Shopkeeper Spotlight: Holy Water

Located in the picturesque seaside village of Beer, Devon, Holy Water is a modern apothecary store stocking beautiful natural products free from preservatives and harsh chemicals; instead they are full of hand collected, foraged and harvested from-the-wild goodies. We spoke with Alyssa, who runs Holy Water with her husband Wil, to talk simplistic style, hand-making products and breaking the ‘expensive equals quality’ mindset…

Hi Alyssa! When and why did you decide to open Holy Water? 

I moved from the States in April 2018 after living and working in Seattle, WA. We were living in Bath at the time and had been searching for a shop space in which to explore this new venture. We were on holiday in Beer and saw a 'for rent' sign in the window. We ended up taking it that week, which was wild!

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What had you both done before? Did any of these skills help?

Wil (still) works in the design industry for the Danish company HAY. While I worked for an herbal apothecary in Seattle and a gin company in Bath - before that I'd always been in retail and management. These skills were essential to our decision to open a shop. Wil could source the materials to make the shop look presentable and I could speak about the products we sell. 

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Holy Water Apothecary, Beer

Sounds like a dream team! How did you decide on the name?

Five years ago when I started the brand, I was consumed with how much water changes the skincare routine. We need to consume water for clear skin, to wash our skin, to mix the masks, salts for the bath, etc. It was a play on words for how sacred water is to the skin. Although we do get a lot of religious questions! 

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How would you describe the interior style of Holy Water?

Originally it was pretty bland. When we took the property on we stripped back the 70's wood-chip and re-plastered and re-painted. We only had about ten days to turn a shell into the shop. We rescued a beautiful parquet cash desk from the bin. We also found the shelves for the jars from an old school that had been remodelled. We found Wedgwood factory drying shelves in old oak which sit in front of an exposed stone wall. So it's a mix of old and modern that's sits well with our brand list. It was really imperative for us to keep the integrity of the building in tact and keep it simple.

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Holy Water Apothecary, Beer

You're passionate about natural products, why is it so important to you?

I've always been attracted to products derived from natural and herbal constituents. In fact, I can remember being a child and pressing strawberries and raspberries to my cheeks and lips to stain them over using my mom’s makeup. I worked for a few natural markets before working for an apothecary and I think that helped to push me in the right direction; seeing individuals so excited about making products at home using no nonsense ingredients that could actually HELP you was a game changer.

I also grew up with a low-waste father who instilled the important of reusing and recycling everything. I want to keep the conversation out in the open about skincare and not hide behind clever packaging and tricky hidden labels. I suffered with acne for most of my life and the only thing that helped me was natural skincare and herbs. This is my primary reason for doing this- to help humans feel their best and most beautiful. 

How do you source your wares?

I'd been compiling a list for months of stockists we'd want to carry if we opened our own space. Some are from the States and others are from England- we have a few "rules" we follow if we stock products at the shop- local, handmade, homemade or ethically/sustainably made.

We have a lot of local products from Devon and south England as well as small batch homemade products. It's so important for us to support the local community. 

Holy Water Apothecary, Beer
Holy Water Apothecary, Beer

As well as stocking from independents, what do you create in-house? Do you enjoy the process?

In the shop we make three bath soaks and four clay masks. This process is incredibly personal to me. I walk the coast of Devon to collect varieties of seaweed and dry them in the shop, I pick the yarrow in season, our cousins make us the charcoal in Devon and I grind all of the oats and rose petals by hand. Making these are the most meditative and quiet I can be while constantly thinking about what's next! 

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That’s so lovely! Which item is your best seller?

Our salts, masks, soaps and Juniper Ridge are our best sellers. I think people always want to support local now, which is great. Knowing we make them in-house exclusively makes them a little more special as a gift or for the home. Juniper Ridge is a Californian company (where I am originally from) that distills indigenous herbs and uses the essential oils for their soaps. It smells amazing and they donate 10% of all sales to protecting the wilderness. 

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Which product is your can't-live-without? You can choose a few if it’s too difficult…

I definitely can't live without the clay masks or the herbs. We sell over 75 organic herbs for teas, tinctures or recipes that I rely on to feel my best. I mostly drink nettle, red raspberry leaf, clover and ginko. However the roots are really helpful for clearing the skin - burdock, dandelion, liquorice and yellow dock. The masks I definitely need to keep my skin evened out!

What do you enjoy most about running Holy Water?

The people who visit. It's my passion to speak about natural products and herbal remedies and I love helping people to find "their product" even if it's just a bar of soap. Each one of our labels has a backstory and I thoroughly enjoy telling people about them.

I also love creating custom teas for different situations to keep it personal and individual. I really hate going into a shop and nobody can give me any information on the products - I wanted to learn as much as I could and stay updated and educated to be the most helpful for the guests who come in.

I also keep all of our products under £40. I don't think beautiful things should be expensive and I don't think cheaper products aren't good for you. In fact I'm trying to break the "expensive equals quality" routine we seem to be in. Good products can be ethical and affordable and are in many cases better for your skin and body/mind.

Holy Water Apothecary, Beer
Holy Water Apothecary, Beer

What has been your career highlight (so far!)?

Opening a shop has been a huge accomplishment - although it has definitely been a learning curve. We haven't yet been open a year and there are so many variants we have to keep in the forefront. Expanding without losing integrity or "selling out," keeping a decent selection without overpricing products, staying present and informed about those products and our stockists. 

Do you have any top tips for those thinking of starting their own store?

It's important to remember why you're doing it. I wanted a shopfront to sell teas and skincare because I genuinely want people to feel their best. So the integrity and ethos is in the forefront. It's also imperative to TAKE IT SLOW. We opened the shop on savings and didn't take a huge loan which means we had the opportunity to build very slowly and not rush to make the shop fully packed with products. This means we are extra careful in choosing the brands we stock and careful about how quickly we expand. Also staying creative! We had no expensive shop-fit, just paint and a few really good finds. Keep it simple and keep it you. 

Holy Water Apothecary, Beer
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What does the future hold for Holy Water?

We're definitely excited to introduce more small independent brands in store! We are also working to develop low waste and bulk skincare in refillable and recyclable packaging- as well as compostable and sustainable skincare and teas. We're trying to incorporate our surroundings - both natural and personal - into the stock as much as possible... so stay tuned! 

Find Holy Water at Fore Street, Beer, Devon, EX12 3JB and online.

Follow them on Instagram.

Photography: Jim Holland  and Caroline Rowland