Female Fridays with Dr Anita Sturnham

This week we chat to the wonderful Dr Anita Sturnham about her doctor led skincare brand Decree.  Dr Sturnham created the best in class products that deliver and safeguard youthful, beautiful skin in a routine that is elegant and pleasurable.

What inspired you to start your business? 

Decree skincare was inspired by many factors. My medical background, my patients and by a clear gap in the market  that I identified through my years of treating my patients’ skin.   In 2014 I founded my clinic brand, Nuriss, based in Marylebone, London.  At my initial skin consultations, I ask my patients to bring in their skincare products and get them to show me what they are using from morning to night. Over the years I have seen the same trends again and again. Many people are using the wrong products on their skin, effectively feeding it with ‘junk food’. I would say that around 90% of the skin issues that I see in my clinics are self-inflicted, with the main culprits being the products that they use. The most common issues include overusing products, mixing and matching brands that weren’t designed to go together, product hopping, over stimulating the skin and over exfoliating with multiple fruit acids and double cleansing products. My first priority is to strip things right back and to start them on a simplified skincare routine - this is a fundamental step to getting healthy skin. I provide my patients with the knowledge and confidence to choose the right products for their skin, morning and night and help them to get the very best out of their skin and to keep it there.

The second key inspiration behind Decree was my in-house skincare line, Nuriss skincare, which I designed for my patients and launched in 2014. We had 32 products in the line, with your typical skincare categories. We had products for acne, pigmentation, rosacea, anti-aging etc. I discovered over the years of looking after people’s skin, that regardless of the age, sex, skin type and skin concern of my patients, I was using the same key active ingredients for everyone. It became clear that there was a massive opportunity to strip things back and to simplify skincare down to a collection of products that contain multitasking actives. In my mind, it was time to break down the typical boundaries in skincare.  And so, with all of this inspiration, I created DECREE. 

What have been your greatest challenges? 

I would have to say that the biggest challenge was creating nine unique formulations and launching them at the same time. It was a 24/7 job for me outside of my job working as a doctor and running my clinic. The formulations are complex and some of them required up to ten attempts to get them just right. 

What have been your greatest rewards? 

As a brand founder, I am always striving to grow the brand and achieve the next milestone but when I reflect back on key moments, a month after launch an influential independent journalist, with a huge global reach, dedicated a double page spread to our brand, highlighting our Treat Tincture serum as the ‘holy grail’. We sold out across all channels within 48 hours and I was blown away. This is still our best selling product to this very day.  I have so many proud moments but I would say the starting point was seeing three years of hard work come to fruition, when I launched Decree in September 2019 and saw the products on sale in store and online with the major player beauty retailers, lined up next to huge global brands. 

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

I would say ‘always trust your instinct’.  I have found myself following a really interesting and varied career path in the world of medicine. Following my heart by creating my own clinic brand and skincare line was a big move and meant that I gave up a lot of financial and job security. I have learnt over the years that If something feels wrong, always listen to your instinct. This is particularly true when it comes to setting up and running your own business. As you grow your business you will be faced with decision making in terms of recruitment, service or product development and there will be crucial moments where you need to steer the ship in the direction that you wish to move your company. People may advise you to make decisions that you aren’t comfortable with. No-one knows your business better than you. Strict  to your conviction and say no if something doesn’t feel right.

What advice would you give young, female entrepreneurs? 

If you want a career and want to be a mother, you CAN do both. I have always worked in old school environments, where it was often publicly frowned upon if you put motherhood before your career. As a female surgeon in my early career it was openly discussed. Registrars who were pregnant were often never seen again after having their babies. The environment simply wasn’t supportive. I think this is one of the reasons that I left trying to start a family so late.  

When announcing my pregnancy last year, I was surrounded by love and support within my internal team but it has been interesting to see the mixed response from men and women externally. Questions were raised about whether I had the ability to remain the CEO with a baby on the way. I think the proof of the pudding is in the writing, as my mother would always say to me. During my pregnancy I navigated the Covid storm, the clinic brand has survived, despite eight months of closure and Decree skincare is growing rapidly by the day. Being pregnant and now a mother has made me a better CEO, not a weaker one. I’m clearer with strategy, I filter out negativity to protect my baby. So now when I’m pitching or presenting at meetings, I don’t try to hide it. I’m proud. I am proud to show that motherhood is not a weakness but a strength. 

What’s your vision for the future of your business? 

We have so many exciting things planned for Decree. Over the past two years we have been working on the creation of five new products that will compliment the core Decree line and we will launch these in 2021/22. We are working towards being a fully vegan doctor led brand, with seven of our core products being vegan currently and the remaining vegetarian. We aim to be fully vegan by the end of 2021. We also have a strong focus on sustainability and our new products feature fully recyclable, reusable packaging and of course our brand is cruelty free. We have recently launched the world's first fully recyclable and biodegradable sheet mask, the Decree Revitalising SOS Mask and have many more exciting products in the pipeline. As a brand, we will continue to grow our foundations in the UK but have also started working with global partners, with US being our main territory to focus on over the next 18 months.