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"With a birth name like Lake Louise, and growing up in the Haight/Ashbury area of San Francisco in the 60’s and 70’s, I was clearly destined to follow a path of earth, spirit, and body consciousness," says Lake Louise Ziwa, founder and CEO (Chief Eco-Beauty Officer) of SMB Essentials.
An educator by profession, with a Master's in Education from Stanford University, Ziwa's turn as a green entrepreneur follows a successful turn as a professor of ecological tourism at the University of Costa Rica. At the helm of SMB, she continues to educate, sharing her knowledge about sustainable skin-care, beauty, and health via her Web site and in trade-show settings. We asked her to tell us more about her all-natural products, the history of her business, and what's coming next (hint: an all-new line of products coming out this summer).
Green America: What does your business do, and what is your most popular product?
Pink Guava Micro Polish
Lake Louise Ziwa: Skin, Mind, Body Essentials, LLC is a lifestyle and wellness company that launched in 2001 with the intention of developing product brands to address the health, beauty, and personal awareness interests of women — an ambitious project indeed, but I thought to myself, "Hey I have nothing else better to do so let’s get this party started!" Okay, maybe not in those exact words, but I was at a point in my life when it was time to shift gears. Armed with my research and computer skills and a passion for living, the sky was my limit.
The first brand to launch was Lotus Moon, our active, natural, and eco-friendly skin-care line. This was the first line to be developed simply because of my personal interest in skin-care combining active ingredients with therapeutic essential oils. It wasn’t enough for me to just use essential oils. I wanted active ingredients like vitamin C, fruit-based enzymes, amino acids, peptides, and other natural and safe ingredients that would help keep skin looking vibrant and healthy for years to come.
I’ve been going to the same esthetician for over 20 years so I understand the importance of caring for the skin. As a high school and college athlete I also was very conscious about taking care of my body. Now at 46 years old, I can confidently say that it has paid off. While genetics play a role, taking care of the body is equally as important.
What motivated you to start your own business?
Pumpkin Enzyme Peel
Lake: If there is such a thing as an entrepreneurial gene, then I was born with it! I have started several businesses in my short life on this planet and it has been that continued yearning of wanting to do things “my way” that has motivated me to never give up in pursuit of my goal to become a successful business owner.
While the “bottom line” i.e. profit, is important to keep in mind, it is more important for me how I get there. In traditional economics, the health of the planet or its people is not considered an important aspect. The fact that my business has continued to grow despite this rough economy is enough proof for me that I’m on the right track.
What makes your business green?
Hibiscus Flower Hydrating Lotion
Lake: My own way of doing business just so happened to follow the many principles of sustainability. Being “green” was not part of the mainstream lexicon when I began in 2001; therefore it wasn’t part of how I marketed my business. “Green” is a label with many definitions, interpretations, and stigmas. It was also believed that “green” businesses didn’t make a profit. So I really was not interested in labeling my business as “green.” That, however, is now changing. My definition of a green business is one that provides a livelihood for the owner and its employees and considers how the consequences of business decisions effect the planet and its people and makes adjustments accordingly to keep the footprint as small as possible.
However, to answer the question more specifically, the way I run my business and the way I live my life are one in the same. There is no separation. I am very passionate about social, economic and environmental justice and this is demonstrated through our hiring practices, employee salaries and benefits, the vendors we choose to do business with, and the non-profit organizations we support through financial contributions. Most of our products contain certified organic ingredients and some of them are 100-percent certified organic. All of our marketing material is printed locally (within 10 miles), on post-consumer paper, our Web site is run on 100-percent wind-powered energy, we use glass and recyclable plastic for our products, with labels that easily peel off for convenient recycling. At tradeshows we leave no waste behind. We bring back any boxes or packing materials to our warehouse and recycle it or reuse it ourselves. We use www.earth911.org to find locations where we can recycle any plastics or e-waste.
What's been your proudest moment as a green business owner? How do you know it's all been worth it?
Lake: Since my primary demographic is women and spa-goers, in 2005 I started exhibiting at spa shows. Being a relative newcomer on the tradeshow scene, Lotus Moon went unnoticed — or so I thought. I had almost given up doing tradeshows altogether, when I was approached by Les Nouvelles Esthetiques & Spa and Dermascope Magazines. They asked me to host their Green Summit and to assist in developing the guidelines for the first ever Natural and Organic Pavilion at the International Esthetics and Spa Conference in 2008. That's when I knew it was not all in vain.
This event was actually quite groundbreaking, because no other spa conference in the US (to this day) dedicates a section of their exhibit floor to natural and organic beauty. In addition, they offer lectures and demonstrations related to the green spa industry. As a result of its steady success and growth, I continue to be involved in its development and expansion.
This is all in addition to being invited to become an active member of the Green Spa Network, the only spa industry resource devoted to bringing greening and sustainability to the health, wellness, and beauty community, and becoming a Guiding Star sponsor and member of their sponsorship committee.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?
Lake: In this highly competitive industry it has been a challenge discerning fact from fiction when it comes to ingredient safety. There is a lot of hysteria out there regarding what is and is not harmful. Just because a chemist says an ingredient is safe or the FDA deems it generally regarded as safe (GRAS), doesn’t necessarily make it so. Conversely, information found online published by consumer groups or individuals based on a study declaring certain ingredients to be harmful, may not be accurate either. It’s an on-going process of asking the right questions, researching ingredients and gathering of information from a variety of different studies from various resources that helps to determine what we conclude to be safe or harmful. At the end of the day, not all synthetic ingredients are harmful and not all natural ingredients are safe or eco-friendly.
What advice would you give to other green entrepreneurs just starting out?
Chocolate and honey mask combo.
Lake: Start small and stick with it. You don’t have to hit a grand slam your first time at bat. I know this is cliché but it is truly about the journey and not the destination. I have been on the ride of my life and I am enjoying every moment of it! I really am a believer in following your passion. When you’re at a crossroad and are thinking about what you want to do next, ask yourself the question: What am I passionate about? The answer to that question will get you started on your path to success.
What are you most excited about going forward?
Lake: We are super excited to be launching our new cosmetics line – Plain Jane Beauty — in summer 2010, a natural line of HD (high definition) makeup. It blends specific minerals that will reflect light in a way that gives the skin the appearance of a flawless finish. It is currently in the hands of several celebrity makeup artists. We will have 12 shades of liquid foundation, from the very lightest to the very darkest of skin tones. We also are wanting to expand our line of nutritional supplements, DetoxRx.
What one green product (besides your own) could you not live without?
Lake: Our shout out goes to Rainbow Coop Grocery in San Francisco, CA. They were the very first location to carry Lotus Moon back in 2003. We love what they stand for and the cooperative business model that they follow.