Photo Courtesy of Jocelynne Flor
The Canadian Cosmetic Cluster had the pleasure of interviewing Jessye Grundlingh, the founder of Make This Universe. Make This Universe is do it yourself skincare brand that take DIY to another level. Jessye shares her cosmetic business journey with us in the interview below.
1. What inspired you to start your business?
As an avid crafter and professional product designer, I am always picking things up in stores and convincing myself “I could just make this!” (even when I most definitely cannot!). In 2018, I discovered DIY Skincare after a brief and disappointing introduction to Natural Deodorant. After a quick Pinterest search, I realized that thousands of people had embarked on making their own natural deodorant at home too- often with disappointing (and sometimes dangerous) results.
Their formulas didn’t work, their packaging was sub-par, and the whole effort ended up putting curious and crafty folks off Natural Deodorant and DIY skincare altogether. I felt this was a tragedy since DIY skincare can be so empowering and fun!
So, my first instinct was to perfect my own safe, effective DIY Deodorant, and then share the lessons, ingredients and formula with everyone I had seen failing at it on Pinterest. This is where the idea for designing a DIY Natural Deodorant Kit came from!
I tracked down a cosmetic chemist to help me with the formula and got to work on our packaging. I spent 8 months perfecting the kit, and in my research for the design side of the one DIY Kit, I was starting to see how a holistic DIY Skincare brand could be disruptive in all the right ways, as a niche offering in the growing “green beauty” industry.
Since launching our first kit, Make This Universe has grown to include a DIY Soy Candle Kit, a range of custom skincare and our latest DIY Clay Face Mask Kit, my new personal favourite.
2. What was the biggest challenge you faced during the pandemic?
Our experience of the pandemic varied wildly from month to month, sometimes day to day.
Initially, we felt the loss of a few direct-to-consumer tradeshows that we had heavily invested in, as well as losing our DIY Workshop offerings which we had been hosting in Toronto.
After the shock wore off, our customers really showed up for us as we pivoted to offer our DIY Candle Kit, which we pre-sold to cover our inventory costs. The pre-sales sold out, and once we officially launched the kit, the orders didn’t stop coming in (and still haven’t!).
With the longest lockdown anywhere in North America here in Ontario- we also struggled to grow our retail presence as our local shops were shuttered, but in retrospect, I am grateful for the time it allowed me to perfect our formulas, packaging and processes. Now, when I approach retailers, I am so much more confident in our products.
The pandemic also forced us to move away from relying on our in-person retail sales and DIY events. It encouraged me to grow our online presence- by finding new ways to connect to our customers, such as launching our IGTV series “The Dirt on Clean Beauty”, and making Tik Toks!
Ultimately, I think we grew more than we would have without the pandemic since it inspired me to see our brand as Direct-To-Consumer more so than previously and act accordingly by improving our presence online and sharing my own story more.
3. Were there any positive changes to small businesses post-pandemic?
This is a tough question to answer since I am not so convinced we are “post-pandemic”. There is some talk that trade shows will return in time for the Holiday sales run, but I am not relying on anyone's product- or platform- for our sales. The positive change is more so to my approach, which is to diversify as much as we can.
My main takeaway from this whole experience- which kicked off just one year into having our product- is that we have to stay as lean and nimble as possible. This is why we still make everything in-house, and why we created our made-to-order custom skincare line. It allows us to only make what there is demand for, keep our overhead as low as possible while we continue to deal with uncertain times, even more, uncertain supply chains and economic trends.
The benefits of custom-made skincare are so massive to the consumer, that I think waiting a few more days for a product to ship out is totally worth it, so I am planning to stay small and nimble for a while yet.
4. Is DIY Beauty more sustainable?
DIY Skincare definitely comes with its own setbacks, such as additional packaging for all the different elements of the product you’re making. The way we offset this is to include our full formula with our DIY Deodorant kits, so that folks can literally create their own product, from scratch, using bulk ingredients if they so desire. And of course, all our packaging is biodegradable, recyclable and plastic-free wherever possible.
As zero-waste and package-free shops start to pop up in more and more neighbourhoods, I could see a world where certain skincare ingredients are easier to come by, package-free and in smaller quantities (like MCT oil, cetyl alcohol, glycerin, facial clays etc). In that world, you’d need to have a good recipe to follow, and working knowledge of basic ingredients, which our kits can offer!
For now, DIY Skincare is at least showing the consumer that another way of approaching their skincare routine is possible. Generally, consumers are encouraged to go through a trial-and-error process to find products that “work” for them. It’s somehow become normal to try 5 natural deodorants before finding “the one”- which is the opposite of sustainable, even if the products themselves are sustainably packaged (and often they’re not).
This is the benefit of DIY-ing: you actually learn through the customization process what you’re looking for, you input your needs upfront and that makes you consider what would work for you, specifically. So there are a few more steps to getting a Natural Deodorant from us since you take a quiz that makes you reflect on your needs (as opposed to just grabbing something off the shelf that worked for someone else). In that way, DIY-ing is less of a trial-and-error process with less consumption required overall.
Ultimately, I think “skincare” in any form will only be sustainable once consumers are spared all of the fear-based marketing, which indie and “green beauty” brands are equally guilty of. The fewer consumers feel they NEED skincare (to fix themselves, look better, ageless, be “chemical-free” etc), the fewer products folks will panic buy, and the more sustainable the industry will be. That’s why educating my customers about their skin, and how it works, has always been a priority for me, including arming them with information about how to buy less. The industry also needs to make less stuff, ultimately. DIY skincare is slower-paced in so many ways, which to me seems more in line with a sustainable lifestyle.
My hope is that DIY Skincare is just one of many ways that the skincare industry could approach something of a sustainable industry, where consumers feel empowered by transparency and knowledge to make decisions that work for them!
5. What do you see as the future of DIY Cosmetics?
I am excited to welcome other founders to the DIY cosmetics space, as that means less work for me explaining the concept to everyone I meet! Justifying DIY Skincare is not always easy, especially in a world that values convenience over everything- so I don’t see new DIY brands as competition, I see them as co-conspirators. I deeply believe there is enough space for all of us, especially if those brands are intentional, ethical and value sustainability.
The more brands we have doing DIY and custom in unique ways, the more folks will see the value that we have to offer: which is that slower, more thoughtful side that comes with customization and DIY-ing. It might not always arrive the next day in a box with a smile on it, but it’ll definitely put a smile on your face when you use something that was custom-made just for you!
Canadian Cosmetic Cluster Team
Uniting Canadian Cosmetics and Bringing it to the World