“How a health scare wound up my lust for life”
a Chat with Founder and CEO of Red Flower, Yael Alkalay
The idea behind Red Flower didn’t bloom traditionally like most start-ups in the beauty industry. It didn’t come from a passion for mascara and lipstick, it came from a live or die need to be re-connected with her senses.
While skiing in France during her second year at Columbia University Business School, Yael Alkalay suffered a stroke, losing all feeling of her right side along with the ability to speak. Throughout the three week long process of hospital recovery, she was fighting to regain her senses, until a friend showed up with a bottle of shampoo. Using a firm touch, and an intensely strong mint product, a simple hair washing lifted Yael from a dark place, and empowered her to move beyond the impact of her stroke. She recognized there the full power of scent and touch to positively shift health and well-being and she wanted to bring that boost to others, just like it did for her.
VH: Once you identified your passion for enhancing lives with Red Flower, how did you get the company off the ground?
YA: After the intensity of a total sensory recall, I had a very clear vision for bringing wellness into the beauty space. My drive to positively impact the way our customers experience beauty, to encourage actions and habits that enhance the way they feel and live through our products and techniques fills me everyday. Getting this manifesto off the ground was full of challenge and excitement – creating something from nothing and finding a way to meaningfully deliver in the highly competitive beauty space requires direction, planning, passion and … funding.
A manifesto is nothing without a clear plan and the ability to deliver returns to each shareholder, and in our case that includes Columbia University, our customers and the environment. My timing for the initial round of funding was good – Columbia Business School is unique in its support of entrepreneurs and offers seed capital to innovative business plans. I remember standing before the Columbia (Lang Fund) board, including world-renowned VCs and wondering how I was going to persuade them to fund my concept. When one of the board members, Russ Carson, inhaled the scent of our proposed italian blood orange petal-topped candle and I saw his serious face turn into a smile I knew then that I would succeed. The beauty industry was ready for change and I was ready to pioneer that change.
What was the first product offered?
We launched with Petal Topped Candles, which have cultivated an obsessive following and Organic Flower Teas, which are no longer part of the collection. I learned early on that with limited funding, focus is essential and supporting two different distribution channels was costly. I wanted to do something that would fully express the internal side and touch upon all the senses and the tea component was a big part of that, but in the end we had to choose one focus to start with. And the candles touch upon all the senses from the unfolding essential oil scents that fill a space, to the petals on top that encourage taking time to be in the moment from creating a small ritual of adding them to a warm bath, scenting a letter or a drawer, to lightning the match and being in the presence of light.
What has been the best moment for Red Flower so far?
One story that especially exemplifies our achievements was written from a soldier while serving in Afghanistan. That Red Flower could uplift someone from such a deeply ravaged place gives meaning to our work. “GI James” came across a Red Flower Icelandic Moonflower body wash, and something called to him to use it in the shower, the scent and the texture left him feeling so much better, gave him that vitality boost to go on. For the few brief minutes of bathing, it took him to a more positive place. I often re-read the letter with appreciation and to remember that if it is a blessing to create, doing it well then, is essential.
Any final thoughts on our theme of the month, that one big idea?
The very best ideas, are the ideas that are intended to outlast you. The most valuable ideas are timeless and deliver life-changing impact; Red Flower is emblematic of that belief. In everything we do, we strive to benefit the way people feel and live, reconnected to the euphoria of an awaken energy and a sense of well-being filled with radiant potential.
Red Flower products and services are available at The Spa. Trust us, you’ll keep coming back for more.