Meet Melissa Kimbell, founder of skincare brand Awake Organics

Meet Melissa Kimbell, founder of skincare brand Awake Organics

Posted: Thu 26th Sep 2019

Describe your business.

We make natural skincare, deodorant and perfume for people avoiding controversial additives like parabens, phthalates, SLS and petro-chemicals. Our formulas are a hybrid of skin care and wellbeing modalities. We use clear quartz crystals in our cleanser, aromatherapy and nutritious super foods throughout the range.

We formulate with local ingredients (UK hemp oil from a farm in West Sussex, among others), we use artisan manufacturing methods, and our packaging is made seven miles away with FSC recycled materials and biodegradable inks. Sustainability and traceability are key pillars at Awake.

How did you come up with your business idea?

When I moved to the UK from Canada a three years ago, I noticed it was really hard to find any natural products that were eco-friendly and made with local ingredients. In particular, I could not find any natural deodorants that worked. I saw that as an opportunity.

To test my theory that people in the UK were being underserved in the natural deodorant category, I started with one product, Aura Clean Deodorant. I developed Aura and then launched it into 2,500 YOU Magazine subscription boxes. That generated sales, press, early brand buzz and won some awards, so I incorporated in October 2017 and started work on the rest of the range.

What start-up challenges have you faced?

I didn't have any business experience when I started Awake, so the main challenge for me is learning everything as I go along.

I've found support and resources that have been invaluable from Enterprise Nation, and various Facebook groups (Enterprise Nation member Indie Beauty Delivers, Janet Murray, etc.). I've learned that if I don't have the answer, it's better to find someone who does, rather than struggle through and waste time.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

We just delivered our largest wholesale order ever to Urban Outfitters. We're launching our entire range into 10 stores nationwide and online. I've been working with their buying team for eight months and to get to this stage feels amazing.

We're also stocked in Anthropologie, Amazon UK & EU, and we have more launches planned in the coming months. A year ago, I had never even sent an email to a buyer and now I can negotiate contracts and supply chain stuff. That's huge for me.

What is your next business goal?

We just completed a large customer survey and discovered the majority of our base is shopping regularly at Waitrose and Sainsbury's. When I look at their assortment in health and beauty, I just don't see the type of products my customers want to buy. So, my next goal is to reach out to their buying teams and introduce them to Awake.

What do you think will be your biggest challenge?

Well, first of all I don't have any contacts. So, I'm going to have to figure out who to reach out to and how to present Awake in the best light. I'm not 100% sure if the large grocery chains are able to work with or are interested in working with smaller brands. I know that it can be challenging to meet on pricing and that there may also be challenges around distribution for small brands.

How has Enterprise Nation helped your business?

I have watched so many webinars, and I have attended events as well. The Beauty Exchange was awesome and I will be at the next one for sure. That day basically gave me all the tools I needed to start my journey into retail.

I also had the chance to pitch to Holland & Barrett. I was not ready to work with them at that time, but the practice and experience really helped boost my confidence.

What other entrepreneur inspires you?

I recently met Phillippa Gee, founder of Fatty's Organics Gin. We were on a panel discussion at Pebblefest together.

Phillippa is the founder of the coolest, female-led gin company going. Fatty's is small batch and they use local botanicals to infuse flavour. They are also one of the few certified organic gins made in the UK. Gin is a super competitive category, so her success is really impressive.

What are your three tips for business success?

Be resilient. Share your good ideas with others. Don't be a chicken.

Anything else you would like to share?

We just launched #zerowaste500club, which is a reverse refill program that aims to cut CO2 emissions by 4.3 tonnes by April 2020.

When I was working on the program, there were a lot of people who said it would be too expensive, too time consuming and not scalable. Many times, I thought they were probably right but the only way to know for sure is to try it in my business, and deal with the issues as they come up.

We launched it on 2 April, and so far our direct customer orders have increased, we've seen a good uptick in social engagement, our program was featured in Forbes and I've been invited to speak about the program on panels and interviews.

The takeaway for me is that not every challenge needs to have a perfect-on-paper answer. Sometimes it's the small and weird ideas that get people talking and thinking about things differently than before.  The concept of circular packaging models being the norm in business sounds crazy today but then again, that's what they used to say about veganism!

Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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