When not working as a medical doctor and university lecturer, Dr. Roohi Qureshi whips up her own argan-enriched beauty line, Leaves of Trees, now carried at chic boutiques like Pink Tartan. We met up with the genial 43-year-old founder at her new flagship store (177 Queen Street East, Toronto), which opens its doors May 1. The shelves are stocked with “apothecary” goodies, including orange blossom argan oil, rose cardamom hand and body lotion, and made-from-scratch soaps (available with lovely custom-designed wrappers, just in time for wedding-favour season). Coming soon for fall and winter: candles, a baby line and even culinary oils.
You’re a medical doctor?
I still am! My specialty is occupational medicine, which deals with the interaction of work on health, and health on work. I used to have a clinical practice, but now I do consulting for the corporate occupational health department at St. Mike’s and Sunnybrook hospitals here in Toronto.
Have you had a lifelong interest in beauty?
Not so much makeup, but I love luxury skin care and have a deep passion for fine perfume. Throughout my whole life, I’ve been researching skin care as a consumer, and I just make what I like. I shower twice a day and use my nice products.
How has your background in medicine influenced your approach to beauty?
I did a lot of dermatology as part of my training. Through work, sometimes people are exposed to substances that can cause skin allergies, so we have clinics where we do patch testing. We test diluted allergens on their backs and see what they react to—things like formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, which are very common allergens. It made me conscious of the problems that can be caused by those ingredients, and informed my decision not to use those things in my formulations.
You started out just making soaps and lip balms for yourself. Was there a reason, like not finding what you wanted on the market?
There are so many soaps I like, but I just love to make things with my hands and I love to know how to do things. I did some research—I have a background in chemical engineering, so I found that really helpful for understanding the reactions and processes. I made a ton of soap, and gave it to my friends. They really liked it, so I started selling it.
How long has it taken to get everything off the ground?
It happened very organically. Until February, I was doing everything myself and financing it myself. I was doing it for fun—and if it works, it works. I only hired some people to help me in February after that Lainey Gossip article [a rave about Leaves of Trees natural deodorant]. But in the past year, I’ve committed to taking it further.
You make all your products by hand yourself. How much time does that take?
All my time. I have my regular job two and a half days a week, and after that I come here and work until 9 or 10. On weekends, I’m always here. A lot of people outsource: they give others the recipe and the manufacturing facilities will make it for you. But I like to use my hands. I do everything in small batches—maybe up to three litres. There’s a bit of art to it. Similar to scaling up recipes for food, it never works out the exact same. So I like doing it in an artisanal way.
What sparked your interest in argan oil?
It was a trip to Morocco. At the time there wasn’t much argan around [in Canada], but by the time I started, you could go to Winners and see argan, argan, argan.
What sets your argan apart?
My products are for the person who wants healthy, good-quality products, but is also concerned about design. You can get some really good argan oil in a reused water bottle—that’s how they sell it in a lot of places in Morocco. But I want this experience to be luxurious.