January 23 2024 – Mercantile London
Lab Tonica is a contemporary wellness brand which aims to take herbal remedies out of the cupboard and onto the cosmetic shelf. Encompassing a perfect alchemy of design, ancient recipes, scientific methods and accessible formats, Lab Tonica brings the healing power of plants to a new, modern audience. Every sip of the brands tea, smudge of balm, drop of oil and spritz of their mist contain century old knowledge, combined with modern techniques and premium ethically sourced ingredients from SALSA approved suppliers, to nurture inside and out.
The defensive herbal teas, protective aromatherapy balms and mists have certainly helped the Mercantile team get through chilly commutes and packed shop floor sessions with some extra protection over the last few weeks, so here we take a few minutes to catch up with Lab Tonica founder and herbalist Kitty McEntee to find out more about the beginnings of her brand, her approach to wellness, and any advice she has for us to make it through the begining of the year with a little more ease.
Tell us a little about your brand Lab Tonica, how did you end up where you are today?
Looking back now there was probably a crossroads moment in my mid thirties where four elements of my life collided: the stress of my advertising career, the pressures of being a new mum, my love of herbal tea and my maternal ancestry.
Prior to launching Lab Tonica I had a 15 year career in the global advertising industry, this was an exciting, fun but highly stressful time in my life. There was one particular day when I was working late on a pitch and drinking my 5th cup of chamomile tea, when I became struck by how old fashioned and dated most herbal tea packs look - which seemed at odds with the ever growing number of younger, urban people who increasingly seemed to be valuing health and wellbeing (over partying and hedonism!). This audience also has a keen eye for aesthetic and contemporary style and in that moment it became clear to me that there was a gap in the market for a modern herbal brand aimed at a younger, more style conscious audience. It was time to take herbal products out of the cupboard and put them pride of place on the perfume shelf.
And so, with my second baby on the way, it felt like the perfect time to embark on a new direction in my life. To embody my love for nature and plants with my marketing skills and experience, I set about on my journey to launch Lab Tonica. Although it didn’t have a name at that point, I think my working title was ‘Project Elixir’ …
My journey of discovery also reignited memories from childhood, of the stories my mum would tell me about her maternal grandmother, Louisa. Great-grandmother Louisa was, by all accounts, a white witch. She was locally renowned in her village as a healer, she would “create things in the garden” to help people with their ailments. This used to fascinate me as a child and with what I know now I'm pretty sure she was a home herbalist - but those terms didn’t exist in those days. I like to think that some of the magic and passion that Louisa had has perhaps been passed down to me, and with it a responsibility and passion to share it with others.
Lab Tonica Fend Immunity Mist
Can you explain the thinking behind your brand name?
I wanted a brand name that pulled on the cue’s of the cosmetic and perfume world, hinted towards science and with a herbal flare. Something that was unique and premium but that felt familiar - the holy grail in branding. I spend weeks brainstorming names, looking at different languages. ‘Lab Tonica’ is a fusion between old and new. ‘Lab’ is science and Tonica reflects ancient herbalism. It just had a ring to it and I liked the shape of the words.
The wellness market can be confusing with a lot of 'green wash'. How do you maintain your production standards?
One of my key watch outs ( / pet hates) is how worthy the wellness industry is. It’s so easy to slip into a holy than thou mode - which is just so inauthentic and unrealistic. If a wellness brand shames people into buying their products it is fake and irresponsible. I always strive for Lab Tonica to be desirable, yet completely approachable and accessible. We constantly aim to improve our sustainability creds, our tea product is 100% compostable and that is awesome, but we still have to use plastic caps on our mists as there is no other viable option - so we’re not perfect. But as long as we are continually trying to improve our products and ourselves then I think this connects with our customers.
Lab Tonica Pow Energy Balm
Do you have a wellness routine and what's the easiest ( and affordable) way to start to improve your self-care?
I’m quite a spontaneous and scatty person. My head is full of a million ideas and I find it hard to prioritise and stick to any plan. But one thing to I (try) to adhere to most days, is getting up early, before the rest of the family ideally. Having a herbal tea (of course!), consciously feeling grateful for the life I have, and then doing some movement. Even if it is just 20 minutes stretching on my yoga mat while the kids argue over the top of me. Honouring the body and mind with herbs, movement and positive thoughts is a wonderful tonic for everyday wellness. It just starts you off in the right direction.
Lab Tonica is based in London, any London recommendations for wellness?
Get outside and enjoy the parks, canals, rivers and woods. Notice how your local green spaces change daily with the weather and the season. Can you name the weeds popping up all around you? Do you know their health benefits? I live in Hackney and we’re blessed here with nature reserves and parks. I think ‘wellness’ lies within us and within nature. Not in a spa or a gym - although I do appreciate the importance of taking time out for yourself.
Lab Tonica Breathe/Calm Balm
Any quick wellness tips for the colder months?
We are supposed to be hibernating. We are animals not machines. So firstly free yourself of the ‘new year’ guilt. The most nourishing thing you can do for your body now is rest, eat healthily and nurture your nervous system. Spring is the ‘new year’ for me. It’s when our melatonin reduces and we busy ourselves to fill the long bright days. Save your energy for the summer months and enjoy the precious, restful time of Winter.
Shop a selection of Lab Tonica here