Who says luxury and sustainability can’t go hand-in-hand? North American eco-friendly lifestyle brand Unwrapped Life is redefining the sustainable beauty space with a mission to reduce single-use plastics and excessive packaging. 

Working from a belief that an earth-friendly, low-waste and plastic-free lifestyle can be just as self-indulgent as any other, Unwrapped Life empowers consumers to think critically about the products they buy through their carefully curated selection of sustainable and attractive products for hair, body and home.

We caught up with founders Hayley McKenzie and Arden Teasdale.

SDTC: Can you describe the “eco-anxiety” you felt before starting Unwrapped Life?

Hayley: I’ve always been somewhat of an anxious person (Arden and I bonded over our shared experiences with anxiety early in our friendship), but nothing could have prepared me for the crushing anxiety I experienced after the birth of my daughter in 2015. When I should have been enjoying getting to know this incredible new life my husband and I created, I was plagued by intense fear of external and somewhat uncontrollable factors, mainly relating to the environment and pollution. I would quite literally be brought to tears and feel overwhelmed with panic about what kind of world we are leaving for our kids with all the damage we are causing.

The realization of the source of my anxiety led me to good ol’ Google, where I input search terms like “anxiety about the environment” and learned that eco-anxiety is a real thing characterized by anxiety or worry about the ecological threats facing the earth. My fears felt legitimized, and I felt empowered to help make a difference by taking action. I’m also not ashamed to share that I went to the doctor and got treated for postpartum anxiety, which made a world of difference for me.

Were there any challenges in getting the company off the ground?

Hayley: In one word: yes! I had a one-year-old daughter and returned to my previous job at the end of my maternity leave, so [I was] working full-time with a young family and Arden was juggling several consulting positions when we launched Unwrapped Life.

Our original vision was a high-end refill and plastic-free shop (which would have been the first of its kind in Calgary), but not wanting to bankrupt our families, we started out small in one of the local farmers markets and hustled our butts off. It was difficult to make ends meet with the market only being open four days a week and our time spread so thin.

Once I learned I was pregnant again, and we realized we couldn’t continue at the market, we changed course and took our vision online. This was a pivotal turning point for us. I will never forget launching our website two weeks after my baby boy was born! It was a blessing in disguise that the orders took a bit to start rolling in because we were on a steep learning curve with the online retail space. We laugh a lot that we still don’t know what we’re doing most days, but we keep pushing ahead, knowing our mission to reduce single-use plastics is needed at this time!

What are your favourite or best-selling items from your product line?

Arden: My personal favourite product is our Detoxifier hair bar duo. These bars have activated charcoal, which helps pull toxins from the hair and scalp, along with soothing aloe to help combat chemical processing. These wonder bars help keep my blonde highlights looking ashy rather than brassy, and the scent is totally intoxicating!

I’m also loving our newly launched stainless steel straws. They come in a low-profile linen pouch, along with a handy cleaning brush: the perfect zero-waste accessory to really class up any drink (from water to a nice cocktail) on-the-go!

What lessons have you learned as an entrepreneur in this industry?

Arden: What stands out most for us is that teamwork really does make the dream work, especially for us, as we are doing something a bit different with selling essentially unpackaged products. It’s not as simple as picking a packaged product off a warehouse shelf and popping it in the mail or sending it to a retailer. We are challenged to think creatively, every step of the way, to minimize single-use plastics throughout our entire supply chain.

We are so fortunate to have a great group of women working together daily, to bring our vision to reality! Everyone is juggling roles and responsibilities, and each day brings a completely new adventure. We all lean on each other for support through the highs and lows. I think that’s something unique to being an entrepreneur: there really is no “safety net” other than the people you surround yourself with, so you better make sure you have a great tribe!

What do you do to be eco-friendly outside of Unwrapped Life?

Arden: We aren’t perfect by any means, but we really try to live by zero-waste principles. That means bringing reusable water bottles, straws and coffee mugs with us when we head out the door. And for grocery shopping, we always try to bring reusable bags, including smaller bags for produce and bulk items like nuts and seeds.

Generally, we are on a mission to consume less! We don’t partake in “retail therapy” or go on shopping sprees (which are almost always unnecessary). If and when we do need to buy things, we try to invest wisely by buying ethical, local and eco-friendly products, or we at least buy pieces that we know will last us into the future. It’s a work in progress, but progress is better than doing nothing!

What’s in store for Unwrapped Life? Any products you’re hoping to sell in the future?

Hayley and Arden: We are always looking at new product development, as we hope to become a leading source for unique low- or zero-waste products. Recently, we launched our line of sleek and reusable stainless steel straws in gold, rose gold and onyx, as well as our reusable facial rounds, which are great for removing make up and applying toner. Next up: bamboo toothbrushes and (shhh…) the first ever zero-waste baby collection!