The making of a vegan skin care brand with Kirsten Thomas

By Cassandra | March 7, 2019

It’s so easy to settle for a product because “that’s all there is”, but some women aren’t the sort to settle for mediocre brands that don’t serve their needs, and so they create their own. Kirsten Thomas is one of these women.

After finding that the beauty industry was lacking in sensitive skin care options in the early 2000s, and while running a franchise computer business, she sought to turn the tides of skin care herself. After researching, testing, and studying skin care formulation, she created her own moisturizers, soaps, and makeup, packaging them as gifts for friends and family.

Fast forward, and Ayr Skin Care was born, a 100% vegan and cruelty-free skin care brand with beautiful offerings for those of us with sensitive skin. Here, she shares incredible insights into her journey, on running her business with her daughter Fiona, and more.

Entrepreneurship, does it come naturally or is it learned? What does it take to become an entrepreneur?

From a very young age, I was very interested in freedom. Long bike rides, neighborhood carnivals and plays, saving money, and having the freedom to do whatever I wanted with that money – with no one telling me what to do – was the dream. As an adult, this has become a desire to control my own destiny.

You need that natural drive to lead, make your own decisions, and blaze a trail, often without the guidance and support of other people.

Before Ayr, you ran a franchise computer business out of home. What challenges did you come across as an entrepreneur and mother?

Since my previous business revolved around early childhood education and was a franchise, I was able to have someone come in a couple of days a week to help me with the children who weren’t in school yet. Having someone there to help during business hours a couple of days a week gave me more flexibility on other days, so I could volunteer as a “room mom” at school with my kids an hour or two a week.

My advice for mom-preneurs: being clear with your priorities at different points in the day is important, and flexibility is a must!

Kirsten’s background and inspiration to create Ayr

I’ve always had incredibly sensitive skin. As a child, there weren’t options for hypoallergenic or unscented laundry detergent widely available, so my mother had to go to great lengths, like triple rinsing all my clothes and bedding, to ensure that my skin wouldn’t get irritated by artificial fragrances.

As an adult, I continued seeking cleaner products out that wouldn’t make my skin react, and finally, in 2001, I decided to see how difficult it would be to make my own personal care products! I had not been able to find a skin care line with the high-end anti-aging ingredients I wanted without irritating ingredients – so after a few years of classes, research and intensive product testing, I created my own.

Ayr Skin Care is meant to honor my immigrant mother who was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US. She was born in the seaside port of Ayr, on the southwest coast of Scotland, a beautiful town known for clean air and beautiful windswept views.

Women are having a moment in entrepreneurship, does it help being a female entrepreneur? What was it like in the early 1990s when you started vs. now?

I was fortunate because the business I started in 1993 was a franchise of a company started by two women. It also dealt with me hiring teachers that went into preschools, which was also extremely female dominated at the time as well.

In the beauty and skincare industry, a woman-owned skin care business is a great fit. We understand our needs the best, and I think that perfectly positions us to create great products.

What is it like to run a business with your daughter and what have you learned from that family/business dynamic?

When I first decided to have a skin care business, I knew I couldn’t do it by myself. I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were. I also knew that I was older than I was the first time around and didn’t have as much energy. I needed myself 30 years ago. My daughter was a perfect match.

She balances out my weaknesses and also has the energy to help push both of us forward. It is so important that during business hours, we speak to each other as coworkers and keep family talk to the end of the workday. Boundaries and mutual respect are critical.

Kirsten’s challenges of starting a business with small children & what a typical day looked like.

I’d get up and get myself and our three children ready for the day, walk my oldest to school, and then come to work. Once I had my two younger children, I would have someone come in a couple of days a week to watch them during this time so I could work without interruption. Having someone in to help keep an eye on them was invaluable. Other days were more hectic, and I’d catch myself muting a call for a second to yell things you’d never imagine saying pre-motherhood like, “Don’t throw the banana up the stairs!”

The most important part of the day was getting the bedtime routine down like clockwork. We built in quality play time with our children. This gave my husband and I time to catch up on the day, spend time together, and relax to help prevent burnout.

What was process of updating Ayr Skin Care’s formulas to be 100% vegan?

Our brand was already cruelty-free, but we do believe that for a product to be 100% cruelty-free, it also has to be vegan. We only had a couple of ingredients in our line that had to be removed, such as honey and silk-derived ingredients, and we replaced them with plant-based alternatives from jojoba and beets.

Skin care formulation isn’t like cooking, where you can easily sub out one ingredient for another. The “cleaner” a formula gets, the trickier it is. If anything changes, the entire formula needs to be adjusted and then retested to ensure that no nasty microorganisms can grow in the product. Even the smallest change can throw off the balance of natural preservatives. So the hardest and most time-consuming part of our reformulation was that it was essentially reinventing the affected products. It took about 6-8 months of hard work, and sometimes 20+ failed versions.

The positive side of this is that, when you are re-doing a formula from the ground up, you can take a second look at every other ingredient. We had the opportunity to also look at new preservative systems that were on the market, and we had a chance to find more powerful probiotics, peptides, and other actives. The result is a cleaner, greener and all around more soul-nurturing line!

A mompreneur’s life at home & kitchen : Cooking

I love to cook. It is another place where I can play and be creative. On weekdays, I don’t have a ton of time to get dinner together, so I love making a large pot of soup or pasta sauce over the weekend and freezing it in meal-sized portions. Then on busy days, I have a stash of tasty, homemade meals that only require a quick defrost. All I have to do is cook up some fresh veggies or add some protein, and there is a meal ready to go in 15 minutes or less!

Kirsten’s advice to new moms and mothers of young children who want to start their own business, or are in the start-up phase.

Know what your priorities are and be flexible on a day to day basis. Be honest with yourself in areas you need support. If you need to get some important work done uninterrupted, work to get the help or schedule you need to allow that. If you want to be available after school, to hear how your child’s day was and give them a snack, then find a way to work your schedule to get the bulk of your work done in the morning or evening. Time with our children, especially when they are small, is so precious.

What is your daily beauty and wellness routine?

Daily, I make sure that I really take my time at bedtime to remove any makeup and take care of my skin.

On weekends, I extend this slightly to give myself a mini-facial at home. Taking the time to slow down and really take care of yourself and your skin is so important. As women, and mothers especially, we spend so much of our days nurturing and taking care of other people. We can’t pour from an empty cup, so making time to make sure our needs are met is crucial.

What would you pack on a road trip with Fiona? Book, skincare & music?

Well, the book selection is easy! Fiona and I are actually both working our way through Brandon Sanderson’s books right now, so we’d pick one of those. We both love reading sci-fi and fantasy books as an escape for relaxation at the end of the day.

Picking skin care items is a bit more difficult. If it HAD to be only two, we would definitely need something to cleanse and moisturize. We’d grab the Calm Facial Bar and Pure Moisture Nourishing Face Cream. The Calm Bar is a great all around cleanser and the Pure Moisture is a good compromise for our skin needs.

For a road trip, we’d want something upbeat that we could sing along to or follow a story to keep us entertained. We love Wicked, so that soundtrack is a must-have.

What is one quote you live by?

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

It is the first line of the poem “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann. It’s a way to remember that despite the sometimes hectic nature of life, to try to take a deep breath and approach things with a sense of grace and calm.

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