Episode 02

 

Meet Brenda Brock. Founder and Formulator of Farmaesthetics, and daughter of a seventh generation farming family from Texas. Listen as she describes her reliance on the intelligence of nature, and the untraditional path she walked to become a leading innovator in the beauty industry.

Announcer

Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.

Jodi Katz

Hi, we are joined by Brenda Brock, founder and CEO of Farmaesthetics based in New Port, Rhode Island. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.

Brenda Brock

Hi, Jodi.

Jodi Katz

Thanks for joining us, Brenda. So, our listeners are curious about the career path and journeys of executives in the beauty industry, and not necessarily the glossed over picture perfect PR story that a lot of people tell, but the honest and authentic ones. And you certainly have a very interesting story to tell. I’d love to start off with you telling us what is differentiating about your brand.

Brenda Brock

Well, I think that what I see and what I … I think the industry has recognized is that Farmaesthetics is based on traditional American rural recipes using crop-based ingredients. I’m from a farming family in Texas, seventh generation, and that’s very much a part of our story. An honorarium to those really vital pieces of a more agrarian culture that absolutely had everything to do with health, vitality, beauty. I mean, you had to be in top shape to do the work required on the farm. So that sense of well-being that we talk about today is really at the core of those rural cultures. Certainly it was in my farming family. So, that’s very much the driving force behind the formulations. I don’t veer out into exotics. I stay just very rooted, if you will, in traditional herbal formulation using recognizable herbs, flowers, oils, and grains that you would find in … Certainly in the area of Texas that my family farmed. And just with so few, in fact, ingredients, how many amazing powerful beneficial preparations can be created from that. Not always with new and razzle dazzle. Sometimes it’s what is tried and true and that’s what I do when I build product. I look at those.

Jodi Katz

What I think is so distinctive about the product is the efficacy. I’ve tried a lot of product through the years, and I’ve experienced a level of efficacy and quick efficacy with Farmaesthetics that really surprises me considering it’s not a pharmaceutical, it’s not a chemical-laden product. And I have this great story that I’d love to share with you, it makes me think of you now that there’s face masks everywhere, right? There’s sheet masks, there’s wash off masks, there’s peel off masks, there’s magnet masks. And you have a clay mask, which you’ve had in your collection for quite some time. And it really saved the day for me. I had a day where I was on flights all day long, I didn’t get home until 2:00 in the morning, went to bed.

Woke up at 7:00, got the kids off to school, looked in the mirror and was really surprised by how wack my skin looked. From the sunscreen that was on me, to like the day on the plane, to not sleeping. So I reached for the clay mask, mixed it with tonic, and took a shower, went off on my day. The first person who saw me at work that day said, “Oh, my God, your skin looks amazing.” And I laughed so hard because it was really in desperate situation. So, the product corrected my skin, which was really tired. It was tired skin. With no junk in the ingredients, and it makes me wonder why these products work so well?

Brenda Brock

I love hearing that. ‘Cause it’s such a testament to the intelligence in nature. These products work so well because the ingredients are synergistic. They belong together. And in that product, for example, there are 3 ingredients. It’s organic rosehip powder. Rosehip is a supremely high vitamin C content little bud that is on beach roses. These are dried and powdered. And then of course the [inaudible 00:04:45] clay, which extract the oiliness from the skin and closes the pores. Decongests, if you will. And peppermint, which is to soothe, cool, and comfort which is exactly what you need when skin is stressed, tired. There’s sort of an inflammation level that’s going on. So those three ingredients together do it all. They … And we could go into how it works and what are the constituents within each … Of those ingredients are. But what really interests me about traditional herbal formulation, it’s the magic when the 3 come together. They sort of tend to all of the symptoms that we experience and that we see in our skin in such a perfect way.

Sometimes it’s like I use this to extract oil, and then I’m going to use another product to take down a little bit of inflammation, and then I’m going to use a third product to give myself a little restorative blast of vitamin C, which you end up having. I always say like an earlobe cream and eyebrow ointment, you know? Herbal formulation, traditional herbal formulation is so supremely sophisticated in how they address all of those symptoms. When you look in the mirror and say, “My skin is tired.” Sometimes we don’t know exactly what that means. But ingredients in nature really do. They know how to … They know how to work with your body chemistry. So there’s a little bit of just stepping back and letting those traditional formulations work their magic and that’s what I kind of hear what you just said, so …

Jodi Katz

Oh, yeah. It was magic, for sure. So, I’d like to just switch gears a little bit and let’s talk about you. I love to know … I don’t think you woke up when you were 5 years old and you were in the business. So I would love to know what you were doing before you started in this industry.

Brenda Brock

Well, you know, I had said this many times and it’s so true. It’s all roads led here for me. I grew up one of the youngest children and few females on a part of a farming family in central Texas outside Austin. Often my [inaudible 00:07:16] Francis and cousins are all there still farming, but I was really lucky in that I was … Every spring break, every summer break I was on the farm and just a little kid running around, sort of absorbing the kitchen culture of those women. That the … Where there is such a deep oral tradition of passing along information. Not only a little good gossip, but how to take care of ailments and how to protect your skin … How to cook, how to put things away for the winter. It was just … I was always enchanted by that. So my whole life, I did a million different things, but that was always my home base. I had next to my bed recipe books on rural kitchen culture. I always had grown … I worked with my dad in the garden every weekend. We grew herbs. I was needle pointing pictures of herbs when I was 14 years old. It was really interesting. I was very compelled to follow that path.

So fast foreword. I go to college at the University of Texas, I’m studying nursing. I’m particularly in preventative medicine, which was not really articulated in the curriculum at that time. So I lost a little bit of interest there, ended up in the drama department studying play writing and acting. Did very well with that, ended up in Denver. That was my first job out of college at the Denver Center Theater Company, where I continued to work as an actor and study play writing and story telling. Ended up in New York, and some people know my first job there was on a soap opera. And I got the job because they were doing a flashback sequence to 1888 and they were looking for … Believe me, you can’t make it up. And they were looking for a young woman to play a pioneer farm woman who is protecting her land. And the actor had to ride a horse, so I got the job. And I ended up working on that show for almost 4 years. The character was a nurse, which is hysterical ’cause my [crosstalk 00:09:55]

Jodi Katz

Oh, my goodness.

Brenda Brock

Just pressed fallen when I left the University of Texas nursing school. I remember calling my dad and say, “Hey, you got a nurse in the family.” Make a little bit more money than that. So, anyway, I worked on the show. I played that farm girl. I studied play writing at the actor’s studio in the play that I was produced off Broadway, off off Broadway. It was called Summer at Polaris, and it’s about a young farm woman living on west Texas trying to preserve the traditions and ways of her family and protect that heritage as the modern world encroached. It’s just … So, I was able to have a little bit of freedom working on the weekends working for ABC. And I came to New Port, Rhode Island, and with a friend of mine from Texas, just for a weekend. And met a guy who is now my husband. We bought an old farm house and I plowed up an acre and started planting herbs and as my friend said, I started to ride the horse in the direction it was going. And before you know it, I was making all my herbal preparations in that kitchen.

And then had a child. My friend had an organic farm and a farm stand. Started selling things that I made at the farm stand. A woman from New York City, a well-known salon owner was visiting New Port. Bought some of the products. I mean, they are still in the same jars as they were at the farm stand with my labels. That’s my handwriting, I hand wrote them at the farm stand, now they’re scanned in. But that’s how I ended up in the spa industry. So, I mean, it’s just been … I could not have ever in a million years thought that I would have first be in the beauty industry and … Which I didn’t know anything about when I started looking for some way to take these recipes from 5 by 7 index cards and sort of how do you make bigger blender-full, you know? And I was very fortunate in finding a beautiful, very well-known dermatological laboratory and a scientist who had, at the time, really been looking for a way to work naturally within the cosmetic industry. And that was 17 years ago.

And we were able to translate those to large batch productions, past all the same tests that any major cosmetic brand has to test for shelf life … And efficacy. And so that’s how I got to where I was going. And I think the through line for that is that I really did follow the heat, as they say. What was I interested in? You know? I’ve always been interested in farmland and the conservation of that and those … Then conserving those traditional ways of living, which is so rooted in wellness and well-being and sustainability. And I told that story through characters and acting and in writing, and I’m telling that same story now through the creation of products and the passing along of information as it was passed along to me. And I love social media for that. It’s allowed me to really kind of say, let’s not forget these traditional ways that have worked so well. Not only for us physically, mentally, physically, but for our planet for so long.

And so that’s how I go here.

Jodi Katz

You know, that story is incredible. Our listeners will definitely want to know what soap opera you were on. Can you name it?

Brenda Brock

I can. One Life to Live. I played … Believe it or not, I played Brenda McGillis. Because when they went from the … My name was May McGillis in 1888, and then they wanted to bring the character into present day. So I’ll never forget the producer at that time, Paul Rauch, called me up in the office and said, “Hey, you want to stay around for another 3 years?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And I said, “So, who’s my character?” And he said, “Brenda. How’s that? Does that work for you?” So I was like, “Yeah, okay.” But it made for very confusing plane rides, man. I’d get on there and somebody would go, “Oh, Brenda!” And I’d think it was a friend and it’d be a fan. So, yeah. That was the soap. And I was on there for 4 years, almost 4 years. And happily have so many friends that are still in my life from that time who’ve been tremendous supporters of my beauty brand journey.

Jodi Katz

It’s so interesting how you went from studying nursing, loving the farm, playing a character who is a nurse on the farm. And you write about the farm in Summer at Polaris, and now you’re bringing that to life trough Farmaesthetics.

Brenda Brock

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

But you could never have known that this journey would take you this way, right?

Brenda Brock

No, no. Never.

Jodi Katz

Follow the invisible dots.

Brenda Brock

Yeah. And it’s funny. It’s like Eudora Welty. I think that’s who said it. She said, “You know, as a writer, as a story teller, we really do get all of our impact before the 12 and spend the rest of our lives telling the same story in a lot of different ways.” And I think that’s been true for me.

Jodi Katz

That’s so cool. You know, I was trying to think of a theme that I think encapsulates what I know about you and your brand. And the theme I came up with is patience. I think as an entrepreneur, it’s really hard to be patient. I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and I’ve been incredibly impatient for, I’d say, 8 of the 10 years. I’m just now starting to learn the value of patience. And I think that patience embodies your spirit and the spirit of your brand. You’ve been developing this brand … I mean, I know it’s been 17 years formally, but my guess it’s probably been 20 that you’ve really been tinkering with formulas. And we know that stars are not born over night. I love the example of George Clooney. He’s my go-to example when I think about patience. Because when I was a little girl, I was watching a TV show called the Fact of Life, which was a sitcom in the ’80’s.

And he had this really small role on the Facts of Life. And then it wasn’t for like … Almost probably 15 years later that he became the George Clooney, think ER and everything else that came after it. So, when I think of George Clooney and I think of Farmaesthetics, I think about patience. And that growth and building a business and building a reputation takes time. Would you agree that patience has been a key theme for you in developing a brand?

Brenda Brock

Absolutely, and I’m … I’m not sure I’ve had it like you. As an entrepreneur, even when things are going great, you’re already on to the next challenge because that’s just the nature of owning a business and being in this world. But I think where I have had to exercise the most patience is in not being distracted by all … The shiny objects in the beauty industry that are compelling. Well, maybe we should do this? Maybe you should do that? Maybe you need to add this? Maybe you need … I can’t do that and tell the Farmaesthetics story. I mean, it is farm with an F. And I need to really … That has … That required … Especially when we first started to take off, that required enormous patience with my racing mind to stay very true to what this story is and this brand. And the patience to go deeper, not wider.

Jodi Katz

Right. Yeah.

Brenda Brock

And it takes some … It takes a community of … I have found like-minded business people and maybe there are 4 of those to every 40 who may be wanting you to do and go another direction. And stay with those who have your vision. They hold your vision as their own in a way and help you stay patient with your brand and the reality of what you’re doing. I think that is really important in this day and age. It’s very easy to become homogenized and follow the latest greatest.

Jodi Katz

So, Brenda, I hear you talking about this idea of restraint and patience, and it makes me think of the seductive of growing a business. Feeling like I should be doing something, maybe I should spend my money this way. Should I hop on this trend? Where should I put my focus? And I find it very seductive, and I often have to literally sit on my hands and say, “No, this is not right for me at this time for X reasons.” So can you talk a little bit more about that restraint that you have to execute to focus?

Brenda Brock

Yeah, I think that patience … To grow … Especially when you’re first starting to really take off, there’s a lot of interest and attraction and we need to rely on people to help us make decisions, not only to how we get products to market, but how we structure our organizations and … Sometimes, with … Sometimes there can be a little bit of pressure to grow faster, do more, add this to your line, use these ingredients. And I think the thing that has required the most patience in me is to really allow the truth of what I do to be paramount. So, for example, when I’m looking at my recipe box and my ingredient deck that I tell my stories and build products from, often times, we can do things that are a little less expensively by going another direction. Use a nature identical. Synthesize nature and it will be a little bit more in your control.

Working with true naturals in a real natural formulator’s way or an herbal formulation way, we experiment more. And that takes a little more time. What is this whole ingredient with this whole ingredient? So the patience to really step back a little bit when working this way, and allowing the ingredients that you choose to be really the real deal and part of the true story, it’s so easy to spend marketing hype around things and use all the right words. And we as consumers are going to believe that and feel that anyway, but it’s one thing to use that message as an honorarium to the way you’re working. And I think that does take some patience. It’s a little bit like the tortoise and the hare. We are tortoise, a little bit more assured steps. It’s … There was not really a green or a sustainable beauty category when I started in 1999. It did not exist. That’s not how we talked about efficacious luxury beauty.

And it took a long time to just be understood and accepted as a brand that could compete with pharmaceutical grade products in the luxury beauty markets. There were lots of opportunities for us in natural food stores and all of those wonderful venues, but they were … That was all … That was a little like singing to the choir.

Jodi Katz

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brenda Brock

It was really important to me to have that … This kind of work [inaudible 00:23:10] at that level. And we are there. But that … It took almost as long to kind of create a way through the beauty industry as a natural … Truly natural brand. It’s what you have to get there to build it. But again, there are always easy way to … And shortcuts to get to where you want to go, but that’s not really what the sustainable beauty segment is about. I mean, sustainability in its definition by itself is … We make decisions now, not only for what we need. And in beauty, we need that now. I need to look in the mirror and look like you did that day after your long trip. Not only now, but in perpetuity. So, what are the manufacturers of these ingredients? How is that impacting the environment? How is all the plastic packaging impacting our environment? And our water table? I mean, these are the decisions that are right at the heart of every decision I make as a formulator.

And who I work with as a supplier. And that slows things down. So, you know what? Sometimes I just have to accept that and not get anxious about it. And that’s not always easy and that’s why we need community of like-minded people who can help us feel like, “Okay, okay. You’re anxious, but that doesn’t necessarily mean something’s wrong.” In real life, you get anxious and it’s usually a direction. Okay, something’s wrong. Sometimes that comes when something’s right.

Jodi Katz

Right.

Brenda Brock

And we need each other. Especially as business people who are like-minded to remind each other of that.

Jodi Katz

You know, you mentioned anxiety. And as a business owner, I myself find that my journey as an entrepreneur is an exploration into how do I manage anxiety? I think I’ve learned more about myself and about how I react to things and what my decision making is based on and whether it’s fear-based or … Smart-based. It’s always … It’s really come to be, as I’ve grown the business, that management of my anxiety and that makes me think as an entrepreneur yourself, there’s probably good days and there’s probably hard days. What does a hard day look like or feel like to you? And how do you manage that?

Brenda Brock

I think the hardest part … A hard day is if within my organization there is some misalignment with our mission, which doesn’t happen very often. I’ve been so … I’m knocking on wood right now, but I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have the executive team, management team that I have in place, the production team … We’re a small team, but we’re mighty. But it is very, very important that everybody has the same goal and their hearts in the right place. And when I get very anxious it’s when maybe I’ve made a hire that isn’t right. And boy, you know it fast. The resume didn’t quite line up with the mission and there is a … And it’s difficult. I manage in a … It’s a very transparent, very consensus management style because that’s all I know. I didn’t got to school to study management. I have people now coming on who have and that makes things run more smoothly, but I think a …

A day full of anxiety is when I’ve recognized that I’ve brought someone on board that isn’t quite right because I have respect for them. I’m very, very careful about who I add because … No, I know how hard it is to get a job that you like and you want to keep it. So sometimes that judgment is this step … How do I be compassionate as a leader, but also really compassionate for the team already in place? I’m learning all the time. And … We’re … Any business is about people and relationships. That’s it. Not only with your … When I … My vendors and suppliers, I feel like I have more control over that in like the labs and the farmers and in my raw material suppliers.

But when you get into the day to day working together, making sure that everyone’s moving in the right direction … Managing relationships, if you’re not careful, can take up a lot of your time. So, that’s a sweet spot I’m working on. I need to find that sweet spot and stay there. And again, that takes patience.

Jodi Katz

You know, I’ve also found over the past 10 years of my experience being an entrepreneur that I don’t celebrate my victories big enough. I move onto the next thing too quickly. Is that your experience? Or do you … Have you found a way to really celebrate those victories, whether they’re big or small ones.

Brenda Brock

That makes me laugh. I remember when I first started this. I was talking with the president of one of the laboratories I work for and one of the first things he said to me is, “When you have a victory, you’re going to celebrate like crazy for about 60 seconds. Then you’re going to be already moving onto ‘Oh, my God how do I do this next?'” And that is really true, but that moment of victory, even if it’s only 60 seconds, is so sweet. But victories in business move you to a next level. And so, as the leader of the company and in our development, I recognize very quickly … All right. All right, so now we’re in a new place and everyone sits around and looks at you and they’re like, “Okay, so now what?” That can be … That can be daunting. But we definitely celebrate victories. We had an incredible milestone year and I made sure that the moment we were all very clear about how we were ending the year, I had a case of pink champagne in my car. And we shut the place down at like 2:00 and popped those bottles and I thought, “Oh, we’ll just have like 30 minutes and a little toast and then everybody’s leaving for the New Years.”

We all stayed there for 4 hours as a group and talked and laughed and reviewed our year. So this was really the first time I took a … I took 4 hours to celebrate my …

Jodi Katz

Oh, that’s wonderful.

Brenda Brock

Victory. Yeah. I’m going to do more of that. I’m glad you’re reminding me of that.

Jodi Katz

Yeah, I think that even if we take those 60 seconds, even if it’s not 4 hours. It’s 60 seconds in a meaningful way, say out loud, “This is pretty freaking cool.”

Brenda Brock

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

And we’ve earned it, and we worked hard for it and acknowledging it. ‘Cause I find myself moving way too fast to solving the next problem.

Brenda Brock

Yeah.

Jodi Katz

And then in my head, it’s really … The milestones become the challenges, which obviously linger a lot longer. Right? Than the victories. But it should be [crosstalk 00:31:10]

Brenda Brock

Yeah, I would like to flip it for myself. And if you don’t recognize the victory of the milestone, you might miss it. You know what I mean? You might … It might just be a continuation of what was. I mean, if you look at those victories as like putting your flag in the ground, if you’re an explorer, as you hit those milestones on Mount Everest, you put your flag in the ground. It’s a measuring tool for you. And I really think that celebrating victories is a measuring tool. We need to honor that and recognize that that’s really important. That’s putting a pin on the map. And to take that moment to mindfully … And especially with your team, all recognize where we are at this moment in time together. It’s a great platform for what’s coming next. You know?

Jodi Katz

Yeah. Well, Brenda. Thank you so much for your time and for being so honest and open with us. I know our listeners are really excited to hear your story. Thanks again for your time.

Brenda Brock

Thank you, Jodi, this was really fun.

Announcer

Thanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

 

 

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