At RISE by Sundara, we are committed to using our platform to highlight the stories of inspirational female entrepreneurs worldwide. Our intern, Emma Calvo, sat down with Nelly Reyes, the founder of Freshie, a feminine soap brand with all natural plant based products and prides itself in having no paraben, no sulfate, and no DEA for a cleaner and safer experience for women. Nelly Reyes is originally from the Dominican Republic and has grown her business exponentially in the United States, selling out in stores across the country. She sat down to share her professional journey with us, from starting in her father’s successful business Lemisol, to becoming a founder of a brand dedicated to women’s empowerment and health.
"Tell us more about how you got to where you are today - what originally inspired your entrepreneurial journey?"
I was creative in high school. Before I graduated I thought I would go to school and do advertising
and design. I ended up instead moving to New Jersey to go work for my father’s company. He had an import and distribution company based in Jersey that imported his own brand of products, including the Caribbean’s leading feminine care brand, Lemisol. I went to work with him right out of high school and was involved in every area of the business. I always tell people, I cleaned the toilets but I also trained the sales force, the distributors who would sell us. This was the early 90s, so we were just trying to break into the US market. I really took it all in. I loved it, I learned so much. I learned that women really loved the sensation they got from the products my dad launched. I also learned that a lot of women were very sensitive to it, so that’s kind of where it started.
I thought there might be a way to bring the same type of a product to a wider market.
It wasn’t until I moved to California many moons later in 2005, I was working for a media company, as I had decided about five years before that I wanted to work outside of the family business because I felt like I wasn’t really exposed to the real world. There I discovered the wonderful California living that was so focused on healthy living and eating well. That's where I learned for the first time that it isn't just about what you eat and put in your body but what you put on your body that can affect your health. I was looking to replace every product I used with a natural plant based option, and without sulfates and parabens, to replace the things I had now learned weren’t good for you.
When I launched freshie™, there were maybe one or two natural fem care brands in market, now there are a bunch of brands, even the big brand names that were around forever and had not done any innovating, are now in the natural space or at least claiming to be. But when I launched freshie™ there really weren’t any. Definitely there was nothing in the natural space that gave you that tingly minty sensation of freshness and so I created it.
How did you create your brand and start your company?
I set out to launch a brand and create a company that was going to exist for more than selling products. I’m still growing it, I’m still building it, because I know I have not reached the full potential of freshie™. But it has done well, and I found that like me, other women were interested in looking for a non-toxic fem wash solution. If you practice self-care as part of your feminine hygiene routine, and enjoy the sensation of freshness, then freshie™ is perfect for you.
I learned so much that I didn’t know before. I learned things like women’s skin is 8 times more absorbent in their intimate area than on the rest of their body, I didn’t know these things having worked for my dad for so many years because we had just been selling conventionally made products. What I found was that I needed to educate women on the importance of avoiding the harsh ingredients that they were accustomed to using
Launching freshie™ was as much about women's empowerment as it was about selling products that are better for women’s health
I had more and more women write me emails and share their experiences. They may have been living in discomfort for a long time and by switching to freshie™, they said it made them feel fresh, and at the same time was not irritating and drying like their conventional cleanser. I realized that I was actually on to something more than I knew when I first thought of launching freshie.
What challenges did you face, and what did you learn?
You learn who to work with, who not to work with. I learned the things you have to have the answers to before moving forward and making decisions. Right when I launched my company I became a new mother, and as my child turned one, he started showing developmental delays. So I was dealing with these personal challenges while also dealing with these business challenges.
Really staying with it is a challenge on some days. You have to really believe in what you’re doing and really care about taking it to the level that you envisioned you wanted to bring it to so that you can continue to be motivated, deal with the challenges, and keep moving forward. Every level you enter in the business brings its own set of challenges. I think a lot of people give up when the challenges become significant, they don’t see the opportunities.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
You have to really care about what you are doing. Make sure you’re not becoming an entrepreneur just because it is a fad or you think something is fun or it'll be something cute to be a part of. You have to really care about it because that’s what keeps you going when the challenges come, and they will come for sure. If you care about it you will stick with it.
To my younger self, I would say: do more of everything you want to do. So many times our fears of whether we can achieve what we’re setting out to achieve, decide whether we can really do it or not. You have to try what you believe in.
How does your work add value to your life?
From the very beginning it was really important to me that freshie™ be a company that supports women. It adds value to my life when I do work through non profit organizations, via donations, and sometimes product donations. Whenever I can, I use the opportunity to inspire women, and show
them that they can do whatever they set their minds to.
The type of feminine care company I want to build was launched by me, a woman. A couple of the brands that were the dominant brands in the feminine hygiene market for so long were men launched and men run. Men were deciding what products we should use for our intimate hygiene, deciding how they market it to us and how they targeted women. As a woman, working to meet my own needs, I know exactly what I want to do with this company and its products.
Who do you look up to?
Any woman who shows up and makes the best out of the life she has. There’s all the obvious women we admire, the Oprah’s of the world. But for example, when I see the women in Dominican Republic, I see women that haven’t had the opportunities I’ve had and don’t have the same resources I have and have had, and yet they're riding their little mopeds, and sometimes they're pregnant and they have a child in the front, and everyday they’re getting up and they're going for it. Some of them are selling things on the side of the road, or they have a tiny business where they sell empanadas, and I see this spirit in them that I truly admire.
I admire the women in countries like the one’s RISE by Sundara supports. It is so special to see that when women are given an opportunity they thrive, and they move their families forward, and they move their communities forward. I admire those women.
It’s the women who are the leaders in their homes, but in this society, there is an assumption that it is the man who is leading, it’s the man who is feeding the kids, but it’s not true it’s the women who are doing it. They’re the ones making sure the kids are going to the best possible school, the best ones that they can afford, and who are making sure that the kids are eating and are clothed. We who haven't lived it in the way they have, and may not fully understand how hard it is for them. These women push through in spite of everything.
I feel like in Latin America, women need more opportunities, and they need the education that will help them to understand what those opportunities are, in order to understand what their own worth is, and be able to do more for themselves, their families, and their communities. A lot of them have so much more to give.
Be sure to check out Nelly's brand freshie™ at https://www.freshiefemcare.com/