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Vanessa Jilly: How To Run An Organic Nation

vanessa jilly organic nation

Most interviews with an entrepreneur usually begin with updates on the latest business happenings. But Vanessa Jilly wants to talk about resilience instead.

“It is probably the biggest thing my parents gave me,” says the co-founder of skincare brand, Organic Nation. ”Dad was a farmer and then an entrepreneur, and had many small businesses. As a child, I watched my parents rise up and I watched them go bankrupt. And I watched them always survive.”‘

”Their level of resilience rubbed off on me. They taught me to always believe in myself and keep moving forward. To let nothing stop me.”

It is not so much of a triumphant declaration than it is the earnest sharing of a life philosophy. That philosophy is the twine that weaves together Vanessa’s business and personal decisions, and acts as the guiding light behind each one.

Between the late 1980s and 2014, Vanessa and her husband, George, were the driving forces behind two reputable skincare brands, Jurlique and Aveda, and their own spa brand, Uspa.

Two years ago, the couple reset and refocused their goals, which led them to make their boldest move yet. They sold Uspa and launched their own skincare brand, Organic Nation.

woman with drive caught up with Vanessa who is gearing up for the next great phase of her entrepreneurial life.


Does the entrepreneurial gene run in your family?
My father was an entrepreneur and had always worked for himself so that was my normal. George and I have never wanted to work for anyone else. We wanted the buck to stop with us. We wanted the responsibilty and control over our decisions, which can be quite scary, but also very liberating.


How did your parents’ bankruptcy shape your outlook on life?
I was in primary school and I did not really understand it because my life did not change. I still went to school, my parents still loved me and there was still food on the table. It just meant that dad could no longer borrow money from the bank. But he just picked himself up and started again. He taught me that life is too short and you just have to keep carrying on.


When was your own resilience last put to the test?
In the last two years when we started Organic Nation. We have been in this industry for a long time and had a pretty solid idea of how long it would take to get packaging and product development done. We estimated it would take 12 months at the most. It ended up taking two years.

That meant everything got stretched out. We were juggling family, finances and everything else. But we pulled through because we asked ourselves, what is the worst thing that could happen and could we handle it? And we could. It was not an ideal situation but it was not rock bottom either.


Take us back two years ago. What led to the idea of Organic Nation?
I have always loved what we do but eight years ago, I began feeling like things did not fit with who I was and who I wanted to be. I was travelling, training and opening spas all over the world yet I kept telling myself there had to be more than that. So I went back to university to study sustainability because I believed it needed to be the next phase, and it was a really big eye-opener for me.

George and I were also ready for a change. We had been running Uspa for 15 years and needed to re-energise ourselves by doing what we truly wanted to do in a business we love, which is skincare.

So we talked about redefining the skincare industry by having a better understanding of where the ingredients came from and how it could be sustainable. We wanted a simple range of products and a brand we could have fun with. Organic Nation has certainly given us a new lease on life.


How does Organic Nation stand apart in an industry where the words “organic” and ”sustainable” are common place?
Organic Nation marries certified organic ingredients with high precision science. Most products either specialise in one or the other. What is really interesting is that our products are being picked up by a lot of high-tech medical spas as well as day spas.

A brand needs a base in the professional industry to gain more credibility. Organic Nation is backed by professionals in the day spa and medical spa markets, and we are getting great results from both.


What vision do you keep returning to?
It is a bit of an overused word but it is authenticity. And for me personally, also transparency. I am a big believer in telling the truth and if I do not know where a certain ingredient comes from, I will dig as far down as I can to find out.


How to you extend that authenticity via social media in a beauty industry?
One of our brand captions is, “we are for beautiful skin, not beautiful models.” I have two teenage girls and although both of them have a very good sense of who they are, I have seen how young girls are tainted by social media.

My daughters can read between the lines of marketing campaigns but being bombarded every day by social media images of the latest models can be exhausting. I constantly tell them that what they see on social media is not that person’s reality. And it is really tough when you are in the beauty industry because ultimately people want to see the world’s perception of beauty.


Where do you see Organic Nation 10 years from now?
I would like to still see us at the helm. And I would like to see Organic Nation being a strong force and ruling the world! There will definitely be more products in the range too.

George and I also have aspirations that one of our children will take over the business. The kids know about this aspiration and they are not interested! We try to explain how fantastic it is to be running a business in such a great industry. Why would they not want to be part of it?


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