One look at Sydney-based Almira Armstrong and the thinking behind skin care line philosophy's amazing grace collection comes to mind: "a little grace is all it takes to make each day more beautiful." Indeed, she knows a thing or two about how to live a graceful life (yes, it's possible even with two kids, Riaz, 5, and Alia, 2)...
It’s no wonder Armstrong is the chic founder of Lumira, a gorgeous line of candles and scents. “I have a candle burning throughout most of the day, and I really do like to mix this up based on the weather, my mood, where I’m working,” she says. In the morning as the sun rises, she’ll light the Lumira Sicilian Citrus. “It sets the tone for the day and really does infuse a bit of that paradise sensibility into your surroundings.”
When it comes to unwinding, she’s also a fan of philosophy’s feminine amazing grace collection and inspired by the philosophy of always remembering to “live, laugh and love with grace”. Since its launch in 1996, amazing grace is philosophy’s best-selling layering collection (worldwide, it’s not unusual for philosophy to sell one bottle of amazing grace every minute) and the range features heavenly products such as firming body emulsion, shampoo, bath & shower gel and of course, the iconic spray fragrance. We caught up with the busy creative mother of two to talk candles, beauty rituals, motherhood and more.
What is the best advice you’ve been given about motherhood?
The best advice I have ever been given is to get the kids into a routine from as early on as you can. Children need to be guided by you and the routines provide a sense of certainty and security for children. I think they can help strengthen your shared beliefs and values, and build a sense of belonging and cohesion within your family.
What does every mother need to get through some of the more trying stages of motherhood?
Lots of support. When both my kids were born, I remember the first few months were very trying, both emotionally and mentally. The lack of sleep and also not knowing if I was doing the right things, really affected me. As a perfectionist, I always wanted to make sure I could stay on top of everything – that included the house and, of course, work and family time. I was lucky enough to have a close knit group of friends who were having kids at the same time and we spoke about our challenges and were there for each other, even if it was just to talk or cry. It is so important to have that support network around you, whether it’s the grandparents, a mothers’ group, close friends or your GP. There is no right or wrong when having kids – everybody is different and we can all learn from each other. Never feel like you are alone because there is always another mother out there that is going through the same thing.
Can you tell us about your childhood…
I grew up in Dulwich Hill, Sydney. The house we lived in had a really big front and back yard, so I always remember being outdoors with my older brother (he is seven years older). We used to play for hours, whether it was marbles, soccer, basketball, on our skateboards or bikes. Back then there weren’t any iPads! Life was pretty simple and I remember it was only a short walk to school. One thing I did love doing was playing with my mother’s perfume bottles at any opportunity I could get. If I wasn’t spritzing it all over me, I would open the bottles and mix them. Mum was never happy when I did this, but she knew I was experimenting and who knew it would lead to where I am today.
Talk us through your career path and how you came to launch your own business?
As mentioned above, I have had a love affair with fragrance since I can remember and while at university, I used to make candles for friends as gifts. After university, a career in marketing kept me in creative circles and offered the valuable opportunity to live and work overseas. I worked in the fashion industry to begin with, working on brands such as Marcs and Diesel and eventually becoming the General Manager of Sun Studios across Sydney and Melbourne. I always knew I wanted to have my own business and becoming a mum prompted me to rethink the path ahead and I decided to pursue my dream of creating products that allow me to indulge my love of scent, design and travel. So in September 2013, Lumira was born.
How would you describe your unique approach to candles?
Our unwavering commitment to quality in both the manufacture and presentation of our products sees us occupy a relatively unique space in the market. The process of scented candle making is essentially quite simple; the wax is melted down before adding fragrance, pouring the mix and allowing it to set. However, the process of creating a luxury candle requires a lot more devotion and attention to detail; everything from the quality of the glass and the choice of fine fragrance, to the precise temperatures required to mix and pour the wax, as well as the finishes applied to the candle and refinements made to ensure an even, consistent burn. As you can probably tell, a significant amount of time and energy goes into designing each new fragrance that we introduce.
What beauty products do you love and use regularly?
I love tinted moisturiser. It’s lightweight, so while it sounds cliché, I can use it day or night without worrying about my skin clogging. I also love philosophy’s amazing grace collection – I love anything that smells good and the whole collection from the body firming emulsion to the bath and shower gel is scented with the brand’s iconic amazing grace fragrance. Also layering your fragrance with a scented body emulsion will mean that the scent stays on longer throughout the day. So even if you’ve been running around after the kids, you’ll still smell lovely!
SHOP: philosophy amazing grace eau de toilette 60ml, $65. This best-selling, amazingly clean, beautifully feminine scent contains welcoming bergamot to greet the senses, irresistibly soft, clean muguet blossoms and lasting musk.
What do you recall about launching your business? What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
The first few months of any business are uncertain but exciting, and so they should be. We spent a lot of time experimenting with our range. This is something we still do, in fact. I’m a Virgo and therefore a perfectionist so, unfortunately for everyone around me, this is no simple task but I try to do everything as gracefully as I can! Initially, we turned to our friends and family for valuable feedback, which we used to refine the range before agreeing it was ready to go to market. Then comes all of the preparation for PR and marketing: look books and press kits, sales presentations, order forms and line sheets and then hitting the road visiting potential stockists. During the early stages, you also find yourself wearing a lot of different hats. One minute you’re working on product development, the next you’re doing a budget, then pitching a potential customer, etc. As I’ve said, while this can be frustrating I think there’s a huge amount of value in getting to know the nuts and bolts when building a business, without letting your time get totally consumed by the minutiae. In the early days, we probably underestimated the potential of the business and our experience since has taught us the importance of making decisions that not only solve the challenges we face today, but also the hurdles we are likely to face in six or twelve months’ time. As manufacturers of luxury goods, the challenge of scaling our business to support growth, while maintaining strict quality standards and attention to detail is never ending!
How has social media helped your brand to grow?
Social media has played a huge part in Lumira’s growth. The importance of having a point of difference and working with like-minded people has made the brand stand out. We invested heavily in our fragrances as well as our packaging. When you are different, you won’t appeal to everyone, but you will get noticed by the people who understand you. This is true in fragrance, as in life!
What are your top tips for building a brand and connecting with your consumers?
When you’re operating in such a competitive space, the importance of branding and having a clear point of difference can’t be overstated. We spent a lot of time in the early stages clearly identifying the core elements behind Lumira because they serve as our coordinates for everything which has followed, and which we’ll continue to do in the future. Each Lumira fragrance created has a story behind it that creates an emotional connection with the customer. Scent can conjure vivid emotions and memories, which in turn influences people’s moods. Our fragrances have connected with customers in many ways, from taking them back to their childhood or a holiday experience.
“ We live very minimally. I feel this approach to life has taught us that “things” are not necessary in order have a fulfilled life ”
What are your time management tips and how do you juggle it all? Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
It’s not easy, that’s for sure. Every night, once the kids are in bed, I write down my priority list for the next day. This makes me less stressed about what I need to achieve on the day. This also includes preparing the kids school bags for the next day. I balance work and motherhood/family life/wife by creating routines and making sure I have help when needed. There are moments when I have definitely felt overwhelmed, but I recently started meditating each morning and it has really made a difference my overall wellbeing.
What keeps you sane?
Going to the gym and making sure I have some time out for me is so important. I think as mothers, we feel we need to do it all and often forget about ourselves.
What are your tips for home organisation with children? How do you keep your home organised?
We live very minimally. I feel this approach to life has taught us that “things” are not necessary in order have a fulfilled life. The kids have their own playroom with toys that usually spill over into the living room, however we organise their toys by using draws and compartments. We usually bribe them with a treat if they put their toys away but at the end of each night, my husband and I are always packing their toys away.
How do you unwind/relax?
I love having a facial with Jocelyn Petroni. This is time to truly switch off from the rest of the world.
What makes you feel stressed?
Knowing I still have things to complete whether it be at the office or home. I love daily lists and completing most things prior to the end of the day so I don’t feel like this!
What’s your approach to fashion?
I would say casual-chic as I never know what my day will involve. I could be carrying boxes or going into meetings, so I need my clothing to suit all needs. It’s usually Frame denim with a white tee, black blazer (I love Kit X) and Golden Goose sneakers.
Almira’s little list of loves:
Sunrise – I love watching the sun come up, it means new day, new experiences.
Morning coffee from Cafe Parterre in Woollahra. It’s just a short walk from home and I love how you can escape in their garden and feel like you are somewhere else.
Camogli in Italy. We recently discovered this town in Italy this year and it has to be a new favourite city for me. Breathtaking views and not so touristy.
I have managed to get my hands on a copy of GingerNutz by Michael Roberts and I can’t wait to read it.
Yoli & Otis clothing for my kids. Beautiful clothing made of natural fibres, makes a difference for my son who suffers from eczema.
Fresh flowers from Seed Flora – they brighten the home.
Lighting a Lumira candle once we are all home. It’s time to relax and switch off.
philosophy’s amazing grace range – it smells so lovely!