Is this your full-time job?
Yes! Bright Body is my full-time gig. Once a week I also teach remote office-friendly yoga for companies with employees around the world. And occasionally I take on a private client or two, but Bright Body is what takes up 95% of my time!
So you’re a yoga teacher?
Yes, I did both my 200 and 500 hour trainings through YogaWorks which is a method that blends techniques the from Iyengar and Ashtanga traditions. I also completed an Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor training last year. I used to do more hours of remote office-friendly yoga classes, but I decided to scale back - I never wanted to get to a point where yoga felt like a “chore” to me since it’s such an important personal practice to me.
What did you do before?
I went to graduate school and earned my Master of Health Administration from VCU, and planned to use my degree as a long-term care administrator. I love old people – they’re pretty great – and that hasn’t changed! However, what I didn’t love was the culture of the organization I worked for. Large, slow to move, resistant to change, fearful of new ideas – I felt undervalued and unchallenged, and eventually all of my chronic health issues exploded. I was bedbound again and ended up needing over 18 months of IV treatment to get back on my feet. My three chronic health issues make it impossible for me to work a traditional 9-to-5 without putting my health at serious risk. I do not regret going to graduate school one bit – the experience helped me not only learn important business skills, but also helped me learn about myself and gave me great perspective on how I do (and don’t) want to run my business.
What are your undergraduate degrees in?
I have a BS in Human Development and a BA in Spanish from Virginia Tech. GO HOKIES! No, I was not fluent in Spanish beforehand – I’m half Brazilian, and in Brazil we speak Portuguese. Regardless, my dad didn’t raise my sister & I bilingual (ugh) but I understand more than I speak. I just really love languages!
Why did you start Bright Body?
Bright Body came to be after I realized that there weren’t many options for truly natural hair, skin, and body care that don’t break the bank. I have lived with multiple chronic illnesses for over a decade, and a few years ago I made the decision to cut out as many toxins from my life as possible. After browsing the so-called “natural” and “organic” brands that already existed, I found that (1) many brands “greenwash” their marketing by stretching the truth about how natural their products really are and/or (2) they are way out of my price range. So, I set out teaching myself cosmetic chemistry, learning about the benefits of different botanical ingredients, and testing products for 18 months prior to launch.
Do you have a background in chemistry?
Nope, sure don’t. In fact, I hated chemistry in high school (bad teacher) and didn’t have to take it in college. But I have always loved biology.
How did you teach yourself all of this stuff?
One of my biggest personality traits is that once I set my mind to something, I will move heaven and earth to get that thing done. That especially applies to anything that has to do with learning. I was always a super self-motivated student who genuinely loved learning, and I looked at teaching myself cosmetic chemistry no differently than I approached being in school. Even when I was still sick on IV treatment, I spent my downtime reading and researching, and when my energy got better I started experimenting in the kitchen. As long as you set your mind to it and set aside time to learn, you really can teach yourself almost anything nowadays. I spent a lot of time on reputable websites (and identifying the unreliable ones), in scientific studies, and in books and magazines. Once I had the theoretical understanding of cosmetic chemistry, the actual formulation and experimentation came relatively easily. TL;DR I’m a driven, self-motivated geek.
Do you really make everything by hand?
Yep! Right now it’s just me making everything but over the summer I’ll finally have help with production.
Do you do your own social media? Marketing? Accounting? Website? Fulfillment?
Yes to all of it – right now I’m a one-woman show. Eventually I hope to be able to hire some consistent PT help with these tasks as I grow. In addition to my PT production help over the summer, I’ll also have an intern helping me with some of these tasks, so I’m really excited about that.
How long does it take to make your products?
It depends on the product, how big of a batch I’m making, and if I have help. I will spend anywhere from 2-6 hours on a given day doing production. On weeks without a market weekend, I typically do 4+ weekdays of production. On weeks without a market weekend, I might do 1 weekday of production.
Where do you make your products?
Right now I’m working out of my home kitchen. Commercial kitchen options are expensive, especially since all I need to make my products is: counterspace, burners, a sink, and a freezer. I’m hoping to upgrade to a makerspace where I bring in my own cooking equipment soon!
How do you run a business while managing your health?
Planning, planning, and more planning. At the beginning of each week I sit down and make a plan for each day of the upcoming week, always making sure to include downtime for myself and my family. At the end of the week, I reflect on my goals for the next week, what I will do more (and less) of the next week, what support I need, and how I can take better care of myself. I constantly “check in” with myself in terms of energy, pain, and other symptoms to make sure I’m not overdoing it. Being an entrepreneur with chronic illness requires sharp self-awareness, unflinching self-compassion, organization, and patience. If I can’t get everything on my plan done in a day, I know & trust that I did my best and rearrange things as appropriate. Planning in down time is absolutely key.
What is it like to be a vendor at a market?
Simultaneously fun and tiring! I love being able to share my passion with people, and product education is genuinely fun to me. But of course, being “on” for long hours, the physical labor required to set up and break down, and factors like weather and standing on hard surfaces can be draining. I always plan some kind of “cushion” around market days so I make sure I’m taking care of myself. The vast majority of people I interact with make it all worth it.
What’s your biggest challenge with Bright Body?
I think right now it’s figuring out when & how to scale up. I know that come fall I’ll be ready to move into a makerspace and hire on some PT production help, but of course the exact timing and number of hours isn’t crystal clear.
Where do you want Bright Body to be in 5 years?
In 5 years, I’d love for Bright Body to be sold in stores up and down the east coast. I’d love to have a small office (not in my home) and some part-time employees to help with production, markets, wholesale sales, and social media. I want to be able to create my own maternity leave when my husband & I are ready to have a kiddo without feeling stretched financially (my husband is a high school teacher).
Why did you decide to donate a portion of monthly proceeds to charity? Are you worried about turning off some people with your beliefs?
After the 2016 election, I felt pretty hopeless. The kind of rhetoric that was being “normalized” in our society was despicable, fear-based, and hateful. At the time I was too sick to do much to get involved and make a difference. Once I started Bright Body, although I knew that I wouldn’t have much time to donate, I realized that I could vote with my dollars and donate to causes that I care about, including: racial equity & healing, immigrant rights, womens rights, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control, the environment, animal welfare, veterans, and more.
I realize that my beliefs might turn some people off, and that’s fine. If you don’t like the causes I support, then don’t buy my products. Even though I’m writing relatively small checks, I would rather be doing something good instead of sitting by while many of the foundational values of our country are under attack.