Owner of The Edinburgh Natural Skincare Company, Tommy Crooks, hasn’t had the most conventional career.
There was the brief stint in post-punk band, The Fall, in which he was a guitarist for a year, back in 1997, when they released their Levitate album.
Then he had a period in construction. However, 12 years ago, there was another vocational switch when Crooks, who originally graduated in drawing and painting at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee back in the Eighties, launched his natural beauty company.
He started out making his own soap, then began selling at Stockbridge market, where he stayed for eight years. The brand now has two shops in the capital’s Old Town.
There’s a three-year-old branch on Victoria Street and another on Cockburn Street, which opened in 2018. From now until January 3, they also have a presence at the Edinburgh Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens.
However, as they have global ambition, it’s perhaps most exciting that they’ve just become the first Scottish business in any sector to open a TMall Global Flagship Store in China. It creates a huge opportunity for sales overseas.
“When we started crafting at the kitchen table in 2010, often working late into the night, we had no idea there would be worldwide demand for our products, “ says East Lothian-based Crooks, 59. “Currently we have two stores in Edinburgh but selling to the world through online marketplaces takes our business to another level. As a 100 per cent natural handmade skincare company, we’re also very well placed to take advantage of the quality and heritage associated with British brands. It’s incredibly exciting to be able to turn our export ambitions into reality.”
Their newest launch isn’t a physical shop but a virtual presence and is China’s biggest and most popular marketplace, which operates as a platform to sell brand-name goods. According to Alexa Rank, it is the third most visited website globally and has 500 million monthly active users.
“In China people don't buy from websites, they buy on their phone from big e-commerce platforms like this,” he says. “TMall has a lot of shops on it from all over the world. We invested a considerable amount of money when we opened about six weeks ago, and it's going great. The sales are going up on a daily basis to the point where we're actually worried about getting enough product ready to get another palette out before Christmas”.
Their biggest sellers on TMall so far are currently the solid hand cream bars, which contain beeswax and cocoa butter, among other ingredients, and come in versions including Scottish Porridge and Honey, or with names including Symmetry or Baby I Love You. These account for about 60 per cent of their sales.
“It’s quite an innovative product,” says Crooks, who has nine staff in China.
As with everything by the company, the potions are all handmade over here, and their origins help when it comes to marketing them.
“Scotland the brand is more and more recognised in China,” says Crooks, who has been teaching himself Mandarin for the last three years. “Edinburgh is probably the best known city next to London because of the student population. A big Chinese pop star recently came over and shot a video outside Edinburgh Castle”.
The beauty brand has also had considerable success in Japan over the last four years and is planning to open a physical shop in Tokyo, with Crooks heading over to the city for the first time this month. They’ll be scoping out potential locations and holding a couple of events.
Soon, there will be two shops in Edinburgh and one in Japan. "The Scots have got a pioneering tradition, it just feels natural," says Crooks.
This year, they were also approached by the organisers of bodybuilding competition Best Body Japan, which takes place annually.
“Think Britain’s Got Talent. There are age groups up to their 80s. They go to the gym for months, then enter themselves for this competition,” says Crooks. “They cover themselves in cream and preen in front of the camera. This year my business partner approached the organisers and said we’d like to sponsor the show. I just thought it was great. We’re all over the media in Japan”.
The contestants needed something to grease up their pecs and The Edinburgh Natural Skincare Company suggested their Luxury No.1 Body Butter, which smells like lime, clove and sweet orange.
Although China and Japan are their biggest markets, this business now sells globally.
“We’ve got a really big customer in Germany and we made a web sale the other week to some obscure little island off the coast of Northern Finland. I can't even remember the name of it. Our sales are literally worldwide,” says Crooks.
It must seem a long time since he was in The Fall. “That’s ancient history”, says Crooks, who designed the cover artwork for Levitate.
Things have also progressed since their days at Stockbridge Market, back when he had to sell furniture to pay for ingredients.
In the beginning, their customers were mainly locals.
“You’d have Edinburgh people in the summer, then more tourists coming in during the winter”, says Crooks. “That’s the advantage of living in the Capital, you’ve got visitors from the four corners of the globe visiting. When we eventually got our first shop, it was filled with people from everywhere”.
The Edinburgh Natural Skincare Company is at 32 Victoria Street and 57 Cockburn Street, www.edinburghskincare.com