How Swiss Toniq started...
Born in England, Fiona Nicholls is the founder of Swiss Toniq, a young brand of natural, chemical-free skincare products using only high-performing, clinically tested raw ingredients. Fiona’s intensive studies of ancient botanical plants and formulating already resulted in three awards: Best Organic Swiss Skincare Brand, Best European Botanical Skincare Brand, and Best Organic Anti-ageing Face Serum.
This huge success of Swiss Toniq in a very few years is the consequence of a severe horse-riding accident in 2017 that had left Fiona with a broken spine and destroyed her career as a horse breeder and professional show jumping rider, a thing that she has been doing since her childhood.
Broken Spine, A Broken Heart... And Space For A New Purpose by Fiona Nicholls
It’s April 2017. I lay in bed in excruciating pain from my broken spine and in total despair knowing that the equestrian business I had built and ran single handedly would go bankrupt quickly without me if I didn’t shut it down fast. I was a horse expert, and horse training and breeding was my only skill. What the hell was I supposed to do now I can no longer do this?
But let me go back to tell you where I started.
I was born and brought up in a fairly old-fashioned English family where children were to be seen and not heard and expected to adopt their parents views and ideas instead of forming their own and becoming the person they really are.
Women were supposed to be perfect housewives who didn’t go out to work and money and business was never discussed with women. Women in business or women with an opinion were seen as bossy and dominating, perhaps even unfeminine.
These false ideas set me up for the next 20 years of behaviour of trying to be the perfect wife, the trophy wife, or girlfriend until real life really kicked in and gave me a huge slap in the face when my financial situation changed drastically in 2010 and my world fell totally apart for the first time.
I come from a family of 5 children (3 girls and 2 boys), all born within a period of 7 years, so we were all very close. My parents and the girls in the family were all brought up riding horses and my brothers choose karting and cross motorbikes. We had a very outdoor, close to nature upbringing in Stratford upon Avon, UK and had our own horse stable at home, so my life revolved around horses from the very youngest age and nothing else seemed important to me other than my ponies and horses. I was extremely passionate.
When I was 15, my parents moved our family to the Algarve, Portugal which I hated and swore I would move back to the UK and pick up the life I had left behind as soon as I could.
My plan got hijacked at age 19 when I met the, then man of my dreams, who was from Geneva. After my first visit to Geneva, I fell in love with Switzerland and moved here with my horses. My dreams of returning to the UK where permanently abandoned and 30 years later, I still love Switzerland and my life here as much as I did back then.
The accident right before the season
But then, it happened: the horse-riding accident... my spine broken, and so did my heart.
I owned a load of horses which I had bred, trained and competed, some up to international level in order to sell and make a living. The show jumping competition season was starting again next week after the long winter pause and my horses were fit and ready to go to shows and compete and this was where I earned my money every year, after the financially quiet long winter period.
Life seemed bleak and cruel, a broken spine and the only career in the world I knew how to do ended just like that at 46 years old.
I had already found myself in a dire life situation about seven years previously in 2009. I’d got involved with the wrong people and lost my financial security literally overnight, meaning that, back then, at the age of 40, living temporarily in France, raising a 1-year-old daughter alone and having never worked, never been to university or even college, I needed to get a job urgently. Who on earth would hire someone of my age, with no skills, no experience, no qualifications and a baby to raise alone? My future looked bleak.
I have had a very privileged life up until then and hadn’t ever needed to work or earn my own money, although I’d never been one of those women to sit around doing my nails and reading magazines, spending hours shopping and lunching with girlfriends. Not that there's anything wrong with that, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not me, I'm a workaholic, hyperactive.
I’d spent my life engulfed in my childhood passion which was horses. Breeding, training and competing my horses in show jumping and although I did not earn (or need to earn) any money with my passion it was still a hard job that I put 100 percent of my time and effort into and I produced horses that went on to have careers with international riders in several countries as well as representing Great Britain at an international level myself several times. I was good at what I did while always striving to be the perfect wife when not with my horses. I balanced two different worlds.
As a horse expert with over 30 years’ experience, it was an obvious choice at that low point in 2009 that I would need to turn my lifelong equestrian hobby into a business that was fruitful in order to survive and support my daughter; and that’s what I did. I made it work and life ticked along nicely as my equestrian business grew, until my accident and my spinal injury put an abrupt stop to all that.
So, forward to 2017, lying in bed with my spinal injury, I told myself: Last time I managed to bounce back so I should be able to bounce back again, right? But I just couldn’t see it or see a solution no matter how hard I tried.
Staying in bed for weeks, suddenly with all the spare time in the world and a troop of very fit horses that needed to be ridden I knew I would go bankrupt in months if I had to pay professionals to look after and ride them for the whole year, until I could ride again... assuming there were no complications and that I could ride again.
I had to make a brutal decision to have them sent to professional competition riders who would compete and sell them all for me while I was bedridden.
It was one of the saddest periods in my life, I could not even say goodbye to my horses or choose who bought them, they were all sold in my absence. Heart-breaking and so painful!
After I came to terms with the reality and did my mourning for my departed horses, I decided to end my pity party and put my big girl pants on.
Riding four horses every single day, staying up all night alone to deliver foals all summer and travelling to shows to compete seven months a year had been physically exhausting, and I would not have had the strength or energy to continue this for the rest of my life. To be honest, in my mid 40’s I was already finding it much harder than previous years and feeling the tiredness.
With this accident I had been handed the wonderful gift of free time.
This was something totally new to me, free time to figure out a new future and when all you can do is lie in bed, you quickly realise how much spare time you have. It’s huge! I spent my life on my laptop, it became my online university, and this was about the time I stumbled across personal development and became fascinated by neuroscience and the power of our thoughts and beliefs.
Learning meditation (a practice I had stubbornly rexuded for years), understanding that this accident was not a curse but a gift and learning visualisation sped up my recovery time I’m doubtless.
Studying ancient botanical plants and formulating
As a pale skinned, strawberry blonde I had suffered sensitive skin my whole life and in recent years made my own home-made natural skincare remedies after not being unable to find any commercial skincare products that did not irritate my skin. I had already become quite good at hacking skincare labels and the more I learned about what beauty products were really made of, what rubbish was in them all and how much of what we paid for them was not actually for the ingredients but for their expensive advertising, masses of glossy packaging, celebrity sponsorships and distributor fees, the more horrified I became.
I realised that the beauty industry did not really care about our skin but only about making money and judging by the amount of illness causing substances added to all these products, that the beauty industry did not even care about our health, and I wanted to change this, so I used my bed rest time to intensively study skincare and botanicals.
When you can do nothing but lie on your back or sit for months with none of the daily distractions like cooking, cleaning, washing and the other 50-time consuming jobs life throws at you, you gain a huge amount of spare time, so I finished two full time online courses that were supposed to take a year each, in a record three months and piled on online course after online course after that. My hunger to learn everything I could about natural skincare, ancient botanical plants and formulating meant I was driven to the point of obsession. Television was no longer a part of my life and the year seemed to pass quickly.
Several months after my accident I was back on my feet and starting to formulate products at home, the kitchen became my laboratory to the horror of my then boyfriend.
During my studies I stumbled across what seemed like a secret. It was raw botanicals. Ancient medicinal plants that had survived thousands and sometimes millions of years despite pollution, drought, floods, heatwaves and frost and simply because they were made up of cells that knew how to adapt, protect and resist. These were properties our skin needs. Our ancestors healed themselves with such plants so why would the beauty industry not use such incredible ingredients if they were so amazing and instead use so many synthetic chemicals that can contribute to illness, it was beyond me. I later learned it’s because these natural ingredients are very expensive, complicated to formulate and have a much shorter shelf life than commercial cosmetic ingredients.
I decided to try them, and the results were so impressive on myself that I stared to share my products with friends and family and saw equally positive results and that’s when I had a revelation, I decided to launch my own brand and Swiss Toniq was born.
‘It’s too risky, you need a real job...’
This is the point at which people close to me started telling me it would never work... the skin- care industry is already saturated... you don’t have enough experience in business... you’re a horse rider, you don’t know anything about running a business... the economy is bad, you need a plan B... it’s too risky, shouldn’t you get a real job instead...
They all cared about me and where just worried of course, and this is where mindset is so important. I learned to not be influenced by close friends and family’s opinions, especially as none of them had created their own business or even had any interest in natural skincare. I just had to believe this was possible at any price and that I would not give up if it killed me.
For the next two years I alternated my time between developing my brand and studying everything I needed to learn about formulating, running a business, digital marketing, etc. The list was endless and sometimes it seemed overwhelming everything I needed to learn and not enough hours in a day.
Social life, relationships, holidays and any free time for myself was sacrificed and the only person that was given quality time outside my work and studies was my daughter.
I renovated the 3-rooms in our basement into my lab, started working closely with some skincare specialists, set up my own website and started selling online with a few ads and in a few select shops in Geneva at the end of 2018. It was a grind and very slow and difficult. The sale of all my horses financed me up to this point but it was starting to be a struggle.
My living partner at the time kept telling me it would never work... I’m wasting my time, there are already too many skincare brands... nobody will buy my product as they’re too expensive... personal development is bullshit... He rolled his eyes and shook his head at me daily which really hurt in the beginning but thanks to mindset and personal development courses his words no longer had power over me and meant absolutely nothing. This was so freeing and I’m even wondering if his putting me down daily did not actually drive me a bit harder just to prove him wrong.
After an intensive two years of full-time studies, masses of product research and product testing I wanted to go one step further and create not only healthy effective products but high-performance products that had been clinically proven to produce anti-ageing results. So, I chose to work with a Swiss Biochemistry lab who have won multiple gold medals in the most prestigious skincare industry awards worldwide and this took my products to a whole other level.
Now nearly four years later I feel proud to say I have an established multiple award winning brand and sometimes have to pinch myself to believe how far I have come. I have a great team on board and sell in 36 different countries and am now ready to scale even bigger. I have created a totally chemical- free highly niche skincare line using only raw and highly concentrated ingredients, avoiding bulking up my products with masses of water or cheap oil fillers as other brands do and have chosen ancient botanical actives that have won gold medals for their results in anti-ageing.
I can finally take days off without the business collapsing without me. Although my naturally workaholic character makes me feel it’s never enough, I do love what I do and feel proud that I have achieved what I set out to do and I am beginning to reap the benefits of all my hard work and sacrifices.
I feel that we listen too often to others’ opinions and give into society programming that keeps us small and if we stop doing that, listen to our heart and follow our crazy ideas and use all the mindset tools available online today, we can achieve so much more success and happiness.