Kira Walton, co-founder of Voya Cosmetics has just been nominated for the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2014. We take a look back at an interview she did with Lucy Watts, which appeared in Dylan magazine, about launching one of the country’s most successful seaweed-based beauty ranges.
For centuries, seaweed had been used in Ireland as a therapeutic treatment for all manner of ailments. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were an estimated 300 seaweed bath houses in Ireland and nine in the small town of Strandhill, Co Sligo, alone. But by 1960, the industry was already in serious decline – emigration had robbed the region of young, able-bodied harvesters and the market was becoming saturated with an increasing number of glamorous-looking manufactured cosmetics.
“Once these chemical-based beauty products hit the shelves,” Kira Walton explains, “Irish people began to see the age-old tradition of ‘taking the waters’ as outdated.” But, thankfully, the industry has come full circle. In the last decade, we have seen the beauty industry embrace a more natural approach with traditional, organic and ethically-sourced products now in great demand.
Kira and her husband Mark Walton have always shared a passion for all things organic – Mark’s father was a founding member of the Organic Society of Ireland and his great-grandfather was a harvester for the original seaweed baths in Strandhill.
“My brother-in-law, Neil, is also a professional triathlete,” Kira continues. “And over the years, as he was competing, he discovered the restorative power of seaweed baths. The first time he treated his body post-race with a seaweed bath (rather than an ice bath) he was amazed at the plant’s ability to remove toxins from the body and accelerate the healing process.”
This inspired Neil to re-open the old Strandhill seaweed baths in 2000. And in 2003, Mark and Kira joined forces with him as the business was expanding apace, welcoming a whopping 40,000 visitors a year. The idea to develop a complementary cosmetics line came soon after as Kira, Mark and Neil wanted to offer visitors to the baths products that they could take away to use as a home spa treatment.
“You can’t imagine how wonderfully soft and smooth your skin feels after a seaweed bath, until you’ve had one.” Kira enthuses. And indeed, it has now been scientifically proven that no other known plant contains such comparably high levels of vitamins and minerals as seaweed.
And so the Voya brand was born –a brand with a clear vision to create exceptional beauty and skincare treatments, based on the restorative power of natural Irish seaweed.
“The seaweed we use in our products,” Kira explains, “within two hours of beingpicked, in order to preserve the plant’s potent active ingredients.
“Our philosophy is clear. We make sure our harvesting methods–by hand–will never damage the delicate coastal environment that provides us with our certified organic seaweed. And we ensure that no nasty chemicals are used in any of our products.”
The ethos of the company seems to have struck a chord with consumers worldwide, as this small Irish brand, that started life in the seaweed baths in Co Sligo, is now stocked across Europe, Asia and North America.
A truly inspiring success story.
Check out the other brilliant women who have been short listed, and get your tickets to the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards here.