With her tousled beachy waves and defined European features ILIA founder, Sasha Plavsic, is at the intersection where go-getter city girl meets laid back SoCal vibe. There’s nothing pretentious about this London educated, former beauty creative director and Vancouverite; just a candor and genuineness most CEO’s strive for. We sit down with the organic beauty brand founder to discuss how ILIA came to fruition, the struggle to balance work and motherhood and what’s next for the brand.
The birth of ILIA
“When I turned thirty I was in not a great relationship and I was pretty lost. I remember it was a really stormy day. It was crazy; a thunderstorm (here in Southern California) in the middle of the day which is not normal. And I remember standing outside in the rain. I was having this big birthday and I realized I was doing everything to make other people happy instead of doing what makes me happy. I made the decision that I didn’t want to go into my thirties like that anymore and it opened the door for this brand to happen; it made everything possible. I left California, moved back to Vancouver, moved back in with my parents and took a job as a shop girl during the day and worked nights on developing ILIA.
“At the time, I couldn’t relate to anything in beauty. There was no brand that reached out to me from a core values stand point or an aesthetic standpoint. I felt like what I was looking for was not available. I decided to take my favorite chapstick and recreate it in a sleek sustainably made package, fill it with a higher percentage of organic ingredients and try to make it as green as possible. It became a process for two years. Labs would tell me, ‘Who are you, and I don’t care because you’re nobody. Why would we want to work with you? You can’t meet our minimums and we can’t do this because its not possible.’ And six years ago when I was exploring organic products it was a lot harder; things have come a long way since then in the understanding of how to manufacture organic products. But I was persistent. I was so passionate about trying to figure it out. I think that eventually brings the right people to you and I met my chemist. She’s become like a great aunt. We talk about everything; it’s a very special relationship.
“There is just one wall after another and the moment you choose to not knock it down you aren’t going to take that step forward.”
“If you imagine something and you want it. What do you do to go get it? ILIA did not happen overnight. It was a process and I really think I could have given up. There were so many times when people gave up on me. People would say to me, ‘You had a creative director position, good salary, what are you doing? You are going to go make lipstick?!’ But my parents were amazing; they supported my idea. Living at home and being able to save on rent helped. I worked full time and then worked at night, but the fire of wanting to see if I could create something and having my own business kept me going. There is just one wall after another and the moment you choose to not knock it down you aren’t going to take that step forward. Now there are one hundred walls per day to knock down, but I believe there is a solution to everything. I learned that from my dad. He was my biggest inspiration and mentor. He was born in 1930, so he saw a lot. He’s no longer here, but he came from Eastern Europe. He defected from the war and peeled potatoes for six months to get a ticket to go across the Atlantic and come to America. That takes serious risk and balls. He ended up in Canada with nothing, but he became a very successful architect. He always said, ‘Health and happiness are everything, but you have to go after your dreams. You have to go after what you want and you gotta live your life.’ This was a guy who lived life so fully. I still haven’t met anyone who lived like him. He risked so much and stepped outside of the box. He wasn’t afraid to take a stand for what he believed in.”
“When it comes to our ingredients, we are working with natural botanicals – oils, waxes, butters for our lips and cream products. The waxes (bees wax) help the products stay in place; then you have your butters (cocoa, shea, mango) and oils (jojoba, pomegranate, avocado). The wax helps the butters and oils stay there, then the butters carry the oils which penetrate the deepest layers of the skin. They help promote cellular turnover and nourishment to the skin. We’re 85% organic, but with some products we position ourselves as responsibly made. We do use base mineral pigments which come from the earth. We don’t use carmine, which is a crushed beetle skin; we choose not to. Instead, we use a food grade synthetic dye. Not in all of our products, but anything you see with a bright color. To preserve the products we use this preservative made in a lab from alcohol from a bunch of flowers. It’s a very small percentage. As soon as you apply it to the skin it evaporates.
“But it’s more than what’s going into the product; it’s where the ingredients are sourced from also. Some mineral pigments coming from India, the children that pick those pigments are treated horribly. We are trying to have more awareness about what is happening down the line in the industry. Where the ingredients are coming from, how they are being made and you can’t see everything, but we try to really watch out for those things to make sure there is a consciousness and we source all of our ingredients responsibly.
“We recently started working with Sephora; we did one product in store and three online. They wanted to see how it would perform and it did really well. We are expanding with lip in the fall and we will explore more in store for holiday. There are steps for growing that relationship, but so far it’s positive. Anthropology has taken a curated selection of the line to include in all of their concept stores and we have placement in a lot of niche boutiques; little cute places that represent the line; certain spas. We’re also reformulating a third of the line and introducing some new categories. We do have to keep it fresh and I’m curious to see how these new items will do in 2017. And we are going to bring new lipstick colors for fall.”
CEO vs. Mom
“To be totally honest, you juggle work and motherhood like a crazy person. Lean In and all those books, forget it. I would like to tell her, no, women cannot have it all. You can have it all with serous sacrifices and I don’t think people are talking about the truth of it. Even with a ton of help, it’s still tough. For women it sucks, that whole liberation all it did was have to make us stronger. If you aren’t working you are looked down for being a stay at home mom by other women; its unbelievable the judgement. And if you are working, you’re looked at like a bad mom for not being there for your child. It’s tough. Juggling it all is so hard and I know for a fact I’m not the only one who feels this or goes through it. If you are going to work, you have to accept what comes along with it and you have to build as much of a support group around you as you can. Until you are mom it is so easy to sit on the sidelines and judge. Now, I look at any woman no matter what their child is like – spoiled, screaming, throwing a tantrum, whatever. And I think whatever they can do to make whatever it is they are dealing with work – go for it. Nobody knows what its like to be in that person’s shoes.
“As we go into bigger box doors, I’m learning I need more support. More support in the office and more support at home. It sounds corny, but sometimes I just need to take a moment outside and look at a tree; breathe for a second. I use this meditation app Headspace; it’s great. I need to slow down sometimes because literally I don’t have time to be or just wash my hair sometimes. I will say if you are working and taking care of kids and you don’t take time for yourself you’re going to break down.”
“I literally am in and out of the shower. I don’t even blow-dry my hair. I air dry. I use all natural clean skin care products. I’ll use INDIE LEE Brightening Cleanser; It takes off all of my makeup, no problem. Then I’ll spare my face with a toner and follow with a face oil. I like Kahina Giving Beauty. I apply a touch of our Radiant Beauty Balm and mix it with our Sheer Vivid Tinted Moisturizer and pat it on my face. Then I’ll use our multi-stick in A Fine Romance on cheeks and lips. Maybe concealer if I’m really tired and I’ll always use our Polka Dots & Moonbeams Highlighter.”
-as told to BOND EN AVANT
Photographed by Amy Chang