I’m so excited to share my first interview on this blog, with Milena of Just the Goods. Just the Goods is a Winnipeg-based skincare company, specializing in natural, vegan skincare. I first bought a sample pack like the one in the picture above from Sew Dandee back in 2010, and loved knowing I was putting only good ingredients on my face (and got great results). I only know Milena via the internet, but her love of her job is evident in email and in the interview. She really thoroughly answered all my questions, so I’ve split this interview into two parts (the second part will show up on Tuesday). Thanks very much, Milena!
How did Just the Goods get started? Tell us about the progression of the company since it began.
Thanks for asking, Jess!
In Autumn 2007, my partner developed a painful rash after shaving, which we came to realize was an allergic reaction to the various chemicals present in the conventional canned shaving cream he had been using for years. Referring to various online resources, we tried all sorts of alternatives ranging from oil based formulas to ones containing dairy, weird as that was. Some worked, but none were genuinely suitable. I eventually figured out that he needed a good, pure soap offering antibacterial support, so I consolidated various ideas into a single recipe and it worked on the very first try.
Through this process of self-education—which was in fact a renewal of thoughts initially planted by my Naturopath in the late 1990s—I discovered that our favorite “natural” toothpaste and lip balm brands had been purchased by multinational conglomerates that produce toxins and lobby governments to continue producing doing so. I decided, at that moment, to reduce our reliance on all chemical-based skin care and grooming products.
I started experimenting with the creation of other items and shared the results with friends. They enthusiastically offered their positive feedback and encouraged me to make my creations more widely available, so I opened an Etsy shop in May 2009, and started posting items for sale in October. I participated in my first local craft show in November of that same year, then hosted an open-house in December. Response from the wider community was incredible in all cases, and since then a great deal of enthusiasm for Just the Goods has spread word of mouth around Winnipeg, and now around the world.
I became an approved member of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics in 2009 and, as one of only 321 cosmetics and skin care companies worldwide, was granted Champion status November 2011. Just the Goods was certified cruelty-free by the Leaping Bunny program in 2013.
You use natural ingredients. Why is this important?
If I may refer back to my thoughts above concerning the way various issues intersect, I believe natural ingredients offer a number of benefits for plants and animals, soil and water and our bodies. I realize there are still considerations around the methods of farming used to grow the plants that make essential oils, or the types of processing that synthesize them, but they leave a smaller footprint than, for example, the extraction of petroleum then turned into a petrochemical that has numerous ill effects on our health from causing cancer to disrupting hormones to triggering debilitating allergic reactions. And while its one thing to expose our bodies to these chemicals on an individual basis, it is worth remembering that these things also go down the drain and adversely affect water, soil and the plants and animals sharing our habitat. The less toxins we use, the fewer need to be produced, and the fewer need to be disposed.
Walk us through the process – what happens between you thinking of an idea for a product and it being available to purchase?
When I first started making products for myself and those closet to me, I opened my bathroom cabinet and examined each of my daily products, one by one, asking “what is in this?” and “which of these ingredients are reasonable?” In the case of the face wash I was using at the time, the only ingredients I thought were reasonable, were shea butter and water from a list of approximately 20 items. I started with those and built around them. I wanted the face wash to be soapy, I wanted it to draw impurities away from my skin, and I wanted light antibacterial support, so—drawing on knowledge accumulated through research—I added organic liquid castile soap, kaolin clay, and selected essential oils. I tweaked the ratios until I liked the results, and voilà! Just the Goods moisturizing face wash for oily/combination skin was born! That process was repeated for any of the items I myself use. In the case of other products (i.e. face wash for dry skin), I established the process in consultation with friends, and they tried the results, providing feedback as required.
Some products turn out right the first time, but others need a great deal of reformulation through trial and error, such as my deodorant roll-on—that took two years of research and testing under as many different circumstances, and with as many different people, as possible.
I often get requests for new products and have many prototypes on the go at various stages. The biggest challenge here can be getting people to return their feedback so I can find out exactly what they didn’t like about a particular trial. I think people are afraid to hurt my feelings! So ultimately product ideas are tested by friends that will be brutally honest – they know I need need complete information in order to proceed.
What has been the most surprising thing in starting this business?
The most surprising thing has been learning that I can run my project the way I want to, even when it contradicts normalized practices.
For example, I insist on offering public wholesale pricing even in the face of retailers from around the world telling me they won’t work with me until I raise my prices for my direct clients. I realize growth is the focus of mainstream society, but facilitating access to healthier options by offering the lowest prices I can manage is simply more important to me. I won’t pursue growth at the expense of my values, or on the backs of my clients.
There are other less expected things that apply to this, as well. For example, I refuse to editorialize the lives of my diverse clients by gendering my products, or creating ageist categories, and despite conventional branding practices, it has worked!
I also won’t hide shipping costs in my product pricing to create the illusion of cheap or free shipping because I value the work of Canada Post employees and think their contribution should be visible. Some people don’t like this and decide not to order because (as they tell me) they would rather pay for a more expensive product with invisible shipping, but others find it refreshing.
All in all, I like doing things differently and I’m thrilled that it works =-)
What challenges have you faced?
I would definitely have to say finding enough time to pursue all the ideas I have for new products and partnerships. Maybe one day I’ll be able to hire an assistant, but given my commitment of offering the lowest product prices possible, Just the Goods is currently sustainable for one person only. This is a challenge as Just the Goods becomes increasingly popular, but I have a few ideas of how to manage without raising prices rumbling around in mind brain ;-)
Where can we find your products?
Just the Goods is currently available at six bricks and mortar shops in Winnipeg, all of which provide the full convenience of retail shops. I also currently work with two online retailers (click here for the complete list). Since I make over 150 types of items (considering all size, scent and flavour variations), the widest selection of items can be acquired through me directly – justthegoods.net is my primary website and will re-direct to the new Shopify site as soon as I’m finished beta testing =-)
Thanks, Milena! Join us here on Tuesday to hear what a typical day looks like, what Milena is most proud of, and some skincare routine advice! You can also follow Just the Goods on twitter and facebook, and check out her shop on Etsy.