Cleopatra herself applied essential oils and botanical butters to her skin for protection from the elements and for sensual indulgence. The practice could’ve faded as merely a footnote in history, but Vancouver-based Sangre de Fruta Botanical is echoing those tales from the past by indulging in Mother Earth’s delicious ingredients; founder Allison Weldon crafts handmade botanical products inspired by the ancient beauty regimes and remedies of the Egyptians and others. Sangre de Fruta is Spanish for ‘blood of fruit’ or ‘fruit blood,’ a fitting moniker for a natural skin care company that strives to create products that represent “beauty, magic, medicine,” in a way that women have valued for centuries. Allison opened the door to the world of apothecary when a friend-turned-mentor taught her how to create potions on the fly that delighted and ignited the senses. Though she studied fashion communications and worked in numerous marketing, design and film jobs, Allison always felt that industry wasn’t a place she fit. She courageously abandoned it, started her own company, nearly went bankrupt due to a toxic relationship, and had to learn to pick herself up again before taking another stab at entrepreneurship. It was conviction, joy and dedication to a greater beauty message that kept her grounded and determined to explore uncharted seas with Sangre de Fruta; the natural skin care line uses water-free formulas made from locally-sourced, organic and wild-crafted plant-based ingredients. If you have the pleasure of meeting Allison, you’ll get the impression that although she is sweet and soft, she’s also incredibly strong and a woman to be reckoned with. She has a point of view that not everyone understands, but she isn’t out to please the whole world. Facing her fears of failure, anxiety and the other sobering realities of entrepreneurship, she’s working on mastering the craft of taking pause, truly listening to her mind and body’s cues, and continuing to learn and move forward.
Failure should be celebrated; I had a business in the past that didn’t work out
Swimming in the ocean (even if its cold BC water)
Mentors - informal and formal
My eye mask is one of the very best ways to obtain an adequate restful sleep
Sangre de Fruta isn't just another beauty product
Adaptability after I had my baby, Penelope
Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE)
Branding, web design, social media
Tell me about the inception of Sangre de Fruta Botanical.
I started it two and half years ago; I made the products on my own, did the graphic design and created a website. I got started making the products through a family friend, Elena Orrego, who was co-owner of Gaia Herbal Dispensary – it was one of the first apothecaries in town, but she sold it years ago. Anyway, she always said everyone kept asking her for the creams even after she sold her business, so she’d make them for friends every once in a while in her kitchen. One day she decided she’d teach me how to make products from botanical ingredients, so we went into her cabinet full of beautiful, rare essential oils and we just kind of threw things in and made some crazy concoctions. We’d meet every few months to do that and either give them out as gifts or keep them for ourselves.That went on for a few years before I thought that maybe there was something there; then, with my background in fashion and graphic design, I thought I could do something with it – so I dove in.
What products do you make?
It started with a collection of body cream with a signature whipped texture and all-natural organic essential oils – you can basically eat them, because there’s nothing in them other than oils and butter. From there I went to face oils and tonics and a mist for the face, body and linens. I also do face creams and body and face serums, so basically face and body skincare with a focus on texture and scent.
So the feel and aroma is the most important?
The focus is definitely about the sensual experience of putting it on – and then of course all the products have amazing ingredients that make your skin healthy. But I try for the brand to emphasize joy because I don’t want it to be about anti-ageing like it is with so many skin care and beauty brands; having a body-positive perspective while taking it into that sort of textured, sensual realm is my goal.
Why is it the sensual experience important to you?
Well part of it is just love. I think it’s meditative and a way to connect yourself to the earth; it’s very healing. We look for beauty products that make us feel good but the real deal is actually feeling grounded and connected to something; I feel like engaging the senses does that.
So it’s all about taking a moment to connect through feel and smell?
Yes. And then of course all the products are formulated using ingredients to make your skin soft and all the other things that traditionally fit with beauty, as well as being healing. It’s sort of a layered thing – my tagline is ‘beauty, magic, medicine.’ Those three pillars make sense to me because of how amazing the ingredients are; for example rose, shea butter and argan oil were all used as medicines in the past as well as for beautification. They were used to protect the skin from the sun or rain and also for healing and perfume, so it’s this interesting triad of usage for one ingredient – it’s really cool.
What else makes your skin care different?
It’s all made by hand and totally natural. A lot of brands will say they’re natural when they’re actually not; there’s lot of marketing around green, natural product. I make mine with really safe and simple recipes, all using ancient ingredients and technique.
It's interesting that ancient practices and ingredients are still around and have come back into vogue. What are some of the ingredients you use?
Shea butter is one of the first ingredients in my creams – they’re water-free and really condensed so it’s all about the good oils and butters. Shea butter is actually edible and used in food preparation in some African countries, and it’s really good for the skin. Argan oil, rosehip oil – all the essential oils, like frankincense and myrrh – they’re the oils mentioned in the Bible along with gold. It’s interesting that they were once valued up there with gold but they kind of got lost for a while. They’re prized for their healing powers and mystical qualities and perfumery – I can keep going on tangents like this forever!
Please do! Any others you’d like to mention?
Neroli essential oil is a cool one; it has an amazing history. Neroli was used by the princess of Nerola, Italy, in the 17th century. She used it to scent her gloves and her bath and so it got known as being a perfume. Then in Spain the prostitutes started using it as a perfume, so it became known as a fragrance identified with prostitutes. Eventually in skin care it was used in aromatherapy as a relaxing hypnotic as it sort of has euphoric properties; in skin care it’s really good for softening dry, mature skin – and being in the citrus family it’s high in vitamin c.
What's your go-to?
I love lavender and sandalwood in my bath, and I love jasmine. I have a number of jasmine products, some of which are very simple, like one made of pure jasmine oil, sandalwood oil, water and a probiotic that’s a natural preservative and also used to make kimchi. You can cool that spray in the fridge and it feels so refreshing and sensual and it’s so good for your skin. I use all the oils depending on my mood, depending on if I want to feel invigorated and energized or calm, or whatever it may be.
And what’s one of your favourite Sangre de Fruta products?
The Rose No.1 body cream. When I first launched I loved Rose Otto oil – true rose oil – but a bottle cost nearly the same as my rent for the month; I was like ‘ummm…’ but I really love it and I’m so happy I decided to do it because it’s still one of my best selling products. People tend to think of rose as being old lady dusty rose, but that’s not true rose, which actually has a fresh morning scent. I find it very special because it’s the real thing; it’s more than a dollar a drop – it’s really expensive – but I love it.
Do you have a large collection of oils?
Yeah, I do. I have quite the collection and I keep on buying more! And I have a lot of products I use them in that are half-made or that I have in the works.
Do explain - what’s coming next?
I just bought this blue tansy ingredient and the blue colour is so dark, you use one drop and it turns everything blue. It’s related to the daisy family and it smells like chamomile. I think colour might be my next thing, because I’ve been finding ingredients that have rich colours that I think will add another layer to the experience. Right now the creams are creamy white in colour and the oil-based products are in a clear-to-dark amber range.
And you make all of your products by hand?
I do. The creams have the most interesting process – it’s a bit like the tempering process with chocolate – a lot of whipping and cooling and whipping and cooling over and over to get that consistency. There’s definitely an art to it; it takes all day and a lot of love goes into it. My recipes are very simple though – I add essential oils by measuring and using droppers – it’s kind of like baking, really. I don’t use any synthetics or chemicals at all, it’s all old-school apothecary processes.
You mentioned a family friend first showed you her process - did you go on to further formally study the practice?
It was all self-taught and taught from my mentor Elena. Before she decided she wanted to teach me I was already really interested in it, and already playing around.
What interested you?
It’s the ingredients – they just intrigue me so much! I find them fascinating; the history, the scents, the different aromatherapy properties and where they come from – whether it’s a fruit tree or root, each one has a crazy story and journey. How can there be these ingredients, where there are these layers and layers of history and meaning in life, that keep on morphing into something else? Mother Earth is so amazing and it’s this constant reminder that nature is incredible. Also, I love self-care as a kind of indulgence. I’ve always been into my ‘me time’ with baths and alternative therapies and medicine, so it all kind of came together.
That all sounds very romantic; have you always been a naturalist, or did you previously use mass-market products?
I’ve pretty much always been into the natural. I’m sure I deviated at some point, trying things here and there, but to be honest I was never really into any anti-aging beauty products. I think a lot of people who come into this industry were really into beauty and beauty products and it’s weird because I never actually was – it’s kind of a funny thing.
You mentioned that it's important that your business, branding and products are all body-positive. Why is that?
I used to work in fashion and for a long time I felt like it wasn’t quite for me. Even when I was in university, I felt like it wasn’t right on a certain level. I love the creativity and I love design, but then there’s this whole other element of the industry that I didn’t agree with. In the fashion and beauty world it’s hard, thinking that all these things are what you have to be, especially for young people – it’s horrible in a way.
When I finally got out I opened a yoga studio and restaurant with my ex-partner; I loved being out of fashion and I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to do something different, something less sort of materialistic, and I felt there should be room for products that have a positive message. I have a passion for women’s issues and one day I’d love to be able to give back to young women somehow; I’m not sure exactly how yet, but for now if I’m going to create a product then at least I want it and my business to represent something positive for girls. I want to be a positive role model.
I get that; I see why you'd want to inject something fresh and body-positive - it’s admirable.
I’m doing this at a time when there are all these different companies with the same motto or desire – it’s not this crazy unique idea. It’s nice though; I don’t feel alone, and it’s great that it’s such a growing movement.
Are your products primarily geared toward women?
No. I actually have two partners in the business as of recently and they’re both guys, so it’s been interesting learning about their perspective. At some point it had crossed my mind to do a men’s line, but having Nick and Tanner around has made me realize that I want Sangra de Fruta to appeal to men too. There are already a number of men that use my products and I love that; I want them to be open to all genders because skin is skin. In actually creating a men’s line all you’re doing is marketing it to men – the products will be the exact same, their skin isn’t any different. They may have slightly different needs but it seems like a real old-school kind of dated idea to be gender specific – you know, to have the pink writing for the ladies and the black writing for the men. Don’t get me wrong, I love flowers and I love femininity and I don’t want to take that out of it, but at the same time, I would love more men to feel comfortable using my products. I haven’t figured out exactly how to achieve that, but the goal is to make it have an androgynous element so it’s more inclusive.
Do your new partners have a favourite product?
Yes, Nick and Tanner love the Solis face serum; they like that it leaves a matte finish, so there’s no shine, which is important to them. I think if more men knew they could use an oil that wouldn’t show up shiny on the skin they’d use it – so I’ve been putting energy into getting more men to try it.
I want to talk more about your background; you mentioned fashion before, as well as owning a business. Let’s start with school - what and where did you study?
I went to Ryerson University in Toronto for a BA in Fashion Communications, and then I also studied fashion abroad at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
And that led to working in the fashion field?
Yes; I worked in the UK – in London – for 3 years, in trend forecasting and fashion design and for a publication. I did an internship at GQ Magazine, then was at TOPSHOP as a graphic designer for a brief moment in time. I changed jobs all the time because I kept ending up hating them all. I’d get into the inside of what things were like and be all ‘Oh my God this is not where I thought I was going to be.’ I did some graphic design and branding and marketing work and some consumer research work for a company called The Future Laboratory too; that I actually loved because fashion was only an element – it was more about researching consumer trends.
What came next?
I moved back to Vancouver and opened a restaurant/yoga studio business with my partner at the time – but that ended in disaster. When the personal relationship went wrong, so did the business and I almost ended up in bankruptcy. It was a terrible situation; he ended up being not such a nice guy and I learned a lot the hard way. When I finally emotionally recovered from that, I worked in film in fashion and costume. I didn’t want to, but it was sort of the best thing I could do in Vancouver to make some money. I did that for a couple of years, trying to get myself out of the financial shit that I’d gotten myself into.
What was it like being in a profession that you didn’t feel was right for you?
I just felt like I didn’t belong. When everyone around you is loving something and you just don’t love it, it’s hard. You don’t get it or you’re not into it; I kept changing between different jobs, trying to find something that fit.
What gave you the push to eventually explore different possibilities?
I really just have a drive to do my own thing. I think I am very driven but I felt the corporate world wasn’t for me. I think when you want to do your own thing that badly, you have to eventually just go for it.
If you almost went bankrupt the last time you started a business, did you have hesitations about starting another?
I thought about it, but I knew I was going to do it differently – and I did. I did it on my own and I took it really slowly and remained in control. I knew I wanted to do my own thing and I knew a lot about what I wasn’t going to do from the last time. I also think the fact that I wanted to do it even though I was in a really bad situation said something. I got out of a really harmful, abusive relationship with my ex-partner and that cost me. I had family involved as well, so it was a really difficult situation career-wise – financially but also emotionally. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to recover from it. I never knew it could get that bad, where you’re not only nearly bankrupt but you also feel like you’ve messed things up with the people close to you.
That sounds brutal Allison; how did you get out of that space? How’d you crawl out of that hole and consider another company?
I was crawling for a long time, just crawling – I kept on crawling. I was so broken but it also opened me up to a lot of things in a way. I did a lot of therapy because I felt like I wasn’t coping; that’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I still go see my therapist – she’s amazing! One of my biggest luxuries is going to see her, because I get to talk about whatever. I mean, I was more desperate then, but now I can talk about anything that’s bugging me or circling my mind. There’s a bit of self-indulgence there because it’s about you and someone’s there to listen and try to help.
As for the company, the problem with the last venture was our personal relationship; the business itself I think still could’ve been great. So I was like ‘OK, I’ll take that part out,’ and it felt like the way I was doing it this time was different. I kind of thought that if I was willing to take the risk again, even when it had gone so horribly, then it must be the right thing for me – I must really want it. I wanted it badly enough that it was worth it for me to try again.
What did you learn from your first experience as a business owner?
There was a lot of personal learning, so I’m not sure if this is helpful to everyone, but I learned about me. I learned about my weaknesses; I learned about why I made bad decisions, why I let things happen longer than they should have. I have a lot of personal takeaways.
There's something to be said for an entrepreneur who’s able to navigate her own feelings; you must still encounter situations where you’re personally challenged. Is it easier the second time around?
Yes there’s something to be said for it, but there are definitely still challenges. One thing that I’ve recently noticed is that I’ve had mentors tell me things along the way and now I’m like ‘No, you’re wrong; no no no no!’’ I am more confident that I know better than they do about what I’m trying to do, about what my business is or what my branding means – even though they, with their 20 years experience, might think they know best. I’ve had people tell me from the very beginning that my branding isn’t going to work, but now I’m like ‘Well, I just think they don’t get it.’ I mean, I understand where they’re coming from – and yeah it’s different – but I think that’s why it’s going to work. I have conviction, and my own perspective, and I know that I’m not going to please everybody.
What is your brand message?
Sangre de Fruta translates to ‘blood of fruit,’ which is a bit dark but I’m okay with that.
You launched over two years ago - can you tell me about the evolution from where you started to where you're at today?
Early days I started in a very simple way: I made a website, put it online, and emailed friends and family. I managed to get my product out to some magazines and I was pleasantly surprised that it was received quite well right away; Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and a bunch of press published things about it in the first six months, so that was really helpful in getting it off the ground. And then I got into Anthropologie and a few different stores like Goop and Neiman Marcus and a pop-up shop at Nordstrom in Vancouver, which was kind of cool because it was local – most of the other ones were in the U.S. I’m not with Anthropologie anymore – they were great to work with but it wasn’t quite the right fit in the end; I’m working mostly with Goop and a bunch of independents right now.
Have there been any changes to your business as of late?
Like I mentioned, I’ve welcomed in two partners within the last six months; they’re working more on the strategic side of things, like getting the business incorporated and other things important for moving forward. I’m working on some new products as well.
Why did you feel the need to bring on partners, and how did you select them?
They kind of found me; I wasn’t looking for them, but I was looking for something to change in the way my business was going because I felt like I was playing catch-up all the time. Because I personally make the product I was focussing mostly on filling orders; I needed help but I also wasn’t ready to get a huge amount of financing. I’ve done everything after the lean startup model – whatever I could do myself, I would.- but now I really want to change that attitude. I met them and it just sort of happened – it was an organic process. They were friends of a friend of a friend – people who knew what I was up to – and we ended up connecting. Tanner Johnston has a financial background so is taking over the whole financial and brand strategy and growth areas, and Nicholas Bradford Fritz is more about marketing and product. He’s also very creative, so he supports me in those areas; he’s very hands-on and helping me with everything.
How has it been working in a trio?
So far there’s been a lot of foundation building, strategizing and learning to work together. I think in another six months time I’ll be able to say ‘This is what we accomplished,’ whereas right now it’s a building time.
Prior to them coming on board, how many hours were you pulling a week to make your business fly?
I was used to film hours, which were at least 12-hour days, so I was doing maybe 60-hour weeks. You always feel guilty not working when you’re so new, when you’re not making money yet – I felt I had to work until it made money.
Has becoming a mom changed the way you manage your business?
The long hours were before I had Penny. When I had her, things changed a bit. But three days after she was born, I was shipping out a Goop order – it had to go out. I never took a maternity leave or anything, I just kept going. I didn’t seek out new business, I just maintained my current accounts and maintained the social media and everything. I’m kind of coming out of that time now; initially I was like, ‘OK, I’m giving myself a year to maintain and not try anything too crazy, just kind of keep it going,’ but now I’m back in a space where I have more time to actually build and grow my company.
Do you have a secret to how you managed to find a way to maintain while also being a mom?
There really is no balance, as I’m sure you know. It’s been really hard because I love working and I’m really passionate about my work, but I love giving Penny attention too – kids need a lot right now – she’s 16-months – so it’s been hard. I do have childcare, so those hours that I have care are like gold to me, and they’ve helped me become incredibly efficient. I’m very good at prioritizing and high management. When you’re single or you don’t have kids, there’s so much time in hindsight. Now it’s like, ‘I’ve got 10 minutes! What am I going to do with it?’ I mean I was efficient before, but not like I am now. I’m just dying for the day that I can delegate more.
Could you give me some examples of your greatest business challenges?
Time has been hard for me, especially with Penny but we already went over that – it’s an obvious one. Balancing what you want to achieve with what resources you have is hard, and the constantly recurring challenge is not knowing what you’re going to bring in that month; there’s no way of knowing. The financial stress is one that I used to take very personally, but it’s been long enough that it’s still a stress but not as personal. Now I’m like, ‘Ahh, I figured it out for many years, I’ll figure it out again.’ Even when things are going well, timing can be a challenge. There’s good leave time from when Goop makes an order, for example, to when I get the cash, so it’s a constant stress. I’ve always kept my business as lean as possible because I want control of it – probably because of my past. I loved that business and I lost control of it completely, so I’m kind of paranoid about that. Keeping my business close means the cash flow is always going to be tight.
Do you find yourself getting anxious ever? If so, how do you handle that?
Well I’m trying to recognize anxiety as something that’s going to guide me. If I get anxious I try not to look at it as being out of control, but rather as a signal that something isn’t right. I can look at those things directly and sort them out, instead of just getting uncomfortable. It’s using my anxiety as a tool by using that chatter as an indicator. I try to listen to my body rather than saying: ‘I’m uncomfortable and I’m just going to ignore it.’ Instead, I try to think ‘OK, there’s something going on, let’s try to figure it out.’ Then I can decide if it’s just me being silly or if there’s something that needs to be addressed, like changes that need to be made or something I need to be aware of and watch.
I like that.
And if I can’t figure things out myself, then I call my therapist and say, ‘Can we chat, I’m not sure what’s going on,’ so thank goodness for that!
What's the future look like?
I feel like right now it’s kind of a cult beauty brand; it’s sort of niche but growing slowly through word of mouth. Of course I love that, but I’m hoping that we can get it out there a bit more; I have some marketing ideas.
Any other goals?
I’m working on a lot of new products, like a full face care kit – I mean I have the oils and creams, but I’m working on a toner and mask and cleanser. I hear from people that they’d like to have the full routine, so that’s what I’d like to offer.
Do you have any advice for someone who has a concept or product and about to enter the world of entrepreneurship?
Have conviction in your own stuff. I’m not sure what the exact phrase or wording is, but it’s something about not having to please everyone. It’s amazing looking back on how many people told me that my ideas wouldn’t work, and how many people thought I was crazy for quitting my job. Listen to your anxiety, to your body’s cues; if it feels right to you, then go for it.