WHAT WE LOVE: With a love for organic skincare, A.S Apothecary is a small batch distillery making natural scents, creams, aromatic waters and balms from flowers, bark, leaves, roots and blossom. They distil flowers and plants in small batches handpicked in Sussex, Cyprus and Scotland. The calming flagship store houses all of their beautifully packaged products as well as a serene treatment room offering signature facials.
WHO: Homeopath and Herbalist, Amanda Saurin (whose initials are part of the shop’s name).
WHERE: In the beautiful town of Lewes that is dotted with great antique and independent shops, cute little alleyways, historic architecture, and pastel-coloured houses.
What makes A.S Apothecary so unique? Every piece of furniture is handmade – every shelf is solid oak, the oak apothecary table was made to exactly my specification with a patinated copper surface to echo the copper alembic we use for distilling. All the signage is hand painted. The therapy room is like a little cocoon with a copper metallic painted ceiling and warm terracotta walls.
What are your “must-have”products? Right now we are selling a lot of our Mint & Rosemary Hand Sanitiser – it brings together two strands of my working life. As a distiller I can access 70% ethanol unlike anyone else in the beauty industry. As a skincare specialist and herbalist, I can add in ingredients that support the skin which no distillery can do. The result is a unique product that was named as the best sanitiser on the market in the Times. We decided to make as much available to frontline staff and vulnerable people as we could so for every bottle sold we donated three. We also supplied it to Brighton Gin who have been brilliant at getting it out to people who need it. Alongside that we make a really gentle matching Soap and beautiful Hand Lotion. These make a glorious trio.
Where are A S Apothecary products made? Every single product in our shop and online is made by us. We grow and gather plants, distil, macerate, enfleurage or dry them and use them in our products. Our plants are pivotal to our skincare being as effective as it is.
Who are the A S Apothecary customers? We have wonderful customers far and wide from young women and men who want something different to chemical laden, mainstream products to older women and men who appreciate the benefits of pure plant power on their skin. We sell across Europe and into Hong Kong online. In the shop we have regular customers from all over the South-East and further afield who visit for advice and to buy our skincare. We find that many people visit the shop because they want to talk about their skin rather than just take a punt on a product online, they are looking for a ritual that will keep their skin in the very best of health.
How has the internet impacted your business? We have sold online since the start of A.S Apothecary, we understood early on that a strong online presence would bolster the business and it has been critical in recent months. Our online shop also allows us to reach our customers all over the world, which is really useful. It also gives us a showcase and encourages people to make the trip to visit the shop to consult with us in person.
Have you adapted your business to the coronavirus pandemic? Yes, in line with other shops we have been buffeted by the ever changing set of rules. To begin with, in 2020, we closed the shop for several months moving the whole business online. We needed to protect our staff and we felt a responsibility to not actively encourage people to leave home. Once things became a little more relaxed, we offered a click and collect service, so people could buy online and collect from the shop. At Christmas we opened in a very limited way to allow people to shop for themselves and their loved ones, but we are now closed again. We are very fortunate that we already had a strong online customer base, if we had relied solely on revenue from the shop we could not have survived Covid. It is heartbreaking to see so many little indie stores closing permanently. I suppose my fear is that if this goes on for too long, people’s shopping habits will have changed so much that the High Street simply won’t ever return to what it was and that would be such a loss.
Amanda Saurin, shopkeeper at A.S Apothecary
Who inspires you? I am inspired by other brand owners who are brave enough to do something different – I have a huge amount of time for Tata Harper who grows and makes exquisite skincare with honesty and integrity. Also Weleda who follow biodynamic growing principles. I love storytellers and find Elif Shafak inspiring with her roots so firmly in Sufism and Claudia Roden for the journeys her cook books taken me on. These are my day to day inspirations.
What inspires you? I am utterly in awe of every plant that I use – from the Meadowsweet up here on the Isle of Harris to the violets in Sussex, the orange blossom I pick in Cyprus and the 100s of roses that we grow, which quite simply feed my body, skin and spirit. The natural world is utterly inspiring.
Before I was a shopkeeper, I was a Homeopath and Herbalist.
Did you have prior retail experience? No, I walked past our shop hundreds of times when it was empty, it was pretty grim but the windows were beautiful. I got into retail because of those windows and, having the taken the shop, I set about dismantling the interior and starting all over again.
Your favorite thing about owning an independent shop? I love that people come in and know that they will be looked after properly, that every product is unique and that we make people feel better. Only indie brands can offer this level of care and support. For me, using the shop to support others is critical, so we show people’s work on our walls, we commission furniture and display props from local makers, we source things we can’t do ourselves from other businesses such as our raw honey. We can be mindful of the local circular economy.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Go into it with your eyes wide open. This is a tough time to be in retail. Make sure you have a good online aspect to your business so that you can weather the Covid storm more easily. Check your lease carefully, ask for a break part way through in case you need to get out of your contract early. The hours will be long and it is hard work. Renovation costs much more than you expect but don’t skimp on the details and hold your nerve. But I love my shop, every time I walk into it, it makes me proud that my team and I have created somewhere so beautiful, warm and full of love. That’s really special.
If you weren’t a shopkeeper you would be..? Well that’s easy because I already do other things – I have a wonderful deli and bakery in the Isle of Harris and I’m about to launch a non-alc called Wild Eve which is a delicious pure plant drink.
What are your favorite local independent businesses? The Patisserie Lewes – wonderful pastries and breads; Mamoosh – delicious pitta breads and hummus; Bags of Books – children’s bookshop, such knowledgeable staff ; Bow Windows Bookshop – excellent selection of antique books; Marchants Hardy Plants – fantastic independent plant nursery
What are your favorite shops? Gudrun Sjoden – buy all my clothes from her, Black Isle Nursery – best selection of medicinal herbs anywhere, An Clachan – community shop in Leverburgh, Isle of Harris which goes above and beyond to support the local community, Flint Owl Bakery – wonderful sourdough breads, Darcy Clothing – beautifully made clothes.
I wish I could… weave both cloth and baskets – when I’ve got time I will learn both.
ON THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
“I think we’re in trouble. Covid has accelerated a trend in the decline of the High Street, rents are high and business rates unfair. Customers are becoming accustomed to shopping online. Even when the vaccines are fully rolled out, I suspect that it will be a long time before people feel confident or inclined to return to bricks and mortar shops. I suspect, if they can weather the storm, indie shops might recover faster than the big chains because we work so hard to create personal relationships and loyalty among our customers. Certainly for 2021/22 I expect to see off and on periods of localised lockdown so working on a really comprehensive online offering is key. I also think it will be well into 2022/23 before we see things settle down. It’s sad to be so gloomy but these are extraordinary times with Covid and Brexit creating the perfect storm for makers and retailers.”
31 Western Road, Lewes
A.S Apothecary is one of The Shopkeepers 2020 Best Beauty & Apothecary Shops
Discover more Lewes Shops in our Going Places guide to Lewes.