Tracey Ryan started Bia Beauty in 2011 with a small loan from Skibbereen Credit Union and support from her Local Enterprise Board. She is now Managing Director for Ireland and Master Formulator at Codex Beauty. She lives in Tower, Cork, with her husband Gavin, and their two sons, Feidhlim and Milo. She has come a long way from her home in Thurles, Tipperary.
“I ran Bia Beauty as a small Irish business for seven years,” Tracey says. “We sold into around 100 stores across Ireland. We won lots of awards and had a loyal following.”
Eighteen months ago, Tracey was approached by Barb Paldus, a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, who was setting up a global skincare collective, Codex Beauty.
“It is a collection of skincare lines from around the globe based on both traditional herbal knowledge, native plants and modern science,” Tracey says. “We agreed to join, and we sold Bia Beauty to Codex and became part of the collective. Now I’m the MD for Codex Beauty Ireland and work as a Master Formulator for Codex. We still make the Bia line here but now we are part of a global team and the Bia line is sold all over the world.”
Her first job, at the age of 15, was in a shoe shop at home in Thurles working weekends and school holidays.
“I worked all the way through secondary school and loved the independence it gave me.”
Finding her path to where she is now, took time, some thinking and the experiences from travelling.
“I had a huge love for animals and nature when I was a child,” Tracey says. “I was always reading about endangered animals and environmental issues and became a vegetarian at 12! I loved plants and studying biology at school, but it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do as a career. I tried an Arts Degree in UCC but dropped out in my second year, as it really didn’t interest me. I travelled for a bit and came to the realisation that my love of plants and nature would have to be part of my career.”
Tracey changed course and went to a small little college in Drumcollogher in Co. Limerick and did a course in Organic Horticulture and Sustainable Development. From there she went onto do a degree in Herbal Science in CIT.
The idea for her business came while she was working on her final year college project.
“I had an idea for a range of skincare products based on edible ingredients. My oldest son was a baby and I was really conscious of what ingredients we were putting on our skin, so I started making our own toiletries. I was learning so much in college about different herbs and the effect that they could have on the skin, so I started adding herbal infusions to the skincare. That’s how my business, Bia Beauty was born.”
She now works in the Codex Beauty offices in Cork city where they have a lab for developing new products. Her work now is multi-faceted. Her passion is engaged by the search for new plant materials, the constituents that can be extracted, and the eureka moments when creating the first batch samples.
“It’s an exciting role that can take me from the lab to a field of organic herbs or to conferences around the world.”
For anyone starting a business, Tracey recommends that you get your pricing right from day one.
“You need to factor in all your costs and make sure that you are charging enough to cover all your costs.” She says. “I find most people who start out in a new business completely undervalue themselves, their time and their products or services.”
With such a busy work life, Tracey tries to take two weekends completely off each month so that she can really unwind. Cooking, hanging out with her family or heading off on little adventures helps even out her work-life balance.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” Tracey says from experience.
In 2016, her concern for the plight of refugees took her to Calais where she ended up organising three articulated trucks of aid with the help of 60 volunteers. A simple Facebook post looking for donations of clothes going viral set it all off.
“Within a day or two Marian Finucane asked me to go on her show and speak about what we were doing,” Tracey says. “We spent a week in the refugee camps dispensing aid, building shelters and feeding people. We had a team of healthcare workers with us who set up a temporary health centre.”
The project raised almost €250,000 and tens of tonnes of aid were shipped to Syria and other countries where refugees were stranded. They succeeded in getting aid to the people who needed it most.
Her own heroes are Countess Markiewicz and Sinead O’Connor.
“One was a revolutionary, a suffragette and a socialist at a time when women did not have a voice and she gave up wealth and comfort to fight for freedom. Sinead has made an amazing comeback and her voice is like nothing else, it’s pure emotion.
“I’ve always dreamed of self-sufficiency,” Tracey says, when asked about her plans for the future. “I’d love to have a big vegetable garden, some hens and an herb patch that I can create lots of new lotions and potions from.”
No doubt she will!