When Brandi Leifso founded Evio Beauty, she was living in a women’s safe house in Vancouver. Now she’s running a successful beauty brand with the goal of breaking stigmas to create a more conscious future.

We spoke to her about entrepreneurship, the challenges she faces, and what’s on the horizon for Evio Beauty.

What was it like to start a business when you were going through so much personally?

The truth is that I didn’t really have a plan. You probably have an idea of the mental state of women who are going through these experiences. I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have a strategy. I was just doing something to keep myself busy.

I started Evio Beauty five years ago, and when I started the company, I was living in a shelter due to an unhealthy relationship. All I had was a computer, so I photoshopped a catalog of makeup products. I shopped that catalog around to local boutiques and sold them a product that didn’t actually exist yet, and from there I was able to get enough pre-sales to bootstrap the company.

The truth is that business is hard. We were self-funded until our fifth year of business when we partnered with a venture capitalist firm. At the same time, we were part of the Sephora Accelerate Program, and ended up becoming the topical skincare and beauty partner for Aurora Cannabis.

We have some really exciting things coming up, which is a testament to the team’s hardwork and my singular focus on my original mission. We’ve moved into a new office space, and we’re launching a retail location very soon. The thing I’m most excited about is our rebrand in Spring 2019. It’s just been a whirlwind couple of years, and I’m lucky to have the support of some incredible masterminds who have helped shape my dreams into reality. It takes hard work, grit, and a lot of persistence

Did you always want to work in the beauty industry?

I can’t really answer that question because I was just surviving, and my mental capacity was really in a state where I was kind of numb to the world. You could have asked me in the moment “do you like ketchup?” and I would have been like “I don’t know.”

I was definitely into makeup and had worked in the modeling industry as an assistant in agencies, so I was around the fashion and beauty industry quite a bit. And I did have a desire to start a makeup line sometime in my life that gave back to women. I wanted to do that because I lived in a shelter when I was a child as well.

When I ended up in a shelter as an adult, I became obsessed with asking ‘why?’. My life was so drastically different from my childhood, and I had already made all of these changes, so why am I reliving my childhood? Why was I back in a shelter? I was much more interested in analyzing that than in makeup.

What inspired you or kept you motivated once your situation changed?

The truth is that the situation didn’t get better, it really played out in a textbook manner. Things actually got a lot worse before they got better after the shelter. There were phases, and there has to be different things that keep you motivated during different phases.

But to begin with, I didn’t have a lot of self-love or a lot of confidence. I had no idea where my life was going. So I convinced myself that I was doing this to help the people around me. Obviously, it was helping myself too. But if my motivation was that I was going to make X amount of money, I don’t think I would have done it. I knew that I was doing this for something bigger than myself.

Mostly, it was to give me a voice and have a platform to address a broken system. Whoever created it had great intentions, but clearly never went through it. If you wanted to learn how to fly a plane, you wouldn’t go to somebody who’s never stepped into a plane. But that’s so often how society works when it comes to poverty, violence, and the shelter system. We say that we know better because we’re not in that position, because we’re not experiencing homelessness, so we can help the homeless. But that’s not actually the truth. I was motivated to start this business because I wanted to help from an authentic place.

What are some of the biggest milestones you’ve reached since starting Evio?

There wasn’t just one thing, it’s been an accumulation of things that we’ve achieved by just not giving up. I don’t know why I’m so full of analogies today, but it’s such a milestone moment when you’re a boxer, and you get hit really hard, but you get back up. Getting back up is the milestone, although not necessarily the one that people want to hear about. It’s been a huge roller-coaster, but building our community and our team have been really big for us.

What has the move into cannabis products been like? Have you noticed a difference in the industries?

There’s a really common misconception that beauty is female-dominated, which it isn’t. It’s actually male-dominated, since the majority of investors and board members at the top of a company are male. In that sense there are a lot of similarities between cosmetics and cannabis.

Women are much more prevalent in the small business community, and not so prevalent in C-suites, or the Fortune 500s, or the larger corporations or companies.

So yes, it is male-dominated in cosmetics and in cannabis. But my experience has been incredibly positive, even though I have heard the opposite from most of my female counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve experienced a lot of sexism, but primarily ageism, in the industry. Times are changing, though. Slowly, but they are. We experience challenges, but it’s up to us to break through those challenges.

What advice would you give to a women or a girl  interested in starting her own company, in cosmetics or a different industry?

I would say dream big and know your worth. I think we tend to set precedents for ourselves, but we can dream so much bigger than that. Actualize those dreams, surround yourself with really good people, and continue to think really big.

Social impact is the core of why Evio Beauty Group exists. Evio Beauty Group is formally partnered with the Canadian Women’s Foundation through awareness activities and through donating $1 from every product sold.

Learn More:

Take Action: