Have patience. I haven’t mastered this one yet! I am an incurable optimist and have high hopes for results quickly. This is a great mindset for getting started with projects, and having the momentum to move forward, but can lead to disappointment. Trust the process knowing that the steps you’re taking are moving you along the journey and that if you take enough steps in the right direction you will get there.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Powell.
Claire Powell has spent more than 25 years running consumer brands in apparel, accessories, and beauty industries. After the company she was CEO of was sold at the end of 2019, she was preparing for some months of networking and finding her next corporate role. When the pandemic hit, she took the opportunity to pursue her long-held entrepreneurial dreams and bought Bella Virtu Organics, an e-commerce start-up skincare business. proven successful in the stay-at-home world of COVID 19.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in London, the youngest of three daughters to a doctor father and teacher mother, who soon decided to stay at home to raise us. So I had a very comfortable upbringing, with Christian values and good grades being of top importance. I was outgoing and fun loving and wanted to be a magician when I grew up. Science and math came easily to me, and at all female school I didn’t even consider whether this was usual or unusual for a girl. I loved fashion and make-up and math. I never saw any contrast between these, they were all different forms of beauty in my mind (and still are!). My parents and school both had rather traditional viewpoints of career paths, so I never realized until much later that these things could be combined into a job. Hence I ended up following my passions in a haphazard way rather than moving along any predetermined path.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
― George Bernard Shaw
Much of my career has been about creating, driving, and managing change. This was unplanned and emerged as a theme with hindsight rather than planning. Whenever something has always been done a certain way, that is precisely enough of a reason for me to want to do it a different way. “What if?” is a natural question for me, or “why not?” I wondered why I found matrix structures with strong consistency requirements completely suffocating, and why micro-managers gave me anxiety. It took me far too long to understand that I strongly value autonomy and choice and would rather be 80 percent right and do it now, than be 98 percent right and wait 6 months. I’m loving the ownership of Bella Virtu Organics because it allows me the freedom to drive change in the way that I want. I have already changed the logo and packaging, added five new products and a new distribution channel.
So to relate this to the quote, I agree with Mr Shaw that progress is impossible without change, and I believe that learning is accelerated through trying new things or doing things in a new way, and in turn learning is one of the most valuable things any of us can do. His phrase “change their minds” can be read in this context as a change of opinion or view on something, but I like to think of it as evolving one’s mind, challenging one’s assumptions and beliefs to grow in consciousness which is critical to changing the world around us. It is very exciting to be at this stage of my life and career and still be learning so much and embracing all the changes that stepping into business ownership has led to. I’m learning everyday about organic ingredients, their benefits to our skin, and the challenges and rewards of running an ecommerce business.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
It is very difficult to pick just one. I have been shaped and influenced by many amazing authors and in particular I love reading about the science of belief and consciousness. Authors that stand out for me include Eckhart Tolle, David R. Hawkins, Bruce H. Lipton, Dan Harris. I gave a talk recently to a group of students from the Schultz School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas and I recommended one video for them to watch, and that was Anil Seth’s Ted Talk: “Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality”. I think this video summarizes a lot of very important concepts that are relatively simple to understand, but have far reaching consequences. Our brain is constantly filtering and interpreting everything around us, and how we choose to do that can hugely impact our well-being and relationships. Managing the interpretations we make can be critical to stress relief, resilience, and creativity. In my current business, the main voice I have to interpret is my own. Calming the voice that is afraid of the unknown and embracing the voice that is excited to build a brand that is about positive and healthy beauty is a daily process.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I “grew up” in a fairly traditional brand management career path, spending 14 years at Hanesbrands, Inc., where I was given incredible opportunities to run brands such as Bali Intimates, Wonderbra, and Champion Activewear. The brands I was assigned to were often on the cusp of “invest or divest” decisions and finding a unique, compelling positioning and message for the brand and proving its potential were my core responsibilities. I learned so much from leadership there about branding, advertising, profitability, merchandising and navigating corporate dynamics. The years following my time there had me learning how to succeed in smaller companies with more aggressive cultures such as private equity owned mid-sized companies such as Schiff Nutrition (sold to Reckitt Benckiser) and start-up (as it was then) American Giant — now an established apparel brand making a meaningful impact on the made-in-America movement. I was hired in most cases for my ability to build strategy and translate that into clearly aligned goals and action plans to teams that were either newly created or needing to head in a new direction. But what I loved most in each role was creating and building something new, and making customers feel their most beautiful, healthy best whether it was the creation of the “Live Beautifully” tagline for Bali Intimates, or educating women on how to choose the best sports bra at Champion. Most recently I was CEO of J.W. Hulme which was a small, private equity owned manufacturer and retailer of luxury leather goods. I oversaw the transformation of the business from being a manufacturing led, 100 percent ecommerce company to being a retail focused brand across ecommerce and bricks and mortar. Receiving letters from customers about the confidence, pride and joy that carrying a beautiful, high quality leather item brought them was inspiring. The company was sold at the end of 2019 to iMedia Brands.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When it became clear that the pandemic was going to be far reaching and have a long term impact, I had just returned from a trip back to the UK (thank goodness I went then) and was preparing to dive into networking and consulting to figure out my next role. I had always had an inner itch to own my own business but had never found the right concept or the right moment in my life to do it. Suddenly it seemed like an obvious choice. Apparel and accessory brands were scrambling, and retailers were losing people, not hiring. I had qualified as a professional coach, but that didn’t fulfill my love of physical product creation or having a platform for making lots of people feel healthy and beautiful. I dived into looking for businesses for sale. The pandemic certainly added another set of criteria to the assessment process — I was now looking for something that not only was a consumer product that I loved and believed in, a replenishable category, with strong reviews or consumer proof, but also ecommerce driven, a category that would hold its own in a lockdown world, and could be managed with little to no in-person contact. Bella Virtu was brought to my attention and I immediately bought the product to try. I loved it. Honestly I wasn’t sure that an organic product, or oil based serums, would be effective for my skin, but after a few days of using it I was hooked. My experience was backed up by hundreds of positive reviews for the product on Amazon. I believed (correctly) that people would still want to take care of their skin, and show themselves self care during the pandemic, and that the movement towards knowing where and how the things you buy are made and what is in them is only growing in importance — lessons I learned well at American Giant and J.W. Hulme. So the fact that these wonderfully effective products were made in the USA and made of USDA certified organic ingredients would be resonant with a growing number of people.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
There was the first moment as I mentioned above when the “why not?” question that I love provided a lot fewer answers than it had before, with the “why?” side of the see-saw finally providing enough answers to tip the balance. Then there was the final decision that Bella Virtu was the right business for me. I tried to be quite logical about it and think about the pros and cons, and then I remembered my coaching training and looked at it holistically: through logic, emotion, and intuition. Ultimately, my imagination had begun to conjure up what this brand could be — a platform to bring joy and goodness to lots of people, a way to channel my love of all things beautiful and business into a brand I could stand behind. Once I had fallen in love with this idea, I knew there was no turning back.
How are things going with this new initiative?
It depends what day it is! I am super proud of the accomplishments I’ve made with a lot of help from people around me. I’ve re-branded, built a website, engaged a third-party logistics company, launched five new products, taken on help for my Amazon business, PR, social media, website and packaging design. But I am still very impatient — I want it to be bigger, faster. The to-do list seems to grow faster than the completed list. It is so rewarding to hear stories about people’s positive experience with the products, I regularly have people reaching out to tell me how one product or another has solved a long held skin problem or healed an acute issue. Those are the things that keep me fired up to keep on driving forward, I believe I am making a small difference in people’s lives — bringing them a little bit of joy and beauty during these challenging times.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My husband has been an incredible partner and supporter, moving around the world and across the US to follow my career. He has taken care of everything on the home-front giving me the chance to really focus on my work, I’ve been lucky enough not to ever feel like I’m juggling it all. He was also a crucial voice in the decision to buy the business, giving his thumbs up to the product and my vision (yes — it works for men too!) Within the workplace, I’ve been given opportunities and supported by so many different people over the years, both by those in leadership roles and also peers in support roles and agency partners. I also have a strong network of what I would call “professional friends”, friends who advise me, encourage me, connect me to resources, and generally act as sounding boards for whatever I’m pursuing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
What is interesting is the whole process, the fact that every day is its own mini-adventure with challenges and rewards. I am continuously learning new things which is a wonderful privilege. I’m learning about Shopify and Amazon and all things business-related of course, but the most interesting to me is learning about skincare ingredients and the incredible benefits that some of these organic and natural materials can deliver. Rhassoul Clay is one of them — it comes from the Atlas Mountains and has been used in skincare for more than a thousand years. The minerals in it have negative charges, so it attracts the toxins in your skin and rinses them away when you rinse off the mask. The Moroccans in 800 AD may not have known about the chemical mechanism but they saw the benefits of clean rejuvenated skin.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I’ve been leading organizations for many years, so I’m interpreting this question to be “5 things I wish someone told me before owning my own business”
- Stay focused
I have lots and lots of ideas, and I am also bombarded by friends’ and advisors’ ideas and feedback and a myriad of service providers advertising their miracle solutions to me every day. This can be overwhelming and distracting. I’ve learned to remind myself of what the original business vision was and what I am trying to achieve so that I don’t get off-track pursuing someone else’s agenda.
2. Ask for help
It is tempting to try to do everything oneself. I never want to admit that I can’t do something, that I can’t learn it or figure it out. What I have realized is that whether I can or not isn’t really the question, it is whether it is the most effective or efficient way to do it. I love developing products, creating the brand message, and bringing my vision of positive, healthy beauty to life. If asking for help with my digital advertising means I can create more effective, gorgeous new products, then it is the right thing to do.
3. Plan downtime
Working from home and having my own business means that the to-do list is never finished and the work is always accessible. I enjoy what I do and would happily research ingredients and create new marketing materials well into the night, but that is a path to burnout — not to mention upset husband and children. So, I try to make sure there are blocks of time when I’m not stuck at my desk, and often it is those times that inspiration hits and ideas that really move the business forward can come.
4. Have patience
I haven’t mastered this one yet! I am an incurable optimist and have high hopes for results quickly. This is a great mindset for getting started with projects, and having the momentum to move forward, but can lead to disappointment. Trust the process knowing that the steps you’re taking are moving you along the journey and that if you take enough steps in the right direction you will get there.
5. Be aware of the story you’re telling yourself
Your thoughts aren’t you, and they’re not even necessarily true or correct. Our brain filters everything we experience, and often we find threats and issues where there are none. I’ve learned to recognize agitation and stress reactions in myself and when I do I take a moment to think about what is causing that reaction and whether there is a story I’m telling myself about the situation that is making it worse. Just asking myself “is this true? Is this thought pattern useful? What is a more helpful way of thinking about this?” can have me reframe events in a much more productive way.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
- Laughter: finding the funny side of as many things as possible, and just taking the time and space to do fun, relaxing activities is incredibly helpful. My life’s purpose is driven by sharing joy and luckily I have a husband and two sons with very good senses of humor and we all laugh together a lot.
- Meditation and Prayer: prayer helps me to let go of trying to be in control and brings me reassurance and a big picture perspective. Meditation trains my brain to stay in the moment and be conscious of the thoughts I’m having and the effect they are creating, which allows me to handle stresses and emotions more effectively in the rest of life.
- Connection with edifying people: I choose to connect (via phone or Zoom these days) with people who fill my soul. Even in more transactional business relationships I always try to choose to work with people who I know I will look forward to talking to or receiving an email from. We all know the people who just drain us, don’t waste time with them.
- Exercise and Sleep: making sure to get enough of each of these.
- Self-care: I enjoy pampering myself in simple affordable ways, but ones that feel like a treat. I choose products that I enjoy the experience of using in the moment, not just the end benefits. How a serum or cream smells and how it feels going on can lift my spirits and bring me back to a moment of joy and gratitude.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Stop comparing. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to an idealized version of what we “should be”, comparing ourselves to others whether it be against conventional beauty expectations, luxury lifestyles, or number of followers . If everyone was more comfortable in themselves, embracing their own unique beauty and specialness, we would all be more accepting of each other’s uniqueness and perhaps there would be a bit more joy and love in the world. I would love to see the beauty industry move from being a source of anxiety, low self-esteem, and striving, to be more of a force for health, inspiration, and connection.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
My parents who are in their 80s and in England — I won’t have seen them for at least 18 months due to the pandemic. I’m not sure you can tag them though, you might need to write them a letter!
Assuming you mean someone famous, I wish Anita Roddick were alive, I would love to hear first hand about the story of The Body Shop, but since she’s no longer with us, I would have to choose Sebene Selassie — I love the meditations she does on the Ten Percent Happier app, and I have gained a lot from the wisdom she has shared on the podcast of the same. I haven’t read her new book yet but I’m sure it has a lot to say about being unique and connected that I am passionate about so I’m looking forward to reading it.
How can our readers follow you online?
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/clairepowell/
Blog coming soon on www.bellavirtuorganics.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!