Education: Studied theatre at the University of Essex
Length of time at Saje Natural Wellness: 6 years
Your parents, Jean-Pierre LeBlanc and Kate Ross LeBlanc, are the founders of Saje Natural Wellness. What prompted them to create the company?
It was a case of two passions coming together. It started with my dad, who was in a series of car accidents and eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes widespread pain. He was told that there was nothing that could be done to help except taking some Prozac for his developing depression. He just felt like there had to be a better way, so my parents started studying essential oils. My dad, who has a background in chemistry, started researching and formulating his own essential oils. He eventually created what is now called “Peppermint Halo,” which got rid of his chronic migraines, and “Pain Release” to help ease his chronic pain. He’s a really gregarious and passionate guy and if he loves something, he’s going to spread the love. He started giving the oils away, until my mum became the cash register. She grew up working at a fabric store and she really loved the idea of shopping being an experience. So my mum’s passion for retail, combined with my dad’s passion for natural wellness came together. Then in around 2010, it was around when I joined.
What made you decide to join the family business?
I originally wanted to go into acting. I moved to England and studied theatre at the University of Essex and then I came back to Canada and did a film school program. My parents were growing Saje Natural Wellness and at the time, social media was becoming a thing. I was in my 20s so I was the right age to help with that. So I started doing social media for Saje and kind of accidentally fell in love despite myself, and then quite quickly realized that I had fallen out of love with the acting world. Every time I got to go in and be part of meetings or a brainstorm at Saje, I would go home feeling so lit up and excited, and that’s when I realized this is what I wanted to spend my life doing.
What made you fall in love with working in the wellness industry?
I wanted the brand to be cool. I knew that people had this connotation with essential oils, thinking of them as kind of hippie products. I had a bunch of friends who thought that, but would then they would try our products and realize that they actually work. I joined as the social media manager in 2010, and what I loved about it was I got to tell that story. I got to talk to the community, answer the questions, and respond to the nay-sayers—I got to change people’s minds.
A common misconception is that fragrance products are the same as aromatherapy, but it seems like that’s not the case.
When we’re looking at a fragrance, it’s like you’re trying to make it identical to nature. But the thing about essential oils is that they smell because they’re natural. Take peppermint, for instance. There’s a really high percentage of menthol naturally occurring in peppermint, so that would be the active ingredient in Peppermint Halo or our Immune Blend. Within each essential oil, there’s all these chemical components so when you look at it, you can understand that one is anti-inflammatory, or one helps with a cough, and you blend accordingly. Jean-Pierre, Kate and I are the only three people who formulate because all three of us have gone through a certified aromatherapy course. [Saje Natural Wellness’s remedial products, such as Peppermint Halo and Immune Blend and Eater’s Digest, are licensed with Health Canada as natural health products and are recognized as over-the-counter drugs by the FDA]
Your title is now branding and creative director. What’s an average day like for you?
I travel about 50 percent of the time. When I’m home, it’s a lot of one-on-one meetings. It could be sitting down with our email specialist and art director and looking at what the next five emails are that are going out—are they on brand? Do they say what we want them to say? The next meeting could be about product development; say, talking about our upcoming baby line. The next meeting could be about what the packaging might look like—how reusable or recyclable is it? We don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time, but each piece of packaging should come with a little surprise and delight.
Do you have a go-to product to help you get through your day?
Peppermint Halo is my number one, because I notice that after a long day of meetings or if I’m doing the budget and all crunched over, my shoulders and neck can get really tight.
Products like Peppermint Halo have been around since Saje Natural Wellness began, but how do you keep the line new and fresh?
What’s really important is to look for inspiration literally everywhere—whether it’s architecture, art or fashion. A nebulizer that we’re working on right now combines a really matte texture with a high gloss and I got that idea looking at a guy wearing a matte blazer with a high gloss bow tie. I loved that combination. In terms of future product development, I ask people what products they’re using right now that they wish were natural. That’s how the baby line came to be, since right now what’s on the market is mostly synthetic.
How do you unwind at the end of the day?
I love to cook, it’s a really big part of my life. So wellness for me is being able to leave work at the end of the day, going to get groceries, and then cooking for my colleagues or my friends. I don’t usually make the same thing twice, so it’s all about reinventing and playing with the ingredients.
Who is one business person whom you look up to, and why?
Jonathan Ives, the chief design officer at Apple. I really admire the way that he’s been able to keep consistency across the brand—that simplicity and cleanness.
What attributes does someone need to do well in this field?
Working in creative is different that working in finance in that I can’t walk into my CFO’s office and say, “I really think you should’ve looked at fiscal 2018 like this,” because I would sound ridiculous. But he can definitely walk into my office and say, “I really think that the last merch poster should’ve been green not blue.” Anyone can have an opinion, so it takes a lot of strength and vision as well as an ability to be collaborative. You’re not always going to be right but at the end of the day, someone has to hold true to the vision of the brand. You have to remain strong and true to your vision while keeping an open mind and being able to be collaborative.
What’s the best advice you’ve received so far in your career?
If you see something not being done, just do it. Don’t wait for someone to ask you to do it. I feel like that’s really how this role came about for me. No one was guiding this so I thought, I have ideas, I’m going to do it and see what happens. If you wait for someone to ask, they’ll never ask.