After failing to find a suitable product to cure her children’s eczema, Hong Mei Law decided to open her own natural skincare company, The Olive Tree. Made in Australia, The Olive Tree offers products that are vegan, sulphate and paraben-free. It is also free from synthetic colours, fragrances and cruelty and is biodegradable.
While she’s worked in a number of companies across very diverse industries, she says that when it comes to creating a good product, it all boils down to one simple principle – the customer. Hong Mei took the time out of her busy schedule to talk with MissMafia about her journey and why she sometimes wishes she was 10 years younger.
Before starting The Olive Tree, you were working with Levi’s. What made you decide to make the jump from fashion to the beauty industry?
I had worked with Levi’s for close to 10 years where I held a regional merchandising position. But while I was there, I had already begun developing The Olive Tree. I had sensed an internal reorganization within my company and that really prompted me to think about my career and my next steps. That’s when I decided to pursue The Olive Tree full time and I haven’t looked back since.
You’ve been in several industries prior to starting your company. Have any of your past experiences influenced the way you run The Olive Tree?
My past experience working with big multinationals have definitely helped me especially in terms of product development and understanding customer profiles and behaviour. I think regardless of what industry you’re in, it goes back to the same core principle – if you start with the consumers in mind, then you will do the right thing in terms of putting out a product that they will actually respond to. Even with The Olive Tree, we really take our customers’ feedback into account. If they’re not happy with a particular product, we then think about how we can change and improve it. At the end of the day, it’s important to make decisions based on the consumer and market situation rather than through your own assumptions.
The Olive Tree began because you were looking for a solution to your children’s eczema. How has being a mom impacted you in terms of how you run your business?
When I founded The Olive Tree, my starting point was really my kids and like any parent, I just wanted the best for them. My company was built on that and through The Olive Tree, I was able to share my own experiences. I feel that our customers can relate to this because I’m not merely selling a product. In terms of running a business, we’re a really small team so we definitely see each other as more of a family and it’s important that our staff are treated like so. I really believe the reason our team is so passionate about the brand is because they care about this family.
The fact that your products are made in Australia is often mentioned. Has that association to Australia helped your company even though The Olive Tree is a Malaysian brand?
Even in the conceptualisation phase, I was very adamant that our products be made in Australia simply because they have a long history of utilising local produce and ingredients to create very high quality natural products. Having that association is a definitely a huge plus for us because it gives our customers confidence in the quality of our products.
How do you compete with bigger brands like Jurlique and Origins?
We win on our weakness – yes, we’re small but we’re also agile. Being a small company like us definitely has its advantages in terms of turnaround time. For instance, as we develop our products based on consumer feedback, we’re able to make tweaks and adjustments in a short period of time. Being small also allows us to take a more personal approach with our customers especially in terms of engaging with them. I’m very proud to say that I personally tend to all the messages and inquiries we get from our website and social media channels.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since starting your own company?
Oh, how I wish I was 10 years younger! I wear a lot of hats at The Olive Tree. One minute I’m packing online orders, replenishing stock for my physical stores and tending to our social media accounts and the next I’m selling on the floor working a 12-hour shift! So yeah, it does take a lot out of me physically. But I’m never one to back down from a challenge. I’m always thinking of the end result and if I’m achieving my goals, it makes the 12 hours spent on my feet totally worth it.
What would your advice be to other women who are looking to start their own businesses?
To start any business, you need to have the money and plan financially. For women who are in the early stages of their careers, it’s important to have the discipline to save your earnings because it gives you a good foundation. Start by saving your bonus and then have the discipline to not touch it and continuously add on to it. Also, you can start small. Even though you need capital to start a business, you don’t necessarily need a lot of money for your first start-up. When I first started The Olive Tree, I didn’t spend a lot as we started selling our products online. We just had to invest in our stock. But most importantly, you need to trust your instincts and just do it!
When you first started The Olive Tree, you were selling a small range of soap bars as well as hair and body care products. Now you’ve expanded to include an aromatherapy line. What’s next for The Olive Tree?
As a company, we’re very passionate about sustainability. That’s reflected in not just our natural ingredients but also in our packaging and the fittings in our stores. But I think more needs to be done and as an entrepreneur, I firmly believe in educating our customers and the wider public on the importance of sustainability especially for our children’s future. That’s why I’m very excited to announce that we’re launching something very special this Christmas, so do stay tuned.
You went to RMIT in Melbourne. Given Melbourne’s strong coffee culture, what type of coffee best describes your personality?
A long black – I look strong and bitter but I’m warm at heart.
To read more on The Olive Tree, visit theolivetree-organic.com.
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