Producer Profile: Isla Apothecary – beautiful aromatic products for the skin and spirit

This year wellbeing, wellness and balance of body and mind is at the forefront of people’s consciousness. Sales of fitness clothing are ever on the increase with new skews being added such as ‘athleisure’ and the desire to eat and live a clean lifestyle is growing more and more popular.

Isla Apothecary is an exciting, new brand whose products are available on The Great British Exchange and are gorgeously presented and expertly formulated. Described as “a synergy between raw materials harvested from all over the world to create effective and beautifully aromatic products for the skin and spirit” Isla Apothecary’s range is a delight to the senses and will be a sure hit with anyone looking to harmonise their body and mind.

We caught up with Kate Protopapas, owner of Isla Apothecary, to learn more about her brand, products and what she has planned in 2016.

Kate Protopapas - Isla Apothecary
Kate Protopapas – Isla Apothecary

On your website you talk about how Isla Apothecary came to be and that it was on a trip to the Pacific Northwest in 2014 that you felt you found the connectivity and inspiration for your business.

Isla Apothecary Product Attributes
Isla Apothecary Product Attributes

Looking back what have you brought with you from that journey that customers can experience in your products today?

During that time in the Pacific Northwest, I spent everyday in nature. The purity of what nature offers and what it takes away overwhelmed, fulfilled and comforted me in wonderful ways. It became more apparent to me that it was time to express my personal journey in a new way.

To answer your question literally about what I brought back from that journey that customers can experience, I use the organically grown coffee that I picked up in Washington state in the current batch of the Coffee & Cinnamon Body Polish, and I have a rich variety of coffee that I picked up in Costa Rica planned for the next batch. It is important that I understand the source of my materials and that everything I use is natural, pure, and where possible, wild crafted and organic.

You recently published an article on your blog about the benefits of Helichrysum Oil and educating your customers on the virtues of different oils and ingredients seems to be a key attribute to the Isla Apothecary brand.


Isla Apothecary Pacific North West
Isla Apothecary Pacific North West

How have you gone about collating and curating this knowledge and how do you go about staying informed and updated on new ingredients for your products? 

It started about ten years ago when I began to take a holistic approach to my own well-being. Through my love of aroma, I got into aromatherapy and then I started to incorporate essential oils into my skincare and hair-care regimen. As I have highly sensitive skin, essential oil based natural and organic lotions and potions and along with other holistic therapies, worked out really well for me. It also just feels really good to draw on nature for healing and to not reach for a quick fix all the time.

Staying informed, updated and educated is always on going and that is the really fun part of it for me. I feel no lack of possibility in what I do! On a practical level, I expand my knowledge through aromatherapy courses, and even perfumery courses, as the art of olfaction is important to my process. I love researching the subject and I love staying close to the creativity of others in the market. It excites me that there is still so much for me to learn and hopefully share in future products.

Isla Apothecary - Sugar Scrub
Isla Apothecary – Sugar Scrub

How have you found entering the ‘British made’ beauty product market? Do you feel part of a community and what challenges have you overcome to get to where you are now?

Isla Apothecary is in its infancy but I think it really is an exciting time to be involved especially witnessing how it’s exploded in social media, especially the Instagram community.

When I started delving into the natural and organic beauty market just ten years ago, it was very different to what it is today and it’s been interesting to watch consciousness in this area build up to create this exciting and flourishing space we experience today.

As with setting up any enterprise and entering a new foray, it comes with the territory that there will always be the odd surprise around every couple of corners. But I think the biggest challenge for me has been to create something in the public domain out of a very personal journey.

I created these products that I wanted to share and it all came to fruition fairly organically. It can be very easy to dissuade yourself from what you’re doing so the best way I knew how to overcome that was to force myself to just go for it, and on a practical level, I remind myself to stay focused on the task at hand.


Reading about Palo Santo Wood on your website and the way it is harvested just makes you want to try it. How did you discover it and is it one of your favourite products? If not, what is?

I discovered ritualistic Palo Santo sticks from a perfumer friend based in New Orleans. I was instantly enamoured and it’s a lovely ritual that I love being able to share! I personally find great solace in it when I’m creating a little time and space for myself, and it serves as a good reminder for me to simply slow down. It is definitely one of my favourite offerings not least due to the wonderful reaction from customers who have never experienced it. The aroma is so unique yet evocative and people take to it very quickly.

As for the other products, other than the beard oil for obvious reasons, I use and enjoy them all. I love the physical feeling I get from scrubbing and what it does for my skin and circulation, and I am pretty uncompromising when it comes to making time for a salt bath, which I believe is so beneficial.


Isla Apothecary - Palo Santo Wood
Isla Apothecary – Palo Santo Wood

Can you describe your studio for us and talk us through the stages you go through when developing a new product? What are your sources for inspiration and what practical steps do you follow from concept to completion?

Travel is a huge source of inspiration, and spending time in nature whilst I do that, and I love learning. I always consider how I can weave my learnings into my products.

In designing and formulating a new product, my underlying goal is to understand the therapeutic value in the raw materials I use. Alongside effectiveness, I also want my offerings to smell amazing. Working with unadulterated essential oils to achieve this brings an entirely new level of richness and complexity in aroma that simply can’t be obtained from synthetic replications, which I choose not to use in my products for a number of reasons.

I usually start with a million and one ideas that I eventually narrow down and then I start to obtain samples, so my studio is full of weird and wonderful materials and post-it notes.

The first port of call is to research and understand how certain materials could work together, and then to play around with those ingredient samples. Objectivity is absolutely key when it comes to putting a variety of ingredients together. I experiment with the essential oils first, and that is always an interesting task because naturally I have my own personal biases about certain oils I like but I know that the synergy I am aspiring to when I’m blending can’t necessarily occur if I feel adamant about using a specific ingredient that just won’t synergise well with others.

It also comes down to proportions and balance and my instinct plays a big role in this, as well as adhering to the EU regulations around formulating cosmetic products.

Once I have concocted a new formulation, I leave it to literally marinade for about a month or so to get a clearer sense of how everything combines, smells and changes and then I start the physical testing.

My process is very much about patience and affording myself plenty of time. Time to do the necessary research of course, but also time to step back to regain any sense of objectivity that may have been compromised along the way. I use this time to consider how the product will sit amongst the rest of the range and if it is worthy of bringing to the market.


Isla Apothecary Sample Pack
Isla Apothecary Sample Pack

You recently traded at The London Artisan – how was that and what reaction did you get from customers? Was it your first market – have you any tips to share with fellow GBE producers when it comes to selling at shows such as this?

It was my first proper market and the reaction was wonderful. As I am currently online at the moment it was a great opportunity to be in front of a new audience and to talk about my products and gauge the reaction.

Preparation is key so I spent a lot of time planning the practicalities of my stall setup whilst also focusing on creating a feel that reflected the brand. I would say engagement is important at events like that- on the day, I gave out samples of the yet to be released Neroli Body Oil, encouraged people to test the products, and shared knowledge on ingredients and Isla with as many people as I could.


The London Artisan
The London Artisan

How are you hoping to develop Isla Apothecary in 2016 and how will be being part of The GBE support that?

My hope is to expand the range with some exciting products that have been in development for some time. In particular, I’m planning a very exciting line of products with a unique resin that hails from Greece. I am also planning an aromatherapy tour of India towards the end of the year to help expand my knowledge on the production, economy, history and uses of essential oils from India.

My biggest hope is to expand awareness and experience of Isla Apothecary by connecting with retailers and new customers from all over the country and I hope The Great British Exchange will be integral to that.

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