Monica Watson: ethical entrepreneur
Thanks to the small social world of Portland, Monica and I have known each other for a few years. I've always admired her style, but recently learned how much she cares about where she shops and knew I had to share her insights with you.
Monica is the founder Berlin Skin, a luxurious organic skincare line for the "modern minimalist." (Side note, I've just started using her products and I am truly blown away by the quality and results. I wasn't paid to say that!) Be prepared to be inspired...
Can you share a bit of your personal background?
I grew up in Bend, Oregon with two wonderful parents and three brothers. I have fond memories of being outdoors a lot and always playing "pretend" for hours on end with my oldest brother. My parents were really great about cultivating a creative environment. From the youngest age, I've always had a big imagination. Creative expression has always been the one thing that's fueled and excited me, though this has transpired in different ways over the years.
My professional background is in advertising; I worked as a photo/video producer and also as a model for 5 years. This past year I created and launched my own skin care line called Berlin Skin, and I wouldn't want to be doing anything else in the world.
As an entrepreneur, what does a typical day look like for you?
Phew, every day looks so different, but I think that's why I love it so much (I never get bored).
Typically I wake up fairly early, and the first hour or so of my day is very intentional. I make an aero press of coffee, grab a book and my bible, and sit in the living room by our big window looking out into the city street. This moment is usually my favorite of any given day. I sit there for a long while, thinking and not doing much. As I begin to wake up more, I read a little, pray, catch up on social media and the news, and make internal notes to myself about what I want to accomplish that day. After that, I hit the ground running. The rest of the morning is spent eating a good breakfast, answering emails, and checking new online orders. A few times a week I'll take a mid-morning Barre3 class. The rest of my work hours are spent on a number of things like marketing efforts, responding to customer emails/comments, checking in with stocklists or vendors, planning photoshoots, and ordering supplies.
Honestly, my company is so new and I have my hands in everything. I love it. It's stretched me and challenged me in ways that I never imagined it would. There have been highs and lows, and I wouldn't change any of it. The thing I enjoy most about being an entrepreneur and working for myself is the flexible schedule. I feel the healthiest and most balanced that I ever have in my life. Part of this is because I'm passionate about my work, but the other part is simply the freedom that comes along with it. I'm able to travel, meet up with people for mid-afternoon tea, and not be tied to an office all day.
When did you begin shopping ethically and what influenced that decision?
My husband and I bought a condo about a year and a half ago. It's in the city and close to everything; shopping, amazing restaurants and coffee shops, epic parks, and tons of Oregon beauty. We love it. However, our place is under 900 square feet with a loft layout, so when we bought it, we knew it would stretch us in a really good way. There's not really any space to hide excess crap. I guess you could call it "forced-minimalism" haha. We made a rule for ourselves that whenever we buy something new, there should be a really good reason for it, and it should also be replacing something else-that way we are keeping ourselves accountable for not having too much "stuff." This was the beginning of the journey of living with less things-and more quality items.
Around the same time, I watched The True Cost which was incredibly eye-opening for me. Like so many other Americans, I just didn't think much about who was making my clothes and where they were coming from. Now, I can't not think about it when I'm purchasing not only clothes, but things like furniture or random trinkets. That sort of education kind of shakes up your world...in the best way.
Describe Your Personal Style...
Ooooh, depends on the day, really. Some days I rock the athleisure look, other days I like to dress it up a bit more with a nice pea coat. One thing I wear a lot of is hats. Ball caps, vintage cowgirl-ish hats, or a nice sun hat. This is mostly because I'm lazy at washing my hair. Real life.
What are your favorite brands to support? I really like Re/Done in Los Angeles for denim. They take 20+ year-old Levi's denim that's just sitting in some warehouse and re-cut and sew it for today's modern cuts. I'm also really big on shopping locally and supporting small businesses, so I frequent WM Goods often as they carry some incredible brands. I recently snagged some Alice and Whittles rain boots from them (a sustainable boot company). Also a big fan of Conscious Clothing (which I found through Selflessly Styled!) for my little niece.
What are the biggest obstacles you've had to overcome in this endeavor?
The biggest obstacle (still!) for me is when I'm traveling. I often forget something at home or the weather isn't what I expected, so I quickly need to grab a scarf or something. It's so easy to just hop into a cheap store in the mall and grab what you need. I did it recently, and I was cringing inside because I really needed an item but wasn't stoked on shopping at the particular store. It's challenging.
Another obstacle has been patience and planning ahead. In our culture we are so used to getting things fast and cheap. But when shopping ethical brands, many of them are online or they are made-to-order. The wait is typically longer for well-made clothing, so I'm learning to plan and practice more patience.
How has shopping ethically influenced other areas of your life?
It's taught me to think about where the things I buy are actually coming from and who's lives are being influenced because of it. Even when I set out to create my skin care line, I dug really deep in my research and realized that the beauty industry too has some dirty secrets that are hidden under clever marketing claims. Animal testing, unethically sourced-ingredients, practices that are harmful to the environment-the list goes on. Through my journey of being a conscious consumer, I realized that I wanted to uphold the same values for my business.
Let me tell you, it's not easy, and it's not the cheap route to go. My profit margins are slimmer because of it, but I wouldn't do it any other way. I'm very grateful for the perspective change; it's made me more gracious, humble, and thankful for the things I do have.
WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST REWARDING PART OF THIS PROCESS FOR YOU?
The breath of fresh air that I feel by living with less! Clutter overwhelms me now, and simpler living has been such a process of freedom for me, even mentally.
What advice would you offer someone who wants to start shopping ethically?
I think a lot of people are overwhelmed by "sticker-shock" when they begin the journey of supporting ethical brands. I try to encourage them to do the math: 25 t-shirts from Forever 21 costs around $200? What if you could get 3 or 4 for that price that are made-well and that will last you a very long time? Plus, who needs 25 t-shirts? Shopping ethically, to me, is more about shopping less and having less. It's a lifestyle change, and it requires a perspective change.
Check out Monica's skincare line here and try it for yourself!