At 21, Brandi Leifso found herself in a women's shelter after an abusive relationship. Times were tough, and she recalls bonding with other women over a simple ritual: getting ready.
"There [were] 30 women living in a house, and all of us coveted that time to get ready and put ourselves together," Leifso said. "Despite all our differences, that was something that united us."
These moments were powerful for Leifso – so powerful that they served as the foundation for a thriving beauty company that puts mission above all else. Evio Beauty Group creates beauty products that inspire customers to be better to each other, to the planet and to animals.
As a rising star in the beauty industry, Leifso had an unconventional start. With a laptop and $15 to her name, Leifso learned how to use Photoshop by hopping on Google and how to build a website by watching YouTube.
She then started Photoshopping her logo onto generic makeup product pictures and made presale catalogs for buyers.
"Would I have the guts and the gusto to do that now? Probably not," she said. "I was in such a moment in my life where I had nothing to lose … I didn't have a filter for risk to really understand even in that moment what I was doing."
This method, while very different from those of competitors, paid off for Leifso in the end. It allowed her to bootstrap her company, raising funds and then fulfilling presale orders after they were already paid for. Her client base grew after Evio products were featured on Ipsy, a subscription-based makeup community founded and led by YouTuber Michelle Phan.
As Evio grew, Leifso repeated an old strategy. She Photoshopped the Evio logo on a generic version of a product called the Green Tea Sampler. Evio presold 270,000 units and was off to the races. Leifso partnered with a manufacturer that eventually became the company's first investor. With Evio's first investor on board, the only thing left for Leifso to celebrate was her birthday, which happened to be the same day the deal closed.
Evio was also accepted to Sephora Accelerate, an accelerator focused on building a community of innovative female founders in beauty through mentorship and funding. This provided further growth opportunity and business guidance.
How mission drives growth
Throughout Evio's growth, one thing has remained consistent: Leifso's commitment to the company's mission.
"It goes into every decision we make, and it actually makes running a company and building a company easier when you have a million decisions to make in a day and you can come back to those values," she said.
Its commitment to the environment, people and animals pushed Evio into another growing arena: cannabis. While cannabis is a growing trend among all industries, Leifso saw an opportunity to pay Evio's mission forward by using hemp-based packaging materials to cut down on the company's use of plastics. [Related: Emerging Business Opportunities in the Cannabis Industry]
Another growing issue among consumers in the beauty industry is ingredient transparency. The cannabis industry has strict ingredient transparency regulation, which allows Evio to meet consumer demand for transparent ingredients on products. Evio's sativa seed oil products – which can legally be shipped around the globe, according to Leifso – adhere to these strict cannabis regulations.
Evio also recently partnered with Aurora Cannabis to develop CBD- and THC-infused products. While CBD is all the rage now, popping up in everything from drinks to dog treats, Leifso wants to make sure it's good for consumers before she includes it in her product offering.
A D2C move
Leifso recently pulled Evio products from retail shelves as she pivoted from a retail business to a direct-to-consumer model. This model, made popular by startups like Warby Parker and, in the beauty industry, Glossier, allows lean companies to build communities around their products. Leifso intends just that by building communities around her environmentally friendly and cruelty-free products.
"[Glossier's] a part of creating something, but they haven't been able to service vegans or people that are concerned about the environment," she said. "I think that we're really able to tap into that."
All these moves and all Evio's products result from staying true to its original mission. Many corporations claim to adhere to high-minded missions where values make decisions instead of the bottom line. For Evio, its grassroots growth and quick expansion seems to come only as a result of sticking to that mission. It seems not to be signaling its values but actually living them, and the founder's story embodies that.
Evio donates $1 of every product sold to women's organizations focused on equality. For Women's History Month, Aurora will match Evio's donations. [Related: 7 Female Entrepreneurs Share Their Biggest Challenges]
For Leifso, her entrepreneurial origins always keep Evio righted.
"I was on a mission to create something that would help us create a more conscious future and create a product and a company that stood for something."