Salome Sallehy of Sugar Sugar Wax: “Expect the unexpected”

The blessing and curse of a digitally native generation is that unlike any before them they have an innate sense of responsibility to our planet and are far more aware than my generation ever was. So, I’m not sure if they would need encouragement. Having said that, you can generalize about an entire generation either. […]

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The blessing and curse of a digitally native generation is that unlike any before them they have an innate sense of responsibility to our planet and are far more aware than my generation ever was. So, I’m not sure if they would need encouragement. Having said that, you can generalize about an entire generation either. My only advice to them would be more of a reminder; “A single drop sends ripples far beyond its reach. You have more power than you can even imagine so go ahead and make your impact”

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Salome Sallehy, Founder of Sugar Sugar Wax.

Her professional career in marketing began long before she graduated and received her business degree. Coming from a long line of apparel producers, the fashion industry was her first foray into the business of brand building. From there her path in business followed her interests; from real estate to tech and ultimately into beauty.

Her passion for getting exceptional products that fill gaps and make life better for people into the hands of consumers knows no bounds. Even in the most demanding roles of her career she always made time either as a consultant working on a passion project with a startup, or by setting up not-for-profit organizations to grow a new category and educate the industry.

As the founder and president of Sugar Sugar Wax, Salome now oversees manufacturing, product development, sales channels, and community development. As if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she also is leading the charge on educating the public on clean beauty and ingredient toxicity in cosmetics and personal care products through Natural Beauty Summit.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Although my childhood story is not especially unique, it’s also not very common either. I’m usually apprehensive about sharing it because it throws people off. But I supposed every chapter of our journey plays a role in where we are. I was born during a revolution and my earliest memories consist of going out to the country a lot. Not for the same reasons that we go out to the country these days; but because there was a war that followed the revolution, and we left the city often to escape the bomb raids. When I was 6 years old, we finally left my home country and moved to Canada, which was a 2-year process, complete with smugglers and many other details that as a kid I probably wasn’t privy to.

Growing up as an immigrant in Toronto, Canada wasn’t particularly difficult or isolating because at the time there was a huge influx of refugees and immigrants moving there.

I definitely have some pretty vivid memories of some of the pains of adjusting, learning a new language, being raised with different values than my peers and everything else that goes along with a diasporic journey.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I think that most of us are quite aware that we have a waste-management problem in the world. The problem has presented itself in many forms including the form of a Texas-size plastic landfill in the ocean. A lot of this waste is generated by the personal care and beauty industry and the trajectory just isn’t sustainable.

When I decided to create Sugar Sugar Wax; part of the appeal was how sustainable the system of sugaring is for our planet. The sugar wax itself is biodegradable, and the application method itself doesn’t require strip or spatulas and thus doesn’t yield any waste. Quite unlike any conventional hair removal wax, much of which contains some form of plastic.

But I wanted to take it a step further and make the packaging as sustainable as possible. So most of our products are in glass or paper. We’ve minimized the use of any kind of plastic, and although we can’t completely eliminate it — it’s less than 6% of our total packaging. Every business decision we make is vetted against sustainability and the potential impact it can have on our planet. Our motto is ‘Gentle on your skin and the planet’. I have some next-level love and reverence for Mother Earth.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I learned about sugaring when I was traveling. More specifically traveling the world for 7 months with my family, including a 2 year old and one under 1. During this trip we encountered plastic garbage on the beach and in the ocean way more than I’d like to recount, and in several countries. As a mother of little ones, your awareness of waste is heightened, especially plastic that can be dangerous for little ones. My son would be playing in the water and a minute later he’d have a plastic bag — that he fished out of the water — in his hand going right over his head. My disgust and disappointment grew with every piece of litter we found.

I really like problem solving but when I tried to understand the problem, I realized that you can’t blame people; the problem is systemic. And we’re in the beauty business to change the system. The beauty industry needs to grow up and take responsibility for its contribution to the problem, and we’re just another catalyst for that change.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up, and do it? What was that final trigger?

There is always an aha moment. But the aha moments only come along when you make space for them and give them room to breathe, give them time to resound. We all have passions and the power to pursue them, but we get caught up in our day-to-day, and in the busyness of life. You might have an aha moment when you’re doing something you love, or when you’re relaxing on a Sunday, but those moments are fleeting.

For me, and I think many people can relate, I was really dissatisfied by the ugly grind that had become my life and I didn’t know what to do, and I knew that making a decision on the ‘next thing’ would be a mistake because I was in such a deficit of myself. I knew that I had to step back and do nothing, in order for everything to come into focus, and before I made any decisions. That’s when I decided that a big trip around the world was what I needed. It sounds grand and lofty, but it was actually a very practical choice, even financially. Tim Ferris talks about this all the time; it costs us more to live our regular lives than to be almost anywhere else in the world.

The trip gave me a fresh perspective, and in fact a lot of perspective. It gave me a lot of aha moments and the space to let them take shape. Sugaring wax was like a brand-new butterfly I’d never seen before that I kept chasing into some beautiful experiences and connections with people.

But any entrepreneur will tell you that making the decisions to do it is just the beginning.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Fortunately, we live in a pretty digital world that allows us to learn just about anything quickly. The world is literally at our fingertips. This was the first time I’d started this type of business, so while I was familiar with some basic business rules, there was a lot that I didn’t know going into it. Had I known what it would really be like I don’t know if I would’ve jumped in so eagerly. I think of it as the blinder advantage. I learned a lot along the way, and I knew to expect that. When things seemed impossible, I would just remind myself that I’m investing in my MBA. If the business fails completely, I would be walking away with more skills and experience than most MBA graduates. And most MBA programs put you through some business simulation anyway so it’s really no different.

I started my endeavor knowing that I don’t know anything about the beauty business, and I’d have to learn a lot. I also knew that every mistake was going to cost me actual money, not simulation money so I had to pay attention.

I had to get creative about how I got certain types of information that only industry insiders have, so I wore a lot of different hats to learn.

I think that starting something has a lot to do with setting expectations with and for yourself for the worst possible outcome, but with a hopeful heart.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When I started working with our chemists on some of our formulas, I started to really understand ingredients; what they do and how they work. As someone who had been enthusiastically using beauty products as long as I can remember I was appalled to learn what was actually inside most of these products that we use every single day.

At first I was enraged and wanted to expose everything I was learning, but then quickly realized that no one would listen to me because I’m not a chemist. I was still quite determined to help people understand the ingredients that they were exposing themselves to every day. That’s when I started Natural Beauty Summit. Since I wasn’t the expert, I decided to interview experts and share the knowledge, not just on how bad some ingredients are but to also shed a light on innovators who are doing things in a more conscious and health-centric way.

I have met some of my favorite people on the planet through this not-for-profit endeavor. I’ve also learned a lot.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I’ve made a lot of mistakes and none of them made me laugh. But looking back I do get a bit of a chuckle out of that one time that I bought some raw materials from a supplier in China but couldn’t get it out of the country because the supplier didn’t have an export license. The goods were shipped to our paper supplier that was sending a shipment to port, so I thought I was being smart by consolidating the shipment. The export license fee in addition to the shipping cost was so ludicrous that we just dumped the materials. They might still be at our paper supplier’s warehouse!

It was a good lesson in vetting offshore suppliers.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I’d always thought that mentors were people that had already walked the path that you want to pursue and had crossed the chasm. What I’ve learned through my experience creating and growing Sugar Sugar Wax has been really quite different. I think that anyone that comes along, sees your vision and also lends a new perspective that helps you expand your horizons is a mentor. I’m lucky to have many. One of our first employees, just out of school, was a mentor in many ways, and so was my extremely successful friend and celebrity philanthropist.

I didn’t grow up surrounded by successful beauty entrepreneurs. But when I was just 12 years old my father offered me a job working at his apparel factory for the summer. I clocked in with everyone else at 7:30 am. I worked sewing machines, segers, cutting tables, and even quality control. I have yet to see a better leader than my dad. I think that had something to do with me thinking that I could just start manufacturing something. Even though it wasn’t a beauty product I knew what ‘manufacturing’ looked and felt like, and I knew that I could do it.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Absolutely! My ask of the community is to please make conscious choices when it comes to personal care products. Pay attention to packaging and pay attention to ingredients. Support the businesses that are doing right by our planet and thankfully there are tons of us now.

My ask of society is to take 2 minutes to get to know the recycling symbol codes. Just because it has a triangle symbol at the bottom does not mean it gets recycled. If the bottle is clear, then there’s a high chance that it’s PET or PETE and that is really the only plastic in our category that is recyclable.

My ask of politicians is to make human health a priority. You don’t even have to write the book. The EU already wrote it (EU has banned over 1400 harmful chemicals, while US has only banned about 40), you just have to adopt it and help enforce it.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

A lot of our costs in manufacturing personal care products goes into packaging. The upfront cost of using glass for our Glow Goop sugaring wax, Clean Slate micellar water, and Silk Slip face and body serum might be higher than if we were to go with landfill plastics, but the glass bottles and jars are refillable, which not only makes selling the refills much more profitable — absorbing that upfront premium in just one use — but it also cultivates loyalty from customers. One of my favorite examples is our Detox Dust drying powder, which we were able to package in a paper tube. By virtue of the nature of the material, which has to be processed and printed anyway, we are saving on label printing costs. On the note of printing, we print the full label on our glass bottles as well so that we can avoid secondary packaging, which is unnecessary waste.

There’s so much that brands can be doing to be more sustainable and just better. As a very young brand we have the advantage of building these standards and practices right into how we build our business. It’s harder for the older and bigger brands to incorporate these values into their production. As we grow our core values won’t change but for others that have been around for a long time it means a complete overhaul of the way they operate.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. ‘It’s gonna take a lot longer than you think to start production’ — A few people did actually say this to me, but I didn’t believe them. Formulating and then reformulating a product is at least a 1-year process. Our Glow Goop sugaring wax took 18 months to perfect. Of course, now I think it was worth the wait but at the time it seemed impossibly long.
  2. ‘Expect the unexpected’ — When I was sitting on a veranda in the south of France dreaming up Sugar Sugar Wax, a global pandemic hitting us just days after unveiling our brand wasn’t even a glimmer of a thought. But sure enough just as we were getting ready to launch and hiring staff to operate our facility, we had to close our doors and just wait.
  3. ‘Every catastrophe is an opportunity in disguise’ — In the pre-Covid world we had a pretty good idea of who our customers would be. The lockdown and salon closures really changed the game for us. All of a sudden, all the salon-goers that weren’t supposed to be our target customers were in need of an at-home solution. That clarity only came after a long and terrible storm.
  4. ‘Perfection is just a form of procrastination’ — It’s really easy to get caught up in the little details that no one will notice or even care about. That kind of obsession is just another way of buying time. Our webstore took 3 times longer to build than planned, and it still wasn’t perfect. Had we just moved ahead with V1 and paid more time and attention to other efforts no one would have noticed the finer intricacies that we were fixated on for months.
  5. ‘Things won’t go according to plan but have your plan anyway’ — This was another piece of advice that I had received but didn’t believe. When we first launched the brand we had so much interest from the professional esthetician community. Our plan was to focus on D2C because our formula is so user friendly that anyone can do it at home. We continued to ignore this segment until we just couldn’t anymore and now, we’ve finally just launched our professional sugaring facial certification course and kit with a lot more to come for professionals.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The blessing and curse of a digitally native generation is that unlike any before them they have an innate sense of responsibility to our planet and are far more aware than my generation ever was. So, I’m not sure if they would need encouragement. Having said that, you can generalize about an entire generation either. My only advice to them would be more of a reminder; “A single drop sends ripples far beyond its reach. You have more power than you can even imagine so go ahead and make your impact”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Several years ago, I saw the quote “You didn’t come this far to only come this far” and it really resonated with me and I wasn’t sure why. This past year what I’ve learned about myself is that I’m stubbornly persistent. Though there have been so many moments that I was overwhelmed and maybe even thought about quitting, this quote kept coming back to haunt me.

We usually only see ourselves as what we’ve been and not what we can be. Looking back is only helpful if it’s a reminder of how far you’ve come. It shouldn’t ever be confused with what you’re capable of.

It’s a journey and every day can be a mile or an inch of progress and you never really stop until you’re dead. Sometimes we get caught doing circles for a time and that’s ok.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Definitely Oprah! Frankly I don’t understand why she doesn’t wear a cape, because she is definitely my hero. I’d love to have lunch with her, ideally in her garden. Oprah is the ultimate example of a person living consciously in her truth and not in a fabrication of the limitations that society imposes would have imposed on her.

I would love to get some business and gardening advice from her, and just be in her presence.

Please do tag her! One can always hope.

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m on LinkedIn and I often check in on the Sugar Sugar Wax Instagram account @sugarsugar_wax

It’s supposed to be a secret but I’m also the Fairy Fuzz Mother at
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