High50 Entrepreneur Denise Leicester of ila: yoga teacher whose holistic skincare has gone global

Denise Leicester founded ila as a niche brand making plant-based products. Now it’s in spas worldwide, including the Four Seasons and Jumeirah resorts, and Gwyneth is a fan

A barn in the Cotswolds is not the first place you would think of finding an organic beauty brand that is stocked by top spas around the world. But this is where Denise Leicester, the founder of ila, is based. There’s a delightful scent in the air, and shelves filled with products packaged in brilliant Indian colours of pink, yellow and orange.

She trained as a nurse and a midwife but had to change the way she thought about orthodox medicine after caring for the former ruler of Dubai. As he didn’t believe in conventional medicine she started to explore aromatherapy and massage for healing. This had such a beneficial effect on his health that she returned to the UK and studied complimentary medicine.

 

She also studied yoga and marma therapy, which uses Ayurvedic medicines and massage techniques for strength and rejuvenation. In fact, she has named her brand ila after the Hindu Goddess of Truth and the Sanskrit word for Earth.

I’m here to ask Denise about how she came to start her own beauty brand.

What inspired you to start ila?

I was running yoga retreats in the Cotswolds and started to wonder why we think its OK to put harmful chemicals on our skin but wouldn’t dream of putting toxins in our mouth. So I started to create my own products, which my clients loved.

Soon I realised that there was a potential to produce a product that women could connect to that wasn’t just cosmetic. I spent the next three years researching these products and launched ila in 2008.

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 How did you fund the business?

Initially my husband and I funded it. We put in £10,000, which was spent on finding the purest ingredients and sourcing the most ethical indigenous farming practices in India and Morocco. The money was also used for the testing of formulas and putting together the first run of products.

These products proved to be so successful that we quickly had to raise more money and we then invited investors to come on board buy shares the business. This enabled us to expand the business and get our products into renowned spas around the world. The annual turnover is now more than £1.5million and we hope to grow by opening and managing our own spas along with making products for other people.

 

What makes your products so unique?

In India I saw that Ayurvedic medicines are created in an environment that is both physically and mentally clean. There would be chanting but no talking. The production workers here were initially resistant to this but now we follow those principles.

What you feel in the production room is an overwhelming peace even when things are busy. Like a chef who makes food in a bad mood and it doesn’t taste so good. If our products are made in harmony it makes a difference.

We buy our ingredients direct from farmers in tribes around the world. We work with the Kyapu in the Amazon rainforest, the Hunza tribe in northern Pakistan, the Berbers in Morocco, and the Ayurvedic farmers in India.

Because we deal directly with them the money goes straight back into the community and these communities are now thriving. There are three villages in India that make our incense and they now have a school for their children and a mobile hospital.

ila founder Denise Leicester High50 Entrepreneur YouTube_620x349

Have you any beauty tips for women in their fifties?

Beauty has to come from the inside as well as the outside. It is important to drink water and to start the day with water and lemon juice, which acts as a tonic for your lymphatic system.

Yoga is a nourishing exercise for women as we get older. Exfoliation is important, also using masks and understanding how to use oils. We use Rosehip seed oil, Argan oil and Moringa oil in our treatments.

How do you feel about being in your fifties?

My fifties have been amazing. I have more confidence than ever before and am much happier about who I am and how I look.

Denise’s top three tips for starting a business in your fifties
  1. Take time to research your product. It is really important not to rush into starting a business.
  2. Structure the support you need around you.
  3. Be confident. Your fifties is a fantastic time to start a business, because of all the knowledge you’ve acquired and fewer family commitments.

See ila spa locations and treatments