CEO swaps chemicals for cannabis with new partnership
I had the chance to sit down with Brandi Leifso, the cool and fearless leader of her cosmetics brand Evelyn Iona and company Evio Beauty Group Ltd. She told me how she started and about the women who inspire her when I interviewed her for a Flare Magazine article (read it here.)
Today, Evio announced that they're teaming up with Aurora Cannabis Inc. to create a "new line of approved hemp seed oil based product formulations" and other CBD-based products, they said in a press release. I wanted to include more from my interview with Leifso and reveal her thoughts on going green.
What is one of the most important things you learned when you started working in the cosmetics industry?
I recognized really early on that relationships in business are everything. If I can convince (store owners) to trust me, then I can convince them that this is going to be good.
I just told them (my brand) is to empower women and I named lipgloss after women. It was something that the space needed, too. Even if a couple years ago, you were to say, ‘Brandi you’re a feminist,’ I’d be like, ‘No, I’m not. That word is so dirty.’ It’s been an interesting shift...with the feminist uproar...But five years ago, when I sat down with female buyers—they were at small boutique stores—they totally understood that this is what we need.
Why did you decide to shift to organic products?
To (my friend’s) credit, she said, ‘Let’s look at this. It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. We should go green.’
We say we want to be good for the women’s community and then we’re putting chemicals all over them. It’s a little bit hypocritical. That’s actually why we went green. From there, after going through what I went through, not only just with the (abusive) relationship and then the shelter, but everything in between....It doesn’t even click sometimes that it actually was my life. It feels like 10 lives ago. So...going through all of those things, I think you—at least I did—get a really strong sense of what matters, a really strong sense of who you are, a really strong sense of what you’re not willing to falter on.
That was kind of how things starting shifting. It’s supposed to be about empowering women of all circumstances to be able to break that stigma and have a more conscious future and change society, change our minds of what we think people are capable of in difficult circumstances, particularly women because of what I gravitate towards.
Why don’t you have an “in your face” approach when it comes to showing off your green products?
People say, ‘You need to show more of this on the shelf, you need to do this, you need to do that.’ No. Absolutely not. I feel like that’s green-washing. That doesn’t further Brandi. That doesn’t further society. That doesn’t further our circumstances. We need to find a way to show how to create these changes in a way that’s going to empower women, not exploit them. That’s how our values play into it, being green—not because I have a lot of knowledge about being green and not because being green is the ‘in’ thing right now—but because it will help in the long run.
What is so exciting about using cannabis in skincare products?
We’re about breaking stigma. My mission is to change the way society thinks and create a more conscious future. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that the feminist uproar is happening as it is, and the cannabis industry is coming to light as it is, and Evio is in the position that it is.
I think I’d have to be absolutely blind to not see the connection between breaking stigma and empowering women...That’s really cool aside from the benefits of cannabis for skin care as well.
Benefits of cannabis?
The really cool thing about it is it’s full of omega 3, 6 and 9—the CBD aspect of it. We could take out our concealer, our lipchap, our anything, and chances are it has sunflower oil in it or coconut oil in it. The cool thing about cannabis and CBD is that you can complement or subsidize those ingredients with CBD. It really does the exact same thing.
The cool thing about that is that in green beauty right now, consumers want to have more clarity. They’re so well-educated. People are so smart nowadays and they know more about the ingredients than I do a lot of the time. They’ll call us out and we’ll say, ‘Great. Thank you. Let’s grow and be better together, so you tell us. We’ll do what we can and vice versa.’
This is a joint collaboration to see my success, to see the success of Evio, and in turn, create this avatar for success for people with less than perfect circumstances. Tell me what’s wrong with our ingredients and we’ll fix it.
Customers have learned that, you know, maybe (certain products) weren’t produced as ethically as we thought or as it was presented. With cannabis, there’s so many regulations around it that I could tell you this oil was made by this person in this place in a lockdown unit. I’ve been there. I’ve toured a ton of the cannabis facilities throughout Canada and California. That transparency within there doesn’t exist with sunflower oil or lavender or anything like that.
I’m always surprised by the concerns people are putting out there—and I probably would have been that person, but when you actually dive into it, this is logical. There’s no harm. Another cool thing about the cannabis space is how it’s going to be able to project women in other industries as well, for example myself.
Our office is on Bay Street. It’s white men in suits. Let’s be honest. That hasn’t shifted all that much. We still have a long way to go. And what I love is we have an office on Bay Street and it is because of cannabis, hands down. I love that. It’s helping that shift within feminism that’s so directly linked to our mission.
How are customers reacting?
What we did with Sephora was a survey of 600+ of their consumers and asked them a ton of questions about cannabis. To our surprise, people don’t actually want cannabis in their products. But it’s kind of like Uber. The reason they don’t want it is the lack of education and the stigma. It’s like Uber. If I said, Hey we’re going to send someone to your house and your going to ride in the back of his car,’ you’d be like, ‘Uh hell no. No,’—but now I bet you’ve taken an Uber in the last week. I think it’s the same thing with cannabis.
In a year or two, three years from now, you’re going to pick up products and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s CBD oil in this.’ The green beauty industry is so new and it needs more ingredients and it needs more transparency. All the things the green beauty industry is saying are their (problems), cannabis can fix a lot of those pinpoints. It’s inevitable that they’re going to merge.
It’s an interesting and soft approach where we start with hemp as legalization starts. Instead of cannabis plowing in, we’re all holding hands and going on this journey togethers. Nobody knows what that’s going to look like and that’s kind of beautiful for us to discover together.
Other than breaking the stigma surrounding cannabis, what are some other important causes?
We’re working with the Canadian Women’s Foundation and their initiatives. We just filmed a little video on the iPhone for Girl Powered. We donate a dollar from every product we sell on our website to them, too. We have monthly check-ins to see how much impact we’ve made and what new initiatives they have that we can be a part of.
Any wisdom or advice for women and girls?
Something that I’ve been saying a lot lately that I think, as women—particularly when you’re in tough circumstances—you dream smaller than you ought to. I think that you’re capable of so much more than you ever thought. Just because of the way society has been positioned for hundreds of years, we think smaller. I think we need to break that stigma as well.
We need to start dreaming bigger, because I never in a million years thought in just four years I would be where I am now. We need to allow ourselves to welcome good things into our lives, and in order to do that we need to know we’re capable and dream it and live it and be willed to sacrifice for it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.