Brand Spotlight: How one founder’s mental health struggles inspired a new business idea 

The backstory – Bare Biology

One day back in 2012, Melanie Lawson woke up and decided to start a fish oil business. Her friends and family raised their eyebrows and smiled. Omega-3 had been a life saver to her as a mother of three young children, and she was a complete convert. But she was tired of trying to hunt down a supplement that was strong enough to work, fresh enough to taste good, in a form she could absorb, and with clear proof of being 100% pure. She couldn’t find one, so she decided to make it herself.

The backstory – Bare Biology

One day back in 2012, Melanie Lawson woke up and decided to start a fish oil business. Her friends and family raised their eyebrows and smiled. Omega-3 had been a life saver to her as a mother of three young children, and she was a complete convert. But she was tired of trying to hunt down a supplement that was strong enough to work, fresh enough to taste good, in a form she could absorb, and with clear proof of being 100% pure. She couldn’t find one, so she decided to make it herself.

Omega-3 is the super oil known for many powerful health benefits. From fighting inflammation and autoimmune diseases to improving joint health, health-conscious consumers are realising the importance of omega-3 in maintaining optimal physical and mental health.

However, a good-quality omega-3 supplement has been hard to come by in the UK – until now. Mum of three, Melanie Lawson, was left feeling frustrated when trying to source a product to supplement her family’s diet. So, identifying this gap in the market, she decided to start her own fish oil business.

In this Q&A, Melanie talks about balancing being a mum to three young children with running Bare Biology, a luxury omega-3 health supplement brand, which has seen order volumes double in just 18 months.

Was it always your plan to become your own boss?

After having my children and spending seven years looking after them at home, the thought of going back into the corporate world and working for someone else didn’t appeal. I always had thoughts of starting my own business, but I had no clear idea of what I would sell.

I’m very open about the fact that I’ve had OCD most of my life and that I suffer from anxiety and sometimes depression. After the birth of my second child, postnatal depression kicked in and this was the turning point for getting help. It was a combination of lifestyle and dietary changes, talking therapy, and broadening my mummy friends’ network that really helped me pull through.

Having gone through this difficult experience, I also focused a lot of my attention on better understanding the benefits of omega-3 and the negative impact deficiencies can have on women’s mental health.

It was only then I realised the health benefits of these fatty acids were far-reaching but, surprisingly, it was extremely difficult to buy a highly concentrated and pure fish oil supplement in the UK.

 A photograph of a female business owner using her fish oil products to prepare lunch

It sounds like a real lightbulb moment when Bare Biology was born…

It certainly was. We launched in August 2013 with just one product, our Life & Soul Liquid (previously Lion Heart liquid). If you want your fish oil supplement to benefit you, it must contain enough EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are the two most important omegas. One 5ml teaspoon of our Life & Soul Liquid has 3,500mg of omega-3, including 2,000mg of EPA, 1,000mg of DHA plus 500mg of other omega-3s, making it one of the strongest concentrated fish oils you can buy.

You clearly knew your product inside and out, but what about supply chains and associated warehousing processes?

I never had a desire to have a factory or warehouse of my own. After a lot of research, I found a manufacturer in Norway and it took around a year to get my supply chain in place. This was challenging as I had no previous experience of dealing with different elements of supply chains. I’m also not great at asking for help so couldn’t short-cut any learning. Instead, patience and learning from my mistakes was how I developed new skills.

What did your go-to-market strategy look like?

I used Shopify from the beginning and was one of the first UK businesses to use the platform. At the time, there weren’t many web designers who knew it and I attempted to design it myself. I eventually found a freelancer who helped me put together our first site. 

For the first year, I did all of my own PR, sending samples out to key journalists and influencers. I was slow to use social media because I wasn’t comfortable with it. Getting the product stocked in Liberty London gave us a good PR boost and credibility. I still view our retail distribution as a key part of our marketing mix. 

In those early days, how challenging did you find running your own business?

For the first year, our order volumes were manageable, which meant I could do everything myself. But, as word spread, the orders increased, which started to place more pressure on me. As our brand reputation grew it was incredibly exciting, but it put greater stress on me to ensure the packing and distribution were done quickly and professionally. 

My husband was helping me at this point as he was on gardening leave; fulfilling the orders had become this all-consuming task which meant I had no time to focus on marketing or growing the business. Something had to give, so we made the decision that outsourcing the fulfilment would free me up and allow me to grow the business.

I am sometimes amazed when I speak to people who are years into their online business and are still doing all the fulfilment themselves. I keep telling them they shouldn’t be down in the weeds and that they’re stifling their growth. 

It seems such an obvious choice to me but equally, I can understand that it can be hard for people to let go.

How is your business faring given the difficult times we’ve faced, and continue to face?  

April 2020 was actually our best month ever. We’re obviously a health product so demand has increased. Our retail sales decreased slightly, which was to be expected with many retailers forced to close as a result of Covid-19.

But our online sales are going from strength to strength. Given that we’re a business focused on mental health and wellbeing, which have become front and centre for people now, we are still fortunate enough to be operational and our team is growing.

We can’t predict how things will go over the next few months or years, but what plans do you have for Bare Biology?

We are currently in the middle of a large rebrand and are rolling out new packaging for all of our products, which now includes Skinful Marine Collagen Powder alongside our wider omega-3 range. We also want to develop more environmentally friendly packaging and will be working closely with James and James and their packaging partners on this in the near future.