Meet the Maker: ishga

We go behind the scenes of one of our favourite brands, ishga, which hails from the Western Isles of Scotland. ishga creates organic beauty products that harness the natural anti-oxidants, healing and anti-ageing properties of Scottish seaweed. Here, co-founder Malcolm MacRae explains how ishga began, and why sustainability is at the heart of the brand.

When did ishga begin?

ishga started back in 2012. I was already in business with the Hebridean Seaweed Company, which I started with Martin MacLeod back in 2005. We’d started to sell the seaweed to spas for seaweed baths. My wife, Joanna, who is a beautician, said that it would be good to make beauty products out of seaweed too, and that’s where ishga began.

I have a background in pharmaceuticals so I’d make a prototype for Joanna to test. She’d try them and tell me what needed to be done, and that’s the format we still stick to today.

We sent some of our first products to a spa to trial them – they really liked the concept and saw the potential. It just snowballed from there really. We now have 33 retail products in total, with plans for more.

Does sustainability play a big role at ishga?

All of the ingredients in our products have approval by the Soil Association. All of our processing and harvesting is done in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way.

ishga products contain seaweed extract. This is full of polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which are great for the skin. The seaweed grows in abundance near us, and we use this for the extract in each beauty product. We actually only need a very small amount for the extract, so it’s very sustainable.

The seaweed  is hand harvested to produce the extract, cutting it fresh from the shore. We then collect fresh water from a nearby spring to use in the extraction process. The extraction process starts within a couple of hours of harvesting the seaweed. This ensures our products contain as many of seaweed’s powerful nutrients as possible.

Beyond the products, we’re also working to make our packaging more sustainable. We’re making an effort to move away from plastic. Six of our products now come packaged in glass jars, and we’re moving as quickly as we can to extend this across our whole range.

Who can benefit from ishga’s products?

Our products are perhaps considered a little more expensive than others on the market, but people who try them quickly become very loyal.

A little goes a long way with ishga products. Many people with skin conditions often report feeling the benefits from the seaweed straight away. Those with acne and psoriasis for example report instant results from our products.

How has lockdown impacted business?

Covid has definitely been a challenge. We’re currently running with skeleton staff, but it’s helped us to refocus the business. For example, while we’re not selling to spas at the moment, we’re selling more and more online. We hope to keep this going after lockdown has come to an end.

It’s also made us think more about the products people want. We’re looking at creating an organic sanitizer and soaps to release in the near future.

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