In Conversation with Emilie Hoyt of LATHER

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What made you take the leap to start your own business?

Growing up, I suffered from severe migraines that doctors were ultimately unable to remedy. As a pioneer by nature, I knew I had to find a solution. After many trials and tests, I determined that my headaches were being triggered by synthetic fragrance. Both relieved and alarmed with my findings, I became inspired to help people who were struggling with similar health sensitivities. I poured my passion for wellness and aromatherapy into LATHER, which led to the opening of our first store in Pasadena, CA in 1999. Twenty-one years later, we have LATHER stores nationwide, including Atlanta, Fairfax, Long Beach, Pasadena, Phoenix and San Ramon. LATHER products can also be found in hundreds of boutiques, spas and resorts worldwide.  

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

After graduating college, I started working in Public Relations. While that was certainly a great experience, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my purpose was to help people with similar health sensitives as the ones I had struggled with throughout my life. 

That being said, when I first sought out to make natural products, there wasn’t a process in place or precedent to follow. While today “clean beauty” is trendy and manufacturing such products has become more streamlined, in the late 90s, early 2000s, I found myself networking the old fashioned way. I read books to conduct my own research, traveled to meet chemists in labs and sat on the phone with manufacturers around the clock in hopes of finding partners who were aligned with my mission, philosophy and chosen natural ingredients. Only then was I able to start making and selling self care products.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

No, not at all. Initially, I sought out to make products that could help me with my migraines. Once I discovered how harmful synthetic fragrance is, how protected the fragrance and beauty industries are and how much better I felt after ditching synthetic fragrance, I felt compelled to educate people with similar problems. I started by opening just one store where I could share my findings on dangerous chemicals and offer people a more natural way. 

I certainly had the drive to be an entrepreneur, but what resulted was far more than I had initially set out for. It was through this first store that hospitality discovered us. Eventually it was our partnerships in the hospitality industry that became a vehicle for us to spread the word on synthetic fragrance with people all over the country.  

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

Initially, our marketing initiative was to make and message natural, safer skincare alternatives to the more mainstream, chemically products that were on the market. At the time, parabens, sulfates, synthetic fragrance and artificial color weren’t yet on brands’ “no” lists – in fact, I don’t think “no” lists even existed – but I was keen to put them on mine. While doing this definitely helped gain a cult following, many brands quickly followed suit. 

However, while many of these brands adopted the practice of avoiding some harmful ingredients, one major message has not found its stride just yet. And that’s the one on synthetic fragrance. The dangers and harmful effects of these chemical compounds were the reason I first became inspired by natural products. In a very saturated market, I want to share my message on synthetic fragrance, educate my consumer on the fragrance industry’s alarming secrets and altogether eliminate synthetic fragrance. That’s become our core marketing initiative today.  

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

Mistakes definitely make for great lessons. When I first started LATHER, I honestly didn’t have a great grasp on business terminology. There would be conversations in which I’d be asked about things like my margin on soap. Initially I would wonder, “Is this person asking me how much remainder exists after I cut the soap?” There was a huge learning curve, and I had to grow into the idea that there are no stupid questions. If ever confused, I now just simply ask.  

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Since the inception of LATHER, I’ve remained proud of my growing team and their commitment to offering our community natural skincare solutions to real problems. This was most recently apparent in our quick turnaround with hand sanitizer. 

When this global pandemic hit, the importance of readily available protective products became clear. To help keep our community safe and healthy, we dipped into the resources we had available to us to quickly launch a Hand Sanitizer with Moisturizing Aloe – not only to keep germs away, but also to help with the drying effects of the product’s alcohol (as well as chapping from excessive hand washing). 

We were able to manufacture this hand sanitizer so quickly in large part because of our strong relationships with our suppliers. We have deep and trustworthy resources, all of whom helped get this much-needed product off the ground efficiently and effectively. Finding reliable and consistent raw materials. Navigating the surging costs of premium grade alcohol. And dealing with manufacturing fluctuations behind the scenes. This was a monumental task, and the LATHER team rose to the challenge. 

Today, our widely celebrated hand sanitizer is packaged in 10 oz. and 2 oz. bottles, as well as in wipe format, and is a consistent best seller. 

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

I think the most important thing is to encourage candidates to speak as much as possible. If I hear something that signals a positive or negative trait, I will often say, “Tell me more about that.” I’ve learned that, too often, assumptions (both positive and negative) are made based on a comment taken out of context. I chase transparency.

Another question I like to ask is, “What will success in this role look like?” It’s always interesting to learn the various benchmarks that candidates have for accomplishment. 

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

As a business owner, COVID-19 has been an incredibly stressful, challenging time. I had to furlough many of my wonderful staff and apply for loans. These are things I’ve never done before. Truthfully, it was a humbling experience to see my business drop so suddenly. It was as emotional as it was trying, as I have spent 21 years working to build this special business. There were definitely moments in which I considered the harsh reality that my company could dwindle overnight. However, my team showed resilience, and today, we’re still selling natural skincare and wellness products that help people feel real. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Moving forward, I think products that both help and incentivize people to take precautions and stay healthy will find heightened value. Companies that care deeply about their customers, and have used this time to instate good will, provide helpful resources and maintain an open line of communication with their community, will ultimately thrive.

As such, we are delving into products that help our customers stay healthy and safe amid this global pandemic. To promote hygiene, we’ve recently released a Hand Sanitizer with Moisturizing Aloe (in liquid and wipe format) and a Face Mask Applicator to keep hands and products clean. We hope to continue to grow our Conscious Care category to help our community stay healthy and feel good while doing so. 

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

My mantra in difficult times has always been to take the high road. Both experience and intuition have taught me to never indulge in short cuts. This includes everything from the quality of ingredients we use to the deep-seated values that remain the cornerstones of LATHER. Simply put, there is no overnight success that lasts, and slow and steady will almost always win the race. 

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

In business challenges (and there will be challenges), stay your course. Don’t take advantage of people’s vulnerability. Should an entrepreneur choose to adjust their foundational platforms, it should only be to help their consumers – not for the purpose of profit. This good will is what has helped build LATHER’s customer loyalty through good times and bad. 

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

In times of uncertainty, keeping a routine definitely helps instill some sense of normalcy into our day-to-day lives. My family and I regularly use aromatherapy to help cement different times of the day. For example, an invigorating essential oil blend on our wrists and temples helps wake us up and set the tone for the day, and later in the evenings, we use a gentle, soothing essential oil to promote relaxation.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

To be honest, I sometimes have trouble with this question. Because I never hear it asked to men. But, yes. I believe in a work/life balance. As is a pillar of the LATHER brand, being a caretaker is very important to me – of myself and my community. What I’ve come to realize however, is that “balance” isn’t a specific formula. There will be many unbalanced days, of course – just like we don’t always eat perfectly balanced and healthy every single day. But balance can be achieved over time. Committing to priorities is essential – mental health for yourself, your family and your teammates should always be the top priority.

I also believe in stepping away from work to create healthy mental downtime. In the midst of this global pandemic, I’ve taken note of a new kind of care and its relation to mental health. The benefits of daily check-ins, midday social distance yoga breaks and uplifting article exchanges go far beyond our current health climate. 

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you? 

I’m passionate about classical music, and I play the piano for an hour or more a day.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Prioritizing my to-do list first thing in the morning
  • Filling my break time with something that gives or replenishes energy (i.e. walking, playing the piano, etc.)
  • Drinking a lot of water (I know, I know). But honestly, the more water I drink, the more mental energy I have.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?  

I never sought out to be an entrepreneur. I just wanted to offer a solution to a serious problem – one that I struggled with myself. That’s what has shaped my definition of an Entreprenista: 

  • Being someone who creates innovative solutions to very real pain points
  • Always telling the truth to my consumers 
  • Stepping into a genuine caretaker role 
  • Remaining curious about ingredients, technology and my community

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