I could feel it coming on: the dreaded mid-morning sweat. Like clockwork, nearly every day for the past year, just as I was finishing reading and flagging the emails I had received during the night from overseas and starting to dig into the internal office emails from the morning that were beginning to pile up, my breathing became quick and shallow, my feet and fingers were tapping uncontrollably, my heart wanted me to get up and scream, “THIS WORKLOAD IS IMPOSSIBLE! IF I CAN’T HANDLE IT, WHO CAN?!”. But my brain kept me glued to my seat, eyes on the screen. “Deep breaths. Try to stay calm. So what if you can’t do it all? It’s not like you’re going to get fired… you’re doing your best.” Only my best never seemed to be good enough. It was impossible.
And it was too late anyway: I was already drenched. It was summer in LA, and despite the fact that I was dressed seasonably and my office was freezing, I had to spend the rest of the day feeling like I had just come from the gym. Again. Any normal person would have walked over to the grocery store next to their office building and bought a tube of antiperspirant, but for this vegan, that was not an option. While most deodorant and antiperspirant does not contain animal products, many brands are owned by corporations that still test on animals, and I had made it my 2015 New Year’s resolution to completely veganise my fashion, beauty, and personal care purchases. I had vowed to not buy any new clothing or personal care items unless they were from a purposefully vegan or eco-focused company, and I was determined to stick to my resolutions, despite the fact that my current routine of the weird crystal-rock deodorant, followed by a spray deodorant, followed by an absolutely useless stick of “natural” deodorant from the drugstore that I kept in my purse for emergencies was officially not working for me. Besides, I knew that my real problem wasn’t the deodorant. It was my job. My life in general. I was beat.
A year and a half prior, when I separated and divorced from my husband, ending our unhealthy relationship, my dream of being a working actor in Los Angeles was suddenly replaced with a dream of simply being able to support myself and my toddler son. Although I have a business degree, I had spent the majority of my adult life working in part time customer service jobs, like restaurants or retail, where I was happily earning just enough to get by while paying for acting classes and headshots, knowing that I could always walk away should I get a big audition or gig. That, combined with the fact that I had spent the past year as stay-at-home mum whose only work consisted of commercial auditions and call-backs, (but sadly no bookings) made my professional resume look laughably sparse. After six months of job searching, I was offered my very first ever, full-time office job as a production assistant for a California-based fashion brand. At first, it was a huge relief to finally have a stable schedule and steady income for myself and my son, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was going to need to earn a lot more money if I wanted to stay in Los Angeles. My salary was barely enough to cover rent and childcare, and although my family said that they were happy to help me with other expenses until I could get on my feet, I hated being a financial burden. Also, I had no idea how long this “getting on my feet” thing would take. I pressed on anyway, determined to figure out a way to make things work. I worked incredibly hard at my new job, and was even given a raise after a few months, but I was still coming up short financially. I worked harder, added more affiliate links to my vegan fashion blog, stayed up late looking for part time jobs that I could do from home at night or on the weekends, or possibly another job with a higher starting salary, but to no avail. I had always dreamed of running my own business, and in these times I often found myself brainstorming about what kind of business I could possibly start on the side with no budget and no time.
It wasn’t long before I was feeling completely burned out. Commuting, trying to keep up with an impossible work load, constantly staying late at work and being the last parent to pick up from daycare, caring for my son, up all night worrying about money and trying to come up with some sort miracle to keep myself afloat… I felt like I was losing my mind. Then, on that particularly stress-sweat filled Friday in July, the solution hit me like a lightning bolt. I came home from work feeling my usual Friday mix of dejection from not completing all of my tasks on time for the week, guilt over my splurge on a $5 veggie sushi roll from Whole Foods, and relief that it was the weekend and I didn’t have to get up and do it all over again tomorrow, when, as I was changing my clothes I realised that I also smelled AWFUL. I felt so angry knowing that I had wasted more money that I didn’t have to spend on yet another deodorant that didn’t work. Shopping for deodorant was not how I wanted to spend my precious free time over the weekend, aside from the fact that I literally had no more money left to spend. I suddenly remembered seeing a few DIY deodorant recipes on the web using things like coconut oil and cornstarch, or baking soda, so I grabbed an empty lotion container from my bathroom, marched into the kitchen and spooned some melted coconut oil into the jar. I was about to reach for the cornstarch when I noted that I had a box of tapioca starch open that I rarely used, so I grabbed that instead, hoping to find a way to not let it go to waste. When I had added enough tapioca starch to turn the liquid coconut oil into a lotion-like consistency, I added a few drops of tea tree and sweet orange oil. (I skipped the baking soda, because I remembered hearing somewhere that it could cause a rash on some people’s skin). Done! I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I was pretty sure that my sweat situation couldn’t get any worse, and at least I wasn’t out any more money. Well, it turned out that my little concoction actually worked. I was still sweating under pressure or in the heat, but at least now I smelled like coconut and tea tree oil rather than sweat. The best part was that it felt amazing to apply. It was silky, powdery, and dry, as opposed to the stinging, wet, and sticky products I had been using.
From that point on, everything is a bit of a blur. Solving my own small deodorant problem seemed to magically open my creative floodgates. In the span of a month, I went from feeling completely stuck to having so many ideas that I decided to quit my job and move home to Oklahoma, which, as a die-hard city girl and Los Angeles fanatic, was a course of action I had previously been determined to avoid at all costs.
I had absolutely no experience making anything, unless you count adding some essential oils to a jar of coconut oil and calling it “lotion,” and I was only 93% sure that it was safe to apply tapioca starch topically, yet something inside of me said, “THIS… this is it. Go with this feeling.” So I did. Like a crazy person. I researched, experimented, tried and failed so miserably that I almost gave up a few times, but then I realised that I didn’t really have anything left to lose, so once I made a couple of batches I was happy with, Twinkle Apothecary was born and there was no turning back. I guess I figured that even if it wasn’t the best deodorant in the world, I could probably make it the cutest, or maybe the best-smelling. As a vegan consumer, I often found myself disappointed with options from the personal care department, so I knew that I wanted to offer something different. Most deodorants seemed too earthy, granola, or frankly, silly. I’m a fashion girl, not a hippie, and there’s no way anything with the word “pit” or “funk” on the label is ever going on my vanity table. I wanted modern and sophisticated, yet practical and affordable, and I guessed that if there weren’t more people like me who felt the same way, there were probably about to be (you also have to be a bit cocky to get up the nerve to start a business, by the way).
Making my venture an ethical beauty business wasn’t so much a strategic decision as it was an extension of the way I live my life. I’m a bit self-conscious discussing ethics, because I’m not exactly an eco-warrior, nor am I a vegan activist (although some of my Facebook friends might disagree). I’m just a normal person, trying to live thoughtfully, cause no harm, not over-consume; which, to be honest, mostly happens by default when you’re a broke single mum. That said, I am a firm believer in voting with your pocketbook and spending your money on businesses that share your values. The notion of what makes something “ethical” varies from person to person, but at the end of the day, my goal is to make products that anyone can be proud to buy and feel safe to use on their bodies. As a vegan, I would never use animal products or by-products in my formulations, nor would I test them on anything other than my human friends and family because I believe that animals are not ours to use. It took a few quick emails to confirm that my suppliers were cruelty free and none of my raw materials were tested on animals. Registering my brand with PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies Program was so easy that I have to assume the only reason a brand would choose to not be purposefully vegan or cruelty free is because they simply don’t care. Personally, I prefer to buy things from people and companies who do care, and I believe that my customers feel the same way.
As the creator and sole employee of Twinkle Apothecary, I think that my personal ethics end up influencing all of my business decisions in some way. From choosing to use biodegradable or recyclable packaging, re-using packing materials to ship orders, and planning my production so that I’m not running the dishwasher more often than necessary; to formulating products using materials I already have on hand instead of sourcing some fancy new rare oil, and deciding to keep my product line to a minimum. I often find myself thinking, “How can I sell stuff to people when I think most people actually need less stuff?” I challenge the notion that we need to use a million different creams, masques, and serums to have beautiful skin, although I know it’s always fun to shop for the miracle product that could be just around the corner, ready to give you the smooth, wrinkle-and-acne-free skin of your dreams. Every time I get a new product idea, I stop and think, “Is this necessary? Do I really need it?” and I love that every product I produce ends up being something I feel like I can’t live without. Fragrances, however, are my weakness. I know that no one really “needs” perfume, but I love how plant-based fragrances have the ability to lift your spirits, comfort you, or ground your mood. Scent memory can be so powerful, and the actor in me loves being able to connect with people on such a personal level – making memories. Speaking of fragrances, I also believe that my customers have a right to know exactly what is in my products. I keep my blends simple, so what you see is exactly what you will get (not to mention smell) and I always make my full ingredient lists available. I also hesitate to make claims about what my products will or won’t do in regards to someone’s health. I’m obviously not a doctor or a scientist, so the best I can do at this stage of my business is make a product that I feel comfortable with using for myself while being transparent with my process and ingredients so that my customers can make their own informed decisions.
My journey with Twinkle Apothecary is just beginning, and I know that as my ethical beauty business grows there will be even more complicated ethical decisions to consider, but for now, simply being one thoughtful and hardworking woman who’s determined to make a better life for herself and a better world for her son feels like a pretty good place to start.
Great post – very human account of starting an ethical beauty business! I would love to follow suit someday in opening my own business…
Besma | Curiously Conscious
Wow, go you! I’ve been wanting to start a store that has all cruelty-free products for your pets & your home but am so scared of the prospect of being completely broke in the meantime – how to start, etc. Reading your story is definitely inspiring me!
This was a very inspirational story! All the best