“I have aspirations for JustBe to be a household name,” says Gail Bryden. “I’d love to make a difference to others’ everyday living and be able to give back in time. I don’t know the timescale; it may take five years or ten years, but I certainly don’t want it to be a ‘cottage industry’ for ever.”
Bryden works from her home in Edinburgh where, at her kitchen table, she blends a range of aromatherapy products called JustBe Botanicals which can be bought online, in a growing number of retail outlets, spas and beauty salons where it forms the basis of tailored treatments by therapists who she trains.
Her company’s portfolio of all natural products for the face, body and home is expanding to include organic herbal teas and, last Wednesday, she was tasting a potential range of dark, milk and white chocolates containing plant extracts, including rose, lavender, juniper and milk thistle.
The same day, she had a session with a business mentor; Ann Gloag, co-founder of Stagecoach. It was the result of being accepted, last August, into a ‘hatchery’, a start-up space provided by Entrepreneurial Spark, the business accelerator for early stage and growing ventures. In December, Bryden won £15,000 in the Scottish Government’s Edge [Encouraging Dynamic Growth Entrepreneurs] awards programme which meant that at the beginning of this year she could take on her first employee.
Her ambition in what is a crowded market is intriguing; what makes her think she can succeed? “I think there is always space for a brand that offers a real point of difference. The most popular line is JustBe Happy - which appeals to a universal desire. People like the simplicity of JustBe; they instinctively get it.”
The company’s website explains: “At the heart of JustBe is the desire to restore emotional balance and enhance a sense of wellbeing. A natural range for the face, body and home … not only do they smell gorgeous, they are emotionally nourishing and are packed full of therapeutic benefits.”
But given her experience from ‘another life’, Bryden’s determination to succeed in business only adds to the intrigue. She worked for Kimberly-Clark, the makers of Kleenex and Huggies, as well as Heinz, Scottish & Newcastle and Diageo, in category management and consumer insight roles. Until, that is, her body gave out.
“I was lucky in that Diageo offered good healthcare. But as I started to experience stress, I was frequently finding myself at the doctors with various ailments. On one occaion, I had pains in my lower back. The doctor suggested it might be pleurisy. I remember him asking if I was stressed at work. Perhaps I was in denial, as I said no. It wasn’t until later that I realised that it was the beginning of panic attacks.”
Bryden ended up being wheel-chaired off a flight back to Scotland to recover: “Basically, my body began to shut down and I knew I was at a crossroads. It sounds a bit dramatic, but it took a while to regain full strength and learn to walk any distance again. It was literally really small steps back to health, but I knew I had it in me to do that.”
At her doctor’s practice, patients either turned left for conventional medicine or right for alternative; after an initial consultation with her doctor, Bryden turned right: “I knew that taking medication wasn’t the answer for me and in fact it was acupuncture that got me back to full health – after just three sessions.”
The acupuncturist said she had a choice: “I suggest you think about cooking, gardening or massage, to ground you,” he told her. “I love cooking and gardening, but I’d always wanted to try massage,” said Bryden. Learning massage gave her an insight into the connection between mind and body.
Working as a holistic therapist at a retreat in Turkey, she realised that guests wanted to “just be”, and the idea of developing a range of products and treatments began to form in her mind. Instead of highlighting the negative – the notion that we need to ‘de-stress’ and so on – the ranges emphasise the positive; just be … ‘happy, energised, loved or tranquil’.
Bryden believes that companies are beginning to understand the value of employee wellbeing. As they recognise that ‘away days’ and ‘team building’ exercises can simply reinforce a sense that there is no escape from work, UK firms are supporting employees to pursue outside interests. In America’s Silicon Valley, Google offers ‘mindfulness’ meditation. Software engineer Chade-Meng Tans believes that the Buddhist practice is ‘the new fitness’ and could become mainstream in business.
Bryden agrees that mindfulness, or emotional fitness, is key: “On average, we have 100,000 thoughts a day - many of which are negative or limiting, such as ‘I can’t, I won’t, the world is…’.
“Mindfulness is about bringing your mind back to what is actually happening. Children do it naturally; they’re great at being in the here and now, rather pondering over the past or thinking about the future which is by it’s nature can be uncertain and to a certain extent out of our control.
“In the UK, we tend to be working longer hours, weekends and even carrying rather than taking our full holiday entitlement. Working longer doesn’t necessarily increase productivity. It’s about working smarter and having healthy coping strategies, such as eating well, being hydrated and exercise rather than caffeine, alcohol and convenience foods. Simple changes can make a big difference; drink water, exercise.
“We’re here for a reason. We all have a purpose. For many, work and the things we enjoy can provide an opportunity to discover what that is. For me, work-life balance is about finding meaning in what I do whether at work, rest or play.
“I created JustBe to help others simply ‘be’. It’s about giving yourself permission to be yourself, taking responsibility for your life, making conscious choices, being comfortable not knowing, accepting that your best is good enough and enjoying the journey.”