Canadian Skincare Icon Elizabeth Grant on What She’s Learned After 72 Years (!) in Beauty
"When someone realizes you are a person [and not just a brand], it’s a lot harder to forget about you."
This may come as a surprise to anyone who grew up on YouTube beauty gurus and Instagram makeup tutorials, but there was a time when the launch of a new beauty brand wasn’t a weekly occurrence. While we love keeping up with all of the newness in the industry, and reporting on the wide range of brands and products available for consumers to shop, we’d be remiss not to take a moment to appreciate the beauty brands — and brand founders — who have helped shape the industry into what it is today. There are, after all, only a select few beauty brands who have truly stood the test of time and remained relevant and innovative through the years.
One of those brands is Elizabeth Grant Skin Care, founded in 1948 by Elizabeth Grant, during a time when women were rarely at the helm of a beauty brand. The brand went on to create one of the first skin serums on the market, and the first one for home use in the beauty industry.
Read our interview with the one and only Elizabeth Grant (who turns 98 today!) below to find out what she’s learned after an astonishing seven decades in the beauty industry.
What are some lessons you’ve learned over the years about starting and running a beauty brand?
“I’ve tried to create a beauty brand where women of all ages can feel beautiful regardless of how many birthday candles are on their cake. So [I had to] believe in myself in order to create skincare [products] that other people believed in.”
What advice do you have for up-and-coming brands in terms of remaining relevant and innovative for years to come?
“Create something you truly want to use and feel the need for. Your first customer is always yourself. What’s nice about today’s world is that there’s always an audience. They may not turn out to be your customer, but there will be someone who will listen to you and hopefully guide you to your dream.”
Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to yourself when you first started the brand?
“Have a sense of humour. If you can make someone laugh, you’ll be more memorable, more approachable, and easier to work with. A no-nonsense attitude will get you through the door, but what’s going to keep you there is being personable and reminding someone there is a person behind the idea and the brand. When someone realizes you are a person [and not just a brand], it’s a lot harder to forget about you.”
What did you learn as a brand founder in the ’50s, when not many women were at the helm of brands?
“In the ’50s I made mistakes. I had to learn that I had my own voice in a man’s world. If I learned that sooner I think I wouldn’t have been so trusting of the men watching over the finances of the business. I would have been able to trust my gut more than listen to the seeds of doubt being planted that said I didn’t know what I was doing. I did know what I was doing, I was just being pushed to second-guess myself. After 72 years, I can confidently say I am no longer just nodding my head yes, but I am leading a company where we build everyone up and help each other grow.”
What lesson about running a business do you wish you learned sooner in your career?
“Keep good financial records; that way your bank can be an ally in your business. In the beginning, I had someone handling the financial side of my business and I quickly learned I should have been the one handling it.”
What was your Aha! moment that made you realize you needed to start the Elizabeth Grant brand?
“I was a makeup artist at Elstree Studios in London, England. Unfortunately, my skin was damaged during World War II and I truly believed my career was over. I fell into a deep depression. On a mission to fix my skin for no other reason than to go back to work, I discovered our proprietary ingredient, Torricelumn – a blend of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, amino acids mixed with our harvested specialty sea kelp. I had no intention of starting a beauty empire; Torricelumn just fixed my skin after about 8 or 10 months and I was able to go back to work. One day I was working on a famous actress at the time, who complimented my skin and asked what I was using. I sheepishly went into my bag and handed her my personal miracle, my Essence of Torricelumn, and she asked where she could get more because she loved it. That was my lightbulb moment. I could help women — really help them — love their skin again, the way that I did.”
How has your experience with the brand been shaped by the fact that you work with your daughter-in-law and granddaughter?
“Having Marion, my daughter-in-law, who was married to my late son, by my side is beyond words to me. She wouldn’t let me retire; I thought I had to and Marion reminded me that retirement is a choice. Margot, [my granddaughter], has been in my makeup chair since she was five years old. It was always my dream to have her work alongside me, but her choice to do so made it incredibly special to me. When she came on in 2003 […] we made the brand more approachable so our younger audience would want to use it, and men would love to use it, too. At the end of the day, we are family, which to me is the most important thing about the business – succeeding together while bringing our customers into our family, too.”