Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the creative innovator and multi-talented entrepreneur Melodie Reynolds, Founder and CEO of Elate Cosmetics. Melodie started Elate with an earnest desire to make a difference in the cosmetic industry with clean, cruelty-free, and sustainable cosmetics. The beauty of her business model is that it focuses on nurturing self-confidence and well-being, and operates from the foundational belief that kindness is always the answer. A few months into studying Accounting in university, Melodie realized that this wasn’t the vocation for her. She fell into the beauty industry and managed her first salon when she was only 20 years old. During this time, and while also working as a freelance makeup, Melodie won the North American Makeup Artist of the Year Award in 2005. It was in the midst of her career as a global educator for a large cosmetic company that she began to question the some of the methods they were using as well as some of the ingredients and packaging. Out of a growing disenchantment with the companies she was working for, and fueled by drive, passion and sheer audacity, Melodie began to explore her business options. It was while she and her partner were living in the UK that the magnificent seeds of what would become Elate were planted. After taking many “make your own skincare” workshops she realized she could make her own products. It was an empowering awakening! Mixing and creating her own concoctions, experimenting with changing skincare formulations to makeup and equipped with the knowledge that the cosmetic industry needed an overhaul in sustainability and packaging, Melodie just knew that she had something original to offer in a crowded market. Indeed she did. And to that we say a big beautiful YES!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
Passion, perseverance, resilience. I have failed so many times in my life, but the ability to get back up, learn from it and move on is what makes me feel like a warrior. That and the occasionally donut.
How did dropping out of university (where you were studying to become an accountant) and getting a job as receptionist at a local hair salon inform the direction of your career?
Honestly, I really don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t taken that job. Within a few months I had become the manager and began to hone my skills as a leader of people and a transformer of businesses. I had never before thought about the beauty industry as a place for me, but what I loved so much was the ability to make someone’s day better simply by helping them with their rituals of adornment.
How did you go from there to winning the North American Makeup Artist of the Year in 2005 and what impact did that award have on your professional and personal life?
It’s funny, whether I was running someone else’s business or running my own I’ve always been the person to do whatever it takes to create success. At that time in my business, I was looking for someone to provide makeup services at the salon. We had identified it as something that our customers wanted. None of the hair stylists wanted to step away from their chairs to learn a new skill, so I went and took the course myself and began doing makeup. I really enjoyed applying my creative flair in my work, and as a team we entered many competitions. I took home the award that year, but it didn’t belong to me. It was the entire team working together to produce the image and I cherish those memories. Because of that award I had a little bit more leverage with some of the companies that I had been freelancing for. I’d always wanted to work for a brand in education and marketing as that was the place that I thought I could make the most impact, and so I got picked up by a large international cosmetics company and became their director of education for North America.
What did you learn about the dark arts of the beauty industry?
We grow up being inundated by images of what we should look like. Advertisements that tell us exactly what is wrong with us and which product we should buy to fix it. This has always bothered me to the point where I’ve made it my mission to create responsible advertising initiatives at all the companies I worked for, including my own. Another issue is a prolific use of plastics and wasteful packaging in the cosmetics industry. I spent a lot of time asking questions about how we could do things differently and was often reviewed or told flat out that no change would be made because it would hurt the bottom line too much. I completely disagree with this but it was this moment that cemented in my mind that I needed to start my own company
How did you go from the make-your-own skincare workshop in the UK to starting Elate Cosmetics?
When my partner was chosen to do a master’s overseas we were thrilled; I knew that it would also give me an opportunity to leave the company that I was with, and do a little soul searching. I feel so fortunate that I had this time. Not only did I take every DIY skincare workshop that I could find, but I also played in a ukulele band, learned how to cook and read many, many business books. When we came back to Canada I was armed with two things: determination and a business plan, the one thing I needed was the confidence to pull it off.
A month before you were about to launch Elate you had a serious cancer scare. What lesson did you learn from the Universe as a result?
Really what those moments taught me were about what was truly important. I spent a lot of time in the month where I was waiting for test results thinking about what I wanted to do the rest of my life. No matter which way I turned, starting my business was always in the forefront of my mind. Faced with a health crisis and a toddler at home I still knew that starting my company was what I wanted to do and that was how I knew it was on the right path.
What is an indie beauty brand and why is it important to you to be involved in the day-to-day work?
An indie beauty brand is specifically a beauty brand that is not owned by a large conglomerate corporation. It’s very funny because within the big brands there are really only two companies that own everyone. Indie beauty is all about smaller founder-led organizations. Elate is female owned and run, with myself and some of my team as the owners, and we are so proud of that fact. We have worked hard to keep this business going and I’m so grateful to have the support of the community here in Victoria and around the world helping us achieve our goals.
What are the three questions you ask yourself before making any business decision?
All of my decisions are at the intersection of three things: is it high quality? Is it purposeful? And is it aligned with my core values? If I can say yes and define all of those things then I have a framework for my decision.
There is one more thing that I ask myself and it’s the most important: and that is what am I missing? I always think it is so important to recognize that you don’t necessarily have all of the information and it’s important to gather opinions and gather advice and help if you are not seeing something clearly.
A lot of us talk about starting our own business. We have an idea, a dream or even a side-hustle. But you’ve done it. What does it take to be an entrepreneur?
Honestly, it’s just a lot of old fashioned hard work. Getting up every day and recognizing that you’re going to have to make choices that will not only affect you but will affect other people. Sometimes those other people are your family members you are ignoring, sometimes those people are yourself when you need rest but you can’t take a rest at that moment. It’s important to recognize that what you have to give up should be equal to what you gain. And that you do have the right to rest and have balance, but you will often just have to get shit done.
Why is it so important that we take care of ourselves first? How do we get past feeling selfish or worse, guilty?
I am a big believer in the clichéd mantra that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Once my company became a place that had employees and I had other people that I was responsible for it became even more important for me to take care of myself. If I don’t have adequate rest then I am absolutely not a good leader. Making sure that you are able to take care of yourself first also means that you will be able to show up and be present with your family. I can’t ever say this enough: the work will always be there tomorrow. I recognize the contradiction with my earlier comment of getting shit done – but I believe you can do both.
We can do anything – but not everything – and if we align all our thought actions and tasks with our values, prioritizing things becomes so much easier.
As a mom and a businesswoman, what self-care advice would you give to women juggling the demands of parenthood and work?
Juggling is the perfect word. I definitely spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not I’m spending enough time with my family, and also worrying about whether or not I’m going to have enough time at work. It’s so important no matter how much time you spend on either that you are present. So when it’s time for me to be with my family, I am 100% present with them. When it is time for me to work I am 100% present for my team. I also build resilience into my schedule in the form of scheduled time for myself, whether it is a 5:30 am walk, a midweek mountain bike ride, a weekend hike, or a 5-minute meditation each night before bed I need to make sure that I have time just for me each day, it helps me stay grounded.
Like a lot if women, you’ve struggled with self-esteem. How did you come to terms with it?
I love that you ask this question in this way. Come to terms with it as opposed to overcome it. I think we all have this idea that one day we will overcome any self-esteem issues that we have, but in reality there will always be that little voice inside of you that you need to work on. For me it is choosing self-awareness and recognizing when I am feeling like I need to take some time to fill up my self-worth tank. I’m all about rituals in the small moments that I spend for myself that allow me to recognize that I am worthy of my own care and attention. Also, I tell myself I am awesome A LOT. It’s become a mantra. (Kind of like that old SNL sketch – I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and god damnit, people like me.) Overpowering my inner negative self-talk with outer positive self-talk.
How do we learn to love the woman we see in the mirror?
I really wish that I had the secret answer for this because I would shout it from the rooftops. I think the best thing that we can do is to show up for ourselves every single day. And recognize that some days we won’t love what we see, but that’s okay. The self-awareness that we have to recognize that what we actually are looking at isn’t any different but our emotions are what change the way we feel about it. This is what allows me to truly see myself and truly love myself.
What do we need to know “for sure” about the power of kindness?
That kindness is always the answer. But before you can use that as your mantra you need to understand what kindness is. We often mistake niceness for kindness but they are two very different things. Kindness is telling someone they have spinach in their teeth even though it’s uncomfortable for you and uncomfortable for them. Kindness is always having the hard conversation whether it’s with someone else or with yourself. I also believe that the opposite of kindness is not cruelty. It is inattention. The most important thing about the power of kindness is to recognize that paying attention to yourself and others through the positive times as well as for the difficult times is the most important thing you can do.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
I would say don’t ever be afraid to speak up. Keep believing in the impossible. Drink the champagne and eat the donut.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
Nothing is impossible. Sometimes someone may tell you that something is impossible, but all that means is that they don’t see the possibility today. If you keep looking towards the future that you want to build you will find that possibility.
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
I greatly admire Sara Blakely (inventor of Spanx), feminist and general badass Gloria Steinem is my forever hero, and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine is such an inspiration. All three of these women have experienced failure and gotten back up. This to me is the essence of a warrior.
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Elate will be renowned as the world’s most sustainable beauty company. My vision for myself in 5 years is that I will be traveling the globe advising fellow beauty companies that are interested in becoming more sustainable as well as giving Ted Talks on the sustainability journey. I love speaking and I love the opportunity to share the Elate mission.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
Everything. I’m a big emotional releaser and probably cry at least once a day.
What’s on your nightstand?
I am usually reading 3-4 books at a time, and right now it’s:
Accountable: The Rise of Citizen Capitalism by Michael O’Leary & Warren Valdmanis
Becoming Better Grownups: Rediscovering What Matters and Remembering How to Fly by Brad Montague
What You Do Is Who You Are: How To Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson
You love music. If a song were written about your life, what would it be called?
It would be called Nothing is Impossible, and have a sweet ukulele solo in the middle.
To learn more about Elate Cosmetics head over to the website at: https://www.elatecosmetics.ca/
Follow Elate on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/elatecosmetics/
And on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/c/ElateCosmetics
Follow Melodie on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/melodieelated/
Connect with her on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melodie-reynolds-58bb4b30/