Meet the Maker is a series we’ve introduced where we shine a spotlight on a small business so you can get to know their brand and what they stand for.
In the first of our series, we chat to Binkie from Ntuka, a fellow Bristol-based business who creates plant-based blends inspired by ancient and modern aromatherapy practices
Who are you?
My name is Binkie. I was born and raised in Botswana with the help of a gorgeous and brilliant woman called Ntuka, my beloved grandmother. I now live here in Bristol UK and have been living here since 2001 with my British-born husband Alastair whom I met in Botswana many years ago and together we have two daughters. Alastair helps me out with all of the label designs and all things graphics and technical which I am very grateful for.
“I love all things natural and I am completely fascinated by the wonders of nature and truly believe that our lands and the plant kingdom have the ability to nourish and nurture us all if we treat them with respect, if we nourish and nurture them back.”
I grew up being cared for in a very natural way by people who relied on their land to sustain their existence and over the years, I have actually come to realise how lucky I was to have been part of that existence. Naturally, I learnt a lot from those formative years and they inform how I live now although at the age of 12 or so, I would often have moments of despair, knowing what was coming, you know the dodgy bush medicines, being force-fed castor oil every seasonal change and the bloody sorghum staple that was pretty much part of every meal! I was taught to respect and trust in nature from a very early age and the honest truth is I have not forgotten and I followed the same rules when deciding to start Ntuka.
What’s your business/product?
I create plant-based body care blends that are inspired by the ancient wisdom and practices of using plant-based fats and aromatic plants to heal and nourish the body as a whole. Aromatic oils or essential oils are a very big part of the Ntuka blends. They are the backbone of each blend. I trust them to transform what might otherwise be just a nourishing blend to a beautiful fragrant blend that is super nourishing and nurturing to both the body and the spirit. I really just aim to create products that are really a joy to use and offer us much more than your everyday blends.
Essential oils have been a very big part of my life for some years now. I truly believe in their harmonious magic and I do hope that those that are generous enough to give Ntuka a go will experience their beauty that I so much enjoy and cherish.
I mostly love body oils and over the few years since starting Ntuka, I have found that they are the formulations that I tend to get right, creating winning blends that are loved by many, as it is currently the case with the Baobab and Neroli Body and Hair Oil but overall, for as long as I am working with aromatic oils, anything is possible.
I have a particular interest in working with African oils. I attribute this to nostalgia, a sense of duty to shine a light on them and an element of spiritual connection that I feel towards oils like Baobab, Morula, ximenia, Prickly Pear, Mafura butter, Kalahari watermelon, Mongongo etc. I grew up surrounded by some of these plants so you can imagine the excitement when I discovered that they were some of the well sought after ingredients in the skin care industry. When it comes to essential oils, there is also a huge range to choose from. The likes of Katafray, Iary, Rosemary verbonone, Myrrh, Frankincense, Cape chamomile, Cape may, Blue tansy and so much more.
I am a very small independent business that does not currently have the resources to save the world but where I can, I will do my best to support those that are doing remarkable things out there, working with some of the more economically vulnerable members of society like in Botswana where there are initiatives to use indegenous plants like Morula for example to produce Morula oil that is sold on the international market to generate income for women and unemployed youth in some parts of the country.
“So the next step for Ntuka will be to start supporting these types of initiatives by purchasing their oils directly from them. COVID allowing, I may also have the opportunity to be directly involved in initiating a similar project in my village Mochudi, sometime in 2021 but we wait and see. Now, will that not be something!”
Having the opportunity to work with plant oils, particularly with essentials oils is a truly exciting journey for me and the learning never stops. I am in a constant state of dreaming up new fabulous blends, I just need to make them all a tangible reality and when I do, I certainly will be delighted to share them with all of you.
How did you get the idea/concept for your business?
The idea of starting Ntuka was triggered by an article about essential oils that I came across in Country Living Magazine sometime in 2017. I love essential oils. I fell in love with my first bottle of lavender oil that a family friend gave to me for my birthday in 2002 and was hooked from then onwards.
I had been searching rather desperately for alternative employment since the birth of my youngest child in 2013 but that search kind of intensified then in 2017 when I became increasingly aware that I would have to go return to my old job which I really did not want to do.
The article was basically about the uses of essential oils and how you could enrich your overall well-being by incorporating them into your everyday life. There was nothing revolutionary about that article but it was somehow powerful enough to really shift something in me. I felt a deep sense of connection that is not easy to describe using words but I do hope that I am able to clearly communicate that connection through the blends that I get to make.
I knew straight away that I had found what I had been looking for. It takes a lot to excite me and turn me into a giggling, jumping around child but that is exactly what I did not long after reading that article. I knew then that a door had opened for me and there was no going back. I was sooooooo happy and still am.
It is perhaps important to share the fact that I did not hate my previous work. Completely the opposite in fact. I hold a foundation degree in playwork and a bachelor’s degree in education both of which led to employment that saw me working with some of the most vulnerable children and young people across Bristol.
Demanding and challenging work that I cared deeply about but what I really needed was to transition to something that was just as meaningful and fulfilling with the flexibility and control over my time to help me earn some money and care for my daughter at the same time.
I was brought up by a wise woman who used wild plants for healing her family, perhaps I am learning from her. She healed in the literal sense.
My view or meaning of healing when it comes to Ntuka products is purely about bringing joy to one by offering him or her a bottle that carries within it a beautifully fragrant oil or bath salts that transforms your bathroom or living space into your own sacred corner of tranquility and for me that is healing.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The knowledge that I have gained and still gaining is priceless. The learning never stops and it is so empowering and so rewarding. What is also great is the flexibility I have in deciding when to do what needs doing. You know, managing home life, caring for my family and working from home. I find that it works for me most days.
I do also need to mention the really positive interactions that I have with people as a result of being in this position. Some people just really get it and express their gratitude for discovering my blends and quite often, they are simply full encouragement and praise which I truly appreciate.
“I think your products are the best blends and combinations I’ve encountered for a long time and they are simply full of magical power. Everyone who’s used them has felt this. Please keep on going”.
I am not a qualified aromatherapist or skincare expert. What I am is simply an individual who has a deep love for aromatic plants and plants in general. I thoroughly enjoy working with them and I have discovered along the way that I am actually not that bad at what I do. I do know that I am achieving what I set out to do when I get comments such as the ones below.
What’s unique about your business?
I have never really viewed myself to be a creative person perhaps because we quite often associate creativity with the obvious arts but I feel that there is a huge amount of creativity in what I do in the sense that I have ample amounts of freedom as I set about creating what is unique to me with the blends that I make. I might use the same ingredients that everyone else uses to create their products but the difference is always in the formulations I feel.
I don’t follow recipes. I follow safety guidelines of course but the deciding factor is always my intuition, following my heart and my nose about what works and what doesn’t. I have a really good sense of smell which is great and not so great when you get to acutely smell all the other things that are not so pleasant to smell but my sense of smell is definitely one of those things that I am really grateful for. It is crucial in my opinion if you work with essential oils.
Scent is a very personal thing so I bear this in my mind when creating a blend and always hope that most people will be pleased but ultimately I have to be pleased first which is great if I what pleases me is also what pleases the majority of people and so far I have had some great winners and a few losers.
Have you got any tips for using essential oils?
Not as a qualified aromatherapist or essential oils expert but as a consumer, my advice would be to arm yourself with some really good books to read up on safety guidelines, ideas etc and wholeheartedly welcome and embrace essential oils into your life. Beware of differing opinions on the subject by experts and individuals on social media but always trust you and what feels right. Safely experiment, observe and hopefully go on to reap the benefits.
The given advice from experts is to only buy oils that give you the scientific name as well the common name. The origin of the oil, that is the country it comes from, the parts used to produce it and the method of extraction. This is what I always check for before purchasing any essential oils. I also only use organic and wild harvested oils from very experienced sellers that are always happy to give advice and help. I am happy to share information on books and suppliers if anyone is keen to explore.
Always consult a practicing qualified aromatherapist if in doubt.
Massive thank you to Binkie from Ntuka for taking the time to tell us everything about her small business.
If you’d like to learn more about essential oils we’ve put together an infographic on everything you need to know about essential oils.