This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the incredible and inspiring endeavors that women in our community are pursuing every day. The stories of these strong, creative, and independent leaders push us to be our best selves and reach for our goals, no matter what they may be. This year, we caught up with two amazing female founders to learn more about what drives them: Carolyn Li Ming Geh of Li Organics, and Jackie Zupan of Tule Fog (who we partnered with in the past to create our exclusive Kayu candle!). Read their stories below.
Carolyn Li Ming Geh, Founder & CEO of Li Organics
Li Organics began (as many skincare journeys do) with a personal need—a need for natural skincare products that could soothe even the most sensitive skin. Founder Carolyn Li Ming Geh struggled with “wildly sensitive skin” for years, and it took a toll on her confidence—even as she was working as a model. “One of the things I noticed was that models were often the most insecure group of people despite being so gorgeous! And it was a little heartbreaking to see sometimes. I started to think, ‘Wow, insecurities are everywhere—despite how someone might look or the fame they might have’,” she says. She struggled to fit in at times, feeling out of place and uncomfortable in her own skin.
Her home life, however, was blooming with inspiration—sometimes literally. “We used to make things from scratch at home, like soy milk, and we grew our own herbs and plants in the garden—mango and papaya trees, etc.,—to make fruit and veggie smoothies.” The emphasis on working with nature started early.
“My dad, being my childhood hero, instilled in me from the time I was little [the importance of] products that are clean, without parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and all that.”
“(This was when I was 5 or 6!) Back then, my dad just seemed the like quirky health guy. But I loved it all and always have,” she tells us. The DIY spirit also ran deep in her family:
“My mother and grandmother have always inspired me in the ways that they were tenacious, hardworking and creative—never seeing a dead end or closed door as what they were, but just a signal to try things differently.”
“My grandmother never had an education (growing up during the Japanese occupation in Malaysia), but she was creative and industrious anyway and taught herself to sew incredibly well. She would sew the most beautiful quilts, blankets, rugs, and all sorts of things,” she says. It was these influences that made Carolyn uniquely qualified to start Li Organics.
“Something I would tell my much younger self is: never believe the lie that you have to be someone else to fit in. You don’t!”
Armed with a DIY ethos and deep respect for natural ingredients, Carolyn began making her own skincare products in college, “creating formulas at the kitchen counter” to meet her exact needs.
It wasn’t long before her kitchen counter operation turned into something bigger. “People around me started saying that the skincare I was already making should be turned into a company,” she says. “I thought seriously about it—and found that, yes, it made total sense!” But she wanted to be mindful about the way she approached the business. “The condition always was that if I was going to do it, I had to incorporate the bigger goals I had—not just having a skincare company for the sake of building a business, but
“building a business that truly nourished people, from the ingredients and the formulas, to the copy and design, and the company goals.”
Partnering closely with an underserved community and finding ways to give back became the heart and sole of the company. “Things really started to make sense and feel right when
“we decided to work with a local community in Malaysia to handcraft our products in small batches and donate 10% of the company’s profits back to the communities we work with to help build schools in poverty zones.”
This partnership has become integral to Li Organics. “We couldn’t do it without them honestly,” says Carolyn. “They’re so meticulous and skillful in their craft, and truly don’t take shortcuts which is something I so appreciate (as do our customers).” And the relationship works both ways. The company’s donations are well on their way to helping build their first school.
“Education is something really dear to my heart because, for a child, it’s the one thing they can look forward to during their day—to go to school and learn all they can play, and begin to see life’s possibilities beyond their villages and the poverty that many of them face,” says Carolyn. “It will be such an exciting day when we reach that milestone of having our first school built!”
Jackie Zupan, Founder & CEO of Tule Fog
As a candle lover herself, Jackie Zupan was concerned to find out about the lack of transparency when it came to what she was actually burning. “The home fragrance industry is crowded and unregulated,” she tells us.
“There is fragrance in almost everything we buy, but we know very little about what is actually in it.”
This realization inspired her to start Tule Fog, a candle company whose mission is to provide the clarity and education that other companies turn away from. Tule Fog candles use soy wax, a clean-burning alternative that does away with the emissions that come from traditional paraffin wax, and Jackie works to source clean, responsible ingredients for each scent she creates, partnering with her community and building trust with her clientele.
And it’s clear that they’re responding. “The Bay Area has been a huge part of our success,” says Jackie. “Local events and farmers’ markets got us off the ground, and we have seen huge support from local boutiques who now carry our products as well.” Jackie takes her role as a community member seriously, keeping an emphasis on Tule Fog’s locality and joining forces with other locals where she can.
“We love the Bay, and our products are inspired by the energy created here. Beyond the support from all of our customers, we’ve been able to source a lot of our materials locally and have formed great relationships with local businesses.”
As a new business owner, finding guidance through the early stages has been key. “The Bay fosters startup culture and there have been endless resources to help us meet other small businesses that are just getting started,” she says. But one of the keys to her success has been working thoughtfully at every stage, and resisting the urge to rush—so often a pressure in the startup world.
“Take your time. For everything you put out, make sure you are taking the time to listen and receive input,” she advises.
Of course, Jackie’s personal community has been a source of inspiration as well.
“I’ve been very blessed to be surrounded by inspiring women at each step of my journey,” she says. “From growing up with a strong mom, sister, grandmothers, cousins and aunts, to finding inspiring friendships through high school and college, to marrying into a family with strong women, the admiration continues to grow. Each of these women has inspired me to be who I am today.”
“We are the people we surround ourselves with and this month (every month, really) I am lucky to be in their presence and learn.”
With spring in the air, things at Tule Fog are even busier than usual. And you didn’t hear it from us, but a new scent release is on the horizon: “I won’t say too much about it, but it’s going to be the perfect candle/diffuser to freshen up your home for Spring!” Jackie tells us.
Kayu X Tule Fog Signature Candle