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Strong Yet Feminine Profile: Kate Protopapas, Founder of Isla Apothecary

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Strong Yet Feminine Profiles are a series of interviews, showcasing ambitious women who are striving to follow their passion. Many are working full-time and pursuing their dream on the side; some have already taken the leap and share their experiences (the good and the bad!).

Any career decision is difficult, but making a leap into a different field, to pursue a true passion, has to be one of the most inspiring stories. I know, for me, hearing stories like these were crucial to bolstering my confidence when considering my own change in direction.

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Tell us about your journey before you decided to set up Isla Apothecary

I spent a fair bit of time pursuing academic interests, going to University, doing a Masters, and some years later, completing a law conversion course, which is something I always wanted to do.

In the intervening years, I worked in various PR and marketing roles, largely by accident.  

Coming towards the end of the law conversion course in 2014, my academic interest in the law wasn’t translating in to a real desire to pursue it as a career, although I was very happy to have done it.

In the meantime, I was in my early 30’s and struggling with my skin badly. After trying an expensive, synthetic skincare regimen out of desperation, which exacerbated my skin issues, I decided to go back to basics, which is what I had really always done. I used to treat my skin ailments with natural remedies I’d concoct myself because many brands like mine that we see today weren’t available or mainstream 15 years ago.  Essential oils were also a prominent part of my exploration, as was aromatherapy. My purist approach to taking care of myself became a bit obsessive but it worked for me.


What gave you the drive to start your own business?


A few things.

a) I think the years preceding it. During that time, I had struggled to find joy, connection and creative freedom in the work I was doing.

b) When I started tinkering with natural and alternative ingredients and remedies for my own needs, I remembered feeling that I had no choice but to take matters in to my own hands because there was little on the market or off the shelf that catered to my needs. I remembered the transparency and simplicity that I had craved as a consumer, and how I would want that to be the central message of my own brand. This was hugely motivating because I felt that this was where things were heading in terms of consumers wanting to be clear about what they were using in their personal care.

I got lost – in a good way, when delving in to ingredients, formulation, and designing a product range; and it came more naturally to me than anything I’d done before. I wanted to share something that I thought had merit in the wider context of savvier consumer consciousness.


When did you launch your company?

I worked on it solidly for a year before launching at the end of 2015. There were no investors, and there was no grand business plan. I took it one step at a time, opting to grow the business organically.


What has been the biggest surprise?

Externally, the response to it; I could never have pictured the support and positivity towards the products and the brand.

Personally, that I have more creative ability than I thought. Finding my voice in an area that means something to me is really so satisfying and there is always something new to learn, which I love because it keeps me on my toes.


What would you do differently with hindsight?

I probably would have focused on developing a longer-term strategy earlier on, but the upside of having my own business has helped me to be more focused, better organised and more forward thinking. Now there’s a strategy that I check against every day, and I ask myself, am I on track? Have I taken too much on? Am I wasting time? Am I paying enough attention to the high priority items?

However sometimes hindsight also works really well with all the feedback that you receive along the way, so I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to approach things again from a place of experience after having made a few mistakes.

What is the piece of advice you would give to anyone starting their own business?

Be patient and be easy on yourself. Don’t give yourself a hard time when things go wrong because they will; move forward with the lesson, and do so quickly. It’s important to be present and to know that realistically success doesn’t happen overnight.

If you lack clarity, keep going until you find it; it’s too easy to throw in the towel during the initial hurdles.

Take nothing for granted, enjoy the small successes along the way and stay curious. Finally, never take yourself too seriously, and remember to keep it fun :-).


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