With her beautifully packaged, high quality ingredients—Emily Silverstein’s line of vegan bath + beauty products (Urban Oreganics) has EXPLODED over the last two years - earning rave reviews across her Etsy shop and her (Pinterest perfect) Instagram.
Emily and I have known each other for 10 years - dating back to high school when I began working at “Zeppo”—a neighborhood Italian restaurant where Emily (a senior in high school at the time) was one of their veteran servers. Despite being 3 years apart – Emily took me under her wing, and we stayed in touch even as we both went off to college at the University of Oregon (at different times).
After graduation, Emily returned to Zeppo (I did too), while also picking up a managerial position at Starbucks. Despite enduring the stress of two jobs, she never let it show -- and I always admired her ability to remain focused, patient, and dedicated to providing high quality customer service.
These days, she's got that same grit + drive – and it's blended with a fierce passion that will make her business UNSTOPPABLE. Keep reading to learn what sparked the idea for Urban Oreganics, her vision for the future, and how she's managed to build a thriving business - while also raising two kids from home!
Tell us about Urban Oreganics (more about your products, your mission and why you started it):
As a devoted vegan, to say I am health conscious would be an understatement.
But eating healthy is just one small piece of the puzzle. Upon reading that it takes 26 seconds for the toxins in our products to absorb into the bloodstream, I vowed to make a change. I was determined to make all my own home and body products, because I wanted everything under our roof to be 100% natural. Realizing that no [sane] person has the time to make all their own natural products, I decided to start offering my bath & beauty creations to the rest of the world in December, 2013.
What were you doing before you got the idea to start Urban Oreganics?
I previously worked as an interior designer, bartender, and most recently managed a Starbucks. While on maternity leave with my first child, Urban Oreganics was born. I knew I didn’t want to go back to working outside of the home, but also knew I needed to contribute financially to my household.
What was life like when you first launched your business?
A bit chaotic. I did have business experience (both from college and my previous career), but had never run my own business. It was a lot of trial and error, but that’s what makes the journey so fun!
What is a “day in the life” for you these days?
I have two little ones (2.5 years old and 2 months old), plus I am also the social media marketing manager for a local diaper company, gDiapers (which I also do out of my home). So my days are never boring. It’s constant go-go-go from the minute I wake up until I go to sleep each night. There’s always work to be done. It’s been hard to balance it all, especially now with a new little one in the mix. But thankfully, I’m VERY organized – lists and calendars get me through the week!
How do you differentiate yourself from competitors? (What makes your business one of a kind?)
My products are handmade (not manufactured on an assembly line). I also use only vegan and certified organic ingredients. On top of my products being healthy for the consumer, they’re better for the environment. Everything is packaged in glass (not plastic), and I even offer discounted refills so that you don’t have to get a new jar each time you reorder. And all of my orders are shipped in 100% recyclable materials – you won’t find any bubble wrap here!
Your Instagram is beautiful and your Etsy is filled with rave reviews! What were some ways that you were able to grow an online audience and spread word about your product?
Having a great product was key. But in the beginning I also rewarded my loyal customers and had a referral program, which really helped the company grow organically.
How did you learn how to run a business?
I do have a business degree, and real world business experience. But most of what I learned has been through trial and error. There’s nothing like hands-on experience. It just doesn’t compare to what you can learn from a book.
What has been the best part about owning your own business?
Setting my own schedule and making my family a priority.
Tell us about a few milestones from the last few years (personal and/or career)
o I hit 10k on Instagram in January 2016 (which happened to be the same day I gave birth to my son, Max).
o Urban Oreganics was featured in the Huffington Post
o We are in the process of adding onto our house to give me a new LARGER space to run the business… oh, and maybe a new master suite too… ;)
Do you use any time management techniques? (How do you get it all done?)
To-do lists! I swear I’d be a mess without them. I’ve also been able to value my time over costs lately – delegating more things out to my shop helpers and purchasing more packaging materials instead of making everything myself (which I had to do in the beginning to keep my costs low).
Did you always know you had the entrepreneurial spirit? (Can you recall some early signs?)
Not at all. My dad owned his own company when I was younger and I saw how challenging it was – I never thought I’d be doing the same thing!
Tell us about what you studied in college. Has that contributed to your business in any way?
I dual-majored in Business Marketing and Interior Architecture from the University of Oregon. Both of which definitely contributed to where I am now with Urban Oreganics. I learned valuable business and design skills.
Can you tell us about your first few jobs and how they led to the place you are today?
My first jobs were in the restaurant industry (waiting tables and bartending), where I learned the importance of customer service. I receive compliments from my customers all the time about how wonderful my customer service is. That’s such an important component of a successful business! I love that an aspect of my company that I work so hard on is actually noticed by my customers.
Have you experienced fear as a young business owner? Tell us how that felt (or feels), and what techniques you’ve used to combat it?
I’m sure I’ll hit a rough patch one day, but that day hasn’t come yet. I haven’t felt any (business related) fear since starting Urban Oreganics. I’ve been very fortunate in that sales have steadily grown at a rate I can still maintain. There have definitely been times where I’ve felt overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done… but I’d much rather that than be afraid of how I’ll pay my mortgage next month.
What was an early mistake (or misstep) you made in your career, and what did you learn from it?
I don’t necessarily think of it as a mistake, as I value the growth and journey I’ve been on with Urban Oreganics… but my packaging in the beginning left something to be, well, desired. In order to save money, I retrieved used baby food jars from friends and cleaned/sanitized them to package my products in. I spray painted the lid gold and slapped a basic sticker on the front. What’s inside hasn’t changed since we launched, but the outside has changed drastically!
What is your vision for the future? What big project do you want to tackle next?
I just take it as it comes. No big goals or plans. The company has already gone way beyond what I ever thought imaginable. My husband and I have joked about him being able to quit his job one day and run the business with me. We are surprisingly very close to that being an actual option! Which is just crazy to me! So that’s pretty cool.
Do you have any marketing and/or branding advice for those attempting to grow their personal brand online?
Use social media to your advantage, know your customer, and never stop trying new things.
What is an example of creative marketing that has helped you grow your business?
I think I’ve dabbled in a little bit of everything: referral programs, online and home shopping parties, paid social media campaigns…
What are you most PROUD of, when you look at the last 5 years of your career?
I’ve only been in business for (almost) 2.5 years now. I guess I’m just proud of how far it has come. It was sort of just supposed to be a hobby that was going to help me contribute a little bit (financially) to my household. But it has gone way beyond that. I mean, we’re adding onto our home for my business. Who does that?? I’m still in shock!
What’s the hardest part about being an entrepreneur?
Prioritizing personal vs. work life. Although I am able to make my own schedule, it often means I work much more than I should. Because my home is also my work space… there’s never a time when I can 100% check out. My mind is constantly on work. Maybe it’s about time for a vacation!
What keeps you excited and motivated about your business from day to day?
Getting messages from my customers thanking me for solving their skin issues. Many of my customers have been to dermatologists for years and have had skin problems that they thought would never end. Making the switch to natural products has made the world of difference for so many of them! In a society where pills (supposedly) solve everything, you’d be amazed at what nature can actually accomplish if you allow it to.
What do you wish you could have told a younger YOU when you were first starting out?
I’m perfectly happy with how everything is turning out. I think it’s important to make mistakes along the way, so you can learn and grow from them.
Are there any entrepreneurs or role models that have inspired your journey, or helped your career in some way? How have they helped you?
I also work for gDiapers, a Portland, OR based eco-diaper company. The husband and wife founders have been such an inspiration! They started this company 10 years ago and now have headquarters in three countries and sell all over the world. They’ve been great role models for me. They’re still so passionate about their product and their employees, even after 10 years.
Tell us about your support system! How have your friends and family contributed to your growth and success?
I truly am blessed. I haven’t encountered anyone who hasn’t been supportive yet. Whether it be word of mouth, or coming over to help me package up products on a day off, I owe so much to the people in my circle.
Do you have advice for young people that want to do something creative, or entrepreneurial but don’t know where to begin – or don’t know how to find their passion? (Or- are there any techniques that you’ve found helpful for coming up with good ideas // sparking creative thoughts? )
It wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I realized how important it was to provide others with safe products and to help keep the planet going as long as I possibly can. I think your passion will find you, just don’t force it.
Wait for it to come.
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