I was asked by a customer quite some time ago, “How do you have the courage to do what you do?” She meant, to create handmade, all-natural skincare when my competitors were multi-national companies with distribution channels, a labor force and financial muscle. Her question puzzled me momentarily, because I hadn’t thought of myself as courageous. I ended up responding with a fumbled fuzzy answer I don’t really recall well, but something to the effect of “because I think my products are better for people, and better for the planet.” 3 years later, I’ve had more time to ponder that posed question, and I have a more detailed answer, though it retains the same essence.

Empty, dusty store after demolition.

Blendily flagship store pre-construction April 2018

In the past year, I’ve taken on employees and built out a 925 square foot flagship store. My solopreneur days are behind me, sales are expanding, expenses are piling, projects are never-ending but that part hasn’t changed. The stakes are higher without a doubt.

Blendily skincare kitchen floor layout

Blendily flagship store – November 2018 | Photo: Gritchelle Fallesgon

My vision for Blendily has always been grand, there was always the thought that this was a business set to grow, to expand internationally one day. However, the growth that I envision has to be sustainable, in the truest sense. I am not interested in creating something that generates piles of cash that benefits few, and creates socioeconomic & environmental ripples that go unchecked. I want to create a company that checks the boxes as it builds every step of the way, making sure that people & planet are benefiting from our very existence. I want to create a company that makes a lasting meaningful impact on holistic health and societal perception of beauty.

So ‘people, planet, profit’ as a concept, otherwise termed as ‘triple bottom-line‘, is nothing new. It is a framework many companies have adopted to measure business value. I am a new type of entrepreneur. I am out to prove that if we do everything right by people and planet, it is possible that profit becomes inconsequential. Because what does ‘profit’ mean in a context of sustainability anyway? Who’s profiting off of who, of what? Socially and environmentally, how is it possible for companies to have ever-increasing profits year over year? Profit-driven companies are a large part of the reason why the World is as messed up as it is in my opinion. Are there laborers somewhere in a far-off place, toiling away their entire lives to make ends meet, so we can have the goods in first-world comfort? How about the land that grows our ingredients, is it being responsibly farmed? How are the rainforests and habitats we gather from taken care of? What chemicals are absorbing into our blood streams and washing down the drains into the oceans & rivers? I know the answers to a lot of these questions and I find those answers troubling, so what am I going to do about it?

Illustration of money growing like a plant.

Is it really possible for profits to be increasing eternally?

Because what does ‘profit’ mean in a context of sustainability anyway?

Before I founded Blendily, I had lengthy conversations with a number of people about the business concept, of creating a skincare store where there was total transparency of ingredients, with an integrated seed-to-skin supply chain, and of the products being freshly handmade on-site. The feedback that I got was concern for the business model to scale. How could we make enough money with products without extended shelf-life, at a premium labor cost, and without all the economic advantages of bulk manufacturing? Would this concept gain traction, given that no multi-national cosmetics companies had attempted anything similar already? If people can buy all their cosmetics at grocery stores, specialty beauty stores, and online already, would there be enough demand for something handmade locally? “I’m not sure it will work”, was the response often in my conversations with people about my concept. I took all the comments to heart, and went ahead anyway. But the truth of the matter is, I don’t know if it will work either.

I took all the comments to heart, and went ahead anyway. But the truth of the matter is, I don’t know if it will work either.

Today, multi-national companies are acquiring small, independent, natural beauty brands at a clip, and are introducing ‘all-natural’ product lines themselves. However, the use of fillers, preservatives, and chemicals hasn’t curbed. Skincare/cosmetics companies are continually launched with teams of chemists and assembly lines just the same, often with replicated formulas.  Greenwashing is the norm among many new, purportedly all-natural companies. The endless pursuit of youthful flawless complexion continues on. Social media amplifies personal insecurities more than ever before, and cosmetic surgery is a booming industry to match. So where does Blendily fit in this picture?

My vision is for Blendily to become akin to a 100 year-old bakery in every community it lands in. It will be an anchor that provides economic stability for our employees, expanding beyond only when we’ve provided every committed employee with a livelihood that is fulfilling and supports their total well-being, and we’ve ensured that our practices are as kind to the Earth as possible. In each location, we will heavily emphasize in our products, the herbs and plants that can grow within a 100-mile radius, growing and foraging what we can ourselves, and sourcing what we need from elsewhere directly, responsibly, and always with total transparency. With this model, my hope is that we keep true to my seed-to-skin commitment, and to the values that I have for the company – Authenticity, Integrity, Sustainability, Social Justice. We will create skincare that is fresh, edible, handmade, and full of herbs & flowers that grow in our environs.

My vision is for Blendily to become akin to a 100 year-old bakery in every community it lands in.

It sounds like a fairytale, because when businesses scale, all of those values can get muddy. Businesses that stick to their values often shutter. It turns out, locally-sourced ingredients are more expensive, the labor costs are high and harvest quantities are lower. The cost of living here is incomparable to what they are in other countries. I’d save costs by not growing or gathering herbs ourselves. I’d save costs by not buying certified organic ingredients. I’d save costs by outsourcing production altogether. But those measures to save costs would change the quality of our products and our dedication to our values. Do people care that a product is handmade? Do people care about the origin on ingredients? How things are grown or how far it has traveled?

Instead of buying Calendula from Eygpt, or Horsetail from Croatia, we are growing and harvesting Calendula from the Blendily garden, and gathering Horsetail in Forest Park, right here in Portland. Image: July 2018

I care. I care a lot about the World and I hope there are people like me that feel that it is imperative that we collectively give a damn about every. last. thing. I am praying for a future when collective compassion turns the tide on Capitalism as we know it. I don’t know exactly what it’ll look like, but I’m hoping it will look a lot better than the mess we are in.

I am praying for a future when collective compassion turns the tide on Capitalism as we know it.

All said and done, if Blendily can inspire people to be well, and live splendidly, starting with our own employees and our customers one at a time, all the effort will be worth it. If as a business venture Blendily fails, I’ll be happy to have fought for the people & planet model. Call me a dreamer! If Blendily goes kaput, I’ll get up and try again to make a difference in the World some other way, with the same ideals.

I wrote the Blendily Manifesto last year as a brand anthem, maybe it will resonate with you. It’s funny because ‘skincare’ isn’t a word in there at all, though it is my chosen channel to manifest these intentions. I’ll leave it with you all that have read until here. Thank you for indulging my soap box ramble:

Blendily Manifesto | Graphic Design: Emily Steen

Be well, live splendidly. Be present, be here. Be authentic, be kind, be a hero. Treat others with respect. Show compassion. Smell the flowers. Save the bees. Dig your fingers in the dirt. Grow your own food. Mend the little things. Empower yourself with knowledge. Honor your ancestors.Love yourself unconditionally. Take risks. Go on an adventure, take the long way home. Take care of you, take care of others, and take care of the Earth.