Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Aloha, my name is Kristie Chee and I am the founder of Olakino skincare products. We are 100% plant, fruit, vegetable, and earth-based, with the preservative systems also from natural sources, in all of our formulations. We cater to all skin types and ages. We have created the Skin Resurrection range directed towards Normal, Dry, and Mature skin and the Oil & Pore Control range, aimed at oily/ combination skin types. These are high-quality, high-performance products that are healthy for the body.
We are also creating a 100% non-toxic makeup line and have recently released Pop Cosmetics Radiant Skin foundation, a unique, non-greasy, high performing formula for all skin types.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After many years working as a photographer in the wedding and modeling industries, in 2009 I decided to study makeup application at The Academy of Makeup in Brisbane, Australia. I absolutely loved learning how to make people look beautiful and I have continued to practice the art of makeup application, to the present day.
In early 2019, while pregnant with my first little boy Gabriel, it was discovered that I was suffering from a toxic liver, which resulted in him passing away at (full-term) birth. As my liver toxicity was excessively high, with no explanation (I don’t drink alcohol or smoke), this prompted me to do a lot of research as to why this may have happened. What I discovered opened my eyes and provided the kick, to change my health and well-being habits.
After many years of using skincare and makeup products claiming to be “non-toxic,” I realized these companies were actually still using some toxic ingredients or components in their products and simply hoped that consumers would take their word that it was safe and not really look beyond that and the sad thing is, that’s what many of us do.
This event woke me up and I realized how important it is to know what we are putting into and onto our bodies. I started looking at all the ingredients on all of my skin, hair, and makeup products. I discovered all of them, including companies who claim that their products are safe, formulated their products with ingredients that may have been causing negative effects on my liver function.
That's when I decided to quit working with my husband, at his Hawaiian BBQ business in Maui and formally study natural/ non-toxic cosmetic formulation. After all, I knew I needed to fill the gap and provide the world with the option of 100% non-toxic products that still look and feel like high-quality brands. After a couple of months of using my own non-toxic products, my liver magically returned to normal!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I source and produce everything for my business including, ingredients, packaging, and labeling. After researching cosmetic laboratories, I found a lot of them simply were not willing to fulfill my formulation requests, or simply did not have the ingredients I have researched and use in my formulations. I decided to build my own lab and manufacture my own products, where I have full control over what goes into them and their quality.
I began making test formulas for my family and friends to try out, so they could provide feedback on my formulations. This enabled me to perfect what ingredients to formulate with for different skin types. By conducting real consumer trials and doing a lot of research, enabled me to create all of my current product lines.
I also make my own guava extract, hibiscus extract, and seaweed extract, here in Hawaii. I do this because I want to make sure my customers are getting the best quality product, straight from Hawaiian sources.
I design all of my logos and labels using specialized label software. Being a makeup artist, I am aware that “natural” non-toxic products carry a stigma, of not living up to the quality of high-end brands. The problem is that the majority of these high-end brands use very unhealthy ingredients because they perform very well. So I wanted to steer in the direction of making my products look like a luxury product, as well as feel like it too, but a healthy version.
After many years of using skincare and makeup products claiming to be “non-toxic,” I realized these companies were actually still using some toxic ingredients or components in their products and simply hoped that consumers would take their word that it was safe.
I didn’t want my products to look like the traditional ‘natural, earthy’ packaging, because I want them to appeal to everyone. I designed my products to present in glass packaging with gold labeling. I chose glass because it is eco-friendly and I chose to do labels, so they can be removed once the product has been used and be cleaned, reused, or recycled.
Being a former photographer, enabled me to be able to do all of my product pics, in my lab, instead of having to hire someone and incur an extra cost.
Describe the process of launching the business.
My initial product launch was offline, literally by word of mouth and passing out sample size products. This method has been the most successful, here on the Hawaiian Islands where Olakino is based. Sometimes you don’t see results straight away, but don’t be discouraged! The nice old lady Mrs. Lucas, that I gave a sample to 6 weeks ago, voila, suddenly makes a $200 order! And that is totally normal for the word of mouth / in-person marketing. As the saying goes, it won’t happen overnight. And you know the rest!
When launching my first collection of skincare online just recently, I used several methods to get the message out there to potential customers. Social media campaigns, Organic Google SEO, and Google ads. I created a series of paid promotions on Instagram/ Facebook and also a series of Google ads, that specifically target the age/ gender/ geographical locations of my customers and created a hype to lead up to the final launch day.
I also added different payment methods, such as Afterpay and Sezzle, to open the opportunity for more sales. I have had many leads from the advertising on these payment websites.
Finally, I wrote and submitted a press release, which was distributed to many media, news, and blog posters.
Wix.com make it so incredibly easy to make any website, with a very professional appearance. They have templates you can start with and personalize to your business’s style. There is absolutely no coding required, which is one reason I chose them. Seriously, who has time to learn to code when you’re trying to invent the next big beauty product?
Years ago I knew I wanted to start an online store, but I was waiting for the inspiration to do so. I saved every penny until I was one hundred percent sure, I knew exactly what I needed it for. Even though the inspiration came from a horrific event, I choose to see the positive that has come from it. Approximately $18,000 was used to purchase ingredients needed for formulations, $5,000 for office supplies and equipment, $7,000 for packaging and shipping materials, and approximately $5,000 for lab equipment.
If I had to start over, I would probably be more prepared with a larger quantity of sample sizes for my customers, as who wants to purchase a product for $30 - $40 when they haven’t even tried it out? I would definitely make sure that sample sizes were the first products to be made and have on hand or ready to ship to my potential customers. At the time of my launch, I only had around 5 products to offer and only catered for one skin type, so I really limited my customer potential. I would definitely formulate products for all skin categories before launching.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I must say it is not the easiest task, to formulate and market non-toxic products with the highest quality ingredients and have people frown at my price tag. However, there are a lot of customers who know and understand that it does cost more to make healthy products, rather than using unhealthy, cheap synthetic ingredients. They know they are worth it and will pay the money.
If I had to choose a marketing platform, it would definitely be Google, however, I really can’t tell a huge difference between Google, Facebook, or Instagram. I have been approached by many media outlets, that have come across my products and want to “feature” them on their website/ blog/ TV program, but they also want a pretty penny and I just can’t justify spending $10-$20K on advertising.
I have found word of mouth and farmers markets are my best avenues for exposure, the majority of my customers are from these kinds of sources. Wix also provides a mobile app community for website creators and this allows me to stay in touch with current and new customers and keep them in the loop as to what is going on. We also have introduced a loyalty rewards program, where customers can earn points for liking us on Facebook/ Instagram and also for every dollar spent on our website. They can then redeem these points on future purchases.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
My brand is continuously growing and I am formulating and testing new products regularly. So far every dollar that I make is recycled back into the company, to make new products or give away more samples and earn more trust in potential customers. I’m really focused on conveying the message of not using unhealthy products on your skin, even if they feel good, smell good, perform good, that there are much healthier alternatives available.
During the current global situation, there are not many in-person options, one can choose from, however, I plan on participating in trade shows, once the current global situation permits. I also plan on reaching out to some local vendors, as the island of Maui is a real advocate, for health and well-being.
In the meantime, I have plans to enter the micro-influencer/ influencer world, as it seems to be a real trend right now. I have noticed all the big brands are advertising this way, so I have decided to give it a whirl and see where it leads me.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As I mentioned earlier, I have been offered to feature on a few well-known TV channels, websites, and news sites, but to be totally honest, I simply wasn’t ready to be exposed to a channel with 30+ million views worldwide, at this point. Although I had the funds to do it, I simply would have been overwhelmed by the influx of business in a short span, so I opted to grow my business organically. Although this is not a regret, but rather a realistic business decision, I hope to be able to land this kind of opportunity in the future.
I think the biggest force on my side, is the natural beauty industry is booming right now, (although most brands just do clever marketing tricks), but awareness for healthy beauty products and makeup, is beginning to unfold. Although there is a lot of misinformation on the subject, I hope to contribute to clearing the fog.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Wix is the platform I use for my website, as mentioned before. It is a very user-friendly platform to build a website from scratch. Even if you have never built a website before, don’t fear, it’s just as easy as stacking blocks. You don’t need to know technical details like coding, the coding is created and runs in the background, as you build. Everything is set out in steps to follow, but if there is anything you can’t figure out how to do, you can usually find easy to follow instructions on the help section of their website, or they do have a lot of tutorial videos to watch too. The SEO on Wix is also highly rated among the internet marketing gurus.
Another Apple Macbook app that I use is called Label LIVE, which is also available on Windows operating systems as well. This is the software that I run to create my product labels, which you can add barcodes, completely customize and come out with an end product, that looks so professional. I believe it is around $14.99 per month to purchase and they do a free 14-day trial.
Another platform I use is Wave, which is free online accounting software, just to keep all of my expenses and sales in one place, ready for the end of year filing. It is also a really easy platform to use, I also used to use it to record transactions for my husbands business, for the last 3.5 years.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
You know what? I actually don’t like reading books and I’ve never been a fan of podcast/ radio programs. I’m a visual person and I learn a lot through watching videos. Now and then I stumble across a really interesting YouTube video and the rest is history!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My advice to future entrepreneurs is, do your research and put your plan into action ASAP, because you might regret it if you don’t. If you spend too much time worrying about small details, it just may never happen and the fine details will iron themselves out, as you take each step.
Don’t be scared of failing, as there is always room for improvement. You don’t want it to be 10 years later, after this brilliant idea you had and have still not have done anything about it. You are only living this life once, and it’s short if you think about it!
Starting your own business is hard work and in the beginning, there will choices and sacrifices to be made. There may be several nights your up until early hours “just to get this done,” but in the end, it is all worth it. Once you get the ball rolling and get in the swing of things, you will work out a routine and maybe be able to give yourself a day off!
Where can we go to learn more?
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