Business Entrepreneur of the Week Women Who Lead

Three Ships Co-Founders, Connie Lo and Laura Burget, Didn’t Let The Pandemic Stop Their Clean Skincare Launch

Three Ships
Co-Founders of Three Ships, Laura Burget (left) and Connie Lo (right).

Three Ships has set sail on its journey to take over the clean skincare world. 100 percent natural, 100 percent affordable and 100 percent transparent, the brand is quickly becoming a favourite of those who care about what they’re putting on their skin.

Business grad, Connie Lo, and chemical engineer, Laura Burget, were only 23 years old when their shared passion for clean and affordable skincare led them on their entrepreneurial paths. Now, three years later, Three Ships (formerly NIU Body) is rebranding—during a pandemic nonetheless.

Rebranding during a global pandemic was the craziest but most rewarding journey,” said Lo. “We started working on our rebrand back in October of 2019, and were planning to launch it in the spring of 2020. Unbeknownst to us, the world had other plans in motion!”

Despite the rocky waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, Three Ships managed to continue on its course of success. Although the brand name has changed, the simple and effective all-natural ingredients of its products remain the same.

“We believe you don’t need a long list of unnecessary ingredients in your skincare products, and you don’t need a 12 step skincare routine to achieve beautiful results,” said Lo.

As clean skincare fanatics themselves, Lo and Burget have remained steadfast in creating products with ingredients that are recognizable. In addition to using a high concentration of ingredients like aloe, jojoba oil, green tea and coconut oil, they created an ingredient glossary to educate consumers about why each ingredient of a Three Ships product is used. More so, they are committed to ensuring that their products are affordable, so that clean skincare is accessible.

In an industry that is highly competitive, Three Ships has managed to stand out thanks to Lo and Burget’s commitment to their principles of natural products, affordability and transparency. If their perseverance and determination to launch Three Ships despite the COVID-19 pandemic is an indicator to the future of the brand, it should be smooth sailing from here. 

“We’ve learned over time not to take ourselves too seriously, firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, and choose to see the bright side,” said Lo. “By re-framing the situation, we expressed gratitude for having more time to thoughtfully plan our launch strategy, take some time to relax, and recharge before launching Three Ships.”

For this week’s Entrepreneur of the Week spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Three Ships Co-Founders, Connie Lo and Laura Burget about disrupting the skincare industry, rebranding during a global pandemic and what they’re looking forward to next. 

Q&A

As a chemical engineer and business woman, how did you two find each other, and what inspired you to create Three Ships (formerly NIU Body)?

Connie: We were introduced through a mutual friend, who knew that Laura was thinking of starting a natural makeup remover company, and that I was a clean beauty fanatic. He suggested that we meet up for dinner, which essentially turned into a three hour business meeting! We realized from the get-go that we would make perfect business partners; we have complete opposite personalities, but are extremely aligned in our values. Laura asked me to be her co-founder that night, and we were off to the races!

Honestly, we were inspired to create Three Ships after personally struggling with the natural skincare space for so long. Natural products are either extremely expensive, or cheap but full of chemicals. We couldn’t find a non-toxic and vegan skincare alternative that was actually affordable, so we decided to create our own line! We started with just $4,000 of our own money, and bootstrapped the business from there.

How do you see Three Ships changing the way consumers interact with skincare products? What sets Three Ships apart from more familiar brands?

Connie: One of the big frustrations consumers have when they shop or use skincare products is that they don’t trust brands that market themselves as natural, and for good reason. Many brands use greenwashing when advertising their products, claiming a bunch of benefits when in reality the concentration of beneficial ingredients isn’t enough to have tangible results. For example, it’s common to see a product advertising itself as a Vitamin C serum with a big and juicy orange on the front, but when you read the ingredients you see that Vitamin C is at the very end of the ingredient list. People are tired of having pseudo-natural skincare brands misleading them, leading to distrust in the market. 

Three Ships is changing this by being 100 percent transparent in its messaging. We proudly display every ingredient on our product packaging, including the hero ingredient in the product name. We also have a handy ingredient glossary on our website that consumers can use to decipher exactly what each ingredient is/does, and why we use it. Furthermore, we’re proudly Leaping Bunny certified cruelty-free and vegan, and focus on what we can remove from the ingredient list versus the cheap fillers many brands add to reduce costs. 

We believe all beauty products should be 100 percent natural and 100 percent affordable. We will continue to only make beauty products that are effective, natural, and affordable until this becomes the industry standard.

What inspired the new name? 

Connie: The inspiration for Three Ships comes from an old myth we came across. For thousands of years, there have been tales of adventurers going to great lengths to find the mystical Fountain of Youth. Some legends even suggest that it was discovered by a very small fleet of just three ships. While we know this to be a myth, great discoveries can still be made with limited resources.

We embrace this less is more mindset and use this philosophy to chart our course as a company. We believe you don’t need a long list of unnecessary ingredients in your skincare products, and you don’t need a 12 step skincare routine to achieve beautiful results.

What lessons did you learn about rebranding when navigating all that comes with it during a pandemic?

Connie: What didn’t we learn?! Rebranding during a global pandemic was the craziest but most rewarding journey. We started working on our rebrand back in October of 2019, and were planning to launch it in the spring of 2020. Unbeknownst to us, the world had other plans in motion! When COVID-19 forced the lockdown, our supply chain was significantly hit. As we source our ingredients from all around the world, we weren’t able to get our ingredients in time for our launch (e.g. many of our ingredients come from Italy, which was hit extremely hard). We also decided not to launch our rebrand in the middle of the pandemic, as we knew that there were many more important issues at hand that required people’s attention. 

Finally, we had to get really creative with our launch strategy. None of our buyers were accepting physical samples so we had to show them our new products via Zoom calls. It’s incredible to reflect back on this, as all the retailers we pitched brought our new brand onboard, which is a huge testament to the rebrand’s success! We also had to do virtual desk-sides with editors to explain our rebrand instead of in-person chats, and canceled our big launch event. Instead, we launched a viral refer-a-friend program to drum up hype for the launch. Overall, we’re incredibly grateful for the support we received from our #Crew3S, and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Three Ships is 100 percent vegan. Was there any difficulty in creating the formulas for each product that reaches this standard?

Laura: It really depends on the product. Some products (like our oil serums for example) are very easy to make vegan, others (like lip treatments) are harder since many natural formulations rely on beeswax for texture. For us, it’s a fun challenge and really the only way that we would ever formulate our products. There are so many incredible innovations coming onto the market for effective natural and vegan raw materials that it’s becoming easier every year.

The STEM field is often regarded as being dominated by men, but you took your chemical engineering degree and turned it into something highly feminine. What was your experience as a woman studying STEM?

Laura: It’s true that STEM in general has historically been largely men. For example when my grandfather graduated from U of T in the late 1940s there was only one woman in his Electrical Engineering class! Things have improved over the last 5 years with schools focusing on admitting a diverse mix of men and women. The ratios vary greatly by discipline. In Chemical Engineering it was pretty much 50/50 between men and women but other disciplines like Mechanical were still only around 10 percent women. I wouldn’t say that being a woman in engineering held me back at all, I never felt out of place and if anything it’s benefitted me since I know how to hold my own with male counterparts in the professional work space. 

You have a major focus on female empowerment through your #HerHustle interviews. Can you tell us more about that, and what messaging you’re hoping to share with your audience?

Connie: A huge part of our mission is to support women in business. One of the ways we do this is by raising awareness of inspiring female founders through our #HerHustle interview series. We believe that by showcasing the challenges, daily routines and successes of brilliant business leaders, we can empower the next generation of women to pursue their dreams. Selfishly, it’s been amazing to take a peek into the habits of these women and I love implementing the most common recommendations in my own routine!

As two young business owners, what advice would you give to other aspiring leaders when it comes to gaining the confidence to stand up for and actively pursue your goals/ dreams?

Laura: My advice is to always just go for it! Seek out experiences that make you uncomfortable. For me, this was sales. I was super shy growing up and refused to even call a restaurant to ask them the time that they were open. When I got a job while in university where I was doing door-to-door sales I was forced to get over my insecurity and shyness! Sales is now one of my favourite aspects of business and is also a critical skill if you want to have your own company. 

Connie: Don’t compare yourself to your peers, and listen to your gut. It’s so easy to get swept up into what your friends or classmates are doing, and without realizing it, drop your dreams before even realizing it. Listen to your intuition telling you what your goals are, and just go for it. If you’re unsure about what your dreams are, I often recommend noting what you do in your free time. What you do when you’re procrastinating is often a great indication of what you should pursue.

What is your favourite Three Ships product and why?

Laura: Mine is our Purify Aloe + Amino Acid Cleanser. It’s super lightweight but effective. It contains zero alcohol so you aren’t left with that tight dried out feeling after washing your face. It’s helped tremendously with evening out my skin tone and preventing blemishes. 

Connie: I’m a sucker for our Glow 49% Jojoba Oil Serum. It’s a fast-absorbing oil-based serum that gives you such a nice dewy glow. It works great under makeup as a natural primer, and smells amazing too! I always look forward to using it in the morning and at night.

Where would you like to see the brand say five years from now?

Laura: We see ourselves as the go-to-brand for consumers looking to make the switch to natural products. We have our sights set on being carried across North American in retailers like Target, Whole Foods and Ulta.

Is there anything we have not asked you that you would like to mention about the brand, yourself as individuals or your journey as women in business? 

Connie: Laura and I were 23 when we started this business. We had no contacts in the industry, no previous experience in skincare, but we were so passionate about the idea that we just went for it. In the early days, there were countless days/nights where we stayed up making products by hand in my kitchen, or walking downtown Toronto going door-to-door to give samples to retailers. Entrepreneurship can be over-glamourized and I think it’s really important to remember that so much goes on behind the scenes that you don’t see.

Follow the Three Ships journey on Instagram @threeshipsbeauty.