Essence of Harris is preparing to launch into Japan after signing a deal for the distribution of its fragrance diffusers into the hotel and retail markets.

The company, which is best-known for its candles and has a range of bath and body products, is also upping its push into the US market where it supplies corporate gifts for JP Morgan. The financial services giant is a headline sponsor of the US Open Tennis Championships that finished yesterday in New York, where Essence of Harris products were featured among the corporate hospitality.

Jamie McGowan said the agreement taking effect this month with Japan's Daisho Trading is a "very exciting" development for Essence of Harris, whose turnover has grown into the region of £1.2 million annually.

“Because of the earthquakes, in Japan we had to be a wee bit smarter and we’re actually launching as a diffuser company, not a candle company," he said.

READ MORE: Isle of Harris distillery to double in size with Hearach

"There is not a big use for candles over there because of the earthquakes. There is a bigger market for diffusers out there.”

He added: “I feel that it should be worth about £500,000 after a couple of years, and also in America – that [£1.2m] is just UK sales for Essence of Harris – we do six figures in the US as well and we are looking to grow that to a seven-figure business by 2025.”

Mr McGowan and his wife Deenie set up the business in 2015 and originally operated under the name Buth Bheag, which in Gaelic means "wee shop". The moniker referred to the fact that the candle enterprise began trading out of a small unit in Tarbert where the couple were running a separate car hire operation.

"My wife had always wanted a wee shop to run, but we didn’t want to just be another token gift shop so I said let’s do something that we can put our hearts on, something that’s got a little bit of character and means something, and that’s got a connection to the island,” Mr McGowan said.

The Herald: Jamie McGowanJamie McGowan (Image: Essence of Harris)

Designed to "capture the spirit of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland", the range recieved positive reviews but Mr McGowan noticed that most people struggled with the Gaelic pronunciation. He and Deenie took the gamble and rebranded as Essence of Harris in 2017.

The business now employs 30 people, plus one representative in the US and two in China where it sells its products to five-star hotels. 

Its online presence, overseas markets, and flagship mainland shop in Glasgow's Princes Square have to some extent insulated Essence of Harris from the difficulties plaguing island businesses and residents amid Scotland's ongoing ferries crisis

“The transport links have been strained as everybody has seen in the press," Mr McGowan said.

"People’s confidence has been lost in visiting the islands, the footfall is definitely way down this year. It’s been lost because they’re not sure if they’re going to get there, if there are going to be cancellations, or if they’re going to be delayed."

READ MORE: Essence of Harris takes top accolades in New York

He added: “I don’t want to dwell on this too much because I feel there’s been so much press coverage on it that it’s now having a negative effect on the island. In banging the drum to get the government and CalMac back in line, the drum has been banged so hard now that it’s starting to put people off, if you know what I mean.”

He is passionate about what the islands have to offer visitors, and the need for better housing and infrastructure to sustain fragile remote communities.

His most recent venture is the Loomshed Hebridean Brewery, which began making craft lagers and ales in 2019 from a site on the road out of Tarbert towards Scalpay. It is operating at full capacity of 2,400 litres every 18 days, and Mr McGowan hopes to expand at some point in the future.

“For me, the heart and soul of what I do is to create good sustainable jobs on Harris that give people a good future and it’s went further than my wildest dreams because [Essence of Harris] is in America and China, and we’re going into Japan," he said.

"That’s way exceeded my expectations, and I’m just very fortunate we hired the right people at the right time to help me on the journey.”



Where do you find yourself most at ease?

I find myself most at ease when I'm in my workspace and working alongside my team on new products and brainstorming new ideas - we always love to push ourselves and the boundaries of the business. We're always striving to find new ways to engage our loyal customer base and make sure they're getting the best products possible.

If you weren’t in your current role, what job would you most fancy?

I have always fancied being a helicopter pilot - in the past I've even had a few lessons and really enjoyed it. 

If that wasn't possible, I'd really like to work daily behind the counter at my deli here on the island. I truly enjoy making coffees, selling our homemade cakes and getting a chance to meet all the interesting people who travel through here. 

What phrase or quotation has inspired you the most?  

Someone once told me that you cannot scale your business while working in your business. At the time, I really didn't understand what he meant - once I got my head around it, it's a philosophy I live by now and I can see the difference it has made. 

What is the best book you have ever read? Why is it the best?

The best book I've ever read is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (the founder of Nike). The book truly shows what you can achieve with an idea and the creativity and relentless energy it takes to push it. 

What has been your most challenging moment in life or business?

Currently what our family is living through has been the most challenging in our lives and this business. We are a family business at heart and one of our closest members is in hospital with a critical illness. We have been tirelessly working away behind the scenes to ensure our business is moving forward for our customers and colleagues, but making sure our family is at the forefront has been paramount during this time.

What do you now know that you wish you had known when starting out in your career?

No matter your background, ethnicity, or academic qualifications, everything is about making connections with people and building your network. Building a robust network is vital to your career's success and always ensuring you're trying your utmost to commit to doing what you say you will. Finally, remembering that attention to detail is key.