March is Women’s History Month and to celebrate we caught up with our co-founder, Lynn Cook Betz, on how she realized her vision of becoming the first personal care brand to be Certified Organic by the USDA. Lynn co-founded a soap company called Sensibility Soaps in 1996 with her husband, Thom, which evolved over time to include personal care and became Nourish Organic in 2005. Read on to learn how Lynn started out, how she persevered through the many challenges of being the “first”, and the advice she has for fellow female entrepreneurs.
Q: Why did you start the brand Nourish Organic?
The timing of the National Organic Program (NOP) implementation coincided with our goal to establish a truly organic brand—a brand which could be trusted to include only food-grade ingredients, grown organically and minimally processed. No chemicals or artificial ingredients was our standard—easy to say, so difficult to do. Many companies offered “organic” personal care, however, those products contained chemical ingredients and some level of toxicity and/or naturally derived ingredients which failed to meet any standard. Traditional preservatives, stabilizers, fragrances, etc. were still widely incorporated into products, with true organic ingredients used to a much lesser extent as these brands evolved to meet consumer expectations for organic products. Those brands dominated the shelf space in the personal care category. “Organic” claims were confusing in the industry, so obviously consumers were confused too.
I was not alone in believing people were duped by dubious “organic” labeling. It was time for honest, transparent organic labeling. We wanted to achieve a high bar with all of the products we offered and use not only true organic ingredients but offer the efficacy consumers expected in the products they used. The NOP had just included personal care in its scope so it was the opportune time to develop our brand to meet the rigorous—and many claimed impossible—standards for personal care based upon organic food standards.
Q: What motivated you to seek the first organic certification of personal care?
Honestly, it was because others did not believe it could be done. I believed in what we envisioned in the purity of the brand and I knew that we indeed could and truly would achieve certification using the [organic] standards. Achieving something you not only believe in, but that could now become certified so people could trust and differentiate ingredients was the motivator and became our mission. Nay-sayers were everywhere we turned so we tuned them out and moved forward passionately!
Q: What was your biggest challenge?
Wow! So many challenges. Let me please choose three:
First, it would be product preservation without using preservatives. Certified organic products were not allowed to contain preservatives. Water is the traditional base to personal care products and required preservation for safety and oh, by the way, certified organic products could not count water in the calculation of organic percentages – another issue to overcome! The time and dollars we spent just to deliver on that nearly impossible preservative-free dream made my hair turn prematurely gray!
Next, it would be the battle with the USDA, who included personal care within the scope of the program and then after we got 20 products certified, reversed their decision to include personal care. Many sleepless nights! Understanding and working within the political arena and government bureaucracy took so much time and energy away from running the company. However, those were battles we fought not only to assure our goals but for the greater good of consumers who could embrace a standard and make choices based upon integrity, not just marketing hype.
Finally, I would say that being compared continually with mainstream companies and their not-so-honest “organic” claims, and then educating on the USDA NOP Organic Standards was an opportunity and a challenge. Plus, we had to justify the cost. Not using water at a high percentage and using high-quality, certified organic ingredients made our products unique, but also made them more expensive. Educating stores and our customers was a big challenge back then.
Q: What kept you going?
My passion and need to motivate our team after many setbacks during this time kept me going. I have a strong and persistent will, which gets only stronger during the tough times. I was not about to leave my dream and the dream others embraced in our company. Horst Rechelbacher was a good friend of ours—he founded Aveda then sold the company to Estee Lauder. He encouraged us and was one of my mentors as well. He believed it could be done we shared in that belief!
Q: What is your advice to female entrepreneurs in the personal care and beauty industry?
Fortunately, there are many female entrepreneurs in this industry. I would urge them to follow their paths and not allow nay-sayers to get in their way—surround yourself by “YES” people when it comes to following that path. If you lack true passion, an all-consuming focus, and unrelenting energy, then mountain tops are probably not yours to climb, however, those are a few of the key ingredients that will take you to any destination of your choosing.
Q: What role did luck play throughout this journey?
I am not a believer in luck. Blessings, yes! Timing, yes. Luck is what happens at a slot machine. The role of luck implies a dimension where you’re in the right time and place and bam, success happens! I think there is more to believing, to having faith. Then you find and follow your path and work like hell with others to make it happen! It takes a long time, and you must overcome a great deal when doing something others say cannot be done. When it is done (but never really finished) nothing is sweeter and more satisfying!
We are so grateful for Lynn’s unrelenting dedication to her vision of creating the first Certified Organic personal care products and we are proud to carry that torch today. Even though Lynn is no longer an active co-founder, her mission to create the healthiest, safest, most sustainable skincare available lives on in Nourish Organic.
So very grateful to have found this company! I am new to organics at age 67, and I’m trying to convert everything over. It’s a process! And so very confusing! I found my first product in a Target store in Bel Air, Md…..Watercress and Cucumber Face Cleanser. Yours was the only product certified Organic and I was so surprised to find it affordable! Thank you so much! I’ve been appalled at the high prices of Organic goods as I am on a fixed income.
Very eager to learn and experience more!
We are so blessed that Lynn and Thom are family. Lynn andThom do a first class act in all they do. I have learned from the two of them to just do things right from the beginning.
Lynn made an all consuming commitment to the development of organic personal care products! She has been a mentor to many through her years in healthcare and business. Strong, brilliant and kind!
Good memories! I worked for a packaging distributor who provided bottles, jars, closures and pumps for Lynn and Thom’s products. It was a fun time learning about the organic industry standards and having the opportunity to visit them at the various trade shows where they exhibited. Lynn set the standard! She is a great leader and became a wonderful friend.
Lynn and Thom are two of the most genuine people you will ever want to meet. Thanks for sharing the beginnings of your Journey to becoming what you are today. I feel blessed for the friendship you have shown me and others on your road of success!!!
There is nothing more beautiful than a woman with a passion for something exceptional and then lives it.