Connie & Laura – Two Powerhouse Entrepreneurs Making Beauty Products Good Enough to Eat

“If it’s not safe in your body, you shouldn’t be putting it on your body,” Connie tells me. The more I think about this, the more unsettling it becomes. The skin is our body’s largest organ after all, so why have we been so okay with covering it in chemical filled products?

Indeed, consumers, especially female consumers, are becoming increasingly aware of what goes into their products. Most will opt for the all natural, paraben/sulphate/cruelty free option whenever possible. But let’s face it, more often than not these “natural” products boast premium pricing and an air of “better-than” that isn’t exactly welcoming. “We wanted to stay away from that kind of messaging. We wanted to be the voice of the girl next door.  We wanted to be approachable for everybody. We wanted it to be affordable.”

A happy customer holding Niu Body’s food-grade Sugar Lip Polish – $8

In 2016, a mutual friend introduced Connie, the Queen’s commerce graduate, to Laura, the chemical engineer. Laura had an idea of creating an all natural, truly preservative free makeup wipe, something she herself had been looking for but couldn’t find on the market. “I loved the idea,” Connie recalls, “We were suppose to meet for a quick dinner – it turned into a 5 hour business meeting. It became clear that we could make perfect partners. She was great with formulations and I had the business know-how. We were both working, and still are working, full time jobs, but we wanted to take on this challenge.”

The two got to work and created their first product – a simple but effective makeup remover wipe. “It’s one of the only truly preservative free wipes on the market and we’re committed to keeping it that way. We didn’t add anything unnecessary – like water! With water comes mold, so any wipe that contains water has some sort of preservative in it. We use only natural oils and make them in small batches”. The wipes were featured in the U.S. based subscription box Petite Vour earlier this year, receiving raving reviews and bringing the brand cross border recognition. “7000 samples. It was such a large order we had no idea how we were going to fulfill it. All we knew was we couldn’t turn down this opportunity, so we just said yes. That’s something we’ve learned- just say yes and figure out how to do it later”. The wipes are now a fan favourite and Niu Body’s best seller to date.

Niu Body Coconut Oil Makeup Remover- $15. Photo CO www.niubody.com

“Niu” is the Hawaiian word for ‘coconut’, the ingredient that started it all for the company.  Many other natural oils have since been incorporated into the line. “We wanted to use the unique properties of different oils to cater to different skin types – cedar wood for acne prone skin, ylang ylang for dry skin, etc. A lot of natural products out there, you’ll look into their ingredient list and see there isn’t a single ingredient that treats what it’s advertised to treat. I picked up a toning mist once and it turned out to just be floral water. We did a ton of research and tested each iteration of our products on ourselves, our friends, our moms even, to make sure we got it just right and that it actually works. It’s a long process, a lot of work, yes, but that’s what it takes to make a great product. There are no short cuts”.

Niu Body Glow Facial Serum – $27. Photo by Jimi Filen

The natural skin care space is becoming increasingly saturated with brands big and small. Connie admits it’s hard not to feel pressured by the big guys. “We’re ambitious, we want to be the best, and we know we have good products. It’s hard not to compare yourself to the big brands out there and think, ‘why aren’t we there yet?’ At the same time we also have to remind ourselves that we are new, and even the most established brands have to start somewhere. That’s what we’re gunning for, though, we want Niu Body to be synonymous with natural skin care.”

Connie’s drive and passion were evident from the moment she started talking. Coupled with her work ethic…let’s just say I would not want to have her as a competitor. “My Dad is an entrepreneur. He came to this country with $2000 and worked so hard to give me and my sister everything we could ever want. I used to go on business trips with him and see him in action. Seeing his work ethic, I knew I couldn’t not work my a$$ off, it would be like letting him down. I want to continue his entrepreneurial legacy in a way. Not just for him, but for myself, to know that I did the best that I could. That I didn’t settle.”

Niu Body Coconut Oil Makeup Remover – $14. Photo CO @niu.body

Want to try some Niu products? Visit the Niu Body online shop today to get your fix.

Due to conflicting schedules, Laura was not available for this interview. Connie, however, was gracious enough to sit down with me for the 30 minute session that I stretched into an hour.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

 

 

 

Succuterra – How Jay & Lauren Built a Profitable Business While Working Full Time

Succulents and airplants are like the Gucci loafers of the botanical worlds – trendy, adorable, practical, and totally grammable.

Thinking my house needed some green, I went to Google and typed in “Toronto Succulents”. Succuterra came up as the first search result, so naturally I click it because I was too lazy to scroll. What blew me away was the assortment. It was succulent heaven and I had to really resist the urge to buy a $130 terrarium. It was just beautiful. Anyways…I didn’t end up buying  anything. Instead I contacted the owners, Jay and Lauren, for an interview and they graciously agreed.

GEODE TERRARIUM, $129.99. Photo CO www.succuterra.ca

Now here’s the twist. When I arrived at Succuterra for the interview, I realized that the three of us had met before. In highschool! I didn’t even recognize Jay at first. His sleek appearance is strikingly opposite to the blue hair and baggy jeans he sported in high school. We didn’t interact much back then, but let’s just say he wasn’t exactly the model student. I think that’s what makes his story all the more spectacular. His transformation from teenage misfit to successful entrepreneur was beyond what anyone had expected.

“I did a lot of sh*t back then” he says, “I stole, I dealt drugs…I didn’t know what I was doing”. He did go on to University though, mostly to conform to parental expectations. “I went to Waterloo for speech communications and I hated it. I was a horrible student. Then one day I read a book called the 40 Hour Work Week. It opened my eyes to two things – automated income generation and location independence. Once I fully understood those two concepts, I knew that was what I wanted”.

After three years in his program, Jay dropped out of school with no clear direction of what’s next. He went on EI, then on welfare for a while. “I wanted to be a bartender, so I learned how to bartend and worked as a bartender part time. I also started a non-for-profit rugby league, which I gave to some volunteers to run. It’s actually now Canada’s No.1 touch rugby league”.  Around the same time, Jay started dabbling in digital marketing and took some courses. “My Dad’s friend owned a flower shop so I asked if I could do the marketing for him. He didn’t trust me and said no. So I decided to open my own flower shop online”. From there GTAFlowerDelivery.ca, Jay’s first for profit venture, was born. Using digital marketing to promote his website, Jay quickly realized the only way to see results is to double down on advertising. “I was putting in $5 a day into digital marketing. Then I heard in a podcast….I don’t remember which one…that if you trust in your own ability to execute then you should go all in. I thought about my business and it’s essentially a branding play – I’m just rebranding flowers, the flowers themselves are nothing new. I then thought to myself, ‘do I trust my own ability to execute this branding strategy?’ The answer was yes. So I jacked up my marketing spend from $5 a day to $100 a day. The orders came pouring in”.

 

With a booming online business, you’d think a full time job would be the last thing on his mind. But one day, Jay met a guy playing soccer who’s company was hiring for a digital marketing position. He interviewed, got the job, and took it on. “I’m good at my job and I like the like-minded people I worked with. But at the same time, I am constantly thinking of business ideas and different verticals I can be in. I’m in the flower business, but it’s actually pretty sad when I buy flowers for my  girlfriend. They die so fast and I spent all this money on it. I looked for alternatives to flowers, even tried bonsais but those died too. Then somehow I came across succulents and I thought, these are  awesome! They last so much longer, they’re easy to take care of, and they look great!”. With his contacts in the flower industry and expertise in digital marketing, Jay started Succuterra just two weeks into his new job. “I wanted to make a case study of building a business while working full time to. I had two goals: A) to make automated income and sell things I really liked and B) to show aspiring entrepreneurs that its possible to build a business while working full time.”

A glimpse of Succuterra’s in store selection. Photo CO @succuterra_canada.

The current brick and mortar Succuterra  location is only temporary, but Jay and Lauren are working to  find something more permanent. “Having the retail location really helped us boost sales. We have a solid conversion rate. It’s such a visual product and we are the only store in Toronto right now specializing in it. We have the most variety.” And he wasn’t lying. For the two hours I was in the shop, almost half the customers who came into the store made a purchase. “It also helped us with storage and cut down our manual labour.  We don’t have a warehouse so before this we used to  store everything at our apartment. Everyday after work we would go home and pack boxes all night long. We’ve grown to a point now where it’s just not strategic for us to do that anymore. The opportunity cost is too high.”  I look over at Lauren, who looked unamused. “Our place looked like a jungle”, she says, “We had plants everywhere we barely had any room to move around. We would go to sleep with soil at the foot side of our bed. It was gross”.

Customers have the option to build their own terrarium. Photo CO @succuterra_canada

I asked if he remembers any of our old high school teachers. “Mr. Mahoney, our economics teacher. I remember him. He was the only teacher who was honest enough to say ‘you don’t need to go to university, don’t be pressured into it’. I wish I listened to him. What I’m doing now has nothing to do with my degree. I could have avoided the student debt and done all this 4 years earlier.”

Couple of dings go off on Jay’s phone. He turns it to me, revealing the latest sales numbers of his store for the day. I won’t tell you how much it was, but I will tell you it was very impressive.

To shop Succuterra’s selection of succulents and airplants, head over to their online store, or visit their retail location at 585 Gerrard St E.

 

 

 

Art Comes First – Talking Struggles of the Artistic Entrepreneur with Artist Karla Del Cid

Artists are  a very special breed of entrepreneurs. There is no amount of advertising, marketing or investment that could guarantee people’s acceptance of your work.  No matter what kind of artist you are, your work will be judged subjectively. You could work your whole life as a nobody, or you could get retweeted by Justin Bieber and blow up overnight. It’s really hard to say.

There is a perception is that most artists struggle to pay the bills, hence the term “starving artist”. (Also hence why your Asian parents will start a riot if  you tell them you want to be an “artist”). There is also the notion that art and commerce don’t mix, that commerce somehow tarnishes the art, and the artist a “sell-out” for commercializing their work.

So what is it like as an artist trying to make a living off of creativity? After speaking to Karla, it seems that even though the struggle is very real, the satisfaction in seeing appreciation for your work is well worth it.

Artist Karla Del Cid creating in her home studio

Karla Del Cid is a Torontonian artist exploring horror and mythological themes in a very unique way. Most of her work is done on scratch boards or carved out in linoleum. Think of it as sculpting in 2D – carving out the unnecessary to expose the beauty beneath.

Q: Why do you like horror themes so much? It doesn’t scare you?

K: Actually when I was little my older sister, I have 3 sisters, introduced the rest of us kids to horror films. She explained to us that it wasn’t real, just people in costumes and special effects. Since then all four of us have been really into horror movies. I don’t find it scary but rather very entertaining. It was a form of escapism for us. Our family situation wasn’t the best so it took our minds off the negative things. I guess horror is a weird area to “escape” to, most people find it stressful, but because it’s what my older sister introduced to us we just stuck to it.

The VVitch pin, by Karla, surrounded by linoleum carvings

Q: What would you say is the biggest struggle you face as an artist?

K: Trying to be creative while trying to be financially stable. Balancing work, money and creating is really difficult.  I would want to be creating full time, but I need money to pay for my prints and my products, and to do that I have to find work, and that takes me away from being creative. It’s hard to have your mind go in and out of a creative state, so obviously it’s less efficient. But that’s just how it is and I have to do what I have to do.  I’d love to have a larger studio space, I work out of my bedroom right now, but again that costs more money.  It’s hard. Not to say all artists do this, but I know some who still live at home and don’t have to worry about bills so much, so they can afford to create full time. That’s their advantage and that’s great for them. It’s not the case for me unfortunately. The upside for me is the confidence and sense of accomplishment I feel when I do achieve a goal, because I know I got there all by myself, slowly but surely.

Q: Has anyone every said negative things about your work?

K: Of course! I posted a pin I made on instagram and someone called it “horrendous”. It happens but oh well. People have their opinions.

Q: What has been the highlight of your career as an artist?

K: Opening my online shop. It gave me greater motivation to create and a larger audience to create for. Seeing random people from all over the world buy my work is an amazing feeling. It makes me want to create more to put on the shop. Even though the shop isn’t consistently busy at the moment, I do see sales getting better and better. Makes me realize there are people who like what I do and this could be a livelihood.

Q: Why did you chose scratch boards and linoleum?

K: I was introduced to scratch boards in high school, loved it, and stuck with it. It’s the idea of not being able to make a mistake or your whole piece is ruined. You have to be extremely meticulous and plan everything out. You have to be very careful. It’s more stressful than painting on canvas, but when I finish a piece I feel extra satisfied. Adding linoleum to my portfolio just felt natural  since both linoleum and scratch boards use negative and positive space. Also the monochrome of the two works really well with the horror and mythology themes I work in. Added bonus with the linoleum is that I can reproduce each prints in batches if I wanted to since it’s essentially a stamp. I wasn’t thinking of that when I started but it happened to work out business wise.

“THE WITCH” print by Karla

Q: What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

K: Right now my goal is to have an exhibition that showcases everything I do. I do a lot of scratch boarding and lino but I also do sculptures and canvas paintings. I want to show everything together in one exhibition so people can see my whole body of work.

I was very surprised her answer didn’t involve her financial bottom line. Usually entrepreneurs answer this question with  “X number of dollars in Y number of years”, and that’s what I was expecting. On the other hand, I admired her answer. Not everyone values success on the same scale. For Karla, the integrity of her work is at the forefront. With this mentality, I have no doubt the money will follow.

Karla’s artistic abilities range beyond print art. She also dabbles in many other creative outlets such as stick and poke tattoo and special effects make up. All this with no formal art training or fancy tools – just a creative mind and a unique eye.

Check out her work at her online shop to support this ridiculously talented woman!

Horrifically sweet hand made Valentine’s cards

 

 

Life, Curated – My Chat With Influencer/Content Creator @ThatSoTee

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Image CO @ThatSoTee

Remember Regina George from Mean Girls? She was the ultimate influencer. Love her or hate her, you wanted to be her. Too bad they didn’t have social media in 2004…because it was 13 years ago, only 2 months after Facebook was founded and a whole 3 years before the first iPhone debuted. Do you feel old yet?

If Regina was fictionally alive today, she would be doing pretty well for herself. The first time I learned what the top influencers are banking annually (it’s in the millions), it made me question my life choices. All they do is prance around in pretty outfits and get paid in one post what I make in a month (or year), right? HA *dies on the inside*. Of course I knew, or hoped, there was more to it, so I sat down with @Thatsotee to get the DL on the gram life.

For those who don’t follow her already, Tee (@Thatsotee) is a prominent Toronto based social media influencer/content creator/blogger. Unbeknownst to many, her career in social media isn’t her first creative venture. As a teenager she started a dance team in her basement, and managed to grow it into Markham’s primer street dance academy which still runs today under her successor. Needless to say, this woman has a knack for building an audience!

Now, with over 186K followers and counting, she is a brand and fan favourite, partnering with multi billion dollar companies while remaining true to her creative vision.

K: How was insta different back in 2015 when you started compared to present day?

T: Well after Facebook bought instagram they implemented a lot of ways that would impede your growth unless you paid into the platform. This really limits one’s ability to grow their following. When I started it wasn’t like that at all and my followers were growing exponentially. Insta used to display posts in chronological order, so if I posted at 5pm my followers who tuned in at 5:05 pm will see that post. Now posts are displayed based on how much I interact with specific follower. This means if a follower isn’t actively liking or commenting on my content, my posts get bumped down on their feed and they probably won’t see it. This in turn leads to even less engagement. You basically have to pay to get your posts screen time, especially if you’re tagged as a “business account”. So yes…completely different today. If you want to grow at a good pace, you better get ready to pay up!

K: How hard is it to make it as an influencer if you are starting out today?

T: Unless you are a blond, beautiful, fit, tan, buxom babe, it’s VERY hard.

K: When you started your IG account, did you set out to become an influencer?

T: Honestly when I started, I kept it a secret because I didn’t want to be judged by my students and friends. I loved fashion, I loved taking beautiful photos, so it as my creative outlet where I can create anything I want. I knew in the back of my mind it could become my livelihood, I’ve seen other bloggers do it, but I didn’t have any expectations. I just wanted to put myself out there and see how far it would go.

K: Would you say you are still “authentic” with all the ad’s you do?

Tee: It does get tough. Sometimes I have to turn down good paying campaigns because it just doesn’t “fit”. I like to create beautiful content that pleases my followers AND the brand I’m working with. I’m able to remain authentic that way because the content I create is still a reflection of my creative vision, regardless of what I’m promoting. Followers are smart too, and recognize when you’re being a sell out. When you lose your authenticity, your followers will peace out.

K: What advice would you give aspiring content creators and influencers?

T: Be relatable. Be authentic. The most successful influencers are also the most relatable ones. They’re genuinely nice people! You also have to love doing it. Those who do it solely for the money….after a while it shows. I always keep an open dialogue between me and my followers. I listen to what they have to say and I respond. It’s the best way to build your brand and grow your following.

K: The life of an influencer…is it as glamourours as it seems?

T: Definitely not. Don’t get me wrong, there are more pros than cons because I truly love what I do. But like every job there are some drawbacks. I can’t travel without constantly thinking about the images I need to capture. I can’t live in the moment because I’m always thinking about getting the perfect shot, so I’m always working. You get free products but it doesn’t mean much. In fact I get more product than I know what to do with, and after a while it just becomes wasteful. I work out every single day to make sure fashion sits well on me. Not that being healthy is a bad thing, but keeping your body a certain way does take its toll. Don’t get me wrong ,I don’t deprive myself. But working out everyday…who really wants to do that?

K: Ok last question! How do you define “Success”?

T: This sounds cliche but success is loving what you do. That was my mentality when I started my dance company, and when my passion for dance ran dry I let it go and pursued other passions through content creation. I can’t live doing something I don’t love. I come from parents who were both successful entrepreneurs and my three brothers are all wildly successful in their own ways. It made me realize there is more than one path to success — that you don’t need to sit at a desk all day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not the ONLY path. You don’t have to be making tons of money. Even if you can just get by doing something you love, that’s already success in my eyes.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Image CO @ThatSoTee