Meet Bee Shapiro, Writer and Founder of Beauty Company Ellis Brooklyn
Here at Zady, we’re a bit obsessed with Bee Shapiro. Bee is a former lawyer, writer for publications like The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Glamour, and founder of the beauty company Ellis Brooklyn, a brand we are proud to carry. Named after her daughter, this line of lotions and candles free of hormone-disrupting phthalates and parabens was developed in collaboration with famed perfumer Jerome Epinette, and is a prime example of how products can be as effective and non-toxic as they are luxurious.
We sat down with this multihyphenate and expecting mom to learn more about how she decided to start her own business, the difference between writing about beauty products and creating them, and the daily challenges and triumphs she faces as a beauty entrepreneur.
You first contemplated starting Ellis Brooklyn during your pregnancy. Before that, had you experienced a desire to explore pursuits in addition to your writing career? Before Ellis Brooklyn, I actually wanted to write a novel. I think in total I drafted 3 different opening chapters to 3 very different storylines. In short, I wasn’t getting anywhere. The toughest part about novel-writing was how lonely it was. I was already spending my working days writing for The New York Times and other publications so to also spend my free time chained to a computer was a true trial. In the end, I put novel writing aside, but who knows, perhaps a project for the future?
What is the most rewarding part of running your own business? What tasks do you enjoy the most and least? The most rewarding part is creating the fragrances with our perfumer Jerome Epinette and also working on the formulas. It’s such a collaborative and specific synergy that happens and also such a thrill when you get it right. In writing, you are usually alone during your creative process so it’s a joy to work with a partner or team in creating something. And also, I just love fragrance! It’s such a subjective world and one of the most mind-blowing parts is how fragrance is so difficult to describe in words. Sometimes, it’s even easier to reference a song than put a word description to a note.
Is it more challenging to balance business and family as an entrepreneur than it was when you were strictly a writer? In my case, definitely. I may be a beauty writer and editor but being on the other side of things is completely new in so many ways. I had to play catch-up just picking up the retailer lingo in some instances or how the actual manufacturing process went. When I was only writing, I was already familiar with the industry so balancing my career and family was smoother sailing.
Have the skills you have developed as a writer been useful in your current role, or have you largely had to develop a new skill set? I think words will always be useful in any profession or business, especially in our email culture. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-worded missive!
Have you had moments when you thought that the transition to beauty entrepreneur wouldn’t work? If so, how did you get through those times? So many times! It was particularly tough in the beginning when I was looking for things like a box supplier, label maker, etc. and didn’t have a physical product yet. These suppliers are not easy to find on the Internet so I had to ask for so many favors just to get introductions. I thought about quitting about a year into researching for these suppliers but by then I had asked for so many favors, I would have completely embarrassed myself if I had told these people who stuck their neck out for me that I was quitting. Don’t underestimate the power of peer pressure!
You have now made multiple successful career transitions, from lawyer to writer and now beauty entrepreneur. What advice would you give to others who want to make similar big moves professionally? I would say really take time to know yourself both your strengths and your faults. Making a career change is not easy, but if you’re honest with yourself about what this change will require it’ll put things in perspective and you can make a realistic plan. If you don’t have something realistic you’ll never make the change because it won’t suit your life. It will feel like the dream that it is.
As a beauty writer with bylines in The New York Times and Glamour, it must have been awesome to test out so many different beauty products. Has the insight you received from this experience been useful as you develop Ellis Brooklyn? Not going to lie, being a beauty writer is pretty awesome. I love, love testing products. It absolutely makes you picky and makes you aware of what’s out there, which has been invaluable in creating Ellis Brooklyn. Otherwise, I would be crafting a body milk that perhaps another brand has already perfected. Because I’ve had the opportunity to try and test such a broad and deep selection of products, I feel lucky that I’ve truly seen what’s out there.
As someone who covered the beauty industry for years, is running a beauty company what you expected? Yes and no. The creative part is just as fantastic as I suspected, but the actual day-to-day nitty gritty of producing an actual, physical good is something I could never have imagined. As a writer, I trade in words and I don’t have to think about inventory, shipping and warehouse space. So much is new to me that it’s exciting everyday.
What parallels do you see between the organic beauty movement and the sustainable fashion movement that Zady pioneers? The two movements are completely aligned! Both movements are a reflection of the wonderful upside of our information age—we simply know more about where our little luxuries come from and can make better, more thoughtful choices.
Bee Shapiro was photographed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn by Matthew Johnson. She is wearing The Zady Collection Japanese button down and gabardine trench from our spring 2016 collection, as well as our Soko horn cuff and a ring by A Peace Treaty.