Serenade the Company

How I Created a Zero-Waste Beauty Brand

Maya Luong

My main mission for this company is to reduce landfill waste from beauty products.

Maya Luong

It was a gradual decision. I began caring more about sustainability and climate change after realizing it’s not just an environmental issue but also a human rights one last year. I started researching ways to reduce waste within the fashion industry. Initially, I actually wanted to create a sustainable fashion brand that’s affordable but also chic and modern (which I think is nonexistent at the moment). Fashion though, takes a lot of research, resources, and capital to get started with. After a while of researching the zero-waste movement and this community’s shopping habits, I realized that there are now a lot of zero-waste stores for general things like toiletries, reusable food containers, etc. but none that’s focused on sustainably-packaged beauty products, while a third of all landfill waste are from packaging of personal care products. Plus, these stores’ price range are pretty expensive!

A lot of women who follow the zero-waste lifestyle make their own lotions and sunscreens just because they don’t want to get anything packaged in plastic. I figured there has to be a go-to shop for zero-waste beauty. I knew the demand was there and that’s how Serenade came to be!

Serenade the Company Maya Luong

I got the website out as early as I could, with barely any money invested in the shop, just to feel the market out. I sat down to actually work on the store on January 1st and it was up by February 3rd. After talking to everyone around me about the store, I learned that people liked the idea and were willing to purchase. I posted about the shop on all of my social media, and in several sustainability-related Facebook groups. I remember a post I made in one of those Facebook groups got 100+ likes and I think more than 20 comments total immediately. I just kept asking questions about what people thought about the product selection, the website, etc. and came to the conclusion that people really want this.

My first three customers are from my sorority. They’re my OG supporters and cheerleaders. The third order was actually from another student in the Greek community that I reached out to. I’m still in college right now so you bet I’m taking advantage of this community!

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

I’ve had 4+ years of business administration experience but no professional experience in beauty.

I’m currently bootstrapping. I decided to postpone fundraising until I’ve gained more revenue and have graduated from college.

Who is your target demographic?

Initially, I was catering much more to young, environmentally-conscious women around 19-35. After talking to people from multiple zero-waste Facebook groups and telling people about my company at networking events, I found out that a lot of older women are also super interested. We’re fine-tuning our target demographic and conducting more research right now to gain insights but it’s an evolving process.

Serenade Lifestyle

I haven’t had any strange questions or requests but when I was trying to build up the company’s Instagram (which I’m still currently doing), one person from Australia asked if we shipped internationally. I had to say no but that made me so happy that someone from there was interested! But I think all the carbon emitted from shipping small items across continents would have defeated the purpose of sustainability.

How did you fund the idea initially?

I used my own savings and had help from my family. The nice thing about starting an eCommerce brand is that, depending on your specific business, it might not cost a ton to get started with. I work with mainly small businesses that don’t require a large minimum for wholesale orders. That, in addition to affordable online retail platforms like Shopify and Squarespace makes it easy to get started with small amounts of money.

I don’t have a co-founder! I’m definitely on the lookout for one though and I’m building my team right now. I know in entrepreneurship classes they usually teach you to build a team before you do anything. But in reality, from my experience and from looking at other entrepreneurs I learned that startups can take really different forms and their stories could vary widely.

Did you run any companies prior?

I didn’t start any business prior. I think I’ve always kind of known that I wanted to start something of my own, whether it’s a nonprofit or a for profit company. Both of my parents are business people so it’s easy for them to understand and support me, especially my mom. She’s the reason I learned about skin care in the first place and she’s very supportive of my shop. My parents’ attitude towards me starting a business is very much, “just do it.” They get that you probably won’t have all the answers but you can always learn on the job. My friends’ first thoughts on my company were overwhelmingly positive, which I’m grateful for.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

My main mission for this company is to reduce landfill waste from beauty products and for it to become an overall socially and environmentally responsible company. Of course, my company alone won’t be able to solve climate change or plastic pollution but change will have to come from every single sector of the economy for these goals to become a reality. As we grow, my plan is to partner with organizations that are working on these issues to further their efforts.

My attitude is very much “You live and you learn” when it comes to business. I’ve interned for really profitable companies before and learned that even with all of the appearance of success, they don’t always have things figured out behind the scenes. They just figure it out as they go.

Serenade Poppy Pout

I think my biggest advice for others who want to start a business, especially women or underrepresented communities in the startup world is that there are a lot of people who want to see you and your idea succeed. Even if you are not in an environment where you feel like you have a lot of support, the startup world is so inspiring and people from all types of background have all started from somewhere. Just start from somewhere. Do research, get your MVP out as soon as you can, because the sooner it’s out, the sooner you’ll get feedback to learn from.

Being super new, we’re building our mailing list and social media following primarily through community outreach. This means reaching out to zero-waste communities, sustainability-related clubs, organizations, reaching out to bloggers, attending all the networking events, talking one-on-one with everyone we could possibly get in touch with, etc. I’ve learned that at this stage, especially with a small budget, it’s just not cost efficient for us to run ads. Ads can be super expensive and the conversion rate can be very discouraging. But reaching out to people on a more personal level has proved promising for us.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

Being an eCommerce brand, we can’t run without Shopify. There are multiple platforms out there for eCommerce but for the time being we’ve found Shopify to be really effective and convenient given all of the available intra platform apps and resources.

Instagram is also huge. As a beauty startup, I don’t think it’s even a choice for us not to be active on Instagram. It’s a great way to get the word out and establish your brand identity on a very connected level with your consumers. I’ve also found out about other amazing sustainable startups through Instagram and those serve as a both business connections and a support network. You can see what other businesses are trying to do and learn from them.

What are your favourite books and podcasts?

I don’t think there’s any set number of books or podcasts that have helped me in business per se, but I learned a ton from reading autobiographies or watching interviews from successful people. The message I get over and over from these sources is that 1) you should just start something, even if it’s not perfect and 2) successful people don’t always have it figured out; and if that’s the case, what’s the point of keep delaying the process of starting something if you never are going to have everything figured out?

My all time favorite podcast is Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell. He re-examines fascinating, overlooked topics from the past. I think everyone should check it out. It has led me to view the world in such a different way and encouraged me to always challenge conventional thinking.

What are your next steps?

Currently, we’re focusing on getting the word out and getting direct consumer insights on what they would like to see us carry. We are constantly expanding our product collection as we get more information. In the long term, I would love to launch our own skin care and makeup line that are sustainably-produced and packaged. Honestly, if you were to ask me where I see the company in 5 years, I wouldn’t be able to tell. My vision has evolved and changed so much since I first started working on Serenade. There have been so many unexpected things that came my way. I have no idea what’s in store for me on this journey. I think I’ll just go with it and stick true to the mission.

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