PROFILE: MEET THE MAKER
You asked, we answered! I recently had a sit-down interview with Henné Organics founder and CEO Laura Xiao, and we went pretty in-depth about everything from how she founded Henné to why she loves MMA. We laughed, wondered who was chopping onions during some moments, and afterwards, I'm even more amazed by both Laura and the brand itself.
The interview was actually about an hour long, so I selected the highlights and parts that stood out to me most. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!
When did you start thinking about becoming an entrepreneur?
It started toward the end of college. During the first three years, I was studying broadcast journalism and thought it was the path I was destined to go down. Senior year, that's when thoughts of becoming an entrepreneur started popping into my head, as I started to feel that journalism was not my calling. I pushed them aside and thought, " I'm not ready! Maybe in 10 or 15 years." Fortunately, that entrepreneurial spirit kept growing, and I ended up co-founding my first business at age 23 (which still exists today).
Why did you want to start Henné?
It was kind of a combination of experiences from living abroad, passion, and an element of desperation! Prior to living abroad, I had already switched over to buying only organic or non-GMO food but was having a hard time finding clean beauty and skincare products that really worked well. When we were living in Sweden and New Zealand, they had more options available, and it became easier to switch to clean beauty. The selection still wasn't great, but at least it was more available.
In 2014, my husband Axel and I and I moved back to the U.S (the desert of all places). We both immediately started having issues with dry and cracked lips, which resulted in a homemade lip balm.
In May 2015, we launched Henné with just one SKU, the Luxury Lip Balm jar. The timing felt right. We had saved up a bit from previous years of running our web development company, and I thought, "Hey, we're young! What better time than now?"
In hindsight, I'm so glad that we initially moved to Vegas for the other business, as I think it expedited the launch of Henné by at least 7 or 8 years and gave me the push needed to just go for it without overthinking things.
"The first photo I snapped when we received the final packaging for our first product. I tore open the shipping boxes within a minute of UPS delivering them to our front door. Needless to say, I was beyond excited!"
What was the hardest part?
The overall process was a bit difficult, since everything was new to me. I'd never created a physical product before, so I had to learn how to source the packaging, ingredients, get trained and learn how to properly formulate, get certified organic by USDA, etc.
The brand is "Swedish inspired, American made." Can you expand on that?
The inspiration comes from so many aspects of Sweden and Swedish culture. I absolutely love Swedish/Scandinavian design. I love their aesthetic when it comes to less-is-more and design-meets-function; an item looking great but also being functional in everyday life. We also use a lot of ingredients in our products that are very Swedish, such as lingonberry oil and cloudberry oil.
Another part of the Swedish element is that I consider Sweden my second home. I started visiting Sweden regularly in 2006 when Axel and I started dating and ended up living there for awhile later on. We still visit regularly, and I'm so grateful for that.
"American-made": All of our products are handcrafted in-house.
What does "Henné" mean and how do you pronounce it?
The correct pronunciation is "hen-neh." "Henne" without the accent on the e means "her" in Swedish.
How would you describe what you do?
We always joke that I'm the CEO and the hubby is the CEEO (Chief Everything Else Officer), which is actually pretty accurate! Running a small business, we both wear a lot of different hats.
What is your creative process like for creating a product?
Once we've decided on what to launch next, then comes my favorite part: formulating, designing, and launching a new product.
First, I need to have the right kind of music on to put me in the right headspace. I usually pick music that's a bit dreamy or whimsical, such as The Radio Dept. or Beach House. Then I start with the researching ingredients. This is a rabbit hole that I can go down for weeks, and I enjoy every minute of it.
The formulation process is something the hubby and I do together. This is by far the most time-consuming part, and it can take anywhere from a month to a year. I am extremely picky, so sometimes a formula takes way longer than maybe it should. I remember when we were formulating the Bare lip tint. We made hundreds of different batches before I was satisfied with the color and consistency. The hubby wasn't thrilled with how long it took, but I like to jokingly remind him: "Happy wife, happy life!" In the end, we're always happy with the final results because we won't launch a product until we absolutely love it and can stand behind it 100 percent.
When it comes to branding and photography, once the formulation is almost complete, I start to research and contemplate what emotions and images come to mind with this new product. How should I highlight the ingredients? What style and theme should the photos and marketing be? Once my mood boards and notes are complete, I jump on a call (or three) with my photographer Cristian about how to plan the photoshoot. He's someone I've been working with for years and understands my vision, and he always manages to bring my ideas to life in ways better than I even imagined.
Do you have a favorite product? If so, which one and why?
That's tough. They're like my lip children! [Laughs]. It changes all the time, sometimes on a daily basis. Literally like one day, I'll wake up and I think, "Rose Diamonds is my favorite product right now," and then the next morning I wake up and change my mind. Right now, it's the Lip Mask because I've been masking every day at the office this week.
Can you describe your morning and evening routine?
The most important thing for me in the morning is to wake up and get a workout in. Coming from a sports background, I'm used to getting those high levels of endorphins daily, and I love that euphoric post-workout feeling.
After the workout and a shower, I eat a fairly hearty breakfast, which usually consists of a bowl oatmeal with fresh berries, coffee, and a green smoothie. Then the hubby and I head to the office at 9am and stay until around 5:30pm.
In the evenings I either read for 10-15 minutes, meditate, or pray, depending on how I'm feeling. I used to meditate or pray in the mornings, but I realized that it works better for me in the evenings before bed, as I need that feeling of calmness before falling asleep.
In terms of skincare routines, what is your skincare routine like?
I'll start with my morning routine. I have my skinny face days and puffy face days. If my face looks a bit swollen in the morning (which I feel like it does at least a few mornings per week), I have an amethyst roller that I like to use while I'm cleansing my face. I feel like the roller helps me depuff a bit. After cleansing, I use a face mist and then finish off with moisturizer, or vice versa. Next, I apply a few quick layers of the Lip Serum and then move onto applying face oil on my cheeks and Luxury Lip Balm on my eyelids and temple, as I like having a natural shimmer. I don't wear much makeup, usually a little bit of blush and concealer under the eyes and then one of our lip tints. I oftentimes use Intrigue on my cheeks as blush.
I just realized that my evening routine is pretty extensive. I might wait with that one and we can save it for a separate blog post!
How do you find balance between work, social, and personal aspects of your life?
What social life? [Laughs]. I'm kidding...sort of. My social life is not nonexistent, but I oftentimes choose work over socializing. It does help that I work with the hubby and we see each other almost 24/7, so I think that makes me feel like I socialize more than I actually do. Of course I still make sure to spend time with people I care about the most, but as I get older, I don't care much for trying to meet up with as many people as possible or trying to have as many friends as possible.
What are your other passions and hobbies?
Outside of Henné? Nothing! I kid, I kid. The main one used to be table tennis when I was competing. These days I still like to get some sports excitement, so I love watching MMA, especially UFC. When I'm at the gym, since I'm an amateur, I only get to do light pad work or am allowed to gently punch people. Watching the pros go all out is so exhilarating.
Food and traveling. I love love LOVE to travel, and one of my favorite things about traveling is trying the local cuisine. This is how it usually goes when I travel: I go somewhere, eat like a little food monster, come back home and then eat extra clean for a week or so to make up for the non-clean eating, and then I'm back to normal!
While traveling, what are your must-have essentials?
I try to keep things fairly minimalist, but I do kind of break the rule with our own products. I pretty much bring all of our products when I travel, with the exception that sometimes I only bring one lip exfoliator instead of all three. Fortunately, they take up very little space.
I mostly wear black, which makes it pretty easy to pack for a try, but by the time I reach my destination, I can't find anything in my suitcase because everything looks the same.
Who has been your biggest supporter?
Axel. He's always there for me and is truly the best husband/business partner/friend. I don't cry often, but a lot of tears were shed those first two years of running Henné. I'm sure he was stressed at times as well, but he was always cool as a cucumber and never stopped supporting me and believing in both of us.
Do you have a personal motto?
One of my favorites is "I'll see it when I believe it."
What's next for Henné?
We are launching our first non-lip product this fall. I'll reveal a new hint: It won't be for the face. More details coming soon!