The right blend: Passion for science, nature nurture successful skincare line

When Maria Ramey moved to a small farm in Mt. Brydges in 2018, she knew she wanted to start a business.

But she wasn’t sure what it would be.

“I wanted to include something natural — growing flowers or botanicals on the property — but I didn’t know what the idea was,” said Ramey, a neuroscientist who spent the last decade working in research.

Around the same time, the now 38-year-old mother of three noticed changes in her skin and began searching for products that would meet her needs, but found none.

“There are really good clinical products, but they don’t really excite me when I use them. And there are great natural products that made me feel good about using them, but at the same time, I’m not getting the effects I want with those clinical ingredients,” Ramey recalled thinking.

That’s when it clicked. She thought: “I can do both. I can grow my own plants, and I can use my science background to create these beautiful products. Something I love using every day, for myself, and for other women to use and enjoy.”

Blending her passions for science and nature, Ramey used her expertise to launch an online skincare business called Understory Botanicals in March 2021.

Word spread, and orders poured in. Soon the business was highlighted in The New York Post and landed Ramey an invitation to this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where her products were featured in gift packages sent home with actors, celebrities and influencers.

“Everyone was really excited about it,” Ramey said of the reception.

To watch her company receive such recognition is “amazing,” she said. “It’s been better than I thought. I was imagining this tiny little business . . . but now it’s growing, and I can see it progressing.”

Understory Botanicals gained more than 500 regular customers within the year, and its sales more than doubled. The products, which include everything from eye cream to serum and moisturizer, primarily sell in Southwestern Ontario but reach across Canada and the United States.

The skincare brand is unlike most because it blends nature and science, using botanicals grown locally on her farm and active ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C and peptides, she said.

“It’s all done here, on site,” she said. “The botanicals are grown here. I formulate the products here. I packaged them. Everything is done on site.”

The plants grown on Ramey’s 1.6-hectare farm are calendula, rose, chamomile, immortelle and hydrangea.

She creates – and then tests – the products, too. Though a lengthy, often tedious process, it comes naturally to Ramey, who has a doctorate in neuroscience from Western University and previously worked in research, first as a post-doctoral fellow at Children’s Health Research Institute and then as a research grant officer at Lawson Health Research Institute.

“I was working in research for the last 10 years before I did this, so the whole aspect of troubleshooting, asking questions, and figuring out answers” is a familiar process, she said.

Once tested at the farm, the products are sent to a lab for mandatory inspection and approval before being registered with Health Canada.

Most of Ramey’s customers learn about her brand through her Instagram account, where she gives followers a glimpse into what happens behind the scenes — in the garden and lab — or by word of mouth.

While being a full-time business owner and stay-at-home mom requires work, Ramey's three girls, ages six, four and two, keep her company and help out around the farm.

“When I’m picking my flowers in the garden, they’re with me picking them. When I’m making products, they’re sometimes around me and watching. So, they get to enjoy and learn this process as well, of balancing life and career,” she said.

As her brand generates buzz in the industry, Ramey hopes to inspire women beyond their skincare routine.

“You can absolutely blend what you love to do and have to do together,” she said. “There is not this one way or another street. There’s a nice place in the middle where you can balance everything you love to do.”

Understory Botanicals products will be featured at the Merry Market at 100 Kellogg Lane in London from Dec. 1-4. More information about the business can be found at www.understorybotanicals.com.

cleon@postmedia.com

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Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press