Top Women in Focus: Jennifer and Fiona Lees

Balmshell sisters

Jennifer and Fiona Lees were searching for the perfect lip gloss – aren’t we all! They decided that if they couldn’t find it, they would develop their own. After years of working with a cosmetic manufacturer, Balmshell was created. Now they have a collection of 16 pretty glosses, which can be found at Sephora stores throughout North America and France. The Lees sisters are this month’s Top Women in Focus.

When you were a little girl, what did you want to be?
Jen: I wanted to be a teacher. I loved stickers and my teachers were not only allowed to check homework in red ink but use fun stickers like “GRRREAT WORK!!!” I always thought that was such a powerful thing.
Fiona: I always wanted to be an actress. You know, live the Hollywood dream.

Where did the idea for Balmshell come from?
Jen: It started out as a closet dream. Fiona and I really wanted to create something together and always had a passion for cosmetics. We knew that we had to follow our passion, and our passion was cosmetics. We would brainstorm ideas and concepts and talk about how we envisioned the line. We knew that we needed amazing formulas, great branding and unique packaging. We worked with a chemist who helped create a fabulous formula and we thought of a fantastic name, we just needed unique packaging. One day I walked into a store and found a float art pen. The pen had a moving illustration and told a story. It had a sense of humour and personality. It was just a pen but a pen that had an instant emotional connection. That day Fiona and I knew that was what we wanted our customers to feel. That day the concept for the packaging of Balmshell was born.

What was the first theme that Balmshell produced?
Fiona: Shopaholic was the first illustration/theme. Balmshell is about unleashing your inner goddess and celebrating indulgence. We thought about what women really enjoy and take pleasure in. Shopping was at the top of the list. Every woman can relate to being addicted to shopping. So we picked shopping as our theme and then added a little sense of humour to it.

When did you first realize that Balmshell was a success?
Jen: That depends on how you define success. Fiona and I define it as following through and completing your goal. So when we launched the product I knew Balmshell was a success. After the launch we kept raising the bar and creating new goals, such as getting into the Oscar and Grammy gift bags and expanding our distribution. As long as we keep reaching goals we will continue to be successful.

What sets you apart from your competitors?
Fiona: We listen to our customers. We are still a small company but we have big ears. We also have the ability to change and adapt to trends. We pride ourselves on only developing high quality formulas that actually work.
Jen: We are consumers of cosmetics. We don’t pretend to be makeup artists. Balmshell isn’t made for makeup artists. It’s for women like Fiona and I who love cosmetics and need them to be simple and fun.

Which one of the Balmshell themes is your favourite?
Fiona: Hairapy – I highlight my hair so I fully see my colourist as my therapist. When I leave the salon I feel enlightening and literally lightened.
Jen: Weekend in the Hamptons – I lived in New York for a summer and the Hamptons was the place to be.

What beauty staples do you use daily?
Both: Moisturizer, eye cream, mascara, and of course lip gloss!

What is in your purse today?
Jen: Four different Balmshell shades, a tube/sample of our new cheek tints coming out this fall (I’m obsessed with our peach tint!), keys, gum, blackberry and tons of receipts. Holding onto receipts is a business owner thing. Always keep your receipts.
Fiona: Of course Balmshell, keys, Blackberry, hand lotion and my wallet.

What publications/websites do you visit regularly?
Jen: Our guilty pleasure is Perez Hilton and of course Lipstick Powder N Paint!
What beauty tip can you share with our readers?
Fiona: Less is more. Don’t try to copy a trend, go with what matches your personally. Make up should be fun and simple. Not complicated.

Who are you influenced by?
Jen: Our family and anyone who just isn’t afraid to fail.

How do you keep up with beauty trends?
Reading, watching fashion and social trends and as Fiona said keeping our ears wide open and listening. We care about what our customers are looking for.

What makes you smile?
Jen: I would have to say being present, absorbing every exciting moment and enjoying the ride.
Fiona: Reflecting on how we got here and where we are taking Balmshell in the future.

What keeps you going every day?
Both: Passion, joy and determination.
Fiona: Also getting emails from customers, who we haven’t met but love our gloss. That is pretty motivating.

How do you juggle a career and a personal life?
Jen: I don’t let either one define me. I have to have balance in my life. I have learned to value both my career and my personal life.
Fiona: Enjoying all moments of my life. You can’t let one take over the other. As Jen said, if you do let one take over you don’t value or respect the other. Also Balmshell is about indulgence and celebrating, so if we didn’t balance our lives we wouldn’t be Balmshells.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?
Fiona: Talk to anyone who has run a business. You don’t talk, you just listen. You will learn a lot!
Jen: Don’t be afraid to take the leap and dive in. Most people fail before they start because they are so afraid to try. Redefine success. Don’t see it as how much money you will make or how many products you sell. See success as following through with something and failure as not doing anything.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Both: Happy, enjoying life and still being creative. Oh of course, let’s not forget, Balmshell having become a global brand!

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