Sophia of Palm of Feronia

Palm of Feronia is a natural skincare brand hand-made in small batches in London.
A beautiful authentic and nourishing botanicals,
Sophia Harding is the creative behind it.
Ahead of our workshop collaboration, we spoke to Sophia about how Palm of Feronia came to life and how she find's the balance in life and work.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how long have you been in London, and what has led you to your current career.
I’ve lived in London with my partner and three cats
(yes - I’m that girl!) for eight years now, always in Camberwell/ Peckham, which I fell in love with from visits to a friend, for its vibrancy and sense of community.
When I moved to London I was working for Vivienne Westwood, after finishing my degree in Fashion with Photography and later worked as a retoucher.

I loved the work but wanted to be more in control of my financial situation so took a huge risk and moved over into a sales role (specifically in recruitment!). I enjoyed the work but missed the creativity so always compensated by passion projects on the side - which is exactly how Palm of Feronia began

What made you decide to start your own business?

I suffered from adult acne for over 10 years, starting in my early 20’s and tried EVERYTHING but sadly nothing worked. Eventually, I was moved onto a controversial medication - Roaccutane. This made my skin super-sensitive and even raw aloe vera would cause my face to burn. Early in 2019, I began experimenting with natural oils to see what was gentle enough to use and gradually began to make my own products for myself, then later family and friends.

I’ve practiced crystal healing and elements of aromatherapy for years and have used them to aid anxiety issues, so they naturally combined with products - it wasn’t even a conscious decision.

I’ve always been a bit of a knowledge sponge so as soon as I started learning about all the ingredients, it just rolled on and on. I then studied organic skincare formulation and used this as a platform to launch what is now Palm of Feronia.

Tell us a bit about what it means to run your own business?

I’ve always been a huge advocate for enabling employees and flexibility - running my own business allows me to practice this to the fullest extent. Of course, it’s easy to say that right now as it’s just me but it will always be a focus!
It’s allowed me to truly carve out a more healthy work/ life balance, but also stretch my skills and learn more about areas of business I didn't even know existed. It’s all a HUGE learning curve, but I really do feel you have to fail fast, make those mistakes early on (when they’re usually easier to rectify and cost less to fix!). Palm of Feronia has been built on mistakes, but all with a positive outcome eventually.

Talk to us about what hard work means to you?

As someone who worked in a sales role (in a sector notorious for overworking and long hours) I probably haven't always had a healthy relationship with “hard work”.
I’m someone who wants to refine processes - organisation is so key to me - and through this, I’ve built ways of doing more for less. This has always served me well and still does in some areas. I do everything here at Palm of Feronia from creating formulas, manufacturing, bottling, packaging, marketing, PR, etc. so being able to spin plates is vital, however, I’m really trying to teach myself that it’s sometimes OK to not be busy, to take a few days off if I have space to do so.

Doing this definitely helps me appreciate where the brand is at, and how incredibly lucky I am to do this - you definitely need to step away sometimes to take it all in!

Working from home has become the norm these days, has that been the same for you, and if so how have you adapted to it? What does home mean to you?

It’s very new to me! I only left my “day job” in October last year and so when the pandemic hit, we were all working from home, which we’d not been able to before. This again, really helped my work-life balance as it freed up that commute time to focus on Palm of Feronia. I adapted quickly, and I’d say it was a big part of me leaving my job to focus full -time on the brand - I just couldn't imagine commuting again. I’m also quite an extroverted-introvert so I find being around people all day every day quite intense.
I’m a bit of a homebody anyway and from a young age have wanted to make my space homely. To me, home is the place that allows you to reset, to bring you back to equilibrium - that feeling of when you come back from a holiday and just can't wait to sit down with a cup of tea!

How has your notion of home changed from childhood to adult life?

My partner always jokes that I’m a bit of a nomad as I’ve moved around a fair bit so I’d always had multiple homes - I even think back to friends' houses growing up that felt like home to me too. I think as a child, home was always the bricks and mortar that I lived in but as I’ve got older it’s definitely broader than that. For example, a big goal of mine in the next couple of years is to move by the sea because I feel so at home around water.

How do you switch off from work, when running your own business requires you to be always on?

This is something I’m very passionate about and always have been as I suffer from anxiety and if I don't switch off, I can spiral. These moments are when imposter syndrome creeps in and I really doubt myself. As soon as Palm of Feronia started to become a thing, I invested in a “work phone” so I could clearly separate home and work. When I’m relaxing and before bed, I keep that phone in another room and it stays there until I “clock back in''. I do understand that there is often an expectation to be “on” and available but if I didn't take this time to separate the two, I’d have less to give when I was in work-mode. It’s so valuable to me!

What is your favourite object or room in your home, and why?

I have always loved anything old - my grandparents' home is full to the brim of old books, photographs, and trinkets and I would spend hours transfixed. Because of this, I’ve collected some very old and interesting pieces and over the last couple of years, have started to grow an antique rug collection.

My father lived in Saudi Arabia so I was lucky enough to pick some antique Persian rugs and I’ve collected others along the way. I love the story and history behind them, and the idea that these rugs have been walked over by people for over a hundred years, often in another part of the world. My flat in Peckham is TINY so they don’t get shown sadly, but they’re safely in storage waiting for their moment to shine!

Do you have any rituals you swear by?

Tea is one of my favourite rituals. Brewing a pot of loose leaf oolong is like meditation to me and is a real grounding moment. I also love a bath and the rituals around drawing and having a bath definitely help prepare me for sleep - this was how our Grounding Bath Elixir was born.

Talk to us about what traditions mean to you?

I’ve not really been brought up with “traditions” in the way I see some of my friends have (aside from things like what needs to be in a Christmas dinner!) but I definitely have mini-traditions that I’ve established for myself like Sunday morning walks in Dulwich Village and Cinema trips on a Wednesday. I think this is more to do with my love of planning though - there’s definitely a sense of safety and security in traditions.

What does your perfect day look like?

Whether it’s a workday or not, getting outdoors is so important to me - even if it’s a wander around one of the local parks. I love a long walk, a great lunch, and a cosy movie night in the evening. I am a massive film fan and love getting lost in a great movie!

What are your favourite scents and why?

In terms of essential oils, I love Vetiver - I’m always drawn to smokey, earthy scents which are probably reflected in Palm of Feronia. Lockdown made me realise how many other scents I loved and missed, such as the smell of the cinema (yes I got the Earl of East lockdown fragrance cinema candle!), the smell of bakeries, or walking past the Turkish restaurant around the corner from me. Scents can definitely evoke the smell of home and comfort.

What is your favourite meal to cook at home?

As I write this, it’s very hot weather so it doesn’t suit right now, but I grew up with both my parents cooking a superb stew and it’s my favourite comfort food. If I’m feeling a little frazzled or disconnected, the process of preparing a stew will always bring me back.
If you could take us on a trip anywhere, where would you take us and why?

One of my favourite places I’ve visited was St. Ouen’s Bay in Jersey as the sunset. It’s not that it’s the most picturesque coastline but it’s probably one of the places I’ve felt most connected to the sea. I love the sea when it’s wild and angry - it’ll blow the cobwebs out for sure!

Palm of Feronia


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