Today I’m kicking off a new interview series with women who own beauty businesses and brands! I hear from many of you that you aspire to start selling skincare in the future. Since that’s really not my jam, I thought I would reach out to women who sell their formulations and love it, and see if they’d share some of their stories and wisdom with Humblebee & Me readers 😊 Today’s interview is with Jhade, a fellow Formula Botanica graduate who lives in Trinidad & Tobago and runs Essenza dell’amore—her K-Beauty inspired natural skincare brand. She shares how she got started, some of the challenges associated with getting ingredients on a tropical island, how her brand gives back, and how she transitioned from an amateur to a professional!

What was the first skincare item you ever made? How did you get started?

The first skincare product I ever made was a body butter. I actually started making my own cosmetics when I was heavily in to haircare, so I made a whipped butter mix made of kokum and capuacu butters, along with castor, olive and coconut oils. I’d never seen kokum and capuacu butters incorporated into the hair butter mixes I watched on YouTube and I thought they were different and exotic. My 3c/4a hair (being naturally dry), loved it. It was occlusive enough to seal in the moisture I had to regularly apply, yet it did not leave my hair greasy nor did it weigh down my thin strands. It worked perfectly as a sealant for my natural hair and was healthier than just buying an ordinary hair grease (which caused my hair to break off). It was awesome as a body butter when applied to my damp skin as well. That project really made me realise how fun making my own cosmetics could be. I moved from hair butters, to hair oils, to trying a DIY shampoo consisting of Bentonite clay and apple cider vinegar. I soon found out that using the clay as a mask was beneficial, which opened a whole new world for me. I became obsessed with DIY skincare! Especially since those were my late teen years and I suffered with horribly dry skin.

At what point did you decide to turn your DIYing into a business?

As a child, I was always into business. I would take my toys, hang them on the gate and wait for passers-by to show interest (they didn’t). When I decided to sell my cosmetics however, I wasn’t as confident. Yes, my friends and family would offer to pay me and they did, but I would always just tell myself that they’re buying simply to show support. There were questions of whether or not strangers would like what I had to offer, there were even fears of failing. One piece of advice my mother always said that stuck with me was, ” All you need is one person to buy and you’ll never know where that takes you. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.” So, I went for it.

What changes did you make in your formulating as you transitioned from making for yourself to making for customers?

The changes I made when it came to selling were firstly, buying my ingredients in bulk and using cosmetic grade additives, instead of food grade. I stopped measuring my ingredients by teaspoons and tablespoons and started weighing by grams and used percentages when formulating. I turned a spare room into my lab, bought cabinets and cupboards for storing my ingredients and equipment, took time to educate myself about cosmetic formulation and began using Good Manufacturing Practice.

How did you learn to move from at-home to professional making?

I did the Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation at Formula Botanica. I enrolled in July 2017 and graduated in April 2019. I was basically a beginner when I started and they gave me all the tools I needed to pursue my dream confidently. From learning how to do emulsions to making micellar waters to proper labelling and acquiring the necessary documentation. They truly helped me advance from at-home making to professional making.

How did you get started selling? In person, online, word of mouth, a bit of everything? How did you decide where to start?

I started selling in person and online. As I mentioned previously, I sold to friends and family, then when I was ready to expand, I took to social media. Facebook and Instagram were my top choices, but Facebook proved to be more profitable. Naturally, as I decided to create a website and improve on branding and marketing etc., my prices increased. There is this saying that’s common to Trinidadians, ” Cheap ting no good and good ting no cheap!” Which simply means, if something is of value, the price will reflect. I had to be reminded of such, since at first, I was TERRIFIED to raise my prices for fear of losing customers. I had to really take time to evaluate who my target market was and be confident enough to price accordingly. Thankfully, the price increase did not affect my sales negatively. One of my friends even said she saves her money just to purchase from me because she recognises the value of the product she’s getting.

What is your current favourite thing to make?

Currently, my favourite thing to make is TONER! Easy to make, in my opinion and easy clean up! Lavender, rose and calendula hydrosols are my favourite ingredients to incorporate so far. I tried experimenting with fresh coconut water, like right out of the coconut, straight from off the tree lol, but it was too sticky and of course, preservation was the other issue.

Are there any formulations you love to make for yourself and friends, but have no intentions of selling?

I love making deodorants but have no intention of selling them. Truthfully, I’m not too confident in their effectiveness (Trinidad is HOT). Secondly, all the ones I’ve made stained my husband’s and my clothing lol .

How did you form your company philosophy—what are your brand values? How do you give back to/participate in your community?

Going into business, it was very important for me to ensure that my practices were beneficial to not only myself and customers but the environment as well. I realised that the cosmetic industry contributes to a significant amount of waste, either in the form of packaging or chemical waste. Being a lover of animals and the environment, I knew I had to help make a change. That is why, Essenza dell’amore‘s core value is sustainability and we try to be as low waste as possible. Hence, almost all of our products are packaged in glass, instead of plastic. Furthermore, we have taken the initiative to embed the restoration of forests into every purchase of our Happy Hour face crème. For every purchase of our face crème, we are donating a portion of the profits toward the restoration of eight major ecosystems including Madagascar, India, Brazil, Kenya and Nepal. Our goal, is to plant 1000 trees by July 2021.

“The name of the brown rabbit is Diamond, the black one is named Misty. The Guinea pig drinking water is Pigglywinx and the one sleeping is Mr.Piggles.”

You live in Trinidad & Tobago; how does that impact ingredient availability for you? How have you worked around availability challenges?

Buying certain ingredients, even packaging can pose a serious challenge, as there isn’t a wide range of raw materials available and getting the appropriate packaging in bulk is virtually impossible. The glass jars available in bulk are mainly for storing food rather than cosmetics. As for glass bottles and other cosmetic packaging, the variety is limited. They also aren’t sold in bulk. There are certain stores selling raw ingredients but as I said before, there isn’t the option to buy wholesale. I am unable to purchase the active ingredients and hydrosols I use locally, the MSDS sheets are also unavailable. The importation of goods, comes with its own challenges. The exchange rate is $7TTD to $1USD, which means, if something costs $300USD it’s $2100TTD. Then if you add the clearing fees and shipping and handling (about $4USD per pound) things can get even more expensive. I’ve learnt to work around this issue, simply by buying what I can locally, e.g. Cocamidopropyl Betaine. What I can’t purchase here e.g Hyaluronic Acid, I buy abroad and price my items accordingly.

How does the hot climate impact your formulations? Have you found sample formulations from colder climates don’t work for you? What considerations do you make for the heat? Are there certain products you don’t make (or just don’t sell) because of stability challenges due to the heat?

I usually experiment with different percentages of wax ( I use bee’s wax) to add to my formulation. I’ve noticed however; the percentage of wax used for one product may not be suitable for another. I’ve recently been experimenting with solid lotion bars. There was one sample formulation I read where wax was not present. Knowing how hot our climate is, I decided to add the same percentage of wax I used in a very stable lip balm formula, to the lotion bar. It is holding up well, but because it’s rainy season right now in the Caribbean, it’s not melting on contact as quickly as I would like. Whereas, if I had made it earlier this year (during the dry season) it most likely would have been a softer consistency. I don’t avoid making any products though, because I believe there is always a way to work around the challenges. I continue to experiment with what works and what doesn’t, I do stability testing, i.e. leaving a product in a purse in a very hot room or, leaving the product in a cold room to ensure the wax doesn’t make the product so hard that it’s not spreadable, then I substitute or add ingredients as necessary.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m working on something VERY exciting! The only hint I’ll give, is that it’s a cleanser.

What would you like to experiment with in the future?

I would love to experiment with shampoo and conditioner bars. I haven’t gotten around to it though, because I prefer to use a press than molds; I like the aesthetic the press gives. I also want to do more research on the surfactants used in the shampoo bars to ensure they’ll be suitable for every hair type. I really like the fact that they can be package free though and I think they look really cute.

What are some of your favourite resources for researching your ingredients?

One of my favourite resources is the student library at Formula Botanica. Also, I have some books on plants used for natural remedies and on occasion I go to the library. “Amazing Power of Healing Plants” by Dr. Reinaldo Sosa-Gomez and “Safe Natural Remedies for Babies and Children” by Amanda Cochrane are two of the books I use the most.

What would be your top piece of advice for new makers and formulators?

My top piece of advice for new formulators is to be consistent and diligent in your craft. Keep practicing and do not be afraid to fail. Make the mistakes, learn from them and finally ENJOY it with your whole heart.

Thank you so much, Jhade!