Balanced Hustler: Meet Victoria Fantauzzi, CEO, Research + Development, Product Formulator at La Bella Figura Beauty
Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.
The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.
Victoria Fantauzzi is often lauded as a pioneer in the green beauty industry, as she has been working with natural ingredients and formulating nontoxic products since before the wave of clean beauty crashed onto the mainstream cosmetics stage in the last few years. Part of her lore is that she’s not only the co-founder of the luxury skincare line La Bella Figura Beauty, but she’s also the founder of A Night For Green Beauty, events dating back to 2015 that highlight the performance, efficacy and connection of green beauty.
Victoria is a hustler at heart, but what makes her stand out is her commitment to creating real change in the beauty industry, aligning with like-minded brands and founders who care as deeply about educating their customers as they do about crafting effective products. We’re thrilled to announce that we’ll be hosting an A Night For Green Beauty Meetup at WELL Summit 2019 on October 18 in Brooklyn, NY, and eager to share with you the latest #BalancedHustler interview with the beauty pioneer herself.
Fast Facts: Victoria Fantauzzi
When did you launch La Bella Figura?
In one sentence, tell us why you started La Bella Figura.
My business partner, Karen King, and I wanted to make excellent products.
How much did you invest to get the business started?
How did you get capital to start?
Used our own money.
How long did it take for the business to get profitable?
Longer than most because we used our own money as capital. Truly, the Shoemaker and the Elves type of story.
How many hours a week do you work when you started versus now?
I don’t count hours. I work from the moment I wake up until I go to bed. My brain is always turned on and tuned in to my work.
How many employees do you have?
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
To expand our direct to consumer sales and to bring forward new strategies in which we connect with customers.
How Victoria Balances the Hustle
You built La Bella Figura on the notion of incredibly high-quality, ethically sourced and safe ingredients. Tell us how that’s impacted your business model and how you’ve positioned the brand for profitability.
I think our standards have garnered us trust and loyalty. There is no one harder on us than us because we need to believe in our story and in order to share that story, we must do right by it, not only for my customers, but for myself, Karen, our team. It is not the easy way of running a business to set such high standards, but it is the only way I believe in.
I’ve seen new brands put expensive products on the market and they cannot justify why their products are so expensive. They’re being called out by savvy customers demanding to know where they’re sourcing ingredients and their connection to suppliers, but the brand has no clue. I know every single ingredient that ends up at LBF, where I met a producer, how I negotiated fair pricing, whether it’s cold-pressed, hand-pressed, biodynamic, wild-crafted, sustainable, etc. I better know it because it’s the part of my job I love most. I love connecting with growers and producers. What they do is invaluable to my business.
You’ve been vocal about the green versus clean conversation in the beauty world. Why is that important to you as a business owner and as a brand founder?
I think what a lot of green brands have done to drive education and connection with consumers is an incredible story in itself. I have many friends in this industry and I have witnessed their hard work and their commitment to customers by practicing ethical business standards. A lot of us founders talk to each other regularly, either to share information or seek advice. Many of us have been on this journey for a while now and we know what’s up with ingredient sourcing, pricing, packaging, product claims and marketing.
I think “clean beauty” is marketing jargon jumping on the bandwagon of natural and green beauty. It sounds nice, however upon true inspection of some of the brands claiming clean status, their INCI or standards, you’ll find less than admirable ingredients, formulations that are diluted or worse, ingredients that are harming our environment and human health. Thermoplastics, neurotoxic preservatives, things I don’t think resonate with green beauty.
Personally, I define green beauty as products made from natural or naturally derived ingredients that do not cause harm to persons, animals or environment. I wish it sounded sexier, but whatever, green beauty is ethical. Clean is the new fashionable way of greenwashing that sounds rather chic while doing so.
Of course, there are brands that use the term clean and are also green, which causes more confusion. I really wish more people would know the difference between clean versus green, but I can’t blame them when the terms are so loosely used and thrown around from celebrity circles to the media to a new range of beauty influencers. It’s a shame we’ve gotten this far only for consumers to still be confused or left in the dark regarding transparency.
Honestly, clean and green are just words and it’s up to the consumer to make the differentiation of the standards of each brand, which misses the whole point regarding transparency from the brand standpoint. I think it’s sort of a reverse or manipulated education and I dislike it. I’ll just stick to green for now.
You’ve also pushed back on green beauty retailers and their too-loose regulations on ingredients in the products they carry, including not partnering with retailers because of their standards. How has that impacted your brand and your ability to grow?
It’s impacted our brand just fine. Brands don’t need retailers; they need customers. Retailers need brands to garner customers. That may sound harsh, but at the end of the day it’s the truth. A good retailer is an advocate, a bad one is simply a distributor of goods and not invested in the brand.
Getting into retailers is like getting into a romantic relationship. There needs to be a 50/50 commitment in growing the partnership. We no longer sweat retailers because if they cannot convey our philosophy to customers, then they’re not for us; if they don’t focus on education and customer service then they’re not for us; if they want to impart undesirable wholesale terms onto us, then they’re truly and most definitely, not for us. Our customers really believe what we do and that’s why we really must cultivate quality and promote a well-rounded education about our entire process.
There is a lack of connection between brands and retailers, especially in the green beauty space. It’s going downhill too as more retailers private label and everyone is in a rush to become the new “Clean Sephora.” I see too many people focusing on what their competition is doing and not on what the customer is needing. Brands are feeling the disconnect with retailers, but don’t know how to broach the subject. Retailers need to stay open to listening to small brands. If you don’t build your business around a love of people, connection or education, then this business is not for you. Customers are too smart and they know when they’re being placated to.
You talk a lot about education and access to information for consumers, and how it gets harder and harder to connect with consumers via social media and online. What is LBF doing (marketing, strategy, etc.) to stay connected and to recruit new customers?
What we’ve done is focus on engagement with an open-door policy and direct communication. We bring our customers on our journey as much as we can and explore their curiosity by inviting them to ask questions. Many customers or fans reach out through DM via Instagram and I reply directly.
I get it: We’re all pretty busy and when you want to know something, making it inconvenient is a turn off. Sometimes, the communication is not product related. Sometimes, customers want to know about a recipe I posted or a song I included in a video or what florist I buy my flowers from. My point is, they want to engage with the people behind the brands they know and like, and I’m all for it because it’s my job to share information and place our products into the hands of the people that want to learn more about it.
There needs to be more of human component to this. Connection doesn’t come from completing a sale. It is a state of mind in which sharing your vulnerabilities is the most profitable thing you can do. We’re not beholden to anyone in order to run our business or by any guidelines to garner some arbitrary measure of success. I dislike rigidity. I share my products with enthusiasm and hope they resonate with the people I love making them for. If customers embrace our company into their daily lives then not only have I done my job well, but I’m also part of something that matters to people.
Victoria’s Advice for Entrepreneurs
What is something I didn’t ask you about being an entrepreneur, about the journey/hustle that you wish I had?
I’ve never felt that I was simply a “maker” of something. I’ve always known that my skills exceed beyond product formulation and what I’m really good at is building community. It’s also the reason why I founded ANFGB and why I implement new ways in which I can do my job better.
I think a lot of people in this business, especially the ones making and manufacturing their own products feel a bit isolated as creatives. I want them to know they’re more than that if they run a company, do payroll, make decisions that impact their company. They are the new creative entrepreneur doing it ethically, consciously and in their own way. I really love the way the brand, H Is For Love tells their story. You really feel the passion there, a lot of consistency in storytelling, as well as an openness to invite the customer into the conversation. That is authentic and no PR team can imitate that.
At the early stages of LBF, we were lucky enough to meet Mandy Aftel, the perfumer behind Aftelier perfumes, who has been a sort of inadvertent mentor to us over the years. She gave us the best business advice we’ve ever received to this day. Perhaps she sensed we were quirky and a bit unconventional, but she said, “You guys are doing great work and people are going to tell you to change and they’re going to tell you to do things you don’t want to because they’re uncomfortable. Don’t do it. Do what you believe in and do it your way.” We took that advice to heart.
What failure have you learned most from? How did you overcome it?
There is so much failure in this business, we’ve certainly had our share. Pick yourself up, dust off and get back in.
What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
This is a risk takers game; playing it safe is for accountants. Also, shed your ego from time to time, a little humility, a little comraderie and vulnerability can take you far.
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?
I wish I could say I believed in achieving balance. I guess what I believe in is setting boundaries so when your cup is overflowing you can say, “no thank you,” and carve some time to go to a movie, read a book, take a break. You need to relish in the moments that bring you pleasure just as much as being in the business of pleasuring others.
Interested in meeting Victoria and the A Night For Green Beauty brands in person? Join us at WELL Summit 2019 in Brooklyn on Oct. 18 at the Brooklyn Expo Center.
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