Indie Lee Talks About The Life-Changing Experience That Led Her to the Beauty Biz

ByCaitlin M.

Some of today's biggest players in the beauty industry just happen to be the underdogs. Indie beauty brands are hotter than ever and in our new series, Indie Beauties, we're chatting with the powerhouse women behind these brands to learn how they made their dreams a reality. This week we're featuring Indie Lee, founder of eponymous beauty brand and survivor of a life-threatening brain tumor, to get her secrets to business and why natural beauty is so important.

What was your first job in the beauty business?

"My path into the beauty [and] wellness business is a different one than most. Up until I started Indie Lee, I had no beauty business experience. Fortunately, my background in corporate finance and accounting was invaluable to getting this business off the ground and on a successful path. "

What was the biggest challenge you faced starting out? 

"The biggest challenge was resource management, as I think it is for most new companies. It was a lot of wearing many hats and making tough decisions with limited man (woman) power."

What inspired you to start your own company?

"On November 4th, 2008, I was diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain tumor that doctors believe was environmentally derived. (My successful surgery to remove the tumor was Earth Day, April 22, 2009.) When I questioned how someone like me—a fit, organic-food-eating woman with no family history of an illness of this kind—could wind up with a brain tumor, they highlighted the ingredients in the personal care and beauty products I may have used year in and year out. I was shocked to learn that up to 60 percent of what we put on our skin is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Studies have shown that certain ingredients found in many skincare products may cause health issues such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, and infertility in some people, while others who are exposed to those ingredients remain unaffected. In that moment, I knew my mission: to create a line of natural products that was as effective as conventional products, looked really chic on a shelf, and empowered others to make healthier choices by highlighting that what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it."

Where did you see yourself at 20?

"Oh my, let’s see—that would put me in college. Believe it or not, I went to college for Accounting and Finance. (Little known fact, I’m a CPA.) I had grand plans of becoming a CEO or CFO of a major corporation, changing the way companies did business—I thought there needed to be more accountability and less politics. I envisioned creating companies that lead with their head and heart. Oh wow! A-ha moment! That’s what I’m doing now. Don’t tell my mom, she was right!"

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

"I see myself continuing to grow the Indie Lee brand as CEO, catapulting it into a global lifestyle brand. In short, beauty world domination!"

What empowers and fulfills you as a businesswoman? 

"Knowing that I am creating positive, much-needed change and empowering others to make healthier choices fulfills me daily. "

What is the best business advice you've received?

"The best business advice I have received is to trust my gut. It seems like a simple piece of advice, but sometimes it can be tricky and challenging to follow. When I was starting out in my career, tons of people gave me advice and pointed me in many—sometimes conflicting—directions. It was very easy to get all spun around and lost in all the chatter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having and embracing mentors and advisors. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. But, at the end of the day, you need to absorb and analyze all of that information for yourself and then listen to your gut…it hasn’t failed me yet!"

What is the best beauty advice you've received?

"Hmm. That’s a good but tough question. I actually never sought out beauty advice until my mid-30s. I think the best advice I’ve received is to maintain my eyebrows regularly.  Although, I really wish someone had stepped in when I was a teenager and told me that my light blue eyeshadow was not a good look for me."

What accomplishment are you most proud of? 

My children, Emily, 13, and Jacob, 16. They are the reason I know that life is worth living to the fullest every day. No matter what I go on to achieve in life, they will always be my finest accomplishment."

You recently just celebrated your rebirthday in April. What would you say is the biggest thing you've learned in these seven years of being tumor free?

"I was told early on, before I went in for surgery, that my life would never be the same. I had no idea what that meant, but it couldn't be closer to the truth. I no longer take life for granted. There's a great saying 'from contrast comes clarity', so even when I'm having a bad day (yes, I do have them), I now have the ability to step back and be grateful for the opportunity to experience it. Every moment is a gift."

What would you say to someone who says switching to a natural skincare routine is too difficult?

"I would suggest starting small. Going natural doesn't need to be an all-or-nothing thing in the moment.  As you are about to run out of a product, start researching and swap in a natural alternative for it. Before you know it, you will have slowly switched out most of your products without being overwhelmed by the process."

What is one piece of advice you'd give other women looking to break into the beauty business?

"If you’re truly passionate about it, go for it.  Never let anyone else dictate the should you or shouldn’t you. If I listened to everyone who thought I was nuts to start a brand with no history in beauty, there wouldn’t be an Indie Lee line. Once you are set on what you want to do and will do, make sure to do your research and definitely make connections, contacts, and create community. Find people to work with who have expertise in the areas you need support in. All of that will help you on your journey to success. "

Between running a business and having a family, I'm sure it can be difficult to find "me" time. What's the one thing you do each day that's just for you?

"Last year, I made a commitment to start a meditation practice. I now meditate twice a day, once in the morning and then again at night. It's made a profound difference in my life."

Where do you get inspiration for new products from?

"There isn't one specific place I get inspiration from. Certainly, Mother Nature plays a huge role in the process, but often times it comes from requests from customers for products. For example, our Squalane Facial Cream was formulated after receiving numerous request for something other than a facial oil. The next set of products, which will launch this fall, were inspired by something I personally wanted for my own use that we were not currently offering as well as the desire to create more 'giftable' items. Stay tuned on these "

What are the top three products from your line you can't live without?

"I can’t live without our Squalane Facial Oil. It’s 100 percent olive derived and it’s completely changed my complexion. I struggled with cystic acne into my late 30s. Using the Squalane Facial Oil daily has transformed my skin. I rarely break out and my skin has never been healthier. Our multi-tasking Brightening Cleanser is the perfect facial cleanser. It cleanses, removes makeup (yes, even waterproof mascara), acts as a gentle exfoliating mask, and brightens skin. And last but never least, our alcohol-free CoQ-10 Toner. It not only balances pH levels with powerful antioxidants but also removes excess dirt and residue after cleansing, while hydrating and providing anti-aging benefits. Personally, I think it smells like a terrific cocktail (please don’t drink it though!). 

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About the Author
Caitlin M.
Senior Editor at Influenster. Runner. Music lover. All things nachos. Follow me on Instagram: @caitlinsmiller