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"What always surprises me is that people will look for the organic bananas, the organic apples but they won't look at the ingredients on the products that they're buying for their skin — their largest organ."
In Marta's review of Indie Lee Swiss Apple Facial Serum, she gave this introduction about you to the TIA community: "I'm going to open my review . . . with a word about the founder herself. After conquering a life-threatening brain tumor that pointed to environmental toxins as the culprit, Indie Lee awoke on April 22, 2009 with a new lease on life and the passion to create a chic and eco-friendly namesake collection."
A truly amazing and inspirational story! Let's take it from that point: Since we know where the idea for starting your company came from, tell us more about how you took it from idea to reality.
I started to become more and more aware of all of the chemicals I was putting both in and on my body during the time I was going through chemotherapy for my brain tumor. Not only was I living with an environmentally derived brain tumor, my sister was also pregnant with my first nephew. These two things happening at once inspired me to start looking at the ingredients and toxins that we put on our bodies — even from the very first days of our lives!
I started from square one and invested my time in researching natural ingredients, aromatherapy, carrier oils, etc. as a diversion to what was going on with my own health. After I gained a foundation of knowledge on non-toxic products, I began testing out formulations using ingredients from my backyard greenhouse (as well as my local Whole Foods), first making basic products for my soon-to-be-born nephew.
I developed a few fans from my immediate network of friends and family and began to think from the perspective of a consumer, taking things like how the products would look on a shelf, into consideration.
From there, it just continued to evolve and grow.
So your earliest inspiration was to create all natural, 100% organic baby body products for your sister's first child. What was your background at the time that prepared you for becoming involved in skin care?
I have a background in business and finance, which gave me a huge leg up on turning the homemade products into an established company. I knew that the key to success was surrounding myself with the best team possible and have always been able to admit that I don’t know everything! Many incredible business partners and a realistic perspective helped drive the company.
When it came to product formulations, I was a novice. I immersed myself in researching organic ingredients, chemical compounds, and found many mentors in the field. I studied diligently and learned quickly.
One of my favorite quotes of yours is, "What you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body." Talk to us about your belief that environmental toxins were the culprit behind your brain tumor.
The cause of my brain tumor is more than just a belief: my medical records actually cite the tumor as environmentally derived! Many don’t realize that the environment causes many autoimmune issues; it’s a common diagnosis. The hard to understand aspect of the diagnosis is pinpointing exactly how the environment was the cause.
I’ll always remember my doctor telling me that it could be as simple as putting something on your body. It was such a wake-up call. I think most of us often forget that the skin is the largest organ in our bodies and absorbs up to 60% of whatever we put on it.
Our choices can be the underlying cause which is why we should care about natural products to not only better the environment, but to also prevent our own health complications.
You state on your website that your passion is “to create a chic and eco-friendly namesake collection.” Are you the formulator as well as the founder of your skin care line?
For each product, I have designed the general product, as well as the compound of its key ingredients. I consider researching and understanding the chemical properties of plants one of my side hobbies and have found a natural ability in comprehending, constructing and creating compounds.
That being said, I do work closely with a chemist who reviews and offers additional expert advice on the formulas. It’s important that the products not only work for me, but also for my shoppers.
Each product is free of toxins, chemicals, parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrance. Indie Lee & Co. is Leaping Bunny certified as well.
Tell us about how you find your ingredients for your products — do you research them yourself? Which ingredients do you seek out and which do you avoid?
I source natural ingredients both near and far to find the best possible natural assets. I seek out ingredients that are not only organically indulgent, but also offer a variety of skincare benefits so that I can keep my product formulations simple.
Since I’m not just growing ingredients out of my garden anymore, it’s important to me that each global ingredient is rigorously tested before it is compounded into a new product. I still keep the “hands on” approach with all steps of the process because you can never be too safe.
Which was the first product to launch and when? Why did you start there?
During chemotherapy, I found myself in need of a gentle, natural scrub that could relieve skin dryness. There wasn’t a great natural alternative on the marketplace, so the thought to create my own was sparked. The Coconut Citrus Body Scrub debuted with the start of the collection in 2010 and has picked up fans like Molly Sims since then.
It’s a blend of coconut, lemongrass, lemon balm, jojoba and vanilla and it’s seriously intoxicating. The scent will take you to another place!
It took a hiatus for a while, but it just launched back into the collection under new packaging this summer so fans can grab it again for $38 a jar.
For your amazing Squalane Facial Cream, you chose to use the fish-friendly alternative form of squalane made from olives. How do you feel about the fact that the cosmetic industry maintains a preference for shark oil-derived squalane?
I think this is a great glimpse into the values that an organization has and clearly differentiates those that are using the ingredient with the well-being of both animals and humans at top of mind.
Why would we use an animal-derived ingredient when you can obtain it from sustainably farmed plants?
Your skin is the largest organ and can absorb up to 60% of what you put on it, which is ever important in this case. Our bodies already naturally produce squalane (but our production of it rapidly decreases after the age of about 25). What we are offering is a botanical lipid that the skin is already familiar with.
Beyond the safety of the shark (Indie Lee is Leaping Bunny certified), why would we sell a version of the oil that introduces skin to something foreign when we could offer something that the body already recognizes and absorbs readily?
The featured ingredient in your Swiss Apple Facial Serum is apple stem cells. Can you explain what makes plant stem cells such a breakthrough ingredient in anti-aging skin care?
Studies have shown that the stem cells from the root of a rare Swiss apple tree not only aid in slowing the process of aging, but also repair already damaged skin cells. You’re combatting the process of aging beyond just delaying it.
If you had to choose one product from your skin line, which is your favorite and why?
I love the CoQ-10 Toner, which helps to pH balance skin, remove impurities and close pores after cleansing. Toners typically have the stigma of being harsh on skin and only necessary for oily skin tones. That just isn’t true. Our toner has vitamin CoQ-10, which is an antioxidant and antibacterial great for any skin type. Its gentle cucumber scent and cooling properties refresh and rejuvenate daily.
Tell us a little bit about the packaging of your products. I understand that you recently developed all-new packaging — what were your goals behind that?
I wanted the line to exude stylish sustainability. Products that would look as great as they feel. Sleek packaging that you want on your vanity. The goal was to update the branding so shoppers didn't have to feel like there was any sacrifice when opting for sustainable skincare.
What has the response been to your products?
Can you give us a sneak peek of what products are in the works?
My lips are sealed. ;-)
What are your plans for the future?
Global expansion as well as new product launches nationally and a possible line extension.
In closing, is there anything else you'd like to share about your skincare philosophy?
It’s okay to make beauty choices that are the best fit for you…just understand and weigh the negatives so that you have knowledge on those decisions.