“As a self confessed busy bee, full time SMS Qualified Saddle Fitter, and multiple business owner, my days are crammed to the rafters.
During lockdown, I was unable to saddle-fit, and the prospect of being stuck at home, with nothing to do, made my heart hurt and I really didn’t fancy doing the housework I’d so cleverly avoided for many months.
So, I decided to take the leather products I’ve always made myself, and market them to the general public. As someone that has worked with leather for 15 years, I struggled to find balms that did everything I needed them to do, whilst not reacting with my very sensitive skin. I was shocked to find that the ingredients listed on the majority of leather treatments didn’t always tell the full story, with many being full of synthetic chemicals and non-ethically produced animal fats – eg mink oil and tallow.
I have spent many years making my own leather dying balm which restores colour into very faded leather. So, I thought lockdown was the perfect opportunity to tweak the products, and launch them. I wanted something that was environmentally friendly, plastic free and cruelty free. And that was how PeeWee LeatherCare started, named after my saddlery brand, PeeWee Saddlery.
My mornings always start at 6.30am, where I greet my alarm with several swear words. I used to be a ‘snooze’ button-pressing-pro, until I read a motivational book that said it was the worst way to start a day, so the ‘snooze’ button is now a thing of the past. I’d love to say I spring out of bed now, but I don’t. It’s more of a creaky roll.
The same motivational book said I should spend half an hour in the morning collecting my thoughts, and planning for the day. This, in reality, is more like 5 mins, and is spent with a cup of tea in hand. Before the chaos starts. I have four dogs, three horses, two children and a husband to get up and organised for the day. Between 7am and 8am, my house is filled with people crashing into each other, lost bus passes, packed lunches and wagging tails. When they kids get on the school bus at 7.45am and my husband is settled down for a day of work (he’s mainly working from home at the moment), I get Doris (my truck) packed up with saddles for the day. Whilst drinking more tea.
My saddle fitting days are long, and I cover many many miles, where I play my favourite game of ‘petrol light roulette’ at least once a day. I can usually be found listening to motivational podcasts (I am obsessed by anything with a ‘you can do it’ kind of vibe). I don’t often get a proper ‘lunch break’ but I have my dog, Pumpkin, with me, so I always make sure she gets a run/walk around half way through the day before sharing my flask of tea.
Once home, it’s usually getting late, and the rest of my family have eaten without me. If I’m lucky I’ll catch the end of dinner, before mine has congealed too much. I try to spend an hour or so with the children, helping with homework, advising on hairstyles, deciphering grunts… the usual things a mother of teenagers does in the evenings.
And then, the craziness starts again. I’m blessed to have a PA, who handles most of the admin side of my life, but I invariably have at least 6325 things on my list from her of things to do, people to reply to, orders to fulfil, invoices to pay, saddles to order… the list goes on.
Once all that is out of the way, I go to my ‘shed’. This is a gorgeous little pink log cabin, at the end of my garden, built for me during the first lockdown by my husband. We built it, in an attempt to separate home and work life. As a business owner, it’s so easy to mix work and family too much. My house was always filled with cardboard boxes, getting from room to room was like a challenge on The Crystal Maze. So, the ‘shed’ has been life-changing.
Once in the shed, with the log burner blazing, I’ll check to see which product in the leather care range we’re running lowest on – as I can only make one ‘batch’ at a time because the kitchen is tiny. Whichever is lowest, gets made. It is usually the Orange & Geranium Reviving Balm as that’s the most popular one. I turn the gas on, fill my new (massive) Bain Marie with water and start. Leather soaps/conditioners can’t be made over a direct heat, so it has to go into the Bain Marie.
With my new one, I can make 15litres at a time. This is 150 pots of 100ml. But, I usually do about 10 litres at a time, as it makes it easier to manhandle the giant pan, and fill the little pots. All the solid ingredients are weighed out first, using proper scales – which are accurate to 0.01gram. The liquid ingredients are measured in special syringes. This is my favourite part of the day, there is something so special about mixing together relatively simple ingredients to produce something amazing. All of our products are crammed with essential oils, which smell utterly divine! The whole shed becomes saturated in beautiful wafts of orange and geranium, or lemon and peppermint. I am convinced it helps with my mood. Who needs motivational podcasts when I can inhale all of that goodness?
Whilst the batch bubbles away, I flit between stirring it, and labelling the previous day’s batch; weighing them again, and packaging up any orders to go the next day. This used to be a job for the kids… but, they weren’t quite particular enough when it came to straightness of their sticker-ing. That’s something I suffer from, I am a bit of a control freak, I am not great at delegating. Although, I will confess that my husband is brilliant at making up the cardboard boxes we use to post them out in, a job far more complex than anyone could know! Each cardboard box is like its own mini Mensa challenge. I like the box opening to be a nice experience for the customer, so I make sure they’re beautiful. Because the ‘ethos’ of the business is eco-friendly and natural, the boxes have to reflect that.
Our products are in cute little tins, and we nestle them cardboard boxes, in bed of wiggly worms of wood, wrap them in recycled tissue paper, and seal them with plastic-free labels. This takes a lot of extra time, but I want the whole process of receiving our products to be beautiful and to really reflect the ‘natural’ feel of the company. None of our products contain plastic. Our ‘Planet-Loving’ Sponges are made of wood pulp and even the disposable gloves that are used for the leather dye set are made of sugar cane. I can confirm they do not taste like sugar, which is disappointing to say the least.
When the batch has finished bubbling, has reached the specific heat required for the oils to mix correctly, I have to let it cool to 60 degrees before adding the essential oils. If the essential oils are added before it has sufficiently cooled, it takes away a lot of their goodness. Did you know that Peppermint Essential Oil is great as an anti-fungal? It’s even known to kill athlete’s foot… now, I’m not suggesting that your tack has athlete’s foot… but it certainly helps keep the mould off. And… wait for it… spiders and mice too! Once the scrumptious oils are added, the mixture is syringed into the pots. I always aim for 10% over the actual weight, as we’re not allowed to sell anything UNDER weight, so it is better to aim for 110% of the weight, to be safe. This is the worst part. Once I’ve filled about 50, I have cramp in my arm and hand, and usually enlist the husband to help (with me watching over him like a hawk, you know, just in case!). Lids are screwed on, and they’re left to cool and set, to be labelled the next day.
If I have any spare time (eg whilst the mixture is cooling), I’ll make a video for YouTube, in my little leather workshop (also in the shed), or do some yoga in my yoga room (yes, also in my shed!). Bedtime is a time to catch up on social media/YouTube comments, check the analytics, and design any new labels or flyers for the LeatherCare business. All of the labels and promotional material is hand written, and, as someone with barely legible writing, this can be a bit of a task to get neat. I have every Friday evening off, as ‘Family Friday’ where we hang out as a family, doing something fun. And I make sure I have one day in the weekend ‘off’… although I’ll often spend that making and editing videos, but I’m home, and try to involve the family in things as much as I can.
Some people (my mum!) say that I am ‘too busy’ all the time, but it is who I am. I am very much an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person, and I am happiest when I am a busy bee.”