Jayn Sterland - Managing Director of Weleda UK
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 April 2020
weleda as supplied
After a career in fashion Pentrich-born Jayn Sterland returned to her roots and is now Managing Director of Weleda UK – the world-renowned producers of natural cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Catherine Roth catches up with her at the Ilkeston headquarters
Weleda is a global brand yet its UK headquarters are found much closer to home in Ilkeston.
Today the company manufactures over 300 different products for health, wellbeing and beauty, as well as thousands of pharmaceuticals. The products contain no synthetic ingredients but only natural plant-based products, which are grown as holistically and sustainably as possible.
Jayn Sterland is Managing Director of Weleda UK, a role that has enabled her to return to her roots and reconnect with nature. She grew up in Pentrich, descended from a long line of farmers, but left to pursue a career in fashion. Jayn describes herself as being bedazzled by its glitz and glamour but she began to reassess her career with the birth of her first child and, despite returning to work, a slower way of life began to seep into her thinking. The catalyst for change came when, at 14 months old, her son was taken to hospital. Jayn says, ‘Having a family gave purpose to our lives and I realised mine wasn’t working in an unsustainable industry constantly reinventing the wheel where it’s all about consumerism and the next new thing.’
Jayn and her family were already using Weleda’s products when she attended one of the company’s open days. ‘I said to my husband, “Imagine working for this company.” He looked me in the eye and said, “Why don’t you?!’” It was a decision that would change her life.
With the birth of her second son Jayn took an 18-month career break, giving her the opportunity to reconnect with who she was. She says, ‘When I thought about what I was going to do with my life I knew that it had to have integrity and be worthwhile. I managed to join Weleda, a company where I could make a difference and the company could make a difference to me.’
Jayn began working as a marketeer communicator for Weleda in 2008, a part-time role that allowed her to balance work life with bringing up her two children. Eight years later she became Managing Director. It’s been a busy four years for Jayn, a period that has seen Weleda UK double in size, and set to double again in the next five years. She says, ‘It’s not just about being bigger and chasing growth for growth’s sake. It’s about what drives us – that our products make a significant difference. We want to do more good in the world and put much more back.’
To this end, Jayn was recently invited to join the British Beauty Council’s advisory board. She says, ‘There is much irresponsibility in the beauty industry and a lot of mental illness. We live in a very superficial world, which is very worrying for young people where it’s all about taking the most perfect selfie and thinking about image. At Weleda we balance profit against what is good for the planet – it’s built into our DNA. When we make a decision we ask is it profitable? Is it right for the planet? Is it right for human beings?’
However, the answers are not always simple as Jayn explains: ‘We bring our experience of how to make decisions in an imperfect world. I call it 50 shades of green. For example, how are we dealing with plastics in our industry? We’re vigilant about recycling in the kitchen but bathroom recycling doesn’t happen. We also haven’t found solutions to switch to biodegradable plastics – plastics have to hold wet products on a shelf for 18 months but then we expect them to immediately biodegrade. These are really big issues we need to talk about.’
Weleda began as a pharmacy, founded in 1921 by philosopher Rudolf Steiner and Dr Ita Wegman. Together they developed a range of medicines derived from natural plant sources and minerals. At a time when farming was becoming industrialised, Steiner advocated a return to nature. Jayn describes him as a visionary and grandfather of the organic farming movement, with so much of what he was saying being relevant today and his philosophy and thinking remaining central to Weleda almost 100 years later. Jayn says, ‘He gave six to seven thousand lectures during his lifetime and talked about how human beings are part of the natural world and how we need to think more holistically.’ Steiner worked with farmers at the turn of the 20th century who were turning the land into factories through mono-cropping, the use of nitrates and phosphates, soil erosion, and the removal of hedgerows leading to a loss of birds, resulting in increased pesticide use.
Weleda has a 13 acre garden at Shipley, which is certified as a biodynamic garden, giving a holistic and spiritual approach to farming. Jayn says, ‘It’s super organic. We don’t just think about the soil but the whole infrastructure and environment. When you get the eco balance right and work in harmony with nature, you get much healthier plants.’ This includes letting plants grow on the margins, encouraging birds and bees (they have a beekeeper), and planting and harvesting according to the phases of the moon. Only four acres are actively cultivated and many rare plants, including orchids and yellow rattle, can be found in the areas that are given over to wildflower meadows. The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, of which Jayn is a trustee, works closely with Weleda, harvesting the seed from the meadows for its rewilding projects across the county, as well as carrying out butterfly and moth counts.
The garden – just like Weleda’s many others across the globe – is akin to a living pharmacy. Over 100 different plant species grown here are harvested as active ingredients for Weleda’s over-the-counter medicines. These include calendula, nature’s everyday healing cream, and hypericum that is used to treat deep cuts. Ferns, oats and passion flowers are used in stress and sleep remedies whilst poison ivy, belladonna and aconites are also grown for use in medicines. Jayn says, ‘If you’d walked into Culpeper’s Apothecary 400 years ago you’d find a lot of things in there that we are growing today! We’re using plants we’ve known about for centuries.’
It is not just the ingredients that are important to Weleda but the whole issue of sustainability. Weleda holds open days, delivers workshops, has 500 Wellbeing Advisors who help to introduce new people to the brand, as well as running over 50 cooperative partnerships around the world that support the development of women – many of whom work as farmers and harvesters. Jayn is also a strong advocate for bringing femininity back into business. She says, ‘I’m very optimistic about the future. There has been a patriarchal attitude to business – the adage “It’s not personal, it’s only business”. I shudder. The purpose to business is that it goes beyond making money, it’s about connecting people, the planet and profit. I am optimistic that over the next century we will reintroduce the feminine qualities of leadership – I’m not talking necessarily about women but the values of kindness, caring and insight. And that’s where we need to go. Our planet is in such a state that we need parity between the male and female leadership qualities in the world.’
Just four years after it was founded in 1921, Weleda opened a pharmacy in Bloomsbury Square. During the war it relocated from central London to East Grinstead before outgrowing its premises and a Steiner School in Ilkeston was chosen as its new home. In 2018 Weleda UK celebrated its 40th anniversary in Derbyshire.
One of Jayn’s proudest achievements was rediscovering Skin Food, an all-over moisturiser first manufactured in 1926. It is Jayn’s favourite product and one of Weleda’s bestselling items. This year the company has partnered with Victoria Beckham who will be featuring the product in her London Fashion Week show.
For Jayn it’s the small moments that really count. She says, ‘It’s trying to remember to be grateful for the moment and put more celebration into our lives. It’s remembering to make a phone call to a dear friend, having a cup of tea and cake, living in the moment. Children are really good at living in the moment but as grown-ups we struggle.’ With this in mind Jayn tries hard to balance her work and home life, spending time with her husband and teenage sons. A cook at heart, she enjoys growing her own food – albeit imperfectly as she doesn’t have much time – and making simple meals, which she regards as a luxury in life, as well as going to the cinema and pub quizzes, reading and listening to podcasts. She also likes getting outdoors and a Sunday morning will often include a walk up to The Loaf in Crich, whilst she considers Scarthin Books in Cromford the best place to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Jayn regards the life she leads as a blended one where work and home life exist in synergy with one another and has found her purpose at Weleda. She says, ‘Our modern lifestyle knocks us out of balance with the stresses and strains of the world. It’s all about connecting back into a simple routine and helping people to lead a healthier and happier life.’