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Meet Liz Johnston, nature-lover, mother and serial skincare entrepreneur. Liz is the visionary founder behind Ourlyfe, a skincare venture on a mission to revolutionize the industry's approach to human health and sustainability. Inspired by her entrepreneurial father and a passion for preserving the planet, Liz’s has created plastic and preservative-free handwash, defying industry norms and championing innovation. As Liz says, "if you don't like it, change it." With Ourlyfe, she's not just changing the cosmetic industry but also inspiring a movement towards a more conscious consumerism, one plastic-free wash at a time. Milly Young, head of our Women in Climate and Energy Fellowship, sits down with Liz to talk about her journey, her vision for Ourlyfe, and her WICEF experience.

Entrepreneurship runs in your family. Can you tell us what it was like to grow up in an entrepreneurial household and what you learned from it?

From observing my father over the years, I’ve realised that entrepreneurship is the ultimate in delayed gratification. He was equally curious, although very scientific as he formulated the skin care brand Dermaveen. My father was the pharmacist, while his co-founder managed the sales and distribution.  He worked hard, and success didn’t come without sacrifice. He worked 6 days a week managing two jobs, often up at 4:30am and home at 8pm so we didn’t see much of him. His passion was obvious as he often tested ingredients on us as kids and would always have a Dermaveen bottle ready for friends and family. I could tell that he was super proud of seeing his company grow. 

Tell us how you started your first skin care business? 

Growing up with Dermaveen, I took for granted having access to quality skincare. This was until I had my own children and started hearing parents’ struggles with baby and toddler eczema. With my own babies at home I realised I could create my own range. This range could be as gentle as Dermaveen although more organic and in aesthetic packaging with the premise that skincare should be both a prevention and a cure. This is when I founded Vatea, a natural and organic skincare brand for the whole family. 

You have recently pivoted your skin care business, Vatea, to Ourlyfe to be more sustainable. Can you talk about this transition and what prompted it? 

Like many industries, it’s not until you’re on the ‘inside’ that you realize the hidden truths. In skincare, it’s the waste and preservatives.  With Vatea, I sought alternatives although they were still varying components of plastic.  As the business grew, so did our waste, so I was forced to reflect on what the point of my business was? The original problem of irritating ingredients in skincare had been solved as multinationals introduced ‘Natural’ skincare lines for families and became more conscious of their ingredients, this was all while the rates of plastic packaging were skyrocketing with very few companies making any impact.  

I felt I could do better. I came up with the idea of powdered hand wash as an evolution from the ‘powdered tablet’ in the bottle that I recalled seeing in train stations as a child. With some research I realised I could create a natural, gentle version with cosmetic scientists that would cleanse the skin perfectly, allow for a plastic free packaging, be stable without hormone disrupting preservatives and 5 x more efficient than liquid wash. This is how Ourlyfe was born.

Tell us a little more about Ourlyfe, what is your product and your vision for the brand?

The global production of plastic contributed the same level of greenhouse emissions as the whole of the United Kingdom in 2021. Further, Professor Shanna Swann warns us in Countdown, that the level of hormone disrupting toxins found in plastics and everyday preservatives in our personal care are disrupting male and female fertility to the point we could be down to zero by 2050.

To solve these problems, Ourlyfe is creating an innovative plastic and preservative free hand wash to reduce carbon emissions and endocrine disrupting hormones in our environment. With a beautiful and functioning hand washing product, we believe we can begin to diminish this demand for plastics.

My vision for Ourlyfe is to be a globally recognised sustainable brand and therefore force the multi-nationals to make a change.

Why did you decide to apply for the Energy Lab Women in Climate and Energy Fellowship and how has the fellowship helped you? 

I wanted to connect with like-minded, determined women who might be facing similar struggles with the desire to improve the world, yet with financial limitations and commitments to children and partners. 

It’s helped strategically, professionally and emotionally.  Strategically as far as the importance of concept validation, launch, pitching and investor relations. Professionally, it has enabled me to build strong networks with other entrepreneurs and impact driven investors who might be interested in offering us support as we grow.  The emotional guidance on how to manage all this with the uncertainty that prevails when launching a business has been received with gratitude. 

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far at OURLYE? 

Change in behavior is one of our biggest challenges. Users will need to move from liquid handwash to powder. To help overcome this challenge, our solution needs to look beautiful, be functional, be welcoming to all, plus hold an element of ‘otherness’ to match the esoteric nature of our solution that will appeal to our market who are seeking a more purposeful life, including more sustainable packaging alternatives.

In addition to user behavior change, there is the challenge of ensuring the functionality of our IP, which is the aluminum powder dispensing bottle. This step in the process has taken longer than expected.  We’re creating something completely new and unique which is exciting although it has its challenges.  I’ve been bootstrapping (funding a company using personal finances or revenue), so time is costly. 

Can you give a quick ‘status update’ on Ourlyfe - what are you working on at the moment and where can we find out more?

I’ve received a further prototype and it’s looking very good. I’m organising some focus groups around Sydney to qualify our concept and work on some improvements.

Our website is up and you can subscribe and join our tester group. Our Instagram, Facebook and TikTok handles are all so please follow us and join us for the journey!!!

Any words of wisdom for founders? Or things that have helped you along your journey that you’d like to share with others?

Get involved in as many entrepreneur activities as you can, network and start thinking about building your customer base.

It’s a really exciting time to be an entrepreneur and very much in line with the current zeitgeist of living a more purposeful life which many of us are being driven to explore. It’s not easy, so be honest with your limitations. While you do need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you need to be realistic as taking on too much beyond your capabilities can jeopardize your whole business. Also, look for co-founders who can balance your skill set. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Regardless of how your business eventuates, there’s never anything wasted. Worst case scenario is you will gain invaluable insights which will make you an appealing source of wisdom for other entrepreneurs and your fearlessness and experience will be well received by employers and will prepare you well for your next venture!

Interested in joining EnergyLab’s Women in Climate and Energy Fellowship? Head over to our website to fill out an EOI form. If you have any questions, email Milly at [email protected].

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