As part of our ongoing commitment to sharing positive brand stories and actions from our community, Making a Difference highlights the often unsung individuals across the luxury industry making a positive impact. It is our hope that this series will be an inspiration to people working in sustainability and show professionals – particularly at the start of their career journey – the many routes there are to making a difference.
This month the spotlight is on Iain Russell, Operations Manager at Wild Beauty.
What qualifications do you have? Did they play a role in getting you where you are today?
Environmental care and concern have been part of me longer than I can remember. At the age of 6, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, apparently, I announced I would grow up to be a “doctor in the mud!” I went on to gain a BSC in Environmental Science and an LLM in Environmental Law. I actually joined Rhug as an Accountant, but my knowledge of sustainability and operations saw me promoted over to the Wild Beauty Team; where I bring sustainability and ethical considerations into each part of our work here.
Have you always worked in sustainability? If not, what did you do before?
I have always worked in sustainability but that was not always the job that my employers thought they had given me. My placement year was on a nature reserve, and I loved it, but after graduating I accidentally ended up working in finance and IT for several years, before heading up a European Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence. Finally getting back to my green-roots with a Renewable Energy developer; undertaking Environmental Impact Assessment and Consenting for offshore wave power. My next job, and still my favourite, was as a stay-at-home Dad. I self-trained as an accountant during that time.
How did you end up in your current role?
I joined Rhug in 2019 as an accountant for the consumer retail part of the business. I have a very practical approach to everything and I applied this to accounting; not just sitting in an office but checking the process at every stage. This hands on approach also resulted in getting involved in the IT/Phone provision and my background in renewable energy helped with the Rhug Energy side of the business. My thorough approach got noticed and when the Rhug Wild Beauty brand began to expand I was asked if I wanted to join the team.
What made you fall in love with sustainability?
It was never conscious for me, early on, but always present. Like a shape my soul was always destined to grow into. To me sustainability is the answer to all things. A sustainable future has a protected environment and a fair and equitable society. Achieving this means we prevent so many other issues from occurring. It may come as no surprise that I am pro-sustainability – but I’m also very positive about it. I genuinely believe that a sustainable future is the best future, for all concerned – and any steps we take towards that future, improves our present as well.
What does your day-to-day look like?
My work covers the entire product and business life cycle. New product (and/or componentry) design including certification application, requirements and costings. Production planning follows with all elements following the critical path. Sales orders also come into me from the retailers and are dispatched according to their criteria. Web-sales need to be processed for dispatch; Export documentation needs preparing for international deliveries. I also oversee the accounts and collate sales data for analysis, as well as assisting with new customer acquisition – more and more of whom are international and so involve getting my head round international logistics and finance.
What challenges have you faced?
Knowing nothing what-so-ever about skincare was the first challenge. Having a biological background helped but I had genuinely never heard of a toner or a serum before I started with Rhug Wild Beauty. The major challenge since has been the huge breath of the role. We are only a small team and I am the only technical and operational role. I cover our certifications and audits, componentry procurement, import and export, accounts, IT, dispatch and logistics – plus overlapping involvement in all other aspects of the business. I now know what a toner and serum are, so there’s that as well.
What are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of what we do here and feel an enormous sense of pride seeing the products on the shelf. For me, however, the greatest pride comes from the honesty behind the brand. When I began this role, I spent quite some time looking to ingredients used by the skincare industry and was, frankly, horrified. The list of chemicals and petro-chemical derivates was appalling, even in brands that claimed to be ‘natural’ and/or ‘organic’. It is with great satisfaction that I tick the ‘none of the above’ box in the additive section of any potential retailer’s application form.
What advice would you have for anyone looking to contribute to their company’s sustainability goals?
I genuinely cannot think of a reason why they should not be doing so. It can start so simply, with things we do every day. Don’t print emails, don’t print a report, take the laptop and explain face-to-face. Shift to recycled paper; little things grow at the personal level. Soon companies will be encouraged to switch to renewable energy, hold more virtual meetings, push sustainability into their every decision and reach out (as we have done to Positive Luxury) to bodies that can help to quantify their efforts and cooperate to improving or focus them.
What’s next for you?
The past eighteen months have been amazing, taking the brand from close to inception to being on-shelf around the world. I feel, however, we are reaching the end of our infancy as a brand. We’ve established ourselves, proven our products, now it’s time to push higher and wider. It is so important to us and the sustainability industry, as a whole, that we prove that luxury, sustainability, natural and organic credentials do not need to be sacrificed for a wonderful and effective product. The truth is our products are better because they are all of these things.