IWD Special: Top tips from vegan female entrepreneurs
Written by Chiara Puz
The United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time in 1975 and is now commemorated on March 8th annually. It is one of the most important days of the year to celebrate women’s accomplishments, fundraise for female-focused charities and raise awareness about women’s equality. So, in this week’s blog post we wanted to celebrate women and their achievements. We decided to spice things up to bring you some advice & stories from the female founders of some of our incredible vegan brands who kindly shared their journeys to success and the challenges they faced.
First up is B.U. beauty brand. Their makeup brushes are vegan, cruelty-free, eco-conscious and most importantly super soft to give you that flawless finish. They pride themselves on producing high-quality brushes and products that will enhance and brighten your makeup application all without sacrificing the planet. Their brand's mantra is “when you know better, you do better”, and we couldn’t agree more. B.U. beauty brand refuses to be another modest start-up that causes our planet’s huge waste crisis, so their brushes are certified by FSC & use no animal derived ingredients, it’s a pleasure having them on our website. We sat down with the brand founder, Ingrida, here’s what she had to say:
Q: What have you enjoyed most about starting your own company?
A: Well, the actual physical thing of owning a company. Also, I can help others, my brand itself is cruelty-free, vegan, sensitive skin-friendly and environmentally friendly. We don’t do any plastic packaging whatsoever, it's all recyclable and reusable, specially made to be reused. So, it’s a feeling that I can make a difference that’s very empowering for me.
Q: What are the exciting opportunities in your industry?
A: Opportunities are endless in the beauty industry, you can do everything. People often ask if I’m scared because there’s so much competition, other brands are doing similar things online. But to be honest, I'm unique, no one else at the moment has a makeup brush brand that’s genuinely vegan, cruelty-free and plastic-free, none.
Q: Ingrida, to help our readers…knowing what you know now, is there something you would have done differently from the first time?
A: Well obviously, loads of things change because you learn as you go. Every day you learn something new but I don't think I would change anything. I learn new things and that just gives me more experience, I'm better for future projects and whatever I do so. If I wouldn't have done those things, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I guess my advice would be just keep learning at every opportunity.
Q: What three tools (apps, books, podcasts, etc.) would you recommend to anyone trying to start her own business?
A: This might be a controversial answer, but I can’t recommend anything really. To be honest I don’t think any of the apps or books or movies would change a thing if you weren’t ready for it yourself. You need to be ready to step out of your comfort zone because none of those magical moments happen in the comfort zone and that desire to step out of it needs to come from you, not external sources. So, you need to be ready to step outside and say okay I’m going to do this no matter what, you need a strong WHY. I of course educated myself by doing Google searches & watching other entrepreneurs etc, but I’d say I learned from my own mistakes the most.
Q: What do you want to achieve next?
A: We started out with makeup brushes and reusable makeup removing pads, but the actual idea was to start with makeup that has zero toxins. The gap in the market for that is so big though that idea would include a lot of research & would cost far more to create the product that we envisioned right now. So the second idea was the brand now, makeup brushes and reusable makeup removing pads. For me, a big thing was that it must be sensitive skin-friendly cause I have very sensitive skin, so I was creating this for myself as well. So, the next achievement would be to bring in enough revenue, so we can invest it into research and create truly clean makeup.
Next up we spoke to Jo, founder of Indie Refill. Indie is a brand that’s promising to deliver you cruelty-free, vegan & affordable natural haircare products that are suitable for all hair types and have a good influence on bathroom waste. Indie’s Starter Duo includes two 500ml refillable aluminium bottles and pumps, okayyyy cool!!!! This is definitely the first step in decreasing the environmental impact of beauty products. According to Indie, this means you'll use 99% less plastic than if you bought regular shampoo and conditioner!! UM WOW, now we’re talking!!! Indie offers a customizable subscription option for refills, which come in eco-friendly, plastic-free pouches. Alternatively, if you want, you can make one-time purchases, the options are endless, and we love it!! Jo, was incredibly generous and shared all about her ups and downs, so we hope you will enjoy hearing about it as much as we did.
Q: What is unique about your business?
A: There are so many businesses that are looking to make sustainable hair products that just don't do it well enough, So, you end up making sacrifices on what your hair looks like or what your shower experience is like. Our USP is that we've taken that problem primarily…so right…how do we make people's hair healthy and feel amazing because stuff like silicones and sulphates make your hair less healthy. We said let's tackle that problem first and naturally. Everything we do is environmentally friendly, we always make sure that we're putting it in environmentally friendly packaging & using environmentally friendly methods to create the products basically.
Q: That's amazing to hear Jo! What drives you? WHY do you do what you do?
A:I like challenging work, so I don't ever like to be bored. Doing something for myself works well because every day is a massive learning curve but every single day suddenly, I find myself having to learn how to do small bits of coding or learn a small amount of like intellectual property law and it's just never dull. But really for me what gets me up in the morning is trying to get to a point where I can have staff and give them a great place to work where they can learn on the job and be paid above market rate, & have a great work environment. Also, at the same time be able to make a difference hopefully on the grand scheme of things; like reducing plastic and generally you know creating a business that does good rather than be bad for the environment.
Q: What are your top tips for growing a company?
A: Speak to anyone and everyone, you have to lose all inhibition. You can't be thinking oh you know should I message this person? you just have to do it. Anyone that I had a very very vague connection with that was useful I was messaging telling them all about it because people are willing to help start-ups. They are so so willing to bend over backwards and help. The other thing I’d say is to be careful with marketing spend because it's really easy to fall into the trap of like right we need to spend loads of money on marketing and then get our users in and then you know we'll just keep going that way but actually what you need to do is small tests, like is Facebook actually valuable marketing?? or are you just doing it because it's the norm? So, when you're planning marketing spend you need to put small amounts behind things, look how they perform over a month and then you know what works so you can scale so you're not wasting budget.
Q: Can you tell our readers about your biggest failure and how you overcame it?
A: I've had two failures can I give you yeah. So the first set of products I launched was 100% natural shampoo and conditioner. To put it simply this is just not a mass-market product, and it turns out for like 50% of people or more who bought it, it made their hair greasier than if they were not using it. Products that are often sustainable are not good for results straight away, & I created a product like that, so that was really hard. I was sending product out and then getting like 50% of people be like this doesn't work for me, but it would have if they pushed through a transition period where their hair got used to the natural formulation but none of us want to do that with our hair, we want instant results. So, I stopped selling products as you may have seen on my website. I went to a UK cosmetologist in Liverpool and almost started from scratch with an entirely new base and now we are making formulas that are 95% natural which is just far more tolerable for people's hair, and we can actually roll it out and make a difference rather than have all these people that aren’t going to agree with the product. So, that was a pretty steep learning curve, seeing your product go out and then seeing people complain… it was just tough.
The second thing was packaging. I wanted it to be completely sustainable. So I went with packaging that was like Kraft paper pouches. When I bought them, I got told that they were really environmentally friendly because they were biodegradable & recyclable. but In the end, it turns out that what I was sending out was packaging that actually just had to just be thrown away because the biodegradable element just made all of the recycling unable to be recycled. & it didn’t stop there, it wasn’t just that one pouch that couldn’t be recycled… it contaminated the whole recycling box as if you put food in your recycling. So, I was selling something that looked great, customers loved it because it looked so eco-friendly, but it ABSOLUTELY WAS NOT. After doing some digging on it, I realised I was creating more waste than I was just sending out a foil pouch, so we've ended up in the foil pouch game, which is far better, but it doesn't look/ sound so environmentally friendly. So, we’ve got to do an education piece on that really.
Q: How have your priorities changed from when you first started?
A: When I first started the priority was just about getting stuff out quickly and based on what I thought would work rather than what I knew from research. What I've had to learn and what changed my priorities was to not get stuff out so quickly & actually speak to people who know what they're talking about before making decisions. We all have an understanding of what's environmentally friendly but actually, we have no idea. Even today I find my mum throwing away a plastic bag that she thought was recyclable. I was like “that’s not at home recyclable??” and she was like “yes, it is? I’ve been doing this for years?” Classic example of how we just made assumptions based on small bits of information that we get. I talked to experts, and this is what my priority is now & for the foreseeable.
Next up we spoke with BBeauty founder, Chantelle Thompson. BBeauty is an online vegan cosmetics brand that was launched in March 2020. Chantelle found a gap in the market and found a niche product that hadn’t been launched before. But folks, don’t be fooled this wasn’t Chantelle’s first rodeo, she already has a few successful businesses under her belt and has rightfully made a name for herself in the beauty industry. BBeauty was born out of her existing brand Brazilian Beauty lift. Our conversation with Chantelle was inspiring to say at least, keep reading and we are sure you will agree:
Q:What inspired you to develop your idea?
A: I love finding niche products and taking them from a concept to market and that’s what we did with BBare. Since I’m vegan it was very important that the brand was in line with my ethics and what I believe in. So, we just saw a gap in the market and for me when you find a niche in the market you've just got to take action on that right away which is what we did.
Q: What challenges did you have to overcome at the beginning of your journey?
A: Ok so for me, setting up BBare was my first e-commerce brand, my businesses before that which I still have now, were more customer-based as opposed to e-commerce and we actually launched the week of lockdown in 2020. We planned for months and months and months, I think it's taken us 12 months to get there, to a point where we were ready to launch and we planned this HUGE launch and then lockdown happened literally the week of, so that was quite a challenging time for us because with us being a new brand we weren't sure whether that was the right time to launch with everyone's eyes looking at what was going on, people were feeling unsure. But I put so much time and effort into it I just thought we’ll still run with it, and we did. We launched in March 2020, and it was the best thing that we did, we hit the ground running. We launched with PLT within four weeks of launching, and I think it was actually quite perfect timing for us looking back because our launching product was our at home brow lamination kit and everyone was stuck at home unable to go to the salons.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to become an entrepreneur?
A: Well, I see this is a lot, people procrastinate over making the decision to start their own business. They see it as being black or white. They either have to be a successful entrepreneur or work a nine to five. So, my advice would be to stop looking at it as being black and white. You can launch your own business with very little funds, very little time, you could do it around your nine to five, around your college or university work. You don't need massive funding to get off the ground, it's about working smart and planning the growth of the business around where you are at, at that point in life. All my businesses have been self-funded, we started from the bottom to get to where we are now. So I guess, don’t feel like it’s an all-in decision. It can start from just a passion for a particular brand, product and just nurture that passion and that can take you to be an entrepreneur.
Q: How can we be a support system to the female business owners in our lives?
A: The community for me is massive. I think being a part of a female entrepreneurial strong community raised around other business owners and people on the same journey as you with the same goals and drive as you, to me is absolutely invaluable. I based my businesses around community because if there isn’t a community you don't have a business. My advice would be to support other female businesses, there is enough to go around, there is no competition and that’s what I like to see, females supporting females and building a community.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Lots!! We have lots of new product launches coming this spring and summer, that we have been working on for a while. I designed a medical beauty device as well, so we’ve got new devices & new machines launching this summer. We are actually hosting a beauty industry awards, again building around, bringing everyone together and just celebrating the beauty industry, I’m super excited for it.
Lastly, as you already probably know, Eartheia was founded by our very own inspiring gal Chloe Taylor in 2021. Chloe’s idea was developed during her last year at university. After months of primary and secondary research, she identified a gap in the market and created a safe digital marketplace for vegan consumers. The fact that a university project turned into a successful online business just a few months after Chloe graduated is a big inspiration to fellow students…but more about her journey from Chloe, herself!
Q: What strategies did you first use to market your business?
A: Oh my gosh. This was one of my early failures & I thought I was being so smart about it, but basically I had just gained £10k from a start up loan and thought google shopping ads would be a great idea… the thought process was, okay so I know people actively search for vegan beauty and vegan fashion on google, so I want us to be showing up as one of their first options… and we did. But MY GOD was it expensive. I think we spent around 3k over 2 months and gained a grand total of 8 sales from it…. BIG LEARNING CURVE. But I’m so grateful it happened because it then pushed me to focus on organic growth with Tiktok and I wouldn’t have won a competition and gained further funding and incredible mentors had I not have done that.
Q: What are the challenges of your industry and how do you address them?
A: Ahhh so many. I think for one its peoples differing opinions on what sustainability means and what vegan means. Because each brand has their own standards. Alongside that you’ve got brands that think they’re being sustainable but actually aren’t & so they end up greenwashing people. That's why I make sure that we thoroughly vet the brands that are on our site and make sure they are certified by an established vegan certifying body and also have sustainability measures at their core. & If our brands don’t meet this then we take it into our own hands to research their ingredients and supply chain and give them the eartheia stamp of approval if they meet our standards.
Q: How long did it take you to find success?
A: Ooooo good question. It really depends on what you define as success, because for me success isn’t necessarily financial. We broke even on our clothing line in November 8 months post launch but for me I feel I found success 4 months after launching when I won the tiktok competition run by Simon Squibb & The Purposeful Project that titled me the UK’s next great entrepreneur 2021 & gave me incredible mentors like Ben Francis Founder at Gymshark, Adam Kamani Co founder of Prettylittlething & Boohoo, Andrew Bloch PR Advisor to Alan Sugar, etc. Because that was invaluable and rocket launched my network and knowledge, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
Q: What other companies and business models do you like or admire?
A: OOoo I have a few but here’s 2 of my faves. my NUMBER 1 is Guppyfriend. For those that don’t know, any product with polyester/nylon content (even if its recycled) contains microplastics and these shed and find their way back into the ocean through water systems whenever you wash them in your washing machine. Guppy bag is essentially a bag you put these clothes in when you wash them, and they catch the microplastics, so they don’t get back into the ocean and cause more harm. I just think that's genius, and a great solution while these fabrics are still heavily used and promoted. Another business I love is GoodonYou, Very similar mission to us, but essentially its an application where you can search up a brand and it shows their sustainability rating and whether they’re vegan or not.
I bloody love it.
Q: Would you like to share any advice for other female entrepreneurs.
A: I think my advice to female entrepreneurs would be to just not be afraid to take up space. You are just as worthy as owning a business as a man. I far too many times have been told that I’m too bold or pushy or too young by men in the tech space just because I know what I want and I’m direct about it, and oftentimes I also get underestimated, Its inevitable that if you’re a woman with big ambitions you will hear this a lot, but use it as your superpower rather than let it get you down, and kick some a** and prove them wrong.