Natural skin care has, thankfully, experienced enough of a resurgence that we no-longer have to go hunting for it at seasonal Farmer’s Markets or in obscure health food stores. Today, we’ve got our pick of great products with ingredients we can recognize (and pronounce) in packaging that’s actually pleasing to the eye and can stand proudly on your #shelfie. I can tell you from experience that it feels even better to put great products on your skin, when you know they’ve been created thoughtfully by talented young women, who happen to be based locally in your home city. Very pretty packaging aside, the team behind Cardea AuSet are officially responsible for my absolute favourite facial mist (seriously, their ROSA is life changing) and I needed to know more about this talented Toronto-based duo.
Keep reading to meet Jennifer and Taylor, the two friends and co-founders of Cardea AuSet:
Business Name: Cardea AuSet
Name & Title: Co-Founders, Jennifer Bonato (30, Niagara Falls) and Taylor Williams (28, Toronto)
Education: Public Relations; Master of Critical Sociology (Jennifer), and Fashion Arts & Business (Taylor)
Edit Seven: Tell us about your brand, what do you do?
Jennifer Bonato & Taylor Williams: We are Cardea AuSet: a beauty and wellness brand named after two goddesses, with products that are plant and earth-based, GMO-free, and made as naturally as possible. Our line includes skin care and aromatherapy, and we create and curate formulas that are inspired by and enhance daily rituals and practices.
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
JB & TW: We’re longtime friends who had talked about starting a business together for years. We founded Cardea more than two years ago after both finding ourselves in periods of transition and feeling called to build something that was our own. As consumers and lovers of all things skin, beauty, and wellness, we’ve often felt troubled by some of the ingredients, formulas, and packaging in the industry. This inspired us to dream up our own, ultra-effective, super-clean version of many of the products we were using on a daily basis. With this in mind, we needed to name our brand and came upon AuSet, then Cardea, and loved the way these two goddesses sounded together. Things began to click, and we mapped out our philosophy and mission shortly after. Our next step was creating the products; we had particular ingredients and blends in mind from the beginning, and we then got to work with our chemist to create and refine our formulas.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
JB & TW: One of our favourite things about business ownership is the freedom to be creative in building our brand, products, and community. Any entrepreneur can tell you that it’s not easy, particularly at the beginning when you’re fulfilling every single role at once. When things get challenging or heavy, we can always retreat to the dream-board/visioning phase of things, and spend some time mapping out ideas for our next event, next product, or next initiative.
E7: What makes your business special?
JB & TW: We operate on a consensus basis – our decisions are made together and ensure that both of our visions and ideas remain balanced and represented in all aspects of the business. Since our launch, we’ve felt strongly about building a community and platform that allows us to collaborate with and support other entrepreneurs and creatives. We’ve provided sponsorship for conferences and events that support women’s leadership, created the Cardea Collective space to showcase the work and voices of our members, and collaborated with many of the brands that we love on different social media initiatives. We absolutely believe in collaboration over competition.
E7: What makes your product special?
JB & TW: Our formulas are highly concentrated so that your beauty and wellness rituals are ultra-effective. At the same time, they’re great daily-use products, and can easily be added to your existing routines. We know that sometimes reading an ingredient list can feel like reading a novel, and we want to minimize that as much as possible. Each product contains just a handful of ingredients, selected based on their multi-dimensional properties and ability to provide both topical and sensory benefits.
E7: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business?
JB & TW: We’ve been in business just over two years, and have already learned so much. Logistics, first and foremost, has been a huge area of growth for us. Production-chain management, timelines for product development and launch, packing and shipping, national, regional, and international laws and regulations; these are all super important aspects of our business that challenge us to continue learning, growing, and improving on our practices each day.
Another key learning has been building and managing various relationships; this can be a huge challenge but is super important. We guide these practices by one overarching rule: be nice. Sometimes people adopt a ‘nice people finish last’ mentality, but we advocate the exact opposite. This isn’t an indication of weakness, at all; niceness goes a long way, especially in the most challenging and uncomfortable situations.
E7: You recently revamped some of your best-selling products. What improvements did you decide to make and why?
JB & TW: The re-brand for v.2 is something that ties into things we’ve learned over our first two years in business. When we launched, we thought it would be best to create larger volume products, and at the time were really inspired by a feminine, minimal palette. We’ve since learned that in order to ensure products are being used at peak-freshness, it’s better to produce in smaller packages. Also, our inspirations have grown and shifted since the beginning, and we started feeling drawn to a more colourful, curated palette. The new look achieves a few things at once: the formulas stay fresher throughout the product’s lifecycle, the bottles have a more streamlined hand-feel, our signature hand-stamped glass stays true to our eco-conscious and minimal roots, and our updated colour palette is more exciting and amplify’s the product’s visual impact on our stockists’ shelves.
E7: How did you know it was time to revamp and elevate your current offering? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in a similar situation?
JB & TW: Some key advice would be that it’s so important to be open and accepting of feedback. We knew it was time for a re-vamp because we wanted to address client and stockist feedback about sizing and packaging, and – as we mentioned above – we were starting to feel creatively drawn to different things than we did when we first launched. Part of what we think is special about Cardea AuSet is how much its a reflection of our vision and our selves. When we started feeling that our look didn’t reflect where we were individually and creatively, we knew it was time for an updated look.
E7: What have been some of the pros and cons of building your business in Toronto/Canada?
JB & TW: There are many incredible Canadian businesses, and people in Canada are proud to support local and independent brands. Southern Ontario in particular is such a beautiful place, and we knew that this was where we wanted to build our business. Toronto is definitely the hub – it’s been amazing to be able to connect with so many people, brands, and media right in our own backyard. A definite pro is the centrality and buzz of the city; also, we are so pleased and inspired by the community we’ve built. We’ve received incredible support and built genuine friendships with the people we’ve met through Cardea AuSet. We can’t think of a con in particular; of course all business comes with challenges, but we’re really lucky to have found the bright side of any negative experience that’s come our way.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
JB: Keep things close to you at the beginning. We really believe in energy, so we agreed that we wouldn’t share our plans widely to keep the energy of the project as positive as possible. We spent months planning, researching, and crafting a business plan in secrecy in order to protect ourselves from criticism or opinions that could have a negative impact on us. This kept our brand and vision pure: a reflection of us, nothing else.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
JB: I wish I knew all of the things that I do now in terms of product development, planning and timelines, marketing, media relations, and building relationships. The thing is, though, that this knowledge comes from doing. I would say that it’s important to do your due diligence and over-prepare for things, but remain open and willing to learn, and accept mistakes as lessons and opportunities for growth.
TW: Yes yes yes! Jennifer and I come from very different places with completely different backgrounds and fields of expertise and we are able to apply those to our work and create something great. Had we known everything you need to know about starting a business we wouldn’t be where we are today and learned the lessons we have along the way. We have created something we are passionate about and it gives us the opportunity to do what we love.
E7: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs in the skin care business to prepare for?
JB & TW: If you’re a young woman, or someone without assets, be prepared for difficulty accessing financial support. Self-finance if you’re able. If opening a business is a long-term goal, start saving toward it now. The more financial control you have over the business, the more it remains yours. Also, manage your expectations. Don’t enter into a new business with the expectation of immediate or viral success. Learn as much as you can about the production process, and costs associated with product development and launch. Be prepared to hear the word No, and don’t take it personally. Start small, be genuine in your motives, and keep going. Often, the only difference between success and failure is the willingness to not stop.
E7: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs in the skin care business who are looking to grow their business and take their small business to the next level?
JB & TW: First, figure out what you’d need to scale your business. Research, research, research. Then, reach out to people who are already where you want to be: founders, skin care experts, shop owners, etc. Attend events, send an email, a DM, whatever – and connect with them – these are the people who have the information that you need. Occasionally you might encounter someone who is unwilling to act as a resource or share information; don’t take it personally. Most people are nice and are open to answering questions, providing advice, or making connections if they’re able.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
JB: It’s a challenge! My #1 organizational tool is my dayplanner – it’s a Moleskine paper planner because I find that the sensory aspect of writing works better for me than reading from a screen. I use this to plan all aspects of my life. Sometimes when I’m feeling unbalanced, I spend some time mapping out the weeks ahead, reviewing weeks past and ensuring I’ve tied up all loose ends. I have trouble focusing if my home feels unorganized, so I like to take time on the weekends to tidy up and get things ready for the week. I don’t know that balance is a real thing – but I try to make sure I’m exercising, eating well, scheduling time with friends and family, and blocking out space to just chill and recharge.
TW: I’m not even sure I can check all those boxes daily, but one thing that is key is staying organized. I’m a big list person (everyone tells me it’s because I’m a Capricorn). I’m constantly making lists on what I need to finish in a day, what I’m manifesting for the business or myself, where I would like to travel and of course, grocery lists. Staying balanced and motivated go hand in hand, burn out is a serious thing! I enjoy the ordinary day to day routines like making dinner with my partner or cleaning up the house. It’s a way to feel fulfilled without adding stress to your day.
E7: Who are some of your mentors/role models?
JB: I’ve received great academic mentorship from Dr. Ana Isla in the department of Sociology at Brock University. Dr. Isla really helped to shape my research around GMO’s within industrial agriculture, and my perspective on the issues was really broadened through her guidance. I’ve also had the most amazing professional mentors throughout my time working with YWCA Niagara Region; women from various fields and backgrounds who supported my work as a young executive member. Some of my role models in this business include Dr. Barbara Sturm and Herbivore’s Julia Wells; it’s so inspiring to me to see women grow their businesses independently and achieve incredible success.
TW: The special thing about the beauty and wellness community is that is overflowing with knowledge from so many different individuals. Right now, I look to Lacy Ann Phillips almost daily as an expander through her podcast and manifesting work.
E7: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
JB: I don’t have a single daily ritual or consistent schedule, but there are things that I always come back to when I feel the need to connect. Exercise and movement is a big one; it’s the best way for me to take a break from internal chatter, and it’s very grounding for me. As the cold weather sets in I use baths to create a space for ritual – lighting a candle (our CEDAR is my favourite woodsy scent) and listening to music while soaking and sweating in salt water. Lately I’ve been using tarot a lot; I’ll do a single card pull every few days or when I’m anxious about something, and use it to re-frame my feelings around what ever is on my mind.
TW: I’m a lover of routines in my daily life and I try to stick to them as best I can, when I do I always feel better about what I accomplish in a day, but I know to be easy on myself when things don’t always work out. Some of my non-negotiables (and easiest) rituals are a big glass of lemon water first thing in the morning, followed by a coffee or matcha latte, I usually mix in some type of sweating or movement; I recently adopted a dachshund puppy with my partner so this movement has been a lot of puppy hangs at the park! Also adding in some form of meditation throughout my day, this is something as easy as quiet breath work or journaling before bed.
E7: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
JB: Inspiration can pop up anywhere; I’m a big visual note taker – I’ll find things I love in nature and online and when they keep coming up for me internally I know that I need to follow them. What’s interesting about having a business partner who is a close friend is how often we’ll find ourselves on the same wavelength about something – one of us will throw out an idea that the other had already been thinking about. We always take that as an energetic sign.
TW: I think inspiration can come from all sorts of places or things and then you take them and incorporate them into daily life. It makes me very happy to have a creative outlet like Cardea AuSet, and having the opportunity to do it with one of my closest friends.
E7: As company based in Canada, do you have international goals and why?
JB & TW: While we built our brand locally, it’s important for Cardea AuSet to appeal to clients globally. With cosmetics and skin care, there are regulatory frameworks in place in most countries, so we have to keep these in mind alongside our goals. Our products are available in Canada and the U.S., and we’re looking forward to expansion outside of North America.
E7: Who is the Cardea AuSet customer and where can your products be purchased?
JB & TW: Our customers are discerning, and do research before committing to a product. They’re also people who find joy in aesthetics – who make decisions based on what enhances their sensory experience. Whether visually pleasing, beautifully scented, or tactile, the senses factor largely in the products and brands our clients chose to support. The Cardea AuSet customer is someone who values natural products, and carves out moments of self-care throughout their day. Our entire collection is available on cardeaauset.com, and we have retail partners across Canada and the U.S. Stockists of our skincare collection include Jacob & Sebastian in Toronto, Le Brow Bar in Montreal, and Lux Beauty Boutique in Edmonton. Some of our ritual goods are available at Herbivore, Nutbar, and the new Lost + Found on the Danforth. For a complete list of stockists visit https://www.cardeaauset.com/stockists
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)