Thrive Diary//

How I Thrive: How Francesco Clark Built a Thriving Beauty Brand After a Personal Trauma

The Clark’s Botanicals founder shares how he channeled his resilience into success.

For Francesco Clark, what some may have seen as the end of their livelihood ended up as a new beginning. 

Seventeen years ago, Clark suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed after diving into the shallow end of a pool. “I realized that one of the side effects of paralysis was that my skin stops sweating, because it stops reacting to temperature,” he explains. So alongside his father, a doctor and homeopath, he started mixing different formulations of salves and lotions in his Bronxville, NY, kitchen, to try to soothe his skin. 

“I created these products for the emotional and psychological recovery of my own journey,” Clark explains. “The products started to work and then my sister and mom started stealing them, that’s when I knew it was a thing.” In 2009, Clark’s Botanicals was born. 

Now, the beauty brand has a cult following among faithful consumers and has been featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and just about every other beauty title.

In his edition of How I Thrive, Clark shares how he beat the odds when they were decidedly stacked against him, and how he manages his energy — and inbox — to set his days up for success. 

Thrive Global: In the wake of your injury, how did you go from surviving to thriving? 

Francesco Clark: After I had my spinal cord injury in 2002, I experienced PTSD. However, it made me feel human, because this traumatic event happened in my life and all I wanted to do was to show my mother, father, brother and sister that I could fix it. When I started to think that way, it felt overwhelming because everybody around me, outside of my family, told me that it was impossible to move my arms, or to think about talking and breathing and doing all these things. But breaking it down step-by-step helped give me more of a drive and helped to keep things in perspective. It helps for me to take a moment and step back and look at the bigger picture of what’s happened in the last 17 years since I was first injured. 

TG: How has sharing your story helped you thrive?

FC: It would be unjust for me to say that everything is always perfect and it would be unjust for me to say that I always feel amazing and happy. I would be a robot if that’s what I said. Frankly that’s the whole point of honesty, to show that it’s okay to have those dips and spikes and to talk to other people about it because the way that you deal with adversity and the downfalls sometimes helps other people and allows for other people to come in and help you deal with it as well. I’ve learned so many other people have gone through similar situations, maybe not with spinal cord injuries, but with other life events, and to talk about it allows for them to stand at your side and help you navigate those waters.

TG: How do you define success? 

FC: In the ICU, the neurosurgeon said I had a 19% chance of surviving that night — and the next two years of my life. He said I would never move my arms. He said I would never speak or breathe on my own (I was in a ventilator, and then on life support.) He’s wrong. The people that were around me were the foundation of support that kept me going. A parallel path to that was the success of Clark’s botanicals. 

TG: What caused you stress when launching your company and what did you learn from that?

FC: When I launched Clark’s botanicals, I was scared because our competitors were spending so much money on marketing and PR that I felt like I was in over my head. I didn’t start with a business plan. I started because I needed a product that would work for me. I felt like I had done something wrong because everybody else that had been launching brands at the time had just graduated from business school. One of the things that I wish I had learned more of is that scaling the business in a slow and steady way is the right way to go. Instead of thinking, how do you scale quickly, how do you beat all these numbers that you read other brands doing — and most of those brands have now failed and closed. — know that being slow and steady is okay. 

TG: What tactics have helped Clark’s Botanicals succeed?

FC: I’ve been able to establish a sense of family with people that I get to work with. I am never the smartest person in the room and that means that you have the best team. It took a long time to find people who kind of have that same DNA and passion for the products, and passion for what Clark’s Botanicals means. But when we find people like that, we keep them, and it really becomes this whole wonderful relationship that we have with each other because I want them to succeed and they want me to succeed. 

TG: How do you stay organized when you have an overwhelming amount to do?

FC: Success does not mean getting 100% of everything done in one day. True success to me is a 1% win every day, because when you look at a 1% gain every day, over the course of a year, you’ve made a dramatic improvement. Expecting to have a complete 180 in a week or two weeks or a month is completely unrealistic — you’re not setting yourself up for success that way and it’s going to be overwhelming. Think about the overall picture, but plan for the smallest little goals you can complete each day. 

For me, what helped structure my days was writing down on a dry erase board what I did every day. I documented when I wasted time, and when I had fun time as well. I would schedule fun time, time for myself, work. It allowed for me to feel in control of my happiness — I never felt like I was floating in this weird sense of unknown. Having that sense of structure in your day helps for you to realize that there are certain things that you can control.

TG: What is one of your favorite quick beauty hacks?

FC: If you want your eyes to look more awake, take green tea or chamomile tea bags, dip them in water, chill them in the refrigerator and put them on your eyes. The green tea has a little bit of caffeine, which helps to de-puff under the eyes. It’s going to help to perk up your eyes because it will contract the skin and it also feels good. Even if you are traveling, most hotel rooms always have tea. Just pick an herbal tea that’s not colored, and leave it on your eyes for about five minutes. 

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(Photograph Provided By Hawke Media; Edits By Lauren K. Clark)
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