In conversation with: Kathy Narayn-Webb – founder of Palm and Sole
Recently, I had the pleasure to interview Kathy Narayn-Webb, the founder of Palm&Sole, possibly the most humble company owner I have met. When I discovered her brand I was a little clueless on what exactly ‘Sensory beauty’ was, Kathy managed to divulge so much of her own knowledge whilst also opening up a whole new approach to beauty I had never considered before.
With her immense focus on personalisation she paints a new concept that I think many of us can benefit from, find what works for you!
1. How did you get started in the skincare industry and what did you do prior to starting Palm and Sole?
My skincare Industry training started when I was in my late teens, when I worked as a hairdresser and make-up artist for Laura Ashley, ID Magazine and on various emerging models. I learned quickly how to make skin look better and how what you ate and how you felt had a direct effect on skin. A few years later, I worked for Anita Roddick as a member of her first co-operative Body Shop team at the Bond Street shop. This really sealed my interest in aromas, textures, where ingredients came from and how they blended together. I knew that one day I wanted to train as an aromatherapist. 16 years ago I spent two years training to be a massage therapist, then aromatherapist and reflexologist. I worked at Neal’s Yard offering therapies and working the shop floor. I also started working at The Big C Centre at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital. Here I ran clinics treating people with cancer and their carers for over 10 years and decided to specialise in women’s health (niggles to chronic conditions). Over time I learned that although many people would present the same looking skin condition with the same name, each had to be treated differently. It was all about root cause: what was causing skin to look or react a certain way? In my experience, I would say that 85% of the ailments I saw were eased with natural products, massage, relaxation techniques, reflexology, change of diet, exercise and carefully blended Raw Plant Oils.
Before starting up Palm&Sole, I had other jobs in London including cabaret/acting & BBC producer/interviewer/ photographer at Radio 1, Later With Jools, Glastonbury etc. Looking back, I realise that each of the jobs I did were about meeting and connecting with people. I also saw that no matter how beautiful or famous a person, very few people feel good about themselves. Over time this made me want to retrain and do something where I’d still be connecting with people but could offer something to help raise confidence levels.
One day, one of my clients asked me to make a blend for her and things went from there. Before I knew it, demand had snowballed and I was being asked to make all sorts of things. I went a more courses while teaching myself how to blend products over 12 years – mostly through trial, error, customer feedback and cosmetic safety testing.
2. What was the first product you developed and how did you make the first steps into creating it?
A lady asked me to make a balm that would open her lungs, encourage relaxation and sleep – no pressure then (!). I knew the aromatherapy oils that had been effective when treating her. I looked up how to make a Lip balm but it came out incredibly hard. So, I went through each ingredient to see how each reacted to heat and how different cooled temperatures gave different textures and results. It took a lot of practice and playing but finally I came up with one of my best sellers – the multifunctional Grounding Balm featuring Frankincense, Patchouli & Ginger. You can use it straight from the jar or take a little and heat it. It’s a favourite with cyclists as it protects skin/eases muscles/cycle chaff; those practising yoga/meditation as it opens the lungs; and people with mature, dry, cracked skin (the Egyptians used Frankincense to embalm the mummies and today Patchouli oil is still used to stop leather jackets from cracking!).
3. What has been the most challenging part of running your own company?
Working on my own. Especially when it comes to hand-blending, labelling and packing up huge numbers of orders. But when it gets too much, family always step into help. I had a shop in Norwich Lanes for four years but I’ve just moved out. Maintaining an A listed medieval building was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Having my own shop had always been a dream but like many people who open places, I didn’t understand the risks and realities of taking on a premises. Rather than concentrating on Palm&Sole, most of my energies were spent maintaining a building that I didn’t own. Like most challenging things though, I learned a huge amount about running a small business – visual merchandising, organisation, PR, getting product from conception onto the shop floor, planning, graphics, customer service and what customers actually want. In retrospect, as gruelling as it was at times, it gave me so much. It lead me to launch The Sensory Beauty Member’s Club. These are basically club evenings were people can explore textures, experience aromas and play with ingredients all to the background of classic club tunes. It’s about relaxing and encouraging people to connect with how they are (skin, body & mood), through personalised product. I think empowering the customer via personalised made-to-order products is powerful. Offering personalised and make your own skin, body and mood care through Sensory Beauty Club events and digital beauty is where my focus is now – I’ve seen how effective it can be.
4. For all those people out there, who may be a little confused with the term holistic, how would you summarize holistic skincare?
To me, Holistic Skincare works on various different levels. It’s not just about plopping a product on your skin – it’s about supporting your skin via balancing your body and emotions. It works on various levels, inside and out. It’s also about the ingredients in a product. What are you putting on your skin? Why? How does this ingredient effect your body/mood? What’s the long term effect of applying these products onto your body and into your bloodstream? Where are ingredients sources? Why are each of them in your product?
5. Palm&Sole a Sensory Beauty brand – what does this mean?
Sensory Beauty is about different aromas, textures, ingredients & how they’re applied makes you feel. It’s Slow. I want to offer you time to catch-up with yourself (how are you? Any niggles – aches or pains? Where are you emotionally etc.). Once you take time to listen to what your skin, body & mood are telling you, you know what you need – this can really increase core confidents levels. Working as an aromatherapist, I strongly believe we’re each drawn to the aromas we need here and now. What we’re drawn to also changes with our changing needs. When you open a jar, I want you to explore the aromas – how do they make you feel? Experience the texture – is it rich enough, will applying it relax you or inspire you to be more proactive? This product’s multifunctional – how will you use it? Palm&Sole is about celebrating the things that make us each unique.
6. How did it feel to be nominated for ‘Holistic business of the year?’ (Such a huge accomplishment!)
Oh just amazing! It makes all the hard work worth it. Last year was incredible! I won a Beauty Shortlist Editor’s Award, a Janey Lee Grace Platinum Award, Muddy Stilettos Best Beauty Business in Norfolk Award, then the Holistic Business nomination. Yes. I was on Cloud 9. Amazing news this year is that I’ve been asked to talk about the importance of personalised beauty at the Natural and Organic Products Europe at Excel. I’m really nervous but honestly can’t wait.
7. You’re all about personalisation – what kind of product do you offer?
As well as the personalised made-to-order service, The Beauty Serum Cocktail Bar was launched at a recent Club event. People choose their 1 shot, 2 shot, 3 shot facial Cocktail Serum ingredients from the Bar Menu, I pour, shake and then they take home. This has been so successful that it’s going to available to order on the website. There’s also the Sensory Beauty Subscription and One-Off Boxes: created. hand-blended products totally personalised to the needs of your skin, body and mood. Again, this has been so popular, I’m going to be offering this along with a detailed face-to-face online consolations on the site. Finally, the Lipsey Balm Bar is where you can sit, play & choose your own lip colour, I blend and pot it, then you take home your very own pot of Lipsey Balm – made just for you.
8. What is the best beauty advice you’ve ever heard?
Whatever you do, make sure it’s something you have a real passion for, because it’s that passion that will sustain you through the tough times.
9. For someone, like me, who has combination to dry skin, which one of your products would you recommend?
Recently I hand-blended a Beauty Cocktail Serum for combo skin in need of zjooshing-up and mood in need of uplift. It contained Camelina (luminescence “dewy” effect for combo skin), Watermelon (doesn’t block, light hydration), Hazelnut (lifts & tones), Pumpkin (calms irritation), Arctic Blackcurant (Zjooshes skin), Bergamot (balances and energises skin/mood) and Lemongrass (happy oil fab for rebalancing combo skin). There are so many incredible Raw Plant Oils for all skin types … I could also create a Beauty Pantry Recipe (quick turnover recipe you could make at home out of kitchen cupboard items). A mask with honey to rebalance and lightly cleanse skin, a little lemon juice to clear up oily patches and maybe a little cooked/mashed carrot to heal with Vit A. Or maybe the cocoa, honey and double cream mask.
11. As I mentioned previously I have combination/dry skin, what ingredient do you think works best to hydrate that type of skin?
A blend of ingredients is the most effective but if you want me just to choose one? An ingredient I’ve seen good results when it comes to hydrating combo skin is Watermelon. Actually, depending on percentage of oil to dry – Rosehip Seed. Camelina Flax is great too. Opps, sorry. That’s three.
12. Lastly, where can people get there hands on Palm&Sole?
You can go to the website (palm-and-sole.com) and check out the off-the-shelf selection. If you’d like a personalised hand-blend you can also email for info (email@example.com), come along to one of the Sensory Beauty Club events or follow me on instagram (palmandsolenorwich) and see if you like what I do.
Seriously I urge everyone to try her products, I am counting down the days until I get my very own cocktail serum!