Deenie McGowan, capturing the beauty of their island home and its spirit lay behind their decision six years to launch what has become Essence of Harris, maker of luxurious, hand-poured candles and home fragrances along with reed-diffusers, bath and body products.
But they were also on a mission to create stable, year-round employment for the younger generation of islanders who were moving away for opportunities and employment. Today, the independent family business is thriving and coming back stronger after the pandemic forced its flagship store in Tarbert and other outlet in Glasgow to temporarily close their doors.
Signalling that Essence of Harris means business, the firm’s Classic Collection range has just been relaunched. A new Christmas range is also on the way while more “exciting developments” will be announced early next year.
Jamie explained: “Like every business we were stopped in our tracks when the pandemic hit last year. We’d only our new store in Glasgow’s Princes Square a few months before so just when we were getting established and building relationships with customers we had to close.”
Essence of Harris, however, already operating a successful online business, continued to trade well despite the lack of physical retail and wisely used time to revisit the company’s strategy and plan for the future. “Our online business is really powerful,” said Jamie, “and was instrumental in our growth during lockdown.
“We decided to go back to the start of our journey, look at our values around our products that are natural, local and sustainable, and strengthen our brand to make it more immersive and experiential,” he explained.
“When you walk into one of our shops you can feel and sense that Harris is there with you – you can almost feel the elements of the island and what makes it so unique, you can close your eyes and imagine yourself walking along one of our stunning beaches.”
It was a walk along Huisinis beach that inspired Jamie and Deenie to create Essence of Harris as a way of celebrating what makes this remote and tranquil part of the Western Isles so special, at the same time investing in the young people whose skills will be so important to Harris in the future.
As well as its candles, fragrances, bath and beauty products, Essence of Harris offers it own tartan collection of throws, scarves, bags and more, and is fast becoming a lifestyle brand that plans to be challenge brands like Molton Brown and Jo Loves by 2025.
“We’re an aspirational brand with a focus on quality but with a point of difference that others just don’t have – and that’s the Isle of Harris,” said Jamie. “We are redefining the Essence of Harris brand and repositioning it with the support of our customers who share our passion and follow us.”
Sustainability is even more important now and all of the brand’s bottles now use 100% recyclable plastic. Its plastic sachet refills are also recyclable while refill stations at both the Tarbert and Glasgow stores have refill stations so bottles can be reused.
While Scotland and the UK remains its core market, Essence of Harris also exports to the US, China, Thailand and across Europe. Last year, it claimed two awards – Emerging Brand and Community Impact – at a leading New York lifestyle trade show for its range of hand-poured candles and home fragrances.
“We have a huge – and growing – Chinese market too and are currently talking to a big distribution business in Japan as we pursue our long-term strategy to become a global brand.”
But none of this can happen without “our passionate and dedicated people” and the business attributes its success to its diverse team, creating opportunities for islanders whenever possible.
“Everything we do is embedded in Harris,” said Jamie. “It’s a special, magical place and we are proud to share it by enabling people to ‘Bring Harris Home’.”