In honour of Women’s History Month, we’re shining a spotlight on 10 homegrown beauty brands founded by women. Get to know the inspiring change-makers who made their dream a reality and created the products we now know and love.
In 2012, Brandi Leifso was living in a women’s shelter in Vancouver after experiencing domestic violence. It was there that she set out to become an advocate for change. These days, Leifso is redefining the clean beauty space with Evio, a line of luxury good-for-you products that are both conscious and affordable. This year, for International Women’s Day, Evio is donating half a million dollars’ worth of its personal care products to women’s organizations across Canada and the U.S..
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“I call Cheekbone Beauty my reconciliation to my culture, my community, my family and myself, ultimately,” Jenn Harper told The Kit in 2018. For years, Harper felt ashamed of her Anishinaabe roots. Now she’s honouring her heritage with her makeup brand, which includes sustainable lipsticks housed in biodegradable packaging. On top of helping Indigenous women feel seen, Harper, who is based in St. Catharines, Ont., also donates part of Cheekbone’s proceeds to various causes including Shannen’s Dream, a campaign advocating for financial and policy support of First Nations schools.
Alexandrine Pierre started her brand as in 2018 in Montreal after she and her husband decided to make a switch toward more natural everyday products. It was a hobby at first, but last year, after Pierre, a flight attendant, was laid off in the wake of COVID, she decided to devote herself entirely to the endeavour. Pierre shared on Instagram that the layoff came just two weeks after the devastation of a miscarriage. “I was living through two pandemics, a virus and my shattered soul,” she wrote. Now, Pierre’s brand is thriving and so is she. For International Women’s Day, she’s put together lovely gift sets featuring dried mimosa stems (see up top), a flower traditionally gifted to women on March 8 “as a sign of reverence and respect.”
Raised in a rural, oceanside town in British Columbia, Sasha Plavsic has always been close to nature. As a young child, her little brother Zac suffered from acute asthma and allergies, so their mother sought out natural remedies to help him and even co-founded an organic food co-op long before the word ever made its way onto a grocery store label. The holistic approach appears to have worked as Zac went on to compete in sailing in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, despite doctors predicting he’d never be able to play sports. Now Sasha and Zac are business partners, having created Ilia, a line of safe, effective and natural cosmetics boasting a huge cult following.
Amy Risley was pretty much destined to be in beauty. Her father worked in manufacturing for Estée Lauder in the ’70s and she loved playing with the creams he’d bring home from the factory. After university, Risely went straight to work for various cosmetics brands and even got to collaborate with Jo Malone herself in London. Years later, she moved back to Nova Scotia to be closer to family but found there was little demand for her expertise. She was on the verge of relocating to the U.S. when she met the great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Dixon, a pharmacist who’d developed a healing balm known as Skinfix all the way back in the 1870s. She was blown away by the formula passed down over generations and decided to buy the company. Flash-forward to today and Skinfix’s soothing powers have evolved into a full range carried at Sephora.
Rachel Lambo and her mother, Sade, started Sade Baron with a lofty ambition: to make beautiful high-quality vegan body products that were good for both your skin and the planet. “My mom is a registered nurse and a midwife by trade—she’s that person who is always helping people,” Lambo told Eva Hartling of The Brand is Female during an Instagram Live with The Kit. “About 10 years ago, when I’d just started working in the beauty industry, I said to her, ‘You’re always helping people out with natural remedies, why don’t we do something together?’” They’ve sure come a long way since selling their bars of soap at Toronto festivals. Now, their gorgeous (and affordable!) products are stocked by major retailers like The Detox Market.
Microbiologist Marilyne Bouchard had always had highly reactive skin, which meant that most products found in pharmacies and department stores would inevitably trigger inflammation and rashes. She therefore began applying her microbiology knowledge to skincare, concocting her own salves with only the gentlest ingredients nature had to offer. She founded her brand BKind in 2014 in Montreal and now makes everything from skin and body products to packageless hair care and biodegradable toothbrushes.
Before Cake Beauty came along, most of the clean beauty world felt either super-crunchy granola or just plain boring. Heather Reier of Kitchener, Ont., wanted to change all that and inject some much-needed fun into the category. She founded Cake Beauty as a way to combine her desire for natural ingredients with her passion for all things sweet and girly. With its punny names, whimsical packaging and dessert-inspired scents, her brand has gained a loyal following over the years. Standouts include its high-performing dry shampoo and delectable body treats.
Having suffered from allergies and eczema all her life, Julie Clark began whipping up natural beauty products in her kitchen after struggling to find formulas suited to her sensitive skin. She went on to study aromatherapy, holistic health and aesthetics in Toronto, where she built an expertise in skincare. Her brand, Province Apothecary, has since outgrown her kitchen but remains committed to producing sustainable, small-batch products using organic ingredients sourced in each of the Canadian provinces.
Jenny Frankel, a chemical engineer who worked as a product developer for M.A.C cosmetics (you can thank her for Lipglass and Studio Fix), got the idea for Nudestix from watching her daughters do their makeup. Young women their age didn’t want a complicated routine and an over-the-top look, they told her. They wanted simple no-makeup makeup that could be achieved in just a few minutes. Frankel and her daughters thus came up with easy-to-use makeup sticks designed to accentuate features in a few swipes. Their line is now a favourite among women of all ages, with even celebs like Emily Ratajkowski praising their breezy, blendable formulas.
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