Developing an organic, cruelty-free beauty product from scratch is no easy feat as local businesswoman and animal lover Gemma Garrett has found out.
he former beauty queen has navigated a minefield of red tape and the challenges of lockdown to create her first own-brand, ethically sourced, environmentally friendly body cream.
The launch of her luxury lotion this week was not exactly the champagne celebration she has planned, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions, but Gemma (39) is still thrilled to finally see over two years of hard work come to fruition.
Her Buella Hydro Firm body cream also boasts the coveted PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) stamp of approval, a vital part of what Gemma’s thriving beauty business is all about.
A popular beauty blogger and make-up artist, Gemma launched her own beauty shop Buella Life two years ago, selling cruelty-free luxury brands.
The former Miss Great Britain who also starred in the Belfast-based TV series, Beauty Queen and Single, has a social media following in the tens of thousands. She says it was the response to her beauty blogs which gave her the idea for her own company.
“I was inundated with people asking me if I got paid to promote certain brands on social media,” she explains.
“I never took payment but I was getting between 150 and 200 messages every day from people asking me if I really believed in the product.
“I just thought that I would list all the products I actually do love on a website – and they all happened to be cruelty-free, humanely sourced and organic. These were all tried and tested by me.
“I put the website up, and as a result I was approached by the owner of Lumity in London who asked for a meeting and offered me Northern Ireland rights to sell his products.
“I always had a passion for animals but I am not a natural business person. I would look at friends who are successful in business, people like (make-up artist) Paddy McGurgan, and they always had a passion for what they do and are very creative.
“A good friend who has been very successful gave me great advice. He said in order to succeed it was more important that I was passionate about what I am doing than be a great businesswoman and that really motivated me.
“After getting Buella Life up and going I really wanted to develop a product of my own which had to be ethically sourced and cruelty-free.”
It was important for Gemma from the start that she used only local companies and ingredients. She teamed up with a laboratory in London and was surprised at just how difficult it was to ensure her product met her very exacting standards.
“I could never have imagined the red tape involved or just how much work there was in getting it right,” she admits.
“Every ingredient has been ethically sourced and just when we thought we had the right mix we would discover some link to animals and we had to start again.
“It has taken two-and-a-half years to get the product developed and I never dreamt it would take so long or that there would be so many obstacles.
“Getting the PETA stamp of approval was actually the easy bit and they were a dream to deal with. My first batch doesn’t have the logo on it but it will be clearly displayed to reassure people going forward.
“It has been a long road but finally we have got there and I’m very excited.”
As for the body lotion itself, Gemma had a clear idea of what she wanted from the start – it had to be firming and hydrating.
“I wanted something you could put on your skin and go,” she says. “It was important the lotion was lightweight and dried quickly but was also really moisturising.”
With her ideal product finally ready to hit the market – her body lotion retails at £42 for a 300ml bottle – Gemma had big plans for a glittering champagne launch in Belfast in March.
However, Covid hit and her plans had to be abandoned. And with the nation in lockdown and the future so uncertain, after all her hard work she had the added worry of whether people would continue to spend money on luxury products.
She says: “Covid couldn’t have come at a worse time for me. I had a really nice champagne reception planned which had to be cancelled but I was really worried about the marketplace. I was concerned about whether or not people would have money to spend on luxury brands.
“The laboratory in London did keep going through lockdown – although with reduced staff.
“We have forged ahead and I’m delighted to finally be launching this week although it will be a soft launch on social media rather than the party I had hoped.”
Business worries aside, Gemma who is single and lives with her beloved pet British bulldog Stella, confesses that she coped well with lockdown although she did miss her family.
She is the middle child of three and has an older sister, Lisa, and younger brother Stephen, a well-known local footballer who left Cliftonville in July after 10 years with the club.
She is also very close to her parents, Margaret, a classroom assistant, and Stephen, a security manager.
A keen gym bunny, she was determined to maintain her fitness during lockdown and created her own home gym in the garden.
“I do like my own company and if I have to look for a silver lining in lockdown it was that it gave me time to focus and to keep up my exercising,” she says.
“I would have worked out with my personal trainer four times a week before lockdown. I set up a gym at the back of my house, with weights and some small bits of equipment and I bought a rowing machine which I called the roar of death!
“I also walked Stella every day. The best thing about the restrictions being lifted was being able to see my family again as we are all very close.”
Gemma was devastated last year when she lost one of her pet bulldogs, Buddy. She even called her business Buella Life after Buddy and Stella.
“Stella is going to be 10 next month,” she says. “British bulldogs usually only get to eight years or so which makes this a big birthday and I hope to give her a big party. I lost Buddy at nine so he nearly got there.”
While romance has eluded her in recent years, Gemma is genuinely enjoying the single life. She feels there is too much pressure on single women of a certain age to find a partner, and says she feels completely content not being part of a couple.
“I have absolutely no interest in dating,” she affirms.
“A lot of people push for the dynamics of having a partner and two kids but I am so happy the way I am so why would I change that? I have a happy wee life without anyone in it, so why fix what’s not broken?”
As she focuses on getting her very first own-brand beauty product to market, Gemma is also keen to use her online influence to encourage people to shop locally.
“I would really like to push the message of shopping locally.
“No one knows what the future holds with Covid and instead of going on to Amazon, I would urge people to think about local businesses and their struggles and support them.
“I am thrilled to be launching my first beauty product and hopefully when this is all over and things return to normal we can have a bit of a party to celebrate.”
For more information visit www.buellalife.com