Start-up Profiles

Lily Loves Pearl, Organic Skincare Business: Start-up Profile

Lily Loves Pearl

By Michelle Hammond
Friday, 17 June 2011

Lily Loves Pearl founder, Samantha MolineuxSamantha Molineux is the founder of Lily Loves Pearl, a certified organic skincare business based in the Victorian town of Daylesford, considered Australia’s premier spa region.


As a girl, Molineux would watch her grandmother Janet, affectionately known as Pearl, and her Aunt Lil cook up their own skincare products using nothing but natural ingredients.


While studying naturopathy in her 20s, Molineux became disenchanted by the lack of truly natural products available to consumers, prompting her to start concocting her own creations.


With 34 stores across Australia, Lily Loves Pearl is more than just a pretty name. Molineux talks to StartupSmart about being a 20-something businesswoman in the organic industry.


How did you get into the organic industry?

I was studying at the time to be a naturopath and I was working at Myer in the cosmetics department. Studying natural medicine and selling commercial cosmetics – it gave me a bit of awareness.


I had customers coming in saying, ‘I want to buy that organic product’ and I was thinking, but it’s not organic.


I found out that there was a real niche – people wanted an organic product but they wanted one that worked but also one that looked good.


What prompted you to start your own business?

I started making it and was just selling it at markets and giving it away to friends, and then friends wanted to actually purchase the product.


It got quite big. It meant that I couldn’t work full-time so I thought it could be really viable.


Originally, I was just making it at home in the kitchen, but making it on your kitchen bench means there’s not a real consistency.


I’d make, for example, a face cream and I’d make it to the same recipe a week later but the consistency was just really different. There’s a real art to temperatures and concocting the product.


That’s when I decided I would need to enlist somebody to help me and that’s when I found a contract manufacturer.


What was that process like?

It was chaotic; it wasn’t easy. I was using the Yellow Pages, just calling people, and nobody wanted to deal with such small numbers.


Also, I was a young – I was maybe 26, 27 – so being taken seriously was an issue. I had people who would say to me, ‘We’ve heard it all before’.


Our first manufacturer that we used – we were really happy with their products; we thought they were great.


I had them tested and there were actually chemicals in them – there was fragrance in them. For me, that’s a big no-no.


Then I was like, maybe I want to be certified organic and go with an actual certifying manufacturer.


That was a big learning curve. We’d invested a lot in samples and formulas, and we just weren’t getting what we wanted.


How did you turn that around?

I called the certifying bodies. Australia Certified Organic is the main body. I contacted them and said, ‘Who do you recommend? Who is reputable in the industry?’

I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning but I learnt that I need to check manufacturers’ certificates because there are a lot of people claiming to make organic products and they’re actually not organic.


The legislation in Australia is so lax – we can call anything organic.


Even for me in the beginning, I wasn’t aware that products had to be 95% certified. Initially, there’s so much to learn, and the cost for certified organic is so much higher. That’s why not everyone is certified.


How did you get your products to market?

I didn’t finish my naturopathy course – I did third year and then decided I wanted to do business.


So I did business and communications at Swinburne University, and they have this entrepreneur competition. I entered the business in that and they loved it. They said, ‘Don’t hold off on it – take it to market’.


So I did. I got a lot of publicity just from winning the competition. The Age and the Herald Sun reviewed it.


So then I had stores calling me saying, ‘We’d like to stock your little brand’ and it snowballed from there.


How did you fund the business?

With the [Swinburne] Venture Cup, I won $10,000 so that really helped. The rest of it really was supported by my partner at the time, who’s my husband now.


We had that seed funding and then, by just selling the product – selling it at markets and stuff – we were getting little bits back.


In the last two years, the business has grown by about 600%. We’ve got two full-time staff and a part-timer.


The organic cosmetics market gets more saturated by the day. What sets you apart?

Being certified was one of our competitive advantages but now there are more and more companies who are certified.


There’s also a new certifying body in Australia who allow chemicals, so that makes it really confusing for customers. It puts a real distrust among consumers when they find out that there’s a body out there that allows you to claim something is certified when it has chemicals.


For us, as much as we focus on the certified organic aspect, we’re selling our story. We’re selling the fact that our products are made in smaller batches. Our commitment is to source the highest quality ingredients; premium grade.


There are a lot of organic brands out there and the name Lily Loves Pearl stands out – people remember it.


I think “the body this”, “the body that” kind of gets a bit loss. So for us it’s about conjuring up that story so it sticks in people’s minds.


Also, bringing to market a product that is effective. People have this association that organic products aren’t going to be as good as the ones with chemicals.


We’re constantly looking at our formulas, trying to keep ahead of the market, looking at how to make it look good.


Is exporting still on the agenda?

We are now shipping to Singapore, the UK and Taiwan, but we’re in the midst of finding exclusivity to one country.


I had initially thought that exporting was this really easy thing. It’s just not like that. Especially with the Asian market – they want to meet you and it takes a couple of years to establish trust.


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