Jane Wurwand of Dermologica is on a mission to change the way women think about their skin. She talks to lifestyle expert Claudia Chan.
Some 25 years ago, U.K.-born Jane Wurwand moved to Los Angeles to start a postgraduate school for skin therapists. She soon noticed something lacking: Good skin-care products. Europeans brands were heavy and perfumed, and most American women washed their faces with bar-soap and water. A few years later, she and husband Raymond started their own professional product line, and named it Dermalogica. Today, Dermalogica is sold in more than 80 countries, and widely used by professional skin therapists worldwide. Wurwand has partnered with Kiva.org to found joinFITE (Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship), which aims to help 25,000 women in more than 60 countries to start or grow businesses.
Edited interview excerpts follow.
Claudia Chan: Please share how your professional journey began.
My mother set an inspiring example. She was widowed very young, and never remarried. She dedicated herself to raising four daughters—I was the youngest—and was employed as a nurse. More than simply putting food on the table, she taught us girls not to rely on men for our identities, and certainly not for our financial well-being. She was truly ahead of her time.
My mother encouraged us to acquire practical, portable skills, and so I began working on the weekends at age 13 in the local salon, sweeping up hair-cuttings. This initial experience laid the foundation for everything which was to come. I loved the environment of the salon, and went on to earn my license as a professional skin therapist.
CC: Your market is women. Does that bring you great personal fulfillment?[pullquote_right]We are an education company which happens to manufacture a professional skincare line.[/pullquote_right] Absolutely. We are an education company which happens to manufacture a professional skincare line. From the beginning, our focus has been to enhance the skills of professional skin therapists [who are mostly women], and to give them the tools they need to command respect and succeed. This desire to support women in business is reflected in every aspect of Dermalogica, and what makes us different from any other skincare brand.
The two-year objective for our FITE program is to extend microloans to 25,000 women worldwide. We began with the realization that the majority of the world’s women and their children live in brutal poverty. The recovery of the world economy literally relies upon giving women the tools to create a life beyond poverty. We know, to quote one of our supporters, economist Nicholas Kristof, “Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.”
CC: What characteristics define great leadership?
Great leaders go into battle before the troops. I grew up in the United Kingdom [but] my preference in terms of running my business is more like the Israeli army.The Israeli officers are on the front lines. They are the first to step over the line, and the enlisted men — and may I say, women! — follow. I find this a more ethical and effective way to get anything done, although you had also better have a back-up succession of great people around you, too.
CC: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase?
Especially in the beginning, you will meet with a lot of naysayers and negativity. Be careful about who you listen to. Lots of people will tell you “No” when you start out, either because they themselves are fearful, afraid of failure, have low risk-tolerance, or are bitter about some past disappointment. They may also simply be jealous of the fact that you’ve got guts.
CC: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
Education, without a doubt. Also, we don’t align with the beauty industry. The beauty industry, to me, is all about claims which prey on the insecurities of women. These insecurities are embedded and reinforced by media, especially the toxic hyper-sexualization of girls.
Instead, as a brand, we focus on the function of healthy skin as the first line of defense. A strong epidermis is literally a shield against microbes which can enter the body and attack the organs. Of course, a well-nourished, well-maintained skin will look better. But the visual pay-off is not the primary motivation for using Dermalogica.
CC: What do you think is the key to happiness?
I like the Buddhist statement that there is no way to happiness, but that happiness is the way. The greatest lesson that we all have to learn, in my opinion, is the practice of mindfulness. This means becoming, and being, and staying, fully present. In the moment. Here and now.
It is easy to become tortured by memories of the past, and anxieties and anticipation about the future, and lose sight of what is right before our eyes in the present moment. But the truth is this: no one can predict what will happen tomorrow. And we certainly cannot erase what we did yesterday, although experience is a great teacher. Be fully present in your life. This is the only way you can be present for the people who love you.
And realize when you are lucky. Truly, some people are so distracted by thoughts of what they’ve just done, or worrying about what they have to do next, that they don’t realize when they are having a great day, and a great life.
A snippet from Claudia Chan’s interview with Jane Wurwand, CEO of Dermalogica. Pursue the Mission and the Money will Come
Inspired by Jane Wurwand? Take a look at Claudia Chan’s other interviews with enterprising women.
Suparna Bhasin on Helping Women Find Their Calling
Dee Poku on Inspiring the Next Generation of Women Leaders
Bobbi Brown on the Business of Beauty
Joi Gordon on Dressing Disadvantaged Women for Success
Ingrid Vandervelt on Overcoming Self-Doubt and Empowering Others
An Entrepreneur Turns a Passion for Cooking into an Cookie Empire