Growing up, Lilli Gordon struggled with sensitive skin that was prone to dryness, redness and bouts of eczema, but she quickly learned that the market was missing products that suited her needs —effective solutions that felt luxurious and had ingredients she’d actually want to put on her face. Since she couldn’t find products that would help her, she eventually created them herself. Enter First Aid Beauty, built as a brand Lilli wanted consumers to feel good about, from the clean ingredients to the clinically proven results. After launching in 2008, it became her mission to continue to create and innovate this modern skincare collection that provides real solutions for universal skin challenges, including sensitive skin, eczema and facial redness. Here’s how she got there.
Her Campus: How did you become involved or interested in the beauty industry?
Lilli Gordon: After multiple decades in the finance industry, my transition into beauty was truly organic and came from a love of skincare. I was a frequent customer of a brand called Nuts About Beauty, which later became Fresh, and I became close with the founders. They were incredibly creative people, and they saw value in my finance and business expertise. They asked me to help them bring the company to the next level. My role was partner, shareholder and all things finance and strategy. I was a real compliment to their creative energy.
HC: What skin concerns of your own drove you to create First Aid Beauty?
LG: I have always struggled with sensitive skin, and I often found that the products I used to solve skin issues would cause flare-ups. I saw an opportunity to create a line of luxurious problem-solving skincare that was safe for sensitive skin. I wanted people to feel confident using new products without fearing how their skin would react.
HC: As the founder and brand leader, what does your day to day look like? What does your job description entail?
LG: Right now, a lot of Zoom meetings! When I started First Aid Beauty, I was involved in the nitty-gritty of every area of the business, but in the past few years, I’ve removed myself from a lot of the day-to-day details. I credit a strong team with my ability to take a step back and focus mainly on strategy, product development and the creative direction of the brand. My role now is much more at the strategic and approval level. But I am still a damn good copywriter, and my team would tell you that I have a special gift for instantly spotting mistakes in a complicated Excel spreadsheet or finding grammatical errors.
HC: Who in the beauty and wellness industry has inspired you? Do you have any mentors who you credit with attributing to your success?
LG: I am very inspired by the original beauty trifecta: Estee Lauder, Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. These women were iconic in the industry and trailblazers as business leaders in their time. At a more personal level, the founders of Fresh, Lev and Alina, provided incredible inspiration and mentorship. They truly gave me the confidence to embark on my FAB journey. Another mentor is the brilliant Karen Mills - she teaches at Harvard Business School and served as the Administrator of the Small Business Administration under President Obama. She was a financial supporter, a sage and a wall against which I could throw my ideas. She taught me the importance of long-term planning and understanding of what my five-year vision was.
HC: Did your family inspire you to embark on your beauty journey?
LG: My family inspired me in two ways. My grandmother and her sisters — they were fondly known as “The Damsky Sisters” — had fabulous skin that was even-toned, smooth, dewy and plump. Of course, they had some fine lines and wrinkles, but the flow of their naturally healthy skin outshined any perceived flaws. They showed me at an early age that beautiful skin wasn’t necessarily wrinkle-free, which has inspired me for decades and was a big driver when focusing on skin health with the launch of First Aid Beauty. My family, including my two sons, has been incredibly supportive of my starting First Aid Beauty and cheered me on every step of the way. My younger son was only 13 when I launched the brand, so he really got a front-row view of all the trials and tribulations of starting a business. My older son was a recent college graduate and offered advice and support. Now, I can rely on both of them to always share new technologies and provide a gut-check about what resonates with their peers.
HC: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from founding your own brand?
LG: I’ve learned that nothing is perfect and the bumps don’t have to mean catastrophe (and this is coming from someone who is prone to catastrophic thinking!). I also can’t stress enough the immense value of planning and knowing where you want to be going.
HC: What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?
LG: Stay focused on your mission! Always be guided by the brand’s core message, values and beliefs. You have to carry those with you even when you are tempted to stray and go out of your lane.
HC: What advice would you give to a 20-something with aspirations of working in the beauty industry?
LG: There are so many facets of the beauty industry to explore, so get as much exposure as you can to truly figure out what sparks your passion. Find a mentor who can help you grow.
HC: What would you say is one essential trait that any entrepreneur should have?
LG: A combination of creativity and vision.
HC: We know that student debt is a cause very important to First Aid Beauty. Could you tell us about FAB Aid and your passion for this problem facing students across the US?
LG: FAB AID is the $1 Million student loan repayment initiative we launched in February 2020. First Aid Beauty was founded on a mission to rescue people from their skin concerns, and when we looked at their biggest *life* concerns, student debt was right there at the top. We found that stress over student loan repayment was affecting life decisions ranging from career to living arrangements to deciding if and when to have children. We wanted to offer some relief from this burden and allow people to pursue their life and their dreams freely. In our first year, we have chosen to focus on recent graduates, hoping that we can have a tangible impact on them at this early stage of their post-college life and career. We are excited to be able to follow their journeys and see how FAB AID has changed their lives. We hope to widen our focus in the future as we grow the program!
FAB AID applications close August 31, 2020, so apply now for the chance to win up to $100K to pay off your student loans!
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