Charlotte Semler and Arabella Preston, Votary, Export Champion Interview

Charlotte Semler and Arabella Preston, Co-Founders

Charlotte Semler and Arabella Preston, Co-Founders

How did you hear about the CWF programme and what made you apply?
I read an article in the Guardian about it and thought it might be relevant for us because Votary is so export focussed despite being small and new.

How did the idea for your business come about?
Arabella Preston and I became friends years ago when we worked together. Arabella subsequently retrained as a makeup artist and built the most incredible career and client base. I was really interested in starting a skincare business so when Arabella told me she was blending her own facial oils and using them on clients Votary was born.

Why do you think Votary has grown so quickly?
Votary has a very clear brand story to tell: We believe in the skin-transforming power of natural plant oils. And our co-founder Arabella Preston is well respected within the beauty industry. We have also been incredibly fortunate to work with retail partners like Liberty in London and Anthropologie in the USA. Their teams have got behind the brand and helped us grow it much faster than we could have done on our own.

What made you think about starting to export so early in Votary’s development?
We realised pretty quickly that early adopter beauty consumers are a global tribe. We do a lot of marketing on social media and it reaches a global audience whether we want it to or not. About 12 months after launch we recognised that a large proportion of our social media following was American and that it will likely continue to grow. So we launched a USD denominated website and started offering free shipping the USA. Unsurprisingly, that turned out to be a good idea.

What difficulties have you encountered setting up your business?
Surprisingly few! We’ve been around the block a few times and our past experience has been really helpful.

What are the biggest trade and export challenges you face?
Finding the right retailers to partner with. It’s easy in markets that we are familiar with and have spent time in eg USA – but much trickier in places like India where we don’t have experience or a network of contacts.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow and develop your business?
Deciding to partner with Anthropologie to launch Votary in the USA even though the business had only been trading for 4 months at that point.

What are you hoping to get out of the CWF programme?
We are hoping to connect with premium beauty retailers in new markets.

What is a typical working day for you?
I normally do family stuff and exercise in the morning so I often don’t get to my desk until 10.30am. I’ll deal with emails from time zones east of London first then move onto those that have come in from the West. Once I’ve cleared my in-tray I’ll discuss any issues and actions with the team and suppliers. After that it’s time to facetime with my Votary co-founder Arabella Preston and work on new projects together. I try to organise my diary so that I only spend one day a week in London.

Where would you like your business to be in 5 years time?
We would like Votary to have a famous natural skincare brand in UK, USA and at least 5 more markets.

What advice would you give to anybody looking to set up an SME?
Keep it simple. Stop planning and start doing. You’ll never really know what your business is until you get started.

 

View Votary’s CWF Profile

This interview was conducted as part of the CommonwealthFirst Export Champion interview series. Apply now to become an Export Champion.

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