“With All Of My Heart, I Wish More People Would Commit To Being Vegan And Animal Cruelty Would End” With Susie Wang
“When I was very young and traveling around a lot, I forgot to pack my contacts one day and didn’t have my glasses. Funny enough, I accidentally ran into a pole and was rescued by celebrated fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg. We started talking about our personal lives. She shared her story of marrying a prince, telling me I could do the same if I wanted and reiterating that opportunities in life are endless. This was an uplifting story for me and I felt inspired to believe that I can make any dream come true from that day forward. For this, I will always be grateful to her. Separately, Chuck Esserman also played an influential role in my life. He’s the CEO of TSG Consumer Partners, the private equity company that made IT Cosmetics, Smashbox, Pureology, among many other successful beauty brands. When I was 18 years old, he offered me a massive deal and at such a young age, getting that level of support and faith always gave me confidence.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Susie Wang, founder and chief creative of 100% Pure, a natural cosmetics and skincare company that’s focused on spreading the clean beauty movement through healthy products with only the highest quality ingredients and, most importantly, no toxic chemicals. The brand started in 2005 and was the first to color their cosmetics using pigments from fruits, vegetables, teas and other nourishing plants. All of 100% PURE products are free of artificial colors, artificial fragrances, and synthetic chemical preservatives. The company is also cruelty-free and supports many animal-based charities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
When I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, I purchased a Vitamin C serum from a well-known brand. Unfortunately, the serum quickly oxidized and turned from a white color into a brown one. This inspired me to figure out a way to stabilize vitamins and prevent the formula from oxidizing. Once I filed a patent for my discovery, several cosmetic companies reached out to me with job offers. I decided to put college on hiatus and start my career in cosmetics. For one of the companies where I worked, I was responsible for formula creations. One day, I spilled a chemical I was using in an eye cream onto the lab table and it began to warp. It shocked me and I wondered what kind of damage these chemicals I use could have on the skin if it could visibly damage a lab table. From that moment on, it’s been my life mission to formulate safe, healthy products.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
● I was shopping at Whole Foods one day when a girl recognized me and introduced herself. She examined my shopping cart to make sure all the things I was buying were vegan and then she ran her hands down my hair several times. It felt like she was petting me like I was a doll.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
● What I’m most proud of is our innovation to use fruit pigments to color our cosmetics. Unlike other conventional cosmetics that color their products using minerals or synthetic dyes, we only use healthy fruit pigments that are full of skin beneficial phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants. Several years ago, we audited our customer list and saw that over 80% of those who ordered from us regularly in 2005 still continued to do so 10 years later. I’ve always believed that if you make the best products, your customer base will grow organically and that’s the only way to build a sustainable, thriving business.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
● In addition to our use of fruit pigments, I am now working on other types of plant pigments to color cosmetics.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
● Be patient. Training and mentoring takes a lot of patience but it’s all worth it. Your employees are one of your biggest assets, so treat them well and make the investment.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
● When I was very young and traveling around a lot, I forgot to pack my contacts one day and didn’t have my glasses. Funny enough, I accidentally ran into a pole and was rescued by celebrated fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg. We started talking about our personal lives. She shared her story of marrying a prince, telling me I could do the same if I wanted and reiterating that opportunities in life are endless. This was an uplifting story for me and I felt inspired to believe that I can make any dream come true from that day forward. For this, I will always be grateful to her. Separately, Chuck Esserman also played an influential role in my life. He’s the CEO of TSG Consumer Partners, the private equity company that made IT Cosmetics, Smashbox, Pureology, among many other successful beauty brands. When I was 18 years old, he offered me a massive deal and at such a young age, getting that level of support and faith always gave me confidence.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
● I’m a huge animal lover and I have used my success to help animals by financially supporting many different charities. Most recently, I led an important initiative that raised money to rescue dogs from the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. We donated 100% of our profits from certain product sets to organizations whose efforts are tied to saving as many dogs as possible. Besides helping animals, I also feel good knowing that I’m a part of the reason why the beauty industry is forced to be better, safer and healthier.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Founder” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Someone once gave me advice I wish I had never followed. They said if an entity or more specifically a company wants you now, they’ll want you later. This is absolutely not true. We were asked to enter Sephora as their flagship brand. At the time, they had a different brand but they couldn’t say that the brand was 100% natural, so they wanted us in their place. Regrettably, we didn’t jump at the offer and have deeply regretted it.
2) Not everyone can be trained out of their bad habits. My business partner and our CEO, Ric Kostick, has a heart of gold. He believes in everyone. What we learned though is that unfortunately not everyone can be trained, mentored, or coached out of their bad habits, characteristics and attitude.
3) Don’t argue with your customer. Oh gosh, I regret this so much. We were hugely successful on QVC. We got an order for our TSV and the buyer really wanted a purple-toned mauve blush but I was dead set against it. I went against her wishes and pressed nearly 100,000 pink blushes. This unfortunately resulted in 100% Pure getting kicked off of QVC. I thought we were invincible on QVC because of how many sales we generated. Ultimately, this was not the case and I learned that relationships trump everything.
4) I wish I got a treadmill desk early on! I am such a workaholic that I sometimes forgo working out, but I learned that I can multi-task by walking at a reasonable 3mph and answer my emails at the same time.
5) Build a team of self-sufficient A-players and keep them happy. They are worth their weight in gold so cherish them and treat them well. A-players want to work with other A-players so cut out any toxic teammates that can drag others down. It’s important to also build your company to be self-sufficient as if you’re not going to be there one day. Be patient with your training. So many times, it’s faster and easier if I do everything myself rather than spending the extra time to train, but I learned to be patient and trust my team; otherwise, we can’t scale since it’s impossible for me to do everything.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
● With all of my heart, I wish more people would commit to being vegan and I wish animal cruelty would end.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
● My father taught me that you can get anyone to buy anything once but to build a loyal fan base, I must create the absolute best product for customers to come back again and again.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
● I would love to meet anyone who has the power and ability to help end animal cruelty. I recently had the opportunity to meet Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of PETA, at one of their fundraisers. She’s always been someone who has inspired me.