IN May 1971, Rivka Rose crossed the Atlantic from New York with a plan to introduce Britain to organic shampoo. “I was young and impressionable,” she said. “I had seen the growth of natural products in America and had a vision of bringing the scene to Britain.”
Rose lived in Notting Hill in west London, working as a secretary to pay the bills. In September 1972 she settled by the Solway Firth, where she spent months gathering and growing plants. By January she was mixing up a storm in her kitchen sink.
The result was Faith in Nature, founded in 1974 with sales of her first organic shampoo. Forty years on, the company, based at Radcliffe in Greater Manchester, is making hundreds of natural products for hair, body, baby and home, employing 40 staff. It had sales of £3.1m in the year to last June and exports to 25 countries.
In June last year, Faith in Nature partnered with babycare brand Humphrey’s Corner to produce lotions, shampoos and bubble baths for infants. The range is stocked by Boots, Asda, Ocado and Tesco. Last month Holland & Barrett began to stock its regular shampoos and shower gels.
Free from paraffin, white oil and artificial fragrances, Faith in Nature has taken years to be recognised as an alternative to household brands. “There has been a lot of literature recently about eating correctly and activity and lifestyle changes, and a huge increase in awareness of organic products,” said Rose. “When we started we had to produce leaflets to explain what we were doing.”
The quality of the products has improved. Rose’s first piece of kit was a kitchen food processor she bought in 1973. “It didn’t emulsify the materials so our moisturisers were a bit greasy,” she said. “When I understood the chemistry I found other machinery and got a more elegant result.”
Coconut Hand Cream, in the brand’s popular skincare line, now sells at £6.39 for 50ml. Shampoo varieties include Rosemary (£5.35 for 400ml), Tea Tree (£5.35) and Seaweed and Citrus (£5.50).
“There are lots of cheap brands but we know our market,” said Rose, chairwoman and chief executive. “People who want products that won’t dry out their hair or skin turn to Faith in Nature.”
Rose, 68, was born and grew up in New York. Her mother was a housewife and her father a business contractor. “He had this funny little typewriter on which he’d do all his quotes and bills,” she said. “He was very organised and that obviously made an impression on me.”
Her brother went into the family business and her sister became a clinical psychiatrist.
Rose attended Roosevelt High School near New York. She went on to study English at the City College of New York in 1963 but changed to sociology and psychology.
On graduating in 1968 she moved to California to work in a family bakery in the Santa Cruz mountains. On a trip to Canada she became interested in herbalism and began making natural yoghurt, selling it at a health food store.
Then came the move to Britain. “I handed my recipes to someone else, which I would never do now,” she said. “Not long afterwards a yoghurt company started up that’s very successful, so I obviously had the right idea.”
Luckily she had another idea, although starting Faith in Nature in Britain was a challenge. “Breaking ground when nobody had heard of us here was hard. I worked crazy hours, knocking on doors from Edinburgh to London, trying to share my vision.”
While running the business, Rose also trained in reflexology and aromatherapy.
She said her background in alternative medicines has been vital to the success of Faith in Nature. “I tried every product out there but nothing suited my personal need so I knew I had to keep learning and producing new stock.”
The company has enjoyed steady growth. In 1975, with her house bursting at the seams, Rose found a shop on Easter Road in Edinburgh. “It was a quiet working-class area with nice people,” she said. “I saw these two shop windows and thought they would be perfect as I was able to connect them underneath.”
In March 1989 she moved to Bury to save money on expansion. “We had used every inch of 2,500 sq ft up, down and sideways,” she said. Faith in Nature moved to its current 30,000 sq ft site in Radcliffe in August 2008. “We’ve always had elastic walls,” she said. “We stay in a place as long as possible before we move on.”
Rose lives near Radcliffe with her husband, Aaron, 63. He joined the business in 1982.
Her advice to entrepreneurs is: “Have a strong belief and a positive focus where you feel you can make a difference to people. Once you have that, you can overcome any obstacle.”