At her lowest ebb, Brandi Leifso found the inner strength to launch a beauty business, setting in motion a chain of evolutionary events which resulted in her business being courted, and then purchased, by Canadian cannabis giant Aurora.
This month, the first hemp-infused skin care products are being launched by Brandi’s company Evio Beauty, supported by Aurora. Now 28, Ontario-born Brandi Leifso left home at the age of 17 to work for a modeling agency in Vancouver and quickly progressed in the business, finding love on the way with a leading businessman over 20 years her senior. But, this relationship turned sour as a result of his “menacing outbursts” and “emotional manipulation”. Fearing for her physical and mental well-being, she fled to a refuge.
Brandi Leifso says: “I was given a shared room decorated with women’s rights riot posters from the 1960s and ’70s, and my own list of chores. I was exhausted and an emotional wreck, but I didn’t let anyone know. While I was in the shelter, I needed something to distract me from my situation. I had daydreamed many times about starting a makeup line, and now I had the time and space to focus on it.
I had no experience in running a business, but I didn’t let that stop me. From the shelter, on my laptop, I watched Photoshop tutorials on YouTube and learned the basics of web design. Then I put my new skills to work. I built a website and created a catalog of products featuring lip glosses, bronzers and lipsticks by downloading stock images and photoshopping my brand name, ‘Karmaface’ onto them.”
Whilst this business was brought down by various contractual issues, Brandi’s entrepreneurial drive helped her launch a new one; Evio Beauty. In September 2014, Evio received an order for 250,000 concealers and the products were subsequently stocked in U.S. green beauty store Credo. Evio then secured private equity investment, before being purchased by Aurora in 2018.
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Brandi Leifso says: “Aurora is one of the biggest licensed producers of cannabis in the world and cannabis is a strong, and equal market for beauty companies; especially in Canada. We recognized that cannabis, and hemp, could help us in achieving our goal of a more conscious future by reducing the use of plastic, and being kinder to the environment and animals. We are completely cruelty-free. We’re looking forward to conducting more research on the extensive benefits and use of hemp and CBD in skincare and make-up.”
The new range includes three cannabis sativa seed-oil infused cosmetics – biodegradable hemp wipes, a serum, and a face mask – made with the Aurora Standard. Brandi’s experiences means she feels compelled to share her success, with a dollar from every product Evio sells going to the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Brandi Leifso says: “I’ve found that women tend not to share the darker parts of our lives because we’re afraid of being seen as vulnerable or weak — a fear that can be especially hard to tackle in business. But there’s strength in sharing how we’ve overcome challenges. I not only want to open up the conversation on mental health and domestic violence — and the often messy intersections between the two — but also to show other women that they don’t have to accept their circumstances, whatever they are.
I’m not angry about the abuse in my life, or at my abuser, who I know had his own struggles. The way forward isn’t through antagonism or vengeance. That’s not how the world changes. The world changes when women decide it’s time to be strong and go big.”
At the time of the purchase Aurora founder and CEO Terry Booth, said: “Innovative, pioneering, noble entrepreneurs like Brandi closely align with Aurora’s internal culture, strengthening our spirit of diversity and furthering our female empowerment initiatives.
My personal efforts have, for many years, supported the effort to end family violence, and have been aimed at helping society understand that we must support female empowerment. Aurora’s culture, since the first seed sown, has been one of fairness, inclusion and equality.
This has resulted in positions being awarded based on merit, regardless of gender, race or religion. There is no alternative. We’re excited to work with Brandi and the team at Evio Beauty to develop and launch this innovative new line of hemp seed and CBD-based cosmetic products to a large and growing audience worldwide.”
Evio recently moved into new premises in Toronto and now has 10 employees, with the business valued in the “millions of dollars”. Brandi is probably the youngest CEO in the city, although she recently discovered this can have its disadvantages.
“I was invited to speak on the business benefits of cannabis for an event at Jim Belushi’s house in Los Angeles. But the invitation came at the last minute — I wrote my presentation on the plane — and I didn’t find out where the event was being held until I was in the car on the way over, madly googling Jim Belushi because I had no idea who he was – I’m only 28!” she chuckled.