Julie Clark admits that she didn’t always have a passion for beauty. Before she founded Province Apothecary in 2012, she was busy costume designing and wardrobe styling in New York. It wasn’t until she discovered natural ingredients and uncovered their healing abilities when she felt inspired to return home to Canada to launch her own beauty brand. Read on to learn more about how she started the business, what her team culture is like, and more.
ForceBrands: What is Province Apothecary and what inspired you to start it?
Julie Clark: We’re a natural skincare brand based in Toronto, Ontario. We handmake all our products and also offer a skincare clinic where we offer clients natural consultations about treatments. We also sell our products worldwide with a focus on North America. We sell direct-to-consumer online and we have a shop in our production space. My focus though is always education. We’re trying to build a wellness community. Our consumers are really smart and know a lot about ingredients — they want to know why and how products work.
FB: What experiences — professional or educational — best prepared you for creating this brand?
JC: None! My parents taught me to be my own boss and to hustle. I studied aromatherapy and holistic health which taught me a lot about the space. I brought on a business partner two years ago who had a beauty industry background in the commercial world so she brings a lot of expertise. She helps with the operations and finance part of the business in a COO/CFO role.
FB: What product are you most proud of launching and why?
JC: All of them. We have a really simple line – and I’ve purposely done that. We have one cleanser, one toner, and so forth. I like to keep it really concentrated but simple. Ingredients are everything when it comes to natural beauty — that’s what really differentiates a natural product from others. It’s the background to the product. I wanted to focus on Canadian ingredients – from maple syrup to broccoli oil. There are some awesome ingredients in Canada so we try to showcase at least 1-2 of them in each product. I like to make products with extra potency so they affect you on the topical level while also having an effect on your mind and nervous system by absorbing into the blood stream.
FB: What has been one of the biggest challenges of building your brand? Is there anything that has surprised you about starting a brand?
JB: The amount of work it takes to actually run your business – I don’t think anyone prepares you for that. I’ve had staff members for over four years who’ve helped me grow the brand. I’ve learned that it’s difficult to hire estheticians as I look for ones with more holistic beauty experience — they’re hard to find! Getting the right people to become part of your team can be a challenge. I spend most of my time managing people to ensure that every piece of the business is running properly.
FB: How have you approached hiring and how would you describe your team and its culture?
JC: I’ve hired friends through friends. The team is made up of a lot of different people who didn’t know one another before but there’s a big family community aspect here. I’ve worked for some terrible people in the past so I knew that whenever I wanted to have my own company, I wanted to treat my employees with respect. We’re an all-female team that works hard and knows how to hustle. Everyone wears many hats and jumps on what needs to happen to make the brand succeed. We’re all here to help out.
FB: The multibillion-dollar beauty industry — which primarily sells to women — has a sizable gender gap with mostly men running some of the biggest companies. Besides leading by example, are you involved in any initiatives to help encourage more women to join the industry?
JC: I just did a panel called ‘How I Built This’ with other female-owned brands where we discussed how we all built our companies. I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of clients who constantly tell me how inspired they are by the products we’re making and the services we’re providing. In Toronto, all my friends are entrepreneurs, too. There’s a huge female entrepreneur presence so we’re all here to support one another.
FB: What are some trends you foresee taking shape in the future of the natural beauty space?
JC: I think people are going to start talking about more socially conscious initiatives. In the natural beauty world, it’s not all about how much money you can make — it’s really about giving back, and that’s what we do. The future of the space is all about having a more conscious brand with sustainable ingredients.
FB: What is your 10-year goal for Province Apothecary?
JC: I see us having an amazingly large treatment space and storefront where we can see more clients. We only have about four rooms now so I’d love a bigger treatment space where people can come for the day and totally relax like they would in a day spa. This year, we’re bringing our treatments outside of Toronto. We like working with our clients and learning what they need so we can help provide treatment. Last year we launched a spot concentrate for cystic acne. We do a lot of custom products now like custom serums. It’s so fun to tailor products to people.
FB: And lastly, just for fun, if you hadn’t founded Province Apothecary, what would you be doing instead?
JC: I don’t know. I’d probably still be doing costume and styling because it was really fun and super creative.
Photo Credit: Jenna Marie Wakani