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Jennifer Waller began her career as a makeup-dazzled teenager, thrilled to serve part-time behind the cosmetics counter at Burdine’s department store in her home town of Miami. It took years for that happy magical pixie dust to turn to cynicism.
As she rose through the ranks – eventually becoming beauty director at Nordstrom – Waller happily guzzled every drop of Kool-Aid wisdom that the beauty industry put out: That more makeup is more beautiful. That movie stars really use the stuff they endorse. That the bigger the company and the slicker the packaging, the better the ingredients must be.
Meanwhile, her own complexion was driving her crazy. After every potion and powder in her arsenal failed to mask – much less cure – her rosacea, Waller in desperation went to a holistic esthetician who told her to chuck all her cosmetics and go on a far more natural skin care diet. Within a month she stopped looking like an Angry Bird.
If this were a movie, now would come the scene where the violins soar tremulously and a glowing light appears in the sky. Waller switched gears. She quit her job, got an esthetician’s license and was soon developing her own natural product line on her kitchen stove.
Celtic Complexion has since grown into a six-figure-a-year boutique business, based in the Research Triangle area of Raleigh, NC (although most serums and creams are still concocted in the kitchen.)
Every single thing she sells works on her own face. Sensitive skin gets TLC from raw materials that are certified organic, cruelty free, non-GMO and never sourced from China. And no, there are absolutely no celebrity endorsers on the payroll. Life comes full cycle, or maybe 180 degrees.
What inspired you to start your business?
Having grown up in the prestige beauty industry, I was granted an all-access pass to preview the latest beauty products from LA, NYC, London and Paris. Life was good, but I had a secret.
Despite the benefits of unlimited beauty gifts of the most sought-after products, I was hiding my own skin behind layers of foundation, concealer, and powder, and would never be caught without my makeup.
I suffer from a skin disorder called rosacea, which leaves the skin very red. Only my closest friends and family knew of my condition, because I was able to conceal it so perfectly. To the outside world, I had a peaches and cream complexion, but as soon as I took the makeup off, my skin resembled a sunburn.
It wasn’t until a chance encounter with a holistic esthetician, who suggested I abandon my current skincare regime, that I made the connection between the ingredients in the products I was using and my skin condition.
It never occurred to me the products I was using were harming me, I just assumed it was my skin. After all, these products were all recommended by beauty editors, celebrities and beauty docs, and they weren’t cheap!
I saw a difference immediately and I knew I couldn’t represent mainstream products in good faith any longer, so I started out on a new journey.
I was motivated to heal my own skin by the knowledge I acquired from this holistic esthetician. I became curious to learn more.
I quit reading beauty magazines and began to read books by others that shared her philosophy. It’s self-education vs. institutional education. These experts were not celebrities or doctors, they were nutritionists, naturopaths, aromatherapists, and natural healing experts.
I have read at least three books every month for the last decade on these subjects, and have amassed quite an impressive library. These authors have become my teachers and their words and findings have become the foundation from which I built my own company.
What were some roadblocks/issues that you have faced? How have you prevailed?
Once I garnered enough self-education and confidence in my formulas to actually start my own business, I was soon awakened from my idealistic slumber when faced with the task of marketing my products.
How could I share my passion, my message, my products with the world without an Estee Lauder budget?
Here is the irony. The very magazines and TV shows that send women the message they aren’t good enough, are the very same vehicles you need to get the word out about your products. It’s a catch 22. This game requires something I didn’t have, deep pockets. Very. Deep. Pockets.
Celtic Complexion started with a very modest budget, and a bare bones budget doesn’t leave a lot left over for marketing. I had to build this company one complexion at a time, and rely on word-of-mouth advertising.
We are conditioned to buy what we see most often, and I think that comes from us leading busy lives. We don’t have time to do research ourselves on what’s good for us, so we rely on the media to tell us what’s good.
The next time you wonder “if this is so good, why haven’t I heard of it before?” There are many, many wonderful artisan brands out there that have not gained national brand recognition. Open your mind to these smaller brands and be impressed on results, not advertising.
What is one of your favourite products? Can you tell us more about this product?
Celtic Jewel is my magnum opus. It was introduced to the line in 2016, and in that same year won the Kristen Arnett Best of Green Beauty Awards in the Best Anti-Aging Moisturizer category. In 2017 it won the Artisan Product of the Year Award by the Indie Business Network.
I created this product for women with sensitive skin who can’t tolerate harsh chemicals, peels or procedures but wanted similar results with none of the down time.
Share your brand ethos and how you demonstrate credibility as it relates to your formulation and ingredients
Do you ever wonder how products are different, even though the may have similar ingredients? A quick glance at an ingredient list only tells you part of the story.
1. Source of Ingredients – An artisan’s source of ingredients is held in as much regard and secrecy as the actual formula. Not all ingredients are the same. I’ve spent many months, sometimes years researching raw ingredients. The health of the soil, the care in which they are harvested and how they are stored or preserved is of the utmost important to me.
I can relate this to wine to make it easily understandable. You can take a wine type, say Pinot Noir, and it can taste very differently from each wine maker. The best wines (in my opinion) are the ones from boutique wineries with very limited runs.
I remember as a child, my mom had this very special stuffed shell recipe. Rather than get all her ingredients from the grocery store, she purchased the meat from a butcher in a neighboring town, the tomatoes from the local farmers market, and the pasta from a specialty Italian market that hand made their own pasta. The result was sublime, and no matter how hard I tried, I could never replicate her recipe because my ingredients were purchased from a big box grocer.
I purchase the majority of my raw ingredients for Celtic Complexion products from small businesses who manufacture in micro batches, ensuring the freshest ingredients.
2. Attention to Detail – When you get a Celtic Complexion product, it’s my hands that lovingly create it. I believe strongly that is what you are paying for, the “artists’ hands”.
Details such as how the product is poured, how it sets up, and how it’s packaged and shipped. I want every stage of the product to inspire and delight you, from the time you open the package, to when you place it on your vanity, to when you first place the luxurious creme between your fingers.. it has to be “an experience” that you won’t forget.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.
3.Time – It takes a full six months for a Rolls Royce to be made. It takes 14 hours to assemble a Ford Edge.
A mass marketed creme is made in minutes, in large vats, with the push of a button. The production time of a Celtic Complexion product can take from three hours to three days.
4. Formula – An ingredient list on the back of a bottle does not reveal the actual recipe or formula. It does not reveal actual percentages of ingredients either. Green washing is a common practice in our industry. It means when a company puts a wonderful ingredient in a product, but in minuscule amounts so they can legally advertise it on the bottle, but there isn’t enough of the ingredient to actually be effective.
I liken a cosmetic formula to a secret family recipe that has been passed down for generations. As in the example above, when cooking, you can have the same two people make a recipe but it can taste very different. The experience, expertise and intuition of the chef can turn a simple egg into a masterpiece.
As an artisan, part of my process is to honor my intuition when working with raw ingredients, and know when to accelerate a formula, and when to call it done.
An artisan’s formula and process is their fingerprint, and theirs alone.
5.Intention- I call it the “x” factor. The emotions, feelings and settings for which a product is created has a lot of influence on how the product will perform. In other words, I have to be in a specific mindset to “create” because it effects the end result. In addition to the actual product creation, there are many rituals which we follow before, during and after which charge and imprint each product.
I believe this is why our products have such a profound effect.
I feel it’s so important to educate you about my process, so you can make an educated decision when comparing products. I’ll leave you with this little story about Pablo Picasso.
Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.
“It’s you — Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist.”
So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.
“It’s perfect!” she gushed. “You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?”
“Five thousand dollars,” the artist replied.
“B-b-but, what?” the woman sputtered. “How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!”
To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”
Thank you Jennifer Waller for sharing your powerful story behind Celtic Complexion Luxury Artisan Skincare Your dedication for creating top quality products that are kind to the earth and kind to people is absolutely inspiring!