Brandi Leifso, CEO of Evio Beauty Group, shares how she started her buisness in the most unlikely of places — in a shelter
Written by Karolyne Ellacott
If you call Brandi Leifso out, she will listen. So in 2013, when a good friend dubbed her a hypocrite for selling makeup filled with harmful – but traditional – chemicals, the 28-year-old CEO of Evio Beauty Group did something about it. Greening up her Evio products (recently rebranded from Evelyn Iona) would require ditching most ingredients, but it was a step in the right direction that reinforced Leifso’s larger mission to break stigmas and create a more conscious future.
“Evio is its own personality that is growing and changing,” Leifso says. That not-better-than-thou approach to business resulted in her makeup line morphing into something 90 percent natural and organic. Something good for women – both inside and out.
Leifso’s scrappiness and determination were shaped during her first steps into entrepreneurship while living in a women’s shelter. While there, she photoshopped a catalog of not-yet-real beauty products. After shopping them around, she made enough pre-sales to hire a manufacturer to make those very products.
In person, Leifso is effervescent with a quick smile and infectious energy. Years ago, the idea of incorporating cannabis into skincare struck her. Not because it was a trendy headline writer, but because it’s a stigma breaker that falls in line with her M.O.
The CEO brought it up with mentors who were not sure it was the right direction for Evio. “I took on their opinions,” she says, “and then went out with every CEO of Canadian LPs [Licensed Producer of Cannabis] that I could.” Cannabis reflected all that was important: social justice and peace, the environment, and ingredient transparency. “Cannabis is a tool in our tool belt that touches on all of those points and solves all of them,” she says.
Eventually Leifso formed a strategic partnership with Aurora Cannabis on a skincare line: Evio Skin. An upcoming product is made up of a hemp wipe and a cleansing formula starring cannabis sativa oil. While the Evio Beauty line is cannabis-free, the relaunch of the make-up is greener and produced entirely in Canada. One of Evio’s cannabis mandates is to replace all packaging with hemp-enforced materials, reducing the use of plastics by 45 percent.
Leifso has been misunderstood for having an all-white, all-male board of directors. The company has a clear feminist vision, but she sees the strength in working together. Especially since those men offer such support. “They’ll sit in our boardroom and say, ‘Hey B, what’s #MeToo?’” she says. “The fact that we’re having that conversation on Bay Street, and that they respect me and listen to what I have to say about it? That’s how we make change.”
For Leifso, the concept of beauty for her reaches far beyond the skin. “Beauty means being authentic, human, and kind,” she says.