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The Business of Wellness: How SaltyGirl Boutique Made Giving Back Part of Its Business Plan

So often in the wellness world, business or career ideas are put into motion by personal crises. SaltyGirl Boutique is no different: Two sisters, one diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and one an oncology nurse, banded together to build not only a green beauty business but also a foundation that gives back to families dealing with a cancer diagnosis. This is their inspiring story.

How SaltyGirl Boutique Started

Sarah Kelley began her marketing career at Tom’s of Maine. With an MBA focused on sustainable business under her belt, she had already been wondering what type of business she could start herself. But then in 2015, disaster struck: While 32 weeks pregnant with her second child, Sarah was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Her cancer was classified as “triple negative,” meaning that it wasn’t hormonal or genetic. “That’s when I started doing research on ingredients in personal care products, and when I attended the W.E.L.L. Summit for the first time,” says Sarah. She was looking for a reason for her diagnosis.

Leah Robert has been an oncology nurse since 2008. Her career has been defined by offering guidance and support to her patients and their families. But when her sister Sarah was diagnosed with cancer herself, Leah began doubling down on online research too. “I started to look at the ingredients we put on and in our bodies,” she says, “and didn’t like what I found.”

The two sisters spent a lot of time together during Sarah’s long-term disability leave brainstorming what could be next. Says Sarah, “My diagnosis was a reality check: You only have one life. Make it what you want.”

After attending the W.E.L.L. Summit in October 2015 (“I just saw something about it on Facebook,” says Leah.) and receiving goodie bags filled with healthy products, the sisters decided that they should open a green beauty boutique. “Meeting so many people like Josh Rosebrook and Rachel Winard of Soapwalla made us excited about partnering with them on a new green beauty boutique,” says Leah.

They launched SaltyGirl Boutique online in April of 2016, with a brick and mortar retail location in Kennebunkport, Maine following just five months later.

Sarah, left, and Leah.

Giving Back with Foundation4Love

While opening a green beauty boutique is enough of a hurdle, Sarah and Leah’s vision extends past the retail. They wanted to give back in some way to families struggling with cancer diagnoses. “When I was sick,” says Sarah, “it meant so much to have support from friends who offered to help my family. They watched our kids so my husband and I could could have time together, to have space from everything going on. And we wanted to give that space to other families.”

Out of that desire, Foundation4Love was born. It became an official 501(c)(3) Organization in December 2016, but starting serving families in July 2016. With 5 percent of all SaltyGirl sales going towards Foundation4Love, Sarah, Leah and their two other siblings have been able to help nine families “disconnect from cancer and reconnect to their families,” Sarah says. Because, says Leah, “When someone is diagnosed, it affects their whole tribe.”

What’s also unique about Foundation4Love is that it serves adults. “It’s really special,” Sarah says. “There aren’t other organizations that are geared towards adults.”

To date, Foundation4Love has partnered with numerous local restaurants and shops to give families gift cards. They also routinely work with River’s Edge Salon and Spa to give recipients a pampered spa day. In June, they worked with the Red Sox to give a family an outing to a game, complete with admittance to batting practice, parking and concessions. “We wanted to create our own way to give back,” says Sarah, “not just donate money.”

To Sarah and Leah, there was never one business without the other. From the beginning, SaltyGirl and Foundation4Love were created together. “We planned to figure out how they could co-exist,” says Leah. “Social entrepreneurship is the main goal—we want to make men and women with cancer feel better about themselves.”

And it seems as if they’ve succeeded. “People now come into the SaltyGirl Boutique [in Kennebunkport] to shop for those with cancer,” says Leah. “The more successful SaltyGirl is, the bigger our foundation can be.”

Adding to the foundation’s success is Sarah and Leah’s most recent venture: SaltyGirl Beauty, which will give 10 percent of its sales to Foundation4Love. Launched in August 2017, the cosmetics line will focus on five core beauty products, starting with lipstick. “Our mom loved lipstick,” says Sarah, “so that’s where we started.”

A makeup line, she also says, with 100% natural, mostly organic ingredients, supports cancer patients. “Through treatment, you lose your hair and it’s hard to find energy to apply makeup,” she says. “We want this to be easy and fun to apply. We want to empower women to #ownyourownbeauty, no matter your age, or what you’re going through. We can empower through education, and through helping women feel beautiful in their skin with just a few key products that enhance their natural features.”

Tips For Giving Back In Your Business

Sarah and Leah both say that part of the success of SaltyGirl comes from the fact that they’re a team. “When it’s too much for me, Leah picks up the slack,” Sarah says. Leah concurs, saying that often she hears from friends and family, “I need a Sarah!”

Their partnership allows them to be cognizant of how their business fits with their lives. “We try to have patience with ourselves,” Sarah says, “and create boundaries. We don’t have to get it all done NOW.”

From a business perspective, Sarah says, there are all kinds of ways to give back. She says it can look different for every company, and you don’t have to create your own foundation to do it. “Give to organizations in your area with a percentage of your sales. Look for ways to give back with the materials you use. Think about who you hire and how supporting them will give back to their family, their life,” she says.

But also make sure to be realistic about what you can give. “Know where your threshold is, so you can be successful,” Sarah says. “And then increase how much you give over time.”

The sisters also say to use your network. Work with good people around you who are willing to help you figure out the best way your business can be more than a company, and make that your plan.

And, says, Leah, “Always have a business partner who complements you.”

Want to recommend someone for Foundation4Love? Send an email to foundation4love@saltygirlboutique.com with your loved one’s story to apply.

About The Author

Nicolle Mackinnon

Stemming from her personal journey to treat her celiac disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Nicolle serves as a writer and editor for several leading publications helping women understand how important, stylish and fun it is to commit to clean beauty. By way of her contributions to No More Dirty Looks, Thoughtfully Magazine and numerous beauty brands' blogs, websites and social media, Nicolle has become a trusted voice on the correlation between health and beauty. Follow her journey on Instagram and connect with her via nicollemackinnon.com.

  • Lori Michaud

    You ladies are awesome! Love that you started a green company !
    And all you give is amazing! I’m proud to live in the same community as you !
    Thank you for all you do and most importantly all you ARE !