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Skincare Entrepreneur: Victoria Fantauzzi
If you were the kind of kid who sat in the yard mixing potions with water, sticks, dirt and leaves (what we now call naturally-sourced materials) and imagining all of the uses for your concoctions, you have some sense of what Victoria Fantauzzi has been up to since 2010.
The co-founder of La Bella Figura, along with her business partner Karen King, sources and designs formulas for skincare products and perfumes. Victoria and Karen research global, therapeutic, natural materials (sometimes getting to travel the world to find the best local providers) and hand blend all of the products in the line. But Victoria didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur and, as she says, did things backward.
JMA: Before launching La Bella Figura (LBF), you worked with kids. How did you make the transition to entrepreneur?
VF: Karen and I were both educators. For 21 years, I taught, nannied and worked with autistic kids. Working with kids with disabilities, you always have to think outside the box and recognize each child as an individual. You have to understand how they communicate and receive information. With LBF, we had this great idea and passion. Because we’re both non-traditional thinkers, we didn’t follow any set rules.
JMA: The leap from working with kids to conceptualizing, creating and launching a green beauty line is pretty big. What inspired you to launch LBF?
VF: At the time, there was a void of quality products that were natural, pure, working scientifically and offering therapeutic value to your skin. I wanted to understand toxins and learn why some people have problems like acne or dry skin and think about how to make products to solve those problems. I studied speech and behavioral science and have a natural curiosity about how things work. Through my research and making my own skincare, I saw my skin change. I wanted to create a brand that involved discovery, learning and sharing.
JMA: The creative thinking skills you developed as an educator influenced the way you launched the company. What was the first year like for you?
VF: Karen and I were naive. We had $400 and an idea. We started experimenting and making products. We gave them to friends and family to test out — those are the very worst people to give things to if you need real feedback. They were all so supportive and said they loved everything, so we weren’t objective at all. We were convinced we would launch and everyone would love us.
Then, days, weeks and months went by with no sales and we didn’t understand why. We didn’t have a business plan when we started and it was really scary. I understand now why so many people close shop right away.
JMA: How did you bounce back from that initial disappointment and keep going?
VF: We had no fear, probably because we were so naive and passionate. We tried traditional approaches like hiring PR people and did some of the things you’re supposed to do, but it didn’t work. We learned that we needed to be as authentic as possible; people are receptive to authenticity and it’s something you can’t fake. We were ourselves.
We never got a loan or an investor — and I think it would have been a different business if we had. We did things really backward, but it worked because it made us fight for everything we wanted. We believed so much in the products and realized we had to keep selling and promoting and getting them to the right people. I just called people and put myself out there. It’s exciting and, being your own boss, you have the freedom to try things.
JMA: Did you end up getting any training or taking a business class?
VF: I had this idea that I should have gone to business school so I talked to friends who had about what we were doing. They said we were fine and I believed them. Karen and I decided to take a class on essential oils and aromatherapy, but it was so structured; we’re not structured people. There were lots of rules and shouldn’t dos, but we were in this to try new things. That was the only real class that we took. We were building the dream and it takes more than classes. People give up too quickly — it’s not instantaneous to create a brand and have people embrace it.
JMA: What has surprised you about building the business?
VF: It’s way more work than I thought. Years later, we’re still working and connecting and getting products into people’s hands. People don’t realize how consistent you have to be, and there are so many choices on the market now — way more than when we launched. Constantly connecting with customers is a lot of work, but I love that part of my job. The other surprising thing is that I have a wildly different life. Your friends can change; your professional affiliations are all different; what you read is different.
JMA: What has been the most difficult thing about launching a business?
VF: Money and benefits — those are really hard. You have to have a support system that pumps you up. Karen and I do that for each other all of the time. We realized we might have to sacrifice a paycheck for a year or two until we were profitable. Some people can’t or are not willing to take that risk, and I get that.
When you’re focused on growing a business, you have to say no to things and your priorities change. I was investing most of my time and money into the business. The time with my friends mattered, but what we did mattered less. I couldn’t just take a trip or go out for dinner. You find out who your really good friends are. I’m sure there are people out there with unlimited time and money, but I don’t know any of them.
JMA: What has changed for LBF in the last few years?
VF: I am still very involved in research and development, and passionate about learning about new ingredients and meeting producers, but I am also really excited about the business side. I’m proud of what we have accomplished and having a leadership role in the green beauty industry. People call me now to ask questions about packaging and working with retailers.
LBF isn’t just a brand — we’re leaders in a movement because we took that initiative. We launched A Night for Green Beauty in 2013. That first year, it was an event the day before fashion week in New York and we got interest from a lot of retailers and stores. We realized we could either wait around for an editor to discover us, pay a PR person thousands of dollars or do it ourselves. We didn’t want to wait around. We talked with bigger sponsors for the next year’s event, which was interesting. Some corporations wanted to change things and we said no. We don’t want to give up ownership. They can have ideas, but we decide how it is structured.
It is powerful because I realize that people are watching, listening and respecting what we do. Our brand did that.
JMA: What’s the most challenging thing about your career?
VF: We’re not glam; we’re work-oriented. The work is hard and constant — I give myself a pep talk every day. I get up at 5 a.m. and have calls in the middle of the night. I haven’t taken a vacation in forever.
JMA: What does the best workday ever look like?
VF: I think that would be spending the whole day, uninterrupted, in the studio smelling new oils, testing ingredients, playing with them and melting things.
JMA: What is your average workday like?
VF: When I get up, I’m online immediately answering emails. I could answer emails for days; they just keep coming. I check out social media and always check sales and see what happened overnight. Then I go to the studio and either make products, ship orders or connect with our team and our sales manager in Toronto. When I get home, I work more. I kind of don’t have a personal life during the week, which is OK for me. On the weekends I do. Balance is a struggle for many business owners.
JMA: What’s the salary range in the career?
VF: We are profitable now, which is nice. We were able to give our employees bonuses which is really special. We have three employees and train everyone to do it all.
JMA: What’s the bottom line?
VF: I’m not an expert. We make mistakes, but I don’t beat myself about them. This is constant reinvention in so many ways and nothing is as it appears. I am very competitive with myself and I felt like I would have always been kicking myself if I didn’t try.
La Bella Figura products are available online and in retail locations in the U.S. and Canada. Since its launch, LBF has been featured in numerous publications including New York Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and Natural Health.