The former fashion designer and DJ turned entrepreneur launched her visionary natural skincare brand in the middle of lockdown. Here, the self-proclaimed earth warrior shares the challenges she faced when building a sustainable business model and the power of mindset.
Interview: Anja Stang Photos: RUE, Nina Nordbø and SORGENFRI
This story was originally written for the tech start-up Aurora Sustainability, one of GreenHouse’ collaborators. As Kristina is an American expat the interview is in English.
Please tell us about yourself and your background!
I’m Kristina Dunn, the founder and formulator of the Norwegian natural skincare brand, RUE Botanics. I’m originally from the USA and for the past 15 years I’ve lived in Norway. I’m a former fashion designer turned DJ, turned skincare formulator, and now a female entrepreneur. As you can see, I have worn many hats along my career path, but it wasn’t until I discovered natural skincare formulation that I began to walk the path that was meant for me.
In 2012, I became aware of the dangerous ingredients in cosmetic products and made the switch to 100% natural skincare. At the time it was hard to come by these products in Norway, so I began whipping my own body butters and blending facial oils in my kitchen. This is when I recognised I had a talent for cosmetic formulation.
I decided to pursue this newly found talent and began studying organic skincare science. Eight years later, I hold three diplomas in organic skincare formulation and science, with certification in anti-aging skincare. I’m also currently studying towards a diploma in beauty business management.
Wow – that is impressive! What does a day in your life look like?
My life at the moment is slightly erratic – as it has always been working in creative industries. But I’m developing a routine that brings me positivity and energy. I start my day with a chai latte and either write in my journal, read the news or check my social media. It all depends on the day and my morning mood. I follow this with a yoga session. Once I’m showered and have some breakfast in my belly, I head to my studio in Hagegata (literal translation, Garden Street).
My studio, or technically my lab, is tucked away in an old shop front in Oslo’s most charming neighbourhood, Kampen, lined with tiny wooden houses. Walking to my workspace brings a smile to my face each and every day. My workspace is the kind of place where I can close the door and everything from outside stays there.
I enter my dream daily, a world filled with textures and divine smells, all thanks to Mother Nature.
Once in my lab, my days consist of the following: Blending my “little beauties” to fill orders for retailers or my online shop, labelling and packing bottles, shipping goods, ordering ingredients, compiling content for Instagram, meeting friends for coffee or booking lunch meetings with women who inspire me, replying to emails, visiting my Oslo retailers and writing ideas for new formulas.
What does the term “sustainability” mean to you?
As a business, we strive to be sustainable by incorporating wild harvested, organically grown, and vegan ingredients in our formulations. We use locally harvested seaweeds and sea algae and are pushing the boundaries further by incorporating plant stem cell extracts. These extracts are grown in a bio-greenhouse located in Sweden. This is the future!
Growing, harvesting, and extracting plant matter in a sustainable manner, rather than bulldozing down an ancient forest, or rain forest to plant crops for beauty products. We are proud of these choices and look forward to continuing to push cosmetic science in this direction. Also, to reduce our C02 footprint, over 90% of our ingredients and packaging are sourced from Europe.
Furthermore, we use glass bottles with PET plastic and glass pipette closures for easy separation and recycling. Our paper boxes are FSC certified with ECF certified processing. Our labels are made of FSC certified paper and sealed with a plant-based laminate. Lastly, all our shipping materials are 100% recyclable.
We have set goals on how we can increase our sustainability as we grow. It’s not easy as a start-up, but the challenge is something we don’t turn a blind eye to. At the moment, there is a lot of focus on sustainable packaging in the cosmetic industry, especially with the growing need for completely natural skincare.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced as a brand in the natural beauty space?
Funding has been the biggest challenge. As a young entrepreneur, the learning curve is endless and the financial aspect overwhelming. I never fathomed how much money running an indie skincare brand would require.
Another challenge was learning the power of mindset. In the year before launching, I had several meltdowns.
Fear is not your friend as an entrepreneur. But by learning the tools to help keep a positive, focused and healthy mindset, the sky is the limit. I am now ready to fly!
Since launching in May, RUE has been welcomed with open arms, and I hope this will continue as we move onwards and upwards.
How can people support your brand during the pandemic we are facing?
Please support small, independent business during these strange times. You can support RUE by following our journey on Instagram and visiting our online store.
What do you find most enjoyable about living sustainably?
It feels good knowing I am doing the best that I can towards building a sustainable business model. It pushes me daily to make wiser choices. I feel like an earth warrior. I was able to close the door on working in the highly polluting fashion industry and steered my career back to nature. Knowing that I am taking the right steps forward in how I see a sustainable world helps me sleep soundly at night.
What do you find most challenging about it?
Dealing with the inner sadness I feel knowing that we are VERY far away from living sustainably on this planet. The frustration of being dominated by big corps and politicians who seem to care more about money than our Mother Earth is the most challenging for me.
What advice would you give someone looking to live more consciously?
Do what you can to make conscious choices, but don’t beat yourself up about it when you can’t. As a collective, if we all do our best to live sustainably, the shift will happen. Also, use the power of your vote to place leaders into power who want to protect the environment. Lastly, support independent business before corporate titans.
Your buying power is the most powerful tool of all in the fight against those destroying for greed. Use it wisely!
Which are your favourite green brands?
Ooh, where to begin!? For skincare, I am inspired by Finnish brand Hetkinen and Lena Wild from the UK. My favourite clothing brands are ESP Oslo, AWAN from Norway and Allbirds shoes from New Zealand. Also, local Oslo brewers Villbrygg and Empress Kombucha or, should I say, magical potion makers.
What is your advice for someone wanting to start a sustainable brand?
You will not be able to make all the goals you envision for your sustainable business model from the get-go, so prioritise what is most important to you. Then set goals on how you can tick off the boxes towards reaching the sustainable goals you aim for.
What has 2020 taught you?
Patience, the power of the mind and learning to live in the moment.
Please share your hopes and visions for next year
I plan to grow the roots of RUE deeper into the soil of natural skincare. We have some exciting retail partnerships coming up in 2021 and the sky is the limit from there. Everything in my own stride, this is my new motto. 2020 has thrown us a lot of hurdles. The urgency that once existed came to an abrupt halt. I will take this with me into 2021. Everything in my own stride, one day at a time.
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