They say two heads are better than one, but when you’re sisters, that can be true for head-butting purposes only. For sisters Julia and Rebecca Sinclair-Smith, however, the common goal of creating a line of all-natural skincare products was enough to set aside the head-butting (at least sometimes).
Their line, Smith Farms Natural Skincare, started with lotion, and they’ve now got numerous products, from lip tints to facial toners. We got to chat with them about business, skincare and what it’s really like to be in business with your sister—who’s your best friend, but also sometimes frenemy.
29Secrets: Had you created any other skincare products before the first batch of lotion you formulated for Smith Farms?
Julia: Yeah, I definitely fooled around and made other things. I’ve made a sugar scrub with brown sugar and olive oil for my hands and body. I’ve also occasionally dabbled in masks. I remember making one with egg whites, vitamin e and lemon juice.
What sparked your interest for creating skincare products?
I guess I’ve always liked doing things myself, even from an early age. When I was younger, I learned how to sew from my mum; when I wanted to make my own bread, I learned how. I’ve often seem things and thought, “Well, I bet I can do that,” and I’ve always really liked skincare products. I was always trying out different things like lotions to see which one worked best for me. I think my interest in skin care is a combination of enjoying the products and also liking to try my hand at something, thinking that I can do it to0.
Now Rebecca, I read that at first that you were a little bit hesitant when Julia came to you with the idea for the brand. What changed your mind and switch gears—not just helping her create a logo for Smith Farms, but actually partnering with her in the business?
Rebecca: [Laughs.] You know, we always joke about that! The thing is, we’re both very entrepreneurial. We come from a family of entrepreneurs, so we’re used to that lifestyle. At the time, [that Julia approached me] I was looking into house-flipping, and I was doing graphic design on the side, so I was already working for myself. However, we’ve always wanted to work together on something because we’re really close.
When Julia first came up with this idea, I had a very different vision in mind. I didn’t know that there were any good, natural preservatives, so I was imagining that she was going to come up with lotions that were going to be all lumpy and you’d have to keep them in the fridge. Basically, I thought, “There’s no way she’s going to make a living out of this.” What changed my mind completely, was seeing and trying the product itself. It smelled great, it looked great and it worked! I never thought that it was possible to make anything this good from such natural and pure ingredients, without the additional stuff like artificial preservatives. From there, it was an easy decision—not to mention I already knew how to make websites. When Julia asked me, “Hey, would you be able to make this website for me?” I said, “Sure, and why I don’t I just join you all together?” That’s really how it started.
It’s a good partnership. She really loves formulating the products, and I love the other side of it, so it works.
Why did you decided to not only list the ingredients you do/do not use, but to define them as well, like a glossary? Why did you think that it was important to have that for your brand?
Julia: I think that we were so pleasantly surprised that we were able to make these sophisticated end products with the super simple ingredients—things like beeswax and almond oil and shea butter. We really wanted to convey that to our consumers, but we thought, how can we do that when people aren’t going to necessarily take the time to do the research. That’s why we wanted to lay everything out very simply to people, while giving them easy access to the information.
I’d already been researching all of these ingredients anyway, so I was finding all of this information, but I hadn’t really done that before as a consumer. I really just wanted to share with people the ingredients that I got excited about, and I wanted to do it an easy, convenient way. I mean, we’re not in the business of fear-mongering, nor do we want to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do, but if we’re going to refer to our products as not having parabens; not having phthalates or sulfates, we felt we should at least explain why we don’t include those things in our products. We just want to give our customers a more thorough picture, especially because we found the research process very enlightening. We just want to pass that knowledge along.
Now here’s a tough question: If you could only choose one product from the entire line, what would it be?
Julia: For me, it’s the Vitamin Rich Hand Cream. I’ve always been an avid hand cream user, and I was always searching for that one that actually helped your dry hands, but didn’t make them feel greasy. I hate that feeling of greasy hands. I mean, I really hate having dry hands, but also really don’t like having greasy hands. I used to just put some cream on the back of my hands, because that’s usually the driest part, and then I’d rub the backs of my hands together to avoid that feeling. I never really found that ideal hand cream, so it was my goal to create something that was effective but non-greasy. I was determined, and when I realized that I’d actually created this product, it was very exciting. It did exactly what I was looking for this whole time. It’s the best hand cream I’ve ever used.
Rebecca: I was also thinking the hand cream, because it’s such a good product, but if I had to pick one desert island product, the one product I would use forever, it would have to be the Marhsmallow Face Cream. I remember when Jules was coming up with the variations of the cream, I kept telling her, “It needs to impart that J. Lo glow! This is what we need to look like!” [laughs] because she’s got a very coveted glow, and she just has a wonderful complexion that just looks healthy. So that’s what we were going for—that beautiful, dewy look that doesn’t look greasy. I really think we achieved that with the face cream, there’s just something special about it.
Both you had very different careers before you joined forces to create this brand. How easy or difficult was it for you both to make that transition from different industries into the beauty industry?
Julia: For me it was fairly easy because I was previously working in the fashion industry, and I had just started the recruiting for about six months before I decided to start the brand. I took on the recruiting role, because I was seeking that work-from-home, make your own schedule lifestyle. Before that, I was working in downtown Montreal, commuting 40 minutes and working in a big office building, and just wasn’t feeling the passion there. I wasn’t inspired.
Because I was already working for myself, it was easy to make that transition, except now I was getting to work on the farm and do something I really love. I was really lucky.
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s the same for me. I was working for myself, doing freelance graphic design work, and I’d also just had two kids, so I was home. When Julia approached me with the idea, the fact that it would be our own brand, and something we could build from the ground up was really exciting, and I loved that we’d be able to work together.
Does it ever getting challenging working together because you’re sisters?
Julia: For sure, but I’d say less and less as time goes on, because we’ve already sort of navigated what our roles are. In some ways, it’s more difficult because we’re sisters, but in a lot of ways, it’s easier because we’ve had years and years of practise when it comes to resolving conflict, and there’s no fight that you know is going to end this relationship permanently.
Rebecca: One really positive thing about us being sisters is that we have a similar mindset, and while we’re very different, we can see eye-to-eye, so it makes our communication a lot stronger.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to start their own business?
Rebecca: I’d say that it doesn’t always have to be a huge jump into something new. For us, it was a natural progression from things that we already enjoyed doing. And take it slow, just baby steps. Try your ideas out on family and friends first, and be prepared to balance a few projects at once. In the beginning, I was still doing graphic design work on the side, until we were ready to jump into the project with both feet.
Julia: My biggest advice is don’t over-extend yourself, whether that means financially or physically and mentally. We started off, and we still are, very lean and mean. We work out of our father’s farm to keep overhead low, and because we love it here.
Rebecca: Yes, and also, before you get too excited and start a website or get business cards going, make sure that you’ve sat down and really focused on what the core of your business is going to be.
What has been your most rewarding experience so far?
Julia: Definitely the feedback from our customers. We post all of our reviews—positive and negative—but most of them are really really good. We also often get emails from clients, for example, someone emailed us and said that they had eczema, and that our products changed their lives. That’s really really cool, because those are things that I never really expect, so when our products really has a positive effect on people, it feels very gratifying.