The New York Times’ beauty columnist Bee Shapiro set out to create her own fragrance brand, Ellis Brooklyn, after failing to find a natural and sustainable option to put on her own body when pregnant with her first child, namesake daughter Ellis. “The clean beauty movement was happening in hair, makeup and skincare, so why not fragrance? Five years ago, when I first started thinking about this, there truly were very few options out there. That’s how Ellis Brooklyn came to be.”
While juggling a new baby and her beauty writing career, Bee released a range of clean, naturally-scented body milks, which have now expanded to include candles and fragrances, sold via beauty juggernauts including Mecca locally and Sephora worldwide. But while her success is undeniable, Bee is the first to admit her foray into business is not without its challenges… ‘I think there is a lot of glamorisation of entrepreneurship right now. It’s important for aspiring entrepreneurs to know that a lot of brand building requires a marketing veneer on top and then real–life beneath, which honestly, is a ton of hard work, makeup-less haggard-looking moments, and even frustrated tears.” We caught up with the mama of two to talk more about the clean beauty movement, her love-hate (and totally relatable!) relationship with social media, and why the right cleanser and good skincare is so important as you get older… Go to www.ellisbrooklyn.com | To purchase Bee’s book Skin Deep, click here
What are your most vivid memories of your childhood?
I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle. My most vivid memories from when I was a kid was playing in the woods with the neighbourhood kids, and being an all-around terror on my bicycle and going down hills that I wasn’t supposed to. I have an older sister and we’re very different in temperament. I adore her and grateful she’s in my life but it took me a little while to get there. Growing up we were like oil and water as I always wanted to push boundaries and she was more risk-averse. Today, we’re still quite different but I think that with age and experience, you can better appreciate someone for their own unique and special attributes even though they are not the same as yours.
You began your career as a lawyer. What inspired the move to beauty writing?
It really was a move to writing first. I left law after only eight months as a practicing attorney. I remember sitting at my desk and thinking, this can’t be it. So I struck out and promised myself to find a career that I would love. I started writing for smaller blogs and then websites and then that took me to the New York Times. I was covering fashion, pop culture and the intersection of fashion and art at the time. It was at the Times that the beauty columnist position came up. I wasn’t seeking it out but it came to me. It definitely was a bit of luck!
You first book, Skin Deep, was published last year – what will we take away from your book?
One of my favourite parts of writing the book and compiling all the regimens is truly how important and soothing a routine can be. There are so many different ways to approach beauty and there is no one right way. It’s our little private alone time in a way and I think it’s fascinating to pull back the curtains a little. It’s funny because I’ve written more traditional celebrity profile stories before and I find in these beauty columns, you actually learn more about a person, their thoughts and perhaps even their principles.
What are your favourite beauty brands for faking beauty sleep?
I am a huge fan of anything sparkly. The plan of action is distraction. I’m really digging the Tata Harper Illuminating Eye Cream right now, the Tom Ford super glittery eyeshadows and the Marc Jacobs glitter gel eyeliners that reminds me of Seattle in the ‘90s.
You’ve interviewed celebrities from Drew Barrymore to Kim Kardashian – can you share the best piece of beauty advice you’ve taken away from these celebrities?
Celebrities are constantly flooded with products from swag bags to other freebies. One thing that I learned from Drew Barrymore and a couple others is that just because it’s a freebie doesn’t mean you should use it. Put in normal people’s terms, I think of it as, don’t be seduced by all the marketing jargon out there either and think before you put something on your face. Be kind to your skin — really come to understand it. And it’s fun and totally fine to switch up your products and play around, but don’t try to change or fit some sort of ideal model.
Tell us about Ellis Brooklyn. What inspired you to launch your own business and how has it grown?
I’ve always loved fragrance. Notes, scents, perfumes — they’re like an invisible language and one that sometimes is incredibly difficult to describe. As a writer, that’s infinitely fascinating. Then I got pregnant with my first daughter Ellis and we live in Brooklyn, and it got me to thinking how this beautiful language could use an update. The clean beauty movement was happening in hair, makeup and skincare, so why not fragrance? Five years ago, when I first started thinking about this, there truly were very few options out there. That’s how Ellis Brooklyn came to be. If I was being truthful, I’d tell you that in the beginning there were many days where I wondered what the hell I was getting myself into. But here we are and Ellis Brooklyn has grown quite a bit in the last three years. Our main retailers are Sephora in the US and Mecca Cosmetica in Australia. We’re also carried at Credo, Revolve and more.
“ I think there is a lot of glamourization of entrepreneurship right now. It’s important for aspiring entrepreneurs to know that a lot of brand building requires a marketing veneer on top and then real life beneath, which honestly, is a ton of hard work, makeup-less haggard-looking moments, and even frustrated tears ”
Any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I think there is a lot of glamourization of entrepreneurship right now. It’s important for aspiring entrepreneurs to know that a lot of brand building requires a marketing veneer on top and then real life beneath, which honestly, is a ton of hard work, makeup-less haggard-looking moments, and even frustrated tears. Once you start your business, you’ll know. You’ll form your own little circle of entrepreneur friends and you can all laugh and gripe together about what it’s really like!
What’s your approach to social media – do you think it can be a negative thing in our lives? How do you personally manage the time you spend on it/how it makes you feel?
I have a very mixed relationship with social media. I do love images and I love being inspired, but I also love to live in the now and in the moment and not have to always be on my phone. I decided at some point that because of that, I’m never going to be the one with millions of followers. I do post regularly to Ellis Brooklyn’s Instagram account but it’s more like two images a day and not constantly on there.
You’ve said before: “It's OK to say no.” Can you elaborate on this philosophy/approach to life...
Because our world demands so much of us now, from social media to career to family, you do have to be protective of yourself. There are times where you truly can’t say no — maybe it’s an opportunity you just can’t pass up. But if you really think about it, there are a lot of moments, where you may be wondering what will you really get out this commitment and what will you sacrifice, and if the answer is not sure, then maybe you give yourself a pass on that one. It’s the key to sanity!
You’ve said in your 20s, you “would save and save for a handbag” and now, you’d “rather spend that on my skincare and services.” What do you think inspired this shift?
It’s funny because in my social circle it’s been the same for all of us. I think part of it is that as we’re aging, we just require more maintenance to keep it all looking up. But also, I think when you get older and more sure of yourself, you don’t need that affirmation that fashion is supposed to give you as much. I’ve become a whole lot more sure of myself in my 30s. I have a few nice handbags that I enjoy but I just don’t need the latest and greatest. Meanwhile, my skin, well I’m looking at it every morning, and it’s extremely satisfying to take care of it and have that glow. My beauty goals are J.Lo, ha!
Why is cleansing so important? What are your favourite cleansers?
I just wrote a story about cleansers! It’s the foundation of skin care, because if you wash well and gently, maybe you don’t need that super expensive moisturizer. My favorites right now are the Dr. Barbara Sturm cleanser, Skinceuticals Gentle cleanser and the Avene cleansing oil.
“ I have a very mixed relationship with social media. I do love images and I love being inspired, but I also love to live in the now and in the moment and not have to always be on my phone. I decided at some point that because of that, I’m never going to be the one with millions of followers ”
3 beauty tips for busy mums…
I read this in a study once that the reason makeup makes people stand out in the workplace is because it’s like dialing up the contrast and people tend to recognize contrast more. So when I have limited amounts of time, I think of what would create the most impact in the very little time. For me, that’s brows, mascara and eyeliner. Of course, stay moisturized as well but that would be the 4th beauty tip!
What would we find on your plate for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Oh my goodness, this changes all the time. In the morning, it’s usually eggs with spinach though. That’s a classic for me. Lunch widely varies but if I could have my dream lunch it’d be salmon over quinoa and salad. Dinner is whatever my girls are eating. It’s often just chicken and rice with vegetables. My dinners have become 5:30 pm early bird special affairs, ha!
How, in your opinion, has the beauty industry changed in the last 10 years?
It’s completely changed. It used to be more of a large companies sort of playing field. Now there are so many indies that it’s tremendously exciting. I also love all the innovation that is happening. The customers are truly pushing the brands to do more, invent more.
How do you survive those days where the kids push you to your limits – tell us your survival tips?
I need advice on this! I can tell you that I read a parenting book that suggested writing out a phrase or two and putting it in a place that you can go when you’re just over it. The phrase I wrote out is “I will treat and speak to my kids respectfully.”
Favourite thing to do with your kids in NY?
I love taking them to Domino park in Williamsburg on a sunny day. It recently opened and the playground there is so inventive and fun.
Do you meditate?
I tried, but it didn’t stick sadly.
Do you exercise?
Yes! For me it’s definitely a must. I usually make it about 3 times a week. I’ll mix it up but I tend to like high energy workouts like running, SoulCycle or boxing.
Tea or coffee and how do you take it?
Tea with soy milk. I also love Matcha.
Chocolate or cheese?
Chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate. I’m particularly addicted to Raw Chocolate Love, a raw chocolate brand based in Queens.
Bee's little list of loves:
Hwaban Korean restaurant in Manhattan, which is yummy and has a zen vibe. I love zen-type restaurants because I love a good chat with my girlfriend without having to holler over the music. I rely on the Nurse Jamie face roller. I keep one at my desk as I realized I clench my jaw when I’m stressed out and this really gets in there. If I was a diva with an endless amount of funds, I would book facials by Nichola Joss all the time. She does this facial massage thing that is insane. Tequila and mezcal cocktails. I love the smokiness and salt. Magical runs along the waterfront when you feel like you can run forever. Date nights with my husband, though they are rarer than I’d like. The perfect matcha latte is a dream. I like the unsweetened kind with soy or oat milk — almost bitter and super creamy. I adore cuddles with my two and four-year-olds in the morning. I’m biased, but they’re just the best cuddlers ever.