By Danielle Pope
Observing Melodie Reynolds at work is like watching a magician. You can closely watch everything she does, but you still don’t quite know how she does it. On a summer day in June, a model sits quietly as Reynolds’ brush flits from eye to eye, lip crease to cheekbone. A few sweeps, and the model’s face is glowing. Effervescent laughter fills the room. There’s talk of busy lives, eyeshadow, favourite wines and self-image. Sometimes, there are tears — but the mascara holds up well.
Reynolds is the founder and chief adventurer of Elate Clean Cosmetics. She’s also the woman on a mission to build a better business model for beauty — one that focuses on self-confidence and well-being, through a core principle of her own: kindness.
“I struggled with self-esteem my whole life, so my journey into wellness was really about coming to terms with how to love myself,” she says. “Today, when I look in the mirror, I love who I am. I can’t tell you you’re worth it; you have to know you are, but I can give you a few tools to take good care of yourself.”
When Everything Changes
A month before she was set to launch Elate, Reynolds went into the hospital for a stomach ache that wouldn’t go away. As a lifelong healthy person, she had been in hospital only twice before: “once to have my wisdom teeth removed, and once to have my baby.” So when the doctor told her oncologists believed she had Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer, she was in disbelief.
“I was about to launch this company focused on feeling good about who you are, but I might not have any hair and be going through cancer treatment,” she says. “I sat down with my business partner, who is also my husband, and he said, ‘If you want to just stop now, I’m fine with that.’ And I was, too. I was okay letting go of my dream if I had to, which made me realize I was doing it for the right reasons. I was also prepared to go ahead.”
But after two months of tests and hospital stays, Reynolds was granted a surprise: a clean bill of health. The scare had been a false alarm, and the results, negative. Although she would need routine check-ups, life could go back to “normal.”
“I was so relieved, but also angry — it felt like I’d wasted two months,” she says. “Yet I also believe the universe points you in the right direction. I’d been so busy making sure [Elate’s] launch was perfect, and it was as though someone pressed a giant pause button and said, ‘Are you sure you want this to be your life?’ I realized I needed to focus on what I wanted my life to look like, not just what my business would look like, if I was going to go through with it.”
In November 2014, Elate launched as a clean, vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics line — one Reynolds ensured would perform against the competition, be affordable and use Canadian materials. More than that, she was creating a company that would give people the opportunity to focus on self-care. As Elate’s mantra states: “Putting on mascara isn’t going to change the world, but it may change your perception of yourself, just a little, so you can.”
Getting to Here
Before Elate was even on the horizon for Reynolds, she was a director for a large cosmetics company, but life wasn’t beautiful — she was suffering from severe self-confidence issues and struggling in her personal life.
“I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to be different,” she recalls. “I wanted to live a more fulfilling life and have a deep connection with my self-care and self-esteem, because I came from a place of having none. So I packed up my things and moved across the country.”
Soon after arriving in Victoria from London, Ontario, her environment, friendships and relationships became healthier. Some days, she says, she even liked herself. She also became serious about “cleaning up” what went into her body. Yet her professional role required her to sell products she no longer believed in. When she asked why certain ingredients were used, she was told, “This is how we do things.”
Reynolds decided to leave the company she worked for, unaware that doing so would plant a seed for her future. With newfound freedom, she moved with her partner to the U.K. and started taking classes — how to cook, sew and make clothing. One class taught her how to create skincare products out of natural ingredients. She was hooked. As she overhauled her moisturizers and cleansers, she finally turned to her makeup kit. It was time to create a healthier option.
“Marketing in the beauty industry has been pushing fear and inadequacy,” says Reynolds. “I wanted to create a company that tells women ‘you are great just as you are’ and that self-confidence is the best form of self-expression you can wear. I wanted to give people a choice, because choice equals freedom.”
Today, Elate ships over 60 parcels a week to clients, with three to four wholesale orders a month. The products, like Elate’s sheer lipsticks, pressed powders, eye-colour palettes, universal crèmes and legendary mascara, can be found in boutiques, salons and toxin-free beauty boxes throughout Canada and the U.S. Elate is the title sponsor of the Women’s Health and Fitness Summit presented by Bellyfit in Victoria this September, and is sponsoring the first Perth Eco Fashion Week in Australia in November.
Reynolds’ goal isn’t to convince people to stop using certain products — it’s to provide a great cosmetics option that happens to be clean. Alongside the business, she devotes a lot of her energy to cancer patients, offering free makeovers and consultations to people who’ve been through treatment, and teaching women about the importance of kind self-care and “ritual” through skin-care workshops. She hopes one day Elate will be a global beauty brand, in the hearts and cosmetic bags of women everywhere.
“Routine becomes ritual when the act is more important than the result,” says Reynolds. “How you show yourself love is essential, because that fuels self-confidence. Too often, anti-self-care becomes our routine. We get used to getting through the day, because we’re focused on others’ needs. It takes confidence to realize you are important.”
As the mother of a three-year-old daughter and a two-year-old business, Reynolds is intimately familiar with the challenge of carving out time for self-care. Her nourishment comes from being in nature, playing with her daughter, cooking and the occasional glass of wine.
“Starting my business wasn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It was a way for me to make a small difference in the lives of others,” says Reynolds.
“The thing about kindness is that it means more than sending a nice email or sharing kind words. If you can infuse everything you do with kindness, then you embody kindness in the world — and everyone gets a little peace from that.”