Canadian beauty companies you need to know about

What does Canadian beauty look like? Much of it is environmentally conscious, locally aware and backed by the latest science. Here are some of our favourites

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Rocky Mountain Soap

When Karina Birch, 37, and her husband Cam Baty, 40, bought the rustically natural bath and body company from its founder in 2000, it was a small store in Canmore, Alta., with a do-it-yourself approach.

“Basically, we were making soaps on a burner in the back room,” says Birch, the company’s president. “We were printing all the labels on our computer printer.” Today the company has 10 free-standing stores from Victoria to Winnipeg, $7.6 million in sales via outlets and a growing online store, and 100 employees. Production of its more than 30 products will move to a new, larger facility next spring that will help fuel the company’s plans to expand to 35 stores. The new growth is  being spearheaded by long-time staffer, now CEO, Jules Tough.

Top sellers include all-natural soaps and body butters. Rocky Mountain’s biggest fans? Moms who like natural ingredients for their families, and those dealing with dry skin or eczema during Canadian winters.

What’s new?

The company plans to revamp its packaging in 2013 to make it more environmentally friendly.


Rocky Mountain Soap Company

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Bite Beauty

In 2009, beauty industry veteran Susanne Langmuir told her husband, Doug, of her idea for a business focused entirely on good-enough-to-eat lip products. He said: “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”

She must have been persuasive; two weeks later, the now-46-year-old quit his banking job and became chief operating officer for Bite Beauty. Formulations focused not on the usual petroleum-based ingredients, but favoured micronized fruit, shea butter and the antioxidant resveratrol.

Thanks to her 22 years in the industry-Langmuir, 44, has done product development for large cosmetics companies and had her own perfume line-she was able to strike an alliance with retailer Sephora, Bite’s exclusive North American distributor. Top sellers include Lush Lip Tint in Lychee and Luminous Crème Lipstick in Tannin.

With sales over $7 million this year and 35 employees, mainly at the company’s small Toronto production facility, the Langmuirs’ investment in healthy lips is working out, well, beautifully.

What’s new?

Bite has gone global via department store Selfridges in the U.K. and boutiques in Australia, including Kleins Perfumery in Melbourne.


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The 7 Virtues

If you offer an Afghan farmer $10,000 for a litre of rose oil or $8,000 for orange blossom oil, he will likely grow those crops and stop raising poppies for the drug trade. Although she had no experience in the beauty industry, when Barb Stegemann read this in an online article, she decided she could use these ingredients in a perfume. A close military friend had just been injured in Afghanistan, and Stegemann, 43, a former journalist, government worker and published author, wanted to do something that would contribute to peace and fight poverty. “I realized this is how I could carry on his mission.”

She bought her first batch of oil on her Visa card and worked with a Toronto perfumer to formulate The 7 Virtues Afghanistan Orange Blossom Eau de Parfum, launched in 2010. An appearance on the TV reality show Dragons’ Den soon after gave the start-up $75,000 in funding and the mentorship of then-panellist Brett Wilson. He controls 15 percent of the company.

The company’s four paraben- and phthalate-free scents-which also include Noble Rose of Afghanistan, Vetiver of Haiti and Middle East Peace-sell at The Bay and at Air Canada’s Onboard Duty Free Boutique. Run out of Stegemann’s Halifax home, The 7 Virtues has now produced 36,000 bottles and Stegemann has been named an honorary colonel by the Canadian Armed Forces because of the economic support her company gives Afghan farmers.


What’s new?

Inspired by a social media campaign where Iranians and Israelis ask for peace between their nations, The 7 Virtues’ Middle East Peace scent combines grapefruit oil from Israel with lime and basil oils from Iran.

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Lisa Walsh was just 12-years-old when she followed her aunt’s instructions and formulated her first perfume by picking wild roses and white clover from the barrens of Bay de Verde, Nfld., behind her house and infusing them in oil.

As an adult, she built a successful spa and salon business, but had to leave it because of intolerance to the chemicals. Walsh, 46, started Indigena Skin Care in 2009, selling directly to spas and salons across Canada, using natural preservatives like witch hazel and willow bark and sustainably harvested natural ingredients.

Sea Veggie Soak and Labrador Tea Face Creme are made pre-dominantly from local ingredients, including Labrador tea, locally picked berries, and seaweed harvested by her own staff just outside Indigena’s office in Conception Bay South near St. John’s.

Indigena sells amenity-size products to hotels and also does a flourishing corporate gift basket business. Walsh’s ever-growing line of beauty products-still sold in spas but also online-includes the popular Smooch Lip Balm, and Rosehip and Lemon Shampoo.

Walsh’s team, which includes a chemist and a pharmacist, is working with a biologist at Memorial University to investigate the healing properties of Indigena’s natural ingredients, as well as 37 types of local berries and leaves, many of which she plans on using in products. Says Walsh, “We’re putting science behind our brands.”

What’s new?

Muscle Recovery Balm has shea butter, peppermint oil and Labrador tea extract to ?help muscles heal faster after exercise.

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Lara Beauty

When chartered accountant Arla Litwin hit her 40s, she found she needed an anti-aging cream. But, she says, cosmetics counter staff just wanted to know how much she wanted to spend.

And they weren’t clear about ingredients, either. “It was really annoying, and it also insulted me,” she says. Since Litwin has allergies-to mango and avocado, among others-in this era of fruit ingredients in cosmetics she needed to know what she was putting on her skin.

Toronto-based Litwin, 50, continued to work part-time as an accountant while she developed (in co-operation with a chemist) four products that were hypoallergenic, loaded with proven anti-aging compounds like peptides, and free of sulfates and petrochemicals.

Lara Beauty, launched in 2007, sells a full skincare package of cleanser, exfoliant, toner and moisturizer online for $100. All ingredients are listed on each product’s labels, and the company website lists and explains each ingredient.

With the counsel and advice of her husband (who works in IT), sister-in-law (a marketing whiz) and brother-in-law (a pharmacist), Litwin runs the small company on a trim budget but with lots of brainpower. Wondering about the name? It’s an anagram for Arla-and Litwin thought that Lara also “sounds strong and beautiful.”

What’s new?

Lara Beauty has long-time fans. Now, Litwin is working on expanding her customer base.

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