EPISODE 133

Victoria Watts had a lot of skin concerns and none of the products she tried were addressing them. So in true entrepreneurial style, she decided to make her own, mixing, blending and formulating in her kitchen. That’s how Victorialand Beauty was born. She launched with products that truly improved her hyperpigmentation and the overall look of her skin, using natural botanicals and essential oils to get to a place where she could “go naked” without makeup. But just as the company was off and running, an even greater challenge appeared and changed everything about her business and her life. And a new mission evolved, to help her vision-impaired infant son learn to navigate the world. Hers is a story from the heart you won’t want to miss.

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AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™ hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey there. It's Jodi Katz, your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty ™Podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in this week. Today's episode features Victoria Watts. She's the founder of VictoriaLand Beauty. She's also a client of Base Beauty, so I hope you enjoy hearing her story, and if you missed last week's episode, it features Alison Engstrom. She is the editor-in-chief and founder of Rose & Ivy. I hope you enjoy the shows.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. I am so excited to be sitting with Victoria Watts. She is the founder of VictoriaLand Beauty. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™.
Victoria WattsIt's so great to be back here and great to be with you, Jodi.
Jodi KatzFor our listeners, I want them to know this is take two. I want them to know the good, the bad, the ugly. Victoria and I actually recorded a few weeks ago, and then the file was just corrupt, so we couldn't use it, so here we are again.
Victoria WattsYou know what, the second time is going to be a charm.
Jodi KatzYeah, I agree. I want to let everybody know how we know each other, and then I want you to talk about the brand. Victoria is a client of ours, and we actually just hosted a really incredible makeup artist breakfast so that makeup artists can learn about your products and learn about you. You're all decked out in your hot pink VictoriaLand colors, so why don't you tell us a little bit about VictoriaLand?
Victoria WattsOkay. VictoriaLand really was born out of a necessity. I had a lot of skin concerns about six years ago, and I was looking for a natural solution because all of the products that I had been using really weren't helping my skin concerns at the time, so I started mixing and formulating in my kitchen with the help of Google and a few how-to-make-your-skin-care books and really got into it. It was fun to just mix and research. After many, many, many batches, I was... finally came up with a batch that looked good enough to put on my skin, and I started using it and really right away noticed some great results, so I decided to share what I have learned, because I know so many women suffer from the same skin concerns that I had at the time, which my main one was hyperpigmentation.

That's where VictoriaLand was born. During that time of taking it from the kitchen to the laboratory, it was a very long process, much longer than I had anticipated, I gave birth to my son, Cyrus, who's going to be three next week, and he was born visually impaired due to a rare genetic eye disease. He was diagnosed at four months old. At that point, we were still getting ready to launch VictoriaLand Beauty, and I decided that we would make our give-back program something to help my son, Cyrus, and others like him by donating 2% of all of our sales to Boston's Children's Hospital and the amazing research those doctors are doing to find cures and treatments. Our give-back is really the backbone of VictoriaLand Beauty, so that's basically how it was born and where we are today.
Jodi KatzI want to go back in time. I want to talk a lot about Cyrus and what you've learned, but I want to go back to this idea of VictoriaLand, because when I first met you and you said, "My company is called VictoriaLand Beauty," in my head, I closed my eyes, I imagined the board game of life that everything is like hot pink and pink. I didn't really know what that meant and where is VictoriaLand, what does it look like, and so, in my head, I thought like Dr. Seuss, but just all pink, so what does that mean? Where did this idea of VictoriaLand, because there's no JodiLand?
Victoria WattsThere should be a JodiLand.
Jodi KatzMaybe we'll build one, but what is VictoriaLand?
Victoria WattsI get asked this question a lot, so VictoriaLand, when I was formulating my products in my kitchen, my girl friends would come over every Wednesday and I would try different batches on them, and at the time, I was going through a divorce, and it was also a way to keep me very focused and grounded. My girl friends would come over, and they would love just being my guinea pigs, and it became known as VictoriaLand on Wednesdays that we can't wait. They'd bring their coffee. I mean, they'd stay all day, and we'd just try different product, smell different fragrances, and so, when I decided to launch VictoriaLand Beauty, that just seemed like such a natural fit because that's really where it was born, but, more importantly, VictoriaLand is it's fun. It's happiness. It's acceptance. It's no judgment. It's everyone is loved no matter who you are or where you come from, what your race is, what your... It doesn't matter. It's just full of life, and it's fun, and it's a place where you can be you and feel good about being you.
Jodi KatzYou're going through a divorce, and my guess is you had some time to fill, right?
Victoria WattsYes.
Jodi KatzIs this why Wednesdays became the day with the girl friends?
Victoria WattsMm-hmm (affirmative), 50% of my time was now free because my kids were with their father, the other half, and it was just... You take care of people it feels like your whole life. I mean, for 12 years, I was 24 hours taking care of people, and then, all of a sudden, I had this time, which was scary and sad, too, but this filled that void for me while they were gone and gave me something productive and something to really ground me, and it made it a lot more manageable.
Jodi KatzI'm sure we have a lot of listeners who have gone through divorce or going through divorce or witnessed good friends or family members go through it, right? It must be startling to have gone from, like you said, 24/7 with this family unit, and all of a sudden quiet in the house.
Victoria WattsYes, it is. It's very difficult. At first, it's a huge transition. You're so used to living a certain way, and you have to adjust. It's a territory that you've never been in before or you haven't been in for a very long time because you've been consumed by raising a family. It's terrifying.
Jodi KatzWere you like lying in bed sobbing? How did this manifest itself, this reality?
Victoria WattsI mean, there were days where I was sad, of course, but I just made good use of my time. A typical night when I was... didn't have my kids was I would go do yoga just to get my center, just to... that... and go to an organic market that was right near my house, get myself dinner, go home, crank up the tunes in my kitchen and just start formulating and mixing and dancing around my kitchen, doing whatever it is I was doing at the time, but it really did fill that void for me. I guess it gave me another purpose other than being a mom and being a wife because, during that time, yes, I was still a mother, but I was alone.
Jodi KatzYeah, that loneliness must spark a lot of different emotions for different people, but why did you think that you're going to fill the time making your own beauty products? I mean there's so many other ways that you could have filled the time. You could have baked. You could have gone to the movies. Why really spend the time researching, investigating and mixing?
Victoria WattsBecause I was on a mission. I was on a mission for many, many years to figure out how to correct the skin concerns I had at the time. It was so frustrating to have to get up every morning, cover up my hyperpigmentation and go out with a full-face makeup just because I felt so self-conscious about it. I didn't go in the sun. I would do facial, I would... everything that I could to have good skin, but I still had these issues. I wanted to be able to walk out of my house, no makeup and feel confident. I'm sure I noticed it more than other people, but, still, I didn't have that confidence, and now it's great because I can get up, wash my face, go out, go naked with VictoriaLand Beauty. That's where that tagline came from, because I can now go out and go naked, and feel really good about myself and the way my skin looks.
Jodi KatzDid you ever have fantasies about being a beauty entrepreneur?
Victoria WattsNever. Never ever.
Jodi KatzYou do have an entrepreneurial background, which is quite sexy.
Victoria WattsYeah.
Jodi KatzWould you reveal it for us please?
Victoria WattsSexy. I don't know that I would call it that, but okay. Back in college, I was going to school. My major was in marketing, and my father was the owner of and still is the owner of a microbrewery up in Massachusetts, and they had this phenomenal beer mustard that they had created for marketing purposes, and they wanted to do away with it because people are literally stealing it off the bars. I mean, it wasn't serving its purpose.
Jodi KatzThere was a jar like next to the pretzels and-
Victoria WattsYeah.
Jodi KatzWhat was it?
Victoria WattsIt was like a four-ounce jar of mustard. Like Sam Adams would do the little coasters you'd see on the bar, this was their version of a coaster, their four-ounce jar of this beer mustard, and so people were stealing it, and it just became too costly for them, and they wanted to do away with it. My dad said, "No. No. No. No. This mustard is so fabulous. I'll take it," so he said to me, "Victoria, why don't you start a business?" Going to school, I'm a single mother at the time. I'm a full-time student. I said, "Sure, dad. I'll do it. No problem."
Jodi KatzHow old were you at this time?
Victoria WattsAt that time, I was 21.
Jodi KatzYou were a young mom.
Victoria WattsYes.
Jodi KatzGoing to school at the same time?
Victoria WattsYes. I had my first child at 19, and thank the good Lord that I had such an amazing and supportive family, so they were very great. They helped take care of her while I went to school full time, so I didn't really miss a beat, which was wonderful, but, yeah, so I started this company, and I had an amazing mentor at school, my marketing professor, and he was very intrigued by what I was doing, so I was able to utilize a lot of my class time for market research and various things, so I started this company called IBC Food Products, and we had one product, which was the beer mustard. I would go to Bread & Circus and more like boutique grocery stores. Bread & Circus is like what Whole Foods is today.
Jodi KatzLike gourmet markets and things like that?
Victoria WattsGourmet markets...
Jodi KatzUh-huh (affirmative).
Victoria Watts... because it was a higher-priced item.
Jodi KatzMm-hmm (affirmative).
Victoria WattsI would go. I would go in with my product and-
Jodi KatzLike a rolling case? Did you have a suitcase full of mustard?
Victoria WattsNo, I didn't even have that. I would just go in. Honestly, I would just go in. I didn't know what I was doing. I was flying by the seat of my pants. I was just like, "Sure. I'll do this. Why not?" and so I'd go in with my mustard, my story behind it, and then they would try it out. A lot of people tried it out on consignment at first, and I would go in and do demos, and I'd bring my little electric skillet and I would bring... I would marinate chicken thighs in the mustard, and I would cook them up at the supermarkets and cut them in pieces and, yeah, have people try it, and then everyone that tried it loved it and buy the mustard, and that's just what I did out of my little bedroom at my parents' house, where I lived with my daughter.

This is where IBC Food Products was born, so it was an interesting time. I learned a lot about myself during that time period. I was always a little bit insecure and shy prior to that, but I really had to come out of my shell because I was the salesperson, I was the demo, I was everything, and so that was an interesting time for sure. My college did this photo shoot at the supermarket, which was... and it was in the alumni magazine. It was hilarious, but it was a good time. It was definitely a good time.

When I graduated from college, I wanted to spend time with my daughter. I ended up getting married right out of college, so I gave the company back to my dad, and he took it with one of the other guys, our partners at the brewery. They took it, and it's still out there today. It's not where I envisioned it would be, but it's still out there.
Jodi KatzWhen you were describing the role you took in, the mustard company, your marketing, your sales, everything, it's really very similar to what you have to do now at VictoriaLand...
Victoria WattsYes. Absolutely.
Jodi Katz... even thought that the subject is different, mustard to skincare.
Victoria WattsYeah. It's everything. Here, you have your hand in everything, and, yeah, I mean, that definitely did teach me a lot. Even today, every day I'm learning something new. There's always a new challenge, and I still feel like I fly by the seat of my pants, but it's fulfilling and it's learning, and life is all about learning, and it's stepping out of your comfort zone and doing things that you never thought you would do, but, once you do it, you're like, "Oh, I can totally do this."
Jodi KatzYou and I talk a lot about this idea, the small business of shaking hands and kissing babies, like this... as much contact with people as you can possibly have. We have social media. Digital marketing is amazing, but to really be in front of people, let them hear your story, let them meet you and talk about the product is so important these days as a small business, and that's what you were doing back then...
Victoria WattsRight. Exactly.
Jodi Katz... with chicken.
Victoria WattsYes, and mustard.
Jodi KatzLet's switch gears a little bit and talk about the visually impaired community and how this... supporting them really became the mission of your skincare brand. You started this because you wanted to solve your own skincare problem, but when Cyrus was born, were you immediately like, "Okay, I'm just going to stop what I'm doing and not pursue it and focus on my son and his care?" Were there ever thoughts about this is too much right now?
Victoria WattsAbsolutely, and I struggled with that for a significant amount of time. I didn't know what do I do, what do I do for him, and that was probably the hardest part of this whole experience was, when you have a child that has a disability or a health issue, how can you help them? I'm not a doctor. I'm not a scientist. There was really nothing I could do, which was a horrible feeling and probably one of the hardest parts of all of this.

Then, finally, when I just reflected a little bit and started thinking about how can I help him, one of the ways I can help him is I can get out of my own space right now and really just be strong for him, but also I have this platform, I have this company that I've been working towards launching for the past three years, and with social media and all of the different ways, the different voices that we have now, I thought, "You know what, at least I can raise awareness and I can raise funds for the research and treatment that can potentially help him and others like him," so that's where our give-back program started, and that really not only is that going to help him and others, it really helped me personally heal and get through this process.

I mean, I'm still getting through it, and there are times I'm still sad, but it's less and less because, now, I talk about my story. For a long time, I wouldn't talk about it at all. The closest friends to me didn't really know what was going on because I could not say the words visually impaired, legally blind. I couldn't say those things. It was very difficult for me.
Jodi KatzYou'd be at coffee with friends, and Cyrus was eight months old, and they didn't even know what was going on with him?
Victoria WattsNo, I just wouldn't talk about it. It was easier for me to talk about other people's problems than for me to talk about mine at the time. I just couldn't because it was too real for me and it was too raw and it was... I mean, I guess you could say it was denial in a way and... but I just couldn't do it. I knew that the only way for me to make a difference was for me to share, and that's what I'm doing now, and it has helped me. I say things today that I couldn't say a year ago.
Jodi KatzIt's a lot of progress.
Victoria WattsIt's a lot of progress. I don't well up. I mean, yes, there are times that I do get sad here and there, but it's, I mean, so much less than it was a couple of years ago for me.
Jodi KatzWhat is the name of his condition?
Victoria WattsIt's called FEVR. It's familiar... family... It's a really tough one. It's FEVR, F-E-V-R.
Jodi KatzWhat does that mean?
Victoria WattsBasically, it's a genetic disease that attacks the retinas. When he was four months old, we noticed there was something wrong with his eyes. His retinas were partially detached, so he's had about five laser procedures so far, and the laser procedures basically creates scar tissues so it stops the traction on the retinas, so that's good. His eyes are stable now. There's no more traction, but-
Jodi KatzWhat does traction mean?
Victoria WattsThe retina pulling away, and another piece is he has a bilateral fold in each of his retinas, so the bilateral fold has taken his macula, which is responsible for central vision into the fold, so his central vision, if has any, is very, very limited. The vision that he does have is peripheral. When we took him to Boston's Children's Hospital, they were able to confirm that he does have vision, and just knowing that he had vision was enough for me to hold on to because when I went... we went up there, I had no hope, none at all. I was just like a zombie. I was devastated.

I'm a planner. I like to have plans. I like to know what's happening. I'm a problem-solver, and it was like I was in limbo, so, when we went up there and they were able to give us some answers and also confirm that he had vision, it was something I could hold on to. The hope that they gave me is something I can never pay back to them, but doing what I'm doing through my give-back gives me a way to thank them for what they gave me, but also to make a difference for my son.
Jodi KatzAt four months old, when you found out about his condition, were there a lot of resources for you to turn to? How did know which doctors to call? What was the process like?
Victoria WattsNo. It's such a rare disease, and they're still discovering genes for it. It such a rare thing, and we went over to Bascom Palmer in Miami, which is a great place over there. We had an amazing doctor there, but what was frustrating for me was the communication. When you're a parent and you don't know what's going on and you don't get answers, it's... I can't work like that.

I'm from Boston, originally. I had a few connections with the Boston's Children's Hospital, so I reached out to them, and Dr. Yonekawa was highly recommended, and we flew up for a second opinion, and we've been there ever since. We take him there twice a year, and, like I said, they gave me hope that I didn't have, which was such a gift to me at that time. They not only treat your child, but they treat the whole family, which is so important when you have a child that has health issues, to treat the whole family, because it affects all of us, and they are so amazing at that.
Jodi KatzThere's a lot of things that you started to develop within VictoriaLand that's going to be next level for the visually impaired community, and I'm so excited that we can bring this news first to the world. Tell us about what you're working on.
Victoria WattsAbout a year ago, as my son was getting older, I started to really notice his keen sense of touch, everything that he picks up, I mean, the way he touches, the way he can touch something and know exactly what it is without seeing it. Obviously, I don't pay attention to those things. I didn't pay attention to those things prior because I'm not visually impaired, but it was fascinating to see how he navigates his world, and I started to think, my husband I, we started to think about how was Cyrus going to navigate his world as he gets older, how was he going to be able to bathe by himself, how was he going to be able to do his personal grooming, how was he going to be able to go to the grocery store without having assistance.

To me, I want my son to be as independent as possible. He goes to regular school. He's doing everything that every other child does because I'm never... I don't want to ever limit him. I just want him to do whatever he can do, and I don't him to ever feel that he's different, so we started to think about those things, and I thought, "Geez, that's going to be a problem potentially because, when he gets to a certain age, he doesn't want me bathing him. He doesn't want me in his space. He's going to want to be on his own," so we started thinking about that, and then I said, "What if we do something with our packaging? What about maybe Braille or something?" so we started to look into Braille, but then I was very surprised to learn that only 10% of the visually impaired and blind population actually read Braille.

When I started to dive into that a little deeper, there's a variety of reasons for that because visual impairment can come from diabetes, macular degeneration, retina pigmentosa, and not everybody is born visually impaired or blind, it can happen over time, and, plus, Braille on packaging is... There's space restrictions. One page of normal text translates into four pages of Braille, so that was another issue, so I thought, "We live in this age of technology," which is probably another reason why only 10% of people read Braille, "and what about putting some type of tactile recognition on our packaging so that someone that is visually impaired and blind can pick up the products and know that this is my face cream, this is my eye cream, this is my shaving cream, whatever the product is? What if we develop our own language of raised symbols almost like a modern Braille, if you will, for our products, and perhaps this will inspire other consumer brands to do the same?"

We worked with the LightHouse down in Florida. I've worked with a few other people that have been working with the visually impaired and blind and tactile graphics and did our research for the past year, and I am beyond thrilled to announce that we are launching our new product line with all of our raised symbols that we have for our four SKUs come April... not April... come August, September. I'm really hopeful that this is going to really inspire other brands, because this is so necessary.

We have 300 million people worldwide that are visually impaired and blind, and that amount is expected to double by 2050. This is a problem, and there's a whole segment of people out there that brands are missing because, just because you're visually impaired and blind, it doesn't mean you don't want to... You want to be treated like everybody else. Everybody wants to have the same conversations about products. Everyone wants to feel normal, so, adding a raised tactile symbol to make someone's life easier and give them that independence, not only does it make sense, but it's the right thing to do.
Jodi KatzWhat is the system called?
Victoria WattsThe system is called the Cyrus System after my Cyrus, who is the inspiration behind this, and it's C-Y-R-U-S, so Raised Universal Symbols System, and I'm so excited about it. This has really given me an even bigger purpose of what I plan to do, and just knowing that we can make a change, a positive change for so many people is just... I can't even describe how that feels.
Jodi KatzHow would other consumer-focused products leverage the Cyrus System?
Victoria WattsOther consumer people can come up with their own symbols that would be under the Cyrus System, and, really, what we'd love to be able... eventually is to have a certification of... similar to Cruelty Free or non-GMO or organic as a certification called the Cyrus System that would go on to packaging of any consumer brand that is using these raised tactile symbols.
Jodi KatzRight, so I could imagine like laundry detergent could have this, which would help differentiate from fabric softener for someone who's visually impaired.
Victoria WattsExactly.
Jodi KatzDescribe some of the symbols to me. What does it mean tactile symbols?
Victoria WattsTactile is... are raised symbols, so, on the packaging, it's embossed, and it's got to be at a certain height so that you can... Visually impaired and blind people use their index finger to feel, so it's got to be at a certain height so that they can be able to distinguish what the symbol is.

Now, the symbols are broad because if you get too detailed, then it's too many symbols. They're broad symbols that make sense for what the product is. Like I said before, the hope is that this becomes a universal raised symbol language that can just be adopted by all consumer brands and just give people a way to navigate through life with these raised symbols.
Jodi KatzThis is incredible, and it's really, I can imagine, going to revolutionize the way that people who still love their products and want to have independence are able to navigate their bathroom or their laundry rooms or even their cereal boxes, I would think.
Victoria WattsMm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative), and one other piece, too, that I want to mention that's also important, like I mentioned, the... We live in this amazing age of technology where a lot of visually impaired and blind people use screen readers to be able to read webpages and such. The way they do that is through QR codes, so, on all of our packaging, secondary packing will be QR codes, and those QR codes are scanned and it goes to the product page, and that, with their screen readers, will read them all of the information about that product.

QR codes are... have been around for a while, but visually impaired and blind people really do depend on those, and, again, it's just adding another element that would be embossed as well, not embossed as a symbol, but embossed enough for someone to feel and say, "Oh, that's a QR code," and that they can scan it.
Jodi KatzThat's so incredible because, as a layperson, I just thought that QR codes were unnecessary. I really didn't understand their value. I thought they were just weird marketing gimmicks, and, now, to hear that they actually really help the visually impaired community navigate the world is incredible to hear.
Victoria WattsMm-hmm (affirmative).
Jodi KatzIt makes it more meaningful for me every time I go to see one now on packaging.
Victoria WattsYeah, and what I'd love to be able to do in the future is to even be able to have them scan it and it just will... It will just, through their phone and audio, just read to them exactly what the directions, the ingredients, the key benefits, whatever the information is, but to be able to do that just without... just make it more convenient for them.
Jodi KatzRight, like fewer stops.
Victoria WattsYeah, and, you know what, it's coming because our technology is growing leaps and bounds, and thank God for that for visually impaired and blind people that we do have the technology today.
Jodi KatzIf a family member or someone who is visually impaired wanted to reach out to you for support or information on how you found the right doctor, can they reach out to you direct?
Victoria WattsOh, absolutely, and I've had a few reach out to me. It's always good to talk to people that have been through it or going through it because, unless you have gone through something like this, you don't get it, and that's part of the reason I didn't talk about it for a long time, because people don't understand it, and you can't expect them to understand it.
Jodi KatzHow can they reach you?
Victoria WattsThey can email me at my email address, victoria@victorialandbeauty.com. That's the best way to get in touch with me, and I would be happy to talk to anybody that is going through something like this because it's good to be surrounded with people that get it.
Jodi KatzWould consider putting some of these resources on your blog?
Victoria WattsYes. Sure. Absolutely.
Jodi KatzYeah, I think that'd be great.
Victoria WattsAbsolutely.
Jodi KatzBefore they email you, they can do some research on their own.
Victoria WattsMm-hmm (affirmative).
Jodi KatzThat'd be really helpful.
Victoria WattsThey can reach out to me through Facebook and Instagram as well. We can include that information, but, yeah, no, I mean it's good to talk. It's good to talk.
Jodi KatzThank you so much for sharing your story and wisdom with us today.
Victoria WattsThank you for having me.
Jodi KatzI hope you enjoyed this interview with Victoria. Please connect with us on Instagram, @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty™ with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.
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