The beauty industry is constantly evolving, with new trends and innovations emerging every year. But one brand that’s really shaking things up is Loïs Lee, a wholistic skincare company that’s taking a completely new approach to beauty. Therefore I knew I had to interview the CEO, Debbie van Weelden for our Change Maker podcast series.
She discusses the future of beauty and how her brand is changing the game with its unique and holistic approach. From natural ingredients and #nomoremeuk. She also shares her incredible journey of building a successful skincare brand from scratch (and in debt), using crowdfunding to get started.
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Can you introduce yourself and your company?
I am Debbie van Weelden and I have developed a natural skincare line that is meuk-free. That means that because of the formulation I’ve made there’s no crap like hormone-disrupting – or health-damaging – substances in it. I have learned a lot about hormones during my study: hormoontrainer factor. The main focus there was on nutrition, stress management and exercise. While, on the contrary, I was also very interested in the skin. I found it bizarre that we do take in to account nutrition and exercise to make sure you don’t experience too much stress. But at the same time, we don’t pay any attention to our skincare. In most skincare products there are hormone disrupting and health-damaging -substances in it. Which now can still enter your system and disrupt things.
With Loïs Lee, I offer natural skincare, putting products on your skin that make your skin strong and healthy.
How did you come up with the idea of starting a skincare brand?
I was already an avid user of oils on my face, because I liked it very much. I then continued to experiment with that and delve further into this. With everything I learned about the characteristics of plant based- and essential – oils, I thought: why isn’t this in every skincare? It is so good!
My boyfriend then in 2014, finally made the legendary statement: are you just going to keep f*cking around? Or are you actually going to do something with it?
Okay then I thought, but how?
It was 2014 I had just launched the website jaderoller.nl No one knew it at the time, I was not at all versed in marketing and had no money for it. So I’ve hardly made any sales. I stood at fairs and markets. But right from the beginning I felt, that I didn’t want to start selling my homemade skincare there, too. I wanted to do it professionally. But didn’t know how? That’s where the seed was planted for Loïs Lee at the time, though.
I had the belief, that if I liked the products, I’m sure more women would like them too. In 2014-2015, essential oils were not at all as hip and on the rise as they are today. However, there was more awareness of nutrition and lifestyle and I also saw that the hormoonfactor trainer training I was following was growing steadily each year, only this was not yet linked to skincare. That was really my thing.
I started a study in organic skincare formulation. From there, I started formulating my own products. There I discovered which oils I wanted to use in my skincare.
When we (Birgit and Debbie) met in January 2016, at Michael Pilarczyk’s program, I’ve just launched Loïs Lee. In March 2016, I launched Lois Lee through crowd funding. Thanks to Michael’s program, I realized that I was on my path – the right track.
Can you explain more about funding your dream through crowd funding?
The crowd funding was also my boyfriend’s idea. I had no money at all. Indeed, I was in huge debt. Which quickly put banks off for me as a financier. Besides, I didn’t feel like making a business plan at all. My boyfriend then suggested the idea of crowd funding. That actually appealed to me a lot.
There are different ways of crowd funding. I’ve chose crowd funding where I offered my products in a pre-sale. I sold the 3-step beauty ritual, in a travel set, which consists of cleansing, hydrating and nourishing. The amount I wanted to raise with this campaign was €10,000,-
If I could raise the targeted amount, I could start with the production of my skincare. Should I not raise the amount, everyone who bought something for me in the pre-sale, would got their money back.
Big advantage is that with this method of crowd funding it also served as market research. In this way I could research is there a need for my products? After all, I can be enthusiastic, but is my target audience enthusiastic about it as well? After all, when you work with just one (angel) investor, you have money but no customers yet. This way I killed two birds with one stone and received valuable feedback.
How did you came up with the amount of €10,000 which you wanted to raise?
I had calculated what it would cost me approximately to run my first production and what other investments would be needed. The raised amount, I would spend on:
- Dark glass bottles that I use as packaging for the 3 step beauty ritual. To protect the natural ingredients.
- Printing on the glass bottles.
- Produce the first batch Loïs Lee skincare.
At that time, I thought €10,000 was a lot of money. Don’t forget that I was earning very little myself at the time and I was also in huge debt. Ten thousand euros however, I still believed I could achieve this. €15,000 was really still a bridge too far for me. That belief, that I could achieve it, has been very important. After all, if you don’t believe it yourself, you can’t make it true.
How did you make sure your crowd funding was a success?
For that, I really had to step outside my comfort zone. I had to reach out to the potential customers and sell it.
I’ve recorded a video with the help of my sister, who was a camera journalist. I really hated having to do this, but I knew it was necessary. That was the first step.
What made you dare to step outside your comfort zone?
I had such a strong desire and I wanted it so badly and I knew that the video was going to do much better than just plain text. I thought: if this is what I have to do for it, then this is what I have to do!
My sister helped me then, but it still ended up taking a whole day for just 1.5 minutes of video.
During the crowd funding campaign, I was confronted with many challenges. Each time I had to go outside my comfort zone to surpass them. Previously, that would have put me off. I would interpret it as a stop sign. Not this time. My desire was so great, I thought, I have to keep going. I really want it. There are solutions. Now in retrospect, I think the things that came my way were signs to test my persistence to make my dream a reality.
This was again confirmed by Michael Pilarczyk. He says: it’s really important that your desire and will are strong. So that you don’t talk and allow yourself to quit. He is also the one who always says: giving up is not an option. Otherwise, just go to GAMMA , buy yourself six boards, nail them down and then just lie down between them. And wait for your funeral.
How much did you raise with your crowd funding campaign?
The crowd funding netted me €11,000. Then I was able to produce the first batch of Loïs Lee and ship the orders. This was the 3 step beauty ritual in a travel kit edition. These are mini-packs that last about 2-3 weeks.
After crowd funding, how did Loïs Lee became so successful within a short period of time?
Customers really became fans and addicted to the products of Loïs Lee in a good way. That ensured that we had an upward trend very quickly.
During the crowdfunding, I sold a set of travel kit edition. So that customers could try it out first, if the liked it. After two weeks, I spontaneously received orders through my webshop. Those were repeat purchases from my crowdfunding clients.
I also received fantastic messages from customers. They reported that their skin had improved so much from the use. Another customer, who had suffered from facial eczema for 3 years, indicated that the eczema was greatly reduced. It was and is still so cool to receive messages like this.
Because of how well the products worked, we created a lot of repeat purchases. Sure sometimes customers change and choose another brand then Loïs Lee. But after their foray into traditional skincare, most come back. Their skin will clearly shows the difference. That’s the biggest compliment you can get.
How do you encourage repeat purchases at Lois Lee?
Obviously by selling quality products.
Also by turning a disadvantage into an advantage. One disadvantage, for example, is that because of the dark glass packaging, you can’t see properly, when your product is running low. Or you really need to shine a flashlight against it.
This was modeled after the Dollar Shave Club. Tibor indicated that I should look for smaller packages. So that the contents were sufficient for only 1 month. That didn’t feel right to me at all. So I ignored that advice. In addition to the Skin Care Service, I wanted to continue to sell the products separately and not in those smaller packages. So that people have a choice.
So I decided to set up the subscription service differently. For regular packaging only. As a Skin Care Service Member, you get your products sent home every few months. Often with an additional gift added. This way, you’ll never be without and yes, this also encourages repeat purchases.
Can you talk more about your intuitive way of doing business
Earlier, you beat the advice of your business coach by checking in with yourself and your gut. Have there been more times like this, when things have come your way where you followed your intuition for Lois Lee?
True, more things have definitely come my way, listening to my gut. Especially in terms of investors and getting funding for my business.
An offer from a large investor I turned down – I don’t want this
At the time of the crowdfunding campaign, there was a very well-known entrepreneur from the health scene who had ordered Loïs Lee. I was going to bring those by personally. We struck up a conversation and he indicated that he really saw the potential of the brand. He indicated:
- It comes at the right time
- The story is true
- The ingredients add up
- Connected well with what I am doing myself
He wanted to invest so that I could put Lois Lee down right in 1x and really get it off to a flying start. The investor indicated that he was not going to tell me how to run my business, but that he wanted to coach me. Because he is very strong online.
Even though he stressed that I could keep the authenticity of Loïs Lee and I recognized that this was a very big opportunity and I felt super honored. Though i thought, I don’t want this. So I refrained from doing that, even though there were no immediate other opportunities. So I didn’t choose it for the money. I thought let’s not do this.
Because I had very much my own strong vision of how I wanted it.
I did not want to work with big investors or financiers. Then I’m bound to get told all the time: How’s your turnover? I still had a little trauma from that, from when I worked for a manager. Who called continuously to ask if there was any trade? That drove me insane. So I absolutely did not want that with Lois Lee.
Have you ever regretted letting a major investor slip up?
In retrospect, I never regretted that. It just didn’t feel right to me. I really needed to build this business from scratch myself. A very strong foundation where I put all the money I made back into my business. That’s how I was able to grow. I never had to attract external money.
Not my intention to grow my business as fast as possible and then sell it
Another investor also once said to me, I was not ready for an investment during the start-up of Loïs Lee. Because I needed to grow as an entrepreneur myself. Through a capital injection, it probably would have gone too fast for me, it takes time to develop yourself as an entrepreneur in this. Nor was it my motivation, to get as big as possible as soon as possible. Something many other start-ups do pursue. But that doesn’t suit me at all. That’s a whole different intention which you then start with that might make you go for that big money faster naturally. For me, it’s all about purpose.
I do what I want to do by myself
In addition to money, the investor also expressed a desire to coach you. You turned that down too, why?
True, but coaching in exchange for a stake in my company, I would still feel like I have to listen to him because he is an investor. I didn’t want to. I do what I want to do by myself.
For example, during our introduction, he had suggested having these very small samples made. So that he could have this sent to his large file. I absolutely did not want that, I specifically did not want mini samples. I sold the travel kit which is good for 2-3 weeks of daily use. This is also necessary for your skin to get used to the products and experience what the products do for you. With those small samples, you can’t. That was opposed to my beliefs about how I wanted to do it.
Always self-invested in business coaching
Nevermind that I have always invested in coaching, but I have always paid for it myself. Michael Pilarczyk’s programs also worked as coaching and then business coaching from Tibor Olgers. I go there with a question of help or knowledge I need
Birgit: It is precisely this strong vision and belief in your products and what you stand for that makes me call you a changemaker.
Why do Loïs Lee products come in dark glass packaging?
It is notable that you chose dark glass bottles for your products. As opposed to that which is common in the industry: plastic packaging. Why did you choose this?
There are endocrine disruptors in plastic. Loïs Lee products are mess-free of hormone disruptors. Our products are mostly oil-based. When you combine oil with plastic packaging, the coating of the plastic soaks off. As a result, those substances also end up in the product. Then we would still get mess in the product. I didn’t want to.
In addition, glass is recyclable through the bottle bank and protects products from light. This way I can preserve Loïs Lee’s natural ingredients in the best way possible.
BPA plastic free, there is no such thing
I also did research, on so-called BPA-free plastic. About this, I called about one of the products made of BPA-free plastic. He told me, that despite the term BPA free, this is still not quite the case. When I heard this, it became a No Go for me. From then on, I started looking for dark glass containers.
So even in terms of packaging, I knew exactly how I wanted it. I did not succumb to cheaper alternatives and stuck to my own vision.
How sustainable is Loïs Lee’s packaging?
Packaging can be recycled through the bottle bank. We also looked into reincorporating the packaging into our own production process. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a bit more complicated than thought and is not possible for the time being.
Because we do not use preservatives and stabilizers, it is very important that there are no leftovers in the glass containers. We therefore do not recommend refilling or overfilling, which we sometimes hear customers do (own risk). In order to manage that really nothing is left behind, all kinds of extra steps are needed in our production process, including extreme heating, which we cannot currently offer.
Refill packs a sustainable alternative?
I also looked into offering refills, but obviously you can’t put the oil products in a cardboard package. Again, plastic is not an option for us anyway, also not for refills.
For now, we just have it in these glass bottles. Also, we think it’s a super waste to throw those away in glass container. But right now, that is the best and most sustainable solution for our packaging.
Have there been any decisions that you have regretted in retrospect?
Separate body oil for day and night use
For a while, we sold a body oil for daytime and a body oil for nighttime. I then succumbed on the advice of my lab buddy and because we were getting a lot of inquiries about a body oil. Despite that I don’t like body oils myself, at least not for nighttime. Then I don’t want anything on my body.
In the end, these turned out to be separate body oils, but this was not running quickly I thought they were in stock too long. Because of this, we still tried to make it a seasonal product. We did that for two seasons and then I said, we’ll stop doing that. I just don’t like this. In retrospect, I thought, I should have stuck to my gut. A separate oil for day and night, I don’t like that.
Now we decided to go for just one body oil. One for daytime. I get that. A body oil for nighttime I just didn’t understand. By the way, for the new body oil, I just received a sample. I’m really excited about that. It is a very light one, in a large container (200ml), that lathers nicely and smells airy.
Hiring people – when in doubt don’t do it
Other decision I have come back to is in hiring people.
We did sometimes hire someone about whom we had a little doubt. Despite the doubt thought: well let’s give it a chance. Then, in the end, it turns out that it doesn’t work. In retrospect, we thought: should have listened better to our first hunch. That was another wise lesson for us as well.
That was the case with the day- and night body oil, and also with hiring people. When in doubt, don’t.
Could your strong vision also have caused some things to just not work out?
That’s kind of interesting, yes. I’ve had with the day- and night body oil a strong feeling beforehand that this wasn’t going to be it. But was it because the product didn’t worked, or because I thought of it that way? I guess that’s kind of the chicken-egg story. I didn’t feel it, so I didn’t put the energy into it either.
It wasn’t like my crowdfunding campaign at the time. There I did not let things I had never done stop me, because I had a very strong faith and vision. With those separate body oils, I just didn’t have that.
What makes Lois Lee a Changemaker in the beauty industry?
In all the products we develop for Lois Lee, we deviate from the norm. We look at skin very differently. We look at both the long and short term of using our products. It should be positive in both cases. We want to make skin healthier and stronger. That’s also where the wholistic comes from in our name. The piece of consumer awareness that we are happy to help with.
Traditional skincare, on the other hand, looks primarily at the short term. You want smooth skin now, then you should lubricate or take this now. While those products/ingredients can have harmful effects in the long term
Because of this, all our products differ. Debbie explains some deviants:
No Collagen Booster
These days you see all these people using collagen powders, which you can even stir into your coffee. I do get curious about such hype then. Then I started researching that.
Remarkable, by the way, that people take collagen because they want to reduce collagen loss as you age. But skin aging is not just about reducing collagen. In all, there are 7 factors to consider.
From this, I developed the No Collagen Booster. In this, too, we differ from what others do. In fact, we do not use collagen (No Collagen). Collagen comes from animals, which I did not want and is also unnecessary. I wanted a vegan supplement. Animal collagen can also act on your gut if you are sensitive to it, which can affect your entire health.
The No Collagen Booster has become a very complete vegan supplement, addressing not only the loss of collagen, but all 7 factors, not just that of collagen.
Moon Magic Serum
With the Moon Magic Serum, we also deviate from the norm. To combat skin aging, people think you need Retinol and vitamin A. But you can never completely stop skin aging, it happens. However, you can slow down the process. Only the side effects of Retinol I find too damaging to the skin. So I then totally dove into that and eventually we found a plant-based alternative. We put that into our Moon Magic Serum.
Screen Sun Screen
Natural sunscreen is in high demand. Still, I don’t necessarily feel I need to develop another one myself. It is quite a challenge to develop one without a white haze. There are also natural alternatives on the market. Then, of course, I’m not talking about the mess that is available everywhere and that affects the coral.
Harmful effects on skin of blue light
What I find remarkable is that we protect ourselves massively from UVA and UVB radiation, but you don’t hear anyone about the negative effects of blue light. While this radiation is coming from artificial light and screens penetrates the skin many times deeper. The blue light penetrates the layer where your collagen and elastin are produced.
On the one hand, everyone swallows all kinds of powders to supposedly prevent collagen loss, while exposing themselves to blue light radiation for 8 hours daily.
Don’t get me wrong because blue light is also in the sun and you need it to be awake and active, for example. But too much blue light and exposure throughout the day and evening, which comes through screens very concentrated on our skin and thus affects collagen and elastin is harmful. That’s why I developed the Screen Sun Screen.
Since little is known about this, it is up to us to create more awareness about it.
Greenwashing in the beauty industry?
Sustainability sells, and many brands are cleverly capitalizing on that. Also in the beauty industry. There is also definitely greenwashing in the beauty industry. Terms like hypoallergenic, natural, dermatologically tested and all sorts of other vague claims that are supposedly clinically proven. Often only marketing stories. Meant to sell and/or let you use as many products as possible.
Larger holes in the shampoo bottles so your bottle empties faster. Cleansing your skin twice daily. At Lois Lee, we do things differently. We take your skin as our starting point and want the best for it. Cleansing twice a day, for example, is not necessary at all, may even be harmful to your skin and can dry out and age your skin. Our skincare is fully customizable, so you can give your skin what it needs at that moment.
We like to pierce through the marketing narratives and find it necessary to create more awareness, but without pointing a pedantic finger.
How is Loïs Lee creating more consumer awareness?
We see it as our job to create more awareness. So that we can communicate it in a way that people will understand it. So that they can make their own conscious decision whether to do something or not. People need to understand why they need to do something, otherwise they won’t feel that need. Behind every product we have is a story, vision and real research.
Similarly, we teach teens with our teen line Loïs & Day. We want to make them aware that pimples can be a result of certain types of food. So that they get through what kind of influence that has. Or, for example, acne and the pill. As a result, they are also going to learn to make connections on their own.
Fun fact: the teen line Lois + Day, is named after Debbie van Weelden’s daughter, Loïs, and her friend Vivian Reijs’ daughter, Day.
We like to communicate openly and honestly about the junk that is in most products. Not for nothing that we also promote products on social media with the #nomoremeuk. (no more mess) We also offer a free download: the nomoremeuk checklist. You can request those for free through the website to find out what junk is in products. You can then decide for yourself what to do with this information.
What can we expect from Lois Lee in the near future?
The single body oil, which of course I mentioned earlier. I expect we will launch it spring/summer 2023.
I am also working on a drink that helps you hydrate your skin from within. This is water, but with all kinds of fine dusts. We’ve been working on that for about two years, getting this right also in terms of taste. I dare not say for sure when I will finally be satisfied so that we can start launching it. In fact, it has been postponed several times.
Where can we go if we want to know more about Lois Lee?
On our website loislee.nl Which has recently been revamped, with each product is completely written out our vision, we explain exactly what is in the products and most importantly why we chose them.
Thank you Debby for this fun and candid interview about your journey as an entrepreneur, but most importantly your vision for your business and as a change maker in the beauty industry.
Do you have a sustainable (fashion) story to tell?
Send me a DM on Instagram or send me an email (birgit[@]anothergreenstory.com with your sustainable story. So you can contribute to this platform.