A Greenpoint “Love” Story: Two Business Owners Create a Book Together

 

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg - herself on the right, and Adina Grigore on the left

 

Greenpointers is excited to present a joint interview with two Greenpoint residents and business owners who recently collaborated on, and published, a book – a partnership they told us originated from this very website. We had to find out more.

The book is called Skin Cleanse: The Simple, All-Natural Program for Clear, Calm, Happy Skin. Adina Grigore, founder of skincare brand S.W. Basics, wrote it, and asked local illustrator Libby VanderPloeg to illustrate it. It was published last week, just ahead of S.W. Basics’ March 1st launch in 500 Target locations nationwide – a huge accomplishment for a small business with a commitment to natural ingredients.

The conversation that unfolded when we sat down with Adina and Libby was filled with laughter and a shared gratitude for their creative partnership – along with lots of reminders that doing things your own way can have surprising and very rewarding results.

GP: I love that you have a self-described “love story” that came about from the Greenpointers website. That’s a very authentic and strong thing to say about working together with someone. What was the root of that?

Adina Grigore: Oh, that we call it a love story?!

GP: Or just that you’re that fond of each other! Who found who and where did it all start?

AG: I saw Libby’s post on Greenpointers – it was an illustration of a bear, and I think it was even maybe a recipe, right?

Libby VanderPloeg: It was a recipe for a healthy chia seed-based summer porridge.

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg – from an August 2, 2013  Greenpointers post

AG: And I was like, this is my soulmate. Actually, Adam, my husband, saw it and sent it to me and said, “This is your soulmate. She’s not just an amazing illustrator but she’s making a chia recipe on Greenpointers.” I was like, what is this doing here, and who is this person? Oh, she’s an illustrator who happens to be into healthy stuff – if she doesn’t go for my idea, no one will. (Laughs) And I think I just cold emailed you, didn’t I? Right away. That day. “Hi, I love you! Can we hang out? I have an idea!”

LV: So cut to my situation; this was two years ago. That was funny, because not only did she click on that post and get excited about it, it was my very first Greenpointers post.

GP: And Adina, you didn’t know that right?

AG: I had no idea.

LV: I’d gotten laid off from my job, and I was like, well, I’ve always really just wanted to do illustration – I was doing design and art direction before that. So I just decided to do my thing. I love healthy stuff, and I love writing recipes, and I’m just gonna start doing this. So then I got the email from Adina, and I was like, THAT’s kind of random.

GP: Was it confidence-boosting? To know somebody was paying attention?

AG: You were probably like, and who are you? What’s your company?

LV: No! I was like, this girl’s doing something really cool and I kinda can’t believe that she wants me to be a part of it.

AG: Well it was wild because one of us said, “Let’s hang out, we’re clearly both in Greenpoint” – it’s crazy how much is solved by that. In any other situation I would’ve been like, let’s get on the phone first, let’s kind of feel each other out – but we said, let’s meet for coffee. So we went to the now-deceased Cookie Road on Manhattan Ave. We had a lot of dates there before it disappeared.

LV: And I was really nervous, the first date that we went on. (Laughs) I was like, what should I wear?

AG: No you were not!

LV: Yes I was! And I thought, should I be eating a cookie before she gets here? Or should I wait, what should I do?! She’s gonna be like a really important woman.

AG: That’s really funny, because I rehearsed with Adam how to convince you that I was worth your time. How do I pitch Libby, so she says yes. Because it was before the book deal; I think I was working on the proposal, and I wanted it to be illustrated. But I thought, why would she say yes before I even know it’s happening?

LV: And I was like, how will I convince her that I’m a professional illustrator? (Laughs) I really need her to understand that I can do this!

AG: This is ridiculous, because you already had a beautiful site, you had done a book abroad – it was perfect. It was just perfect. The stars aligned.

LV: But there were publishers involved, and whenever publishers and marketing teams get involved, it’s never as easy as “I like you and you like me.” It’s like our parents have to agree to our relationship as well.

GP: Tell us a little more about that; how does it work when you have a book deal – can you say, THIS is the person I want to illustrate it?

AG: In this case, they looked at her stuff, and they could have very easily said, nope, we’re using someone else – but they were instantly like, yup, we’re on board. And I know it made a difference for me to say, “Libby is in Brooklyn with me. We both live in Greenpoint. This is part of the vibe. It’s right.” Why would I go find some other person that’s not here? So they went for it completely.

What was so tough was that both of us were doing a lot of work ahead of knowing anything in writing – for me to do that work, was kind of like, this is my future, so of course I’m going to do this work – but for Libby to do work before anyone said it was a done deal didn’t seem fair.

LV: But the funny thing was though, I kinda just wanted to spend my days drawing at the time. I was so focused on drawing, it wasn’t a chore at all to draw lavender and sea salt.

AG: And the nice thing was that because I was building the company, I let her know from the beginning that even if the book didn’t work out, I still wanted to work together.  I just love illustration – I don’t know why everything in all of the world isn’t illustrated.

LV: That’s the way I always thought too. Before I got laid off, I was working as a designer, so I wasn’t an illustrator exclusively. I found myself confused all the time when I would bring my ideas to people, and say, “Here are my ideas,” and I’d get the response, “Well illustration is one idea, but can you give us another idea?” I’m like, uhhh – I don’t think I can! (Laughs) I think it has to be illustrated.

But when we first met and first started talking about the vision for the book, we were immediately on the same page.

AG: It’s crazy. From the beginning, we had a vision and it’s totally aligned with what ended up happening.

            Skin Cleanse illustration by Libby VanderPloeg / © Harper Collins

GP: Adina, can you take us back a little and share some of the history of the S.W. Basics brand? What has it been like to grow the company? And what did you do before that helped equip you for what you’re doing now?

 AG: I’m not equipped! (Laughs) Well, it’s very similar to Libby. I studied holistic nutrition, and a lot of what the business is about came from there. I worked as a personal trainer, and I had one of those New York stories where I came here and tried everything to find what I wanted. I had wanted to be a dancer, and knew that wasn’t going to happen. Entrepreneur is almost the wrong title for what I do now – it’s crazy to me how many things from my background really do feed into my ability to run a business. Like dancing on stage – I realize that’s why a lot of things aren’t uncomfortable for me that maybe would have been for someone else.

In terms of creating the product line, I kind of fell into it. After I graduated from nutrition school, I was working with people one on one, doing workshops, and was very disillusioned with the wellness industry – as disillusioned as I now am with the beauty industry. I’m prone to being disillusioned! But not without a fight. It really felt like wellness was exclusive – completely unaffordable to almost anyone. You can get on a bike for free and ride outside, but what about if you need nutrition help? What about if you have skin that’s constantly freaking out? And you just need someone to answer your questions? Why should you have to spend $150 for that information?

This is something I was encouraged to do in nutrition school – run a business, this is how much you should bill – but that makes no sense to me. It’s information. I understand making a living, but to withhold information from people seems wrong – especially because the fact of the matter is, we’re a sick culture right now. And it’s all because of lack of information. People don’t feel confident because they don’t have the information they need. So why would I go, “Well I can help with that – but it’s going to cost you.” That’s just so insane.

So I taught workshops instead. I got fired before giving them, multiple times. (Laughs) It would be like, Why Everything About Nutrition Is B.S. – because it is, it’s a science that changes every single day; you should be relying on how you feel, not on what an article tells you. Or, What Your Personal Trainer Knows That You Don’t – because once you know it, you’ll no longer need a personal trainer. These did not go over well. (Laughs) The one that did do well, probably because it was more P.C., but I also think it just really spoke to people, was about skincare. I’d see people who had reactions to everything, who had really sensitive skin, who were realizing that all the stuff in the products they used was just BAD. Even when it’s natural it’s bad. Or, even when it’s 100% natural, it’s so complex, it’s just not for everyone.

GP: That’s such a good point – how do you isolate the variable to figure out what’s causing a skin irritation?

AG: Even if it’s natural, right? I’m always like, what if it’s lavender? How are you gonna figure it out if there’s 62 ingredients in your lotion? Anything can cause a reaction. So these exact S.W. Basics formulas that we sell today, I taught in those DIY workshops.

Bottles of S.W. Basics Exfoliant lining a shelf at Adina's office

GP: What kind of venues hosted the workshops?

AG: I did a lot of community spaces – like an art space in Manhattan, and basically anywhere that would have me. That was from 2007 to 2009. What was great about that time was that I was formulating – I was tweaking the recipes, working all of it out through these classes.

LV: And I’m sure you were getting people’s reactions to textures and simplicity.

AG: Oh yeah, absolutely. Not to mention that I realized, oh, people are really into this – but they’re just not going to make it themselves. People want a product – that’s good for them, and they like the idea of DIY, but they’re barely cooking their own food.

GP: So you realized you could be a 2nd degree DIY provider – capturing that interest but doing the DIY on others’ behalf, creating a ready-made product.

AG: Absolutely.

LV: I’m one of those people who’s happy to buy someone else’s DIY. I just don’t always have time to do stuff – even though I work at home, when I’m there, I’m working. I want to partake in things that are good and natural, and I’ll gladly compensate someone else for that.

AG: And think about when you go out and buy food. You don’t want it to be automatically garbage just because you didn’t make it home-made. How come if you don’t make your own beauty products, your only option is, I think, garbage? It is not even close to what you would make at home. It’s not that I was like, I’m gonna launch a product company – it was more like, oh yeah, why wouldn’t this be an idea?

GP: It does sound like a gradual idea that dawned on you.

AG: I also spent a lot of time going, there’s no way someone isn’t already doing this. I spent a ton of time online searching for five-ingredient beauty products, super simple skincare, minimal skincare – thinking there must be something – and I really think if I had found just one place already doing it, I would’ve just sent people there. When I set out at the beginning I thought I might just do it on a crafty scale, become an Etsy seller – and we did Artists & Fleas, we did Smorgasburg – we kind of tried to be crafty. I wanted to be crafty; I wanted to be hand-made.

GP: Put a bird on it.

AG: Totally. We were handmaking the labels, we were hand-designing everything.

GP: And when you say “we,” was that you and your husband working on it together?

AG: Yeah, my husband Adam designed the first logo. He was a copywriter at an advertising firm at the time, so really understood that side. We realized quickly that we liked the experience of building a brand – and we still haven’t wrapped our minds around this, but I think the reason we’re entering the market in a bigger way now is because of the branding. We’re making the products, which I hope speak for themselves, but I think it’s become more about, how do we creatively tell this story so that it really resonates with people? And I feel like that’s why it’s working.

LV: Yes! That’s how anything works.

GP: That was my reaction when I saw the book trailer. It was so charming; I hadn’t seen marketing for a book release that took this particular storytelling approach.

Skin Cleanse on Vimeo.

LV: That was another sweet story in our collaboration. So we’re doing this book, I’m so glad Adina got in touch, we’re friends now, I illustrated the book – and then she was like, “I need to meet you for coffee. I need to talk to you about something – I’ve got another idea!” And I was like, okay! I had no idea what it was.

AG: It was 1am when I thought of it, and I was just like, I think this is brilliant. (Laughs)

LV: So we meet at Bakeri on Freeman Street, and I can tell we’re both kind of under the gun, like, we’ve only got thirty minutes here, let’s get to it. And then Libby says, “I wanna do…an ANIMATED book trailer.” And I’m like…“What?” (Laughs)

GP: I was going to ask about that animation! Beyond illustration, had you ever done any animation before, Libby?

LV: Well this is also really funny. I had only done five to ten second animated GIFs, but I just answered, “Yea – let’s do it!”

AG: I looked at her and I was like, you got this – you can do it – WE can do it! I really believe we can.

LV: I thought to myself, if Adina says I can do it…I can do it! (Laughs) And I also knew so many people that I could have asked to step in to help, that I felt like we would be fine. I told her it was a great idea and that it would be awesome – but walking away from that meeting, I was so scared.

AG: I felt like you were overwhelmed. I have that effect on people. (Laughs)

LV: I was really busy at that point, I don’t even remember what I had going on…a big project, I think.  I was so overwhelmed. It felt like there was no way to get it all done. But I said oh well. Let’s just do it anyway.

AG: You can make a lot happen by just saying, I think I can do this.

LV: It’s true, and you need cheerleaders in your life.

AG: The same synergy happened on the trailer too – I pitched Libby the idea and not only did she get it, but she had ideas that went really well with it too. We were able to draw up the story in a week. We met just one more time where we hashed out the script – at Konditori that time. All the Greenpoint coffee shops.

LV: I kept saying to Adina, “This isn’t it, this isn’t it” – then I’d go silent for sixty seconds, and tell her we needed a hook. I said, “Where does this book come from?”

AG: Libby said, “The book with wings…the book will have wings!

LV: I was like, it HAS a mouth on the cover…the book will speak to you. Then I think you said it Adina: “Are you my skincare fairy godmother?” And I was like, that’s it, we’ve got a script now. It made me so happy that the whole idea, and the whole initial conversation, became a book, and then the book came to life.

 GP: Did having the time constraints of busy lives help you focus on getting the book done?

LV: I was just talking to my mom about that, actually. I was saying something about feeling really prolific in both a good and bad way right now, and she reminded me that that’s how I’ve always succeeded – just by being able to put something to bed. To say that it’s done. It’s not always going to be perfect, but it’ll be done. That’s really important, because you need to move on, and you need to keep growing. You can’t just tear your hair out over the same question every day.

AG: Totally. And I think until you put something out, you don’t know what the next thing will actually look like. You can’t perfect something; you just have to put it out. Like until I get reviews of this book, I think I’m not going to be able to see what my next step is. But I could’ve sat on this forever, and been like, no, I’m going to wait until it’s perfect. But no! I want to do the best I can, now. And then we’ll see what comes next.

LV: When I look back at the illustrations that I did even just a year and a half ago, I think now, wow, I’ve learned so much in just deciding to do one thing. To focus on my one goal. Which is to grow this illustration business. And I love watching Adina growing her business. If you figure out and decide, here’s something I’m really passionate about, you should just do it.

GP: It’s a calling, in a way – a vocation.

AG: I think the thing about honing in and focusing on something is a really good point, because when I graduated from nutrition school, I was really torn up about how I had so much I was thinking about, and no way to say all of it. If you had said to me then, that will all eventually be expressed in a beauty book, I would have said, “Pff, that is NOT my area.” But it’s actually been a huge relief to focus in on something this specific. Because it’s a vehicle for saying it all. I’m not just all over the place – I’m focusing on skin in order to say something bigger. I have a product line in the effort of empowering my customers.

S.W. Basics: skincare with a porpoise

GP: When is your launch happening at Target, Adina?

AG: March 1st! AT 500 locations, in a special new aisle.

GP: Congratulations! Tell us how that happened, and how you navigated it.

AG: The deal with Target actually came through a connection with a store in Williamsburg that’s no longer open – Woodley & Bunny. Target’s brokers knew the owner – she was a huge champion of small brands and had launched many in her store. The brokers called her, and said Target was looking for new brands, and did she have any in mind, and she called me about five minutes later. She said, “I don’t know if this is how you envision your brand, but I’ve been in the industry a long time and this is exactly right for you.” I was shocked! Not only was I like, there’s no way Target’s going to say yes – but it was also so outside the realm of how we imagined the brand, that we weren’t even sure that we would say yes. But we knew it would be an amazing experience just to pitch to Target. We weren’t going to say no to that. And it’s been a dream relationship from the first second. And I say this as someone who’s still skeptical of big box retailers.

The unique thing I’ve seen from Target is that they listen to their customers and want to pioneer innovation. They’ve done everything right. And I’m telling you, we went in really needing to hear from them that they understand what we are and what we’re doing with S.W. Basics. And over and over, that’s been affirmed for us. We realized we had the opportunity to change their beauty aisle. Nothing has been compromised – it would’ve been another story if they said, “Yes, but…” and required a change. But now I have the opportunity to take a foot of space in a massive retailer and sell something that I stand behind. It’s the ultimate goal.

GP: How great that must be, as a creator, to have a partner and a platform for what you make.

AG: It’s crazy because when you run a business, everything always feels too good to be true. And I’m sure there will be painful parts to the launch. But to a certain extent, it really is as good as it feels. It’s a platform for our products that we’ve been waiting for and working towards. I worked really hard to create something with integrity – why shouldn’t someone come along and want to back it? But it’s also like, pinch me!

The other side of it is that having spent years building the business, it’s weird to realize that this moment is our launch. In a lot of ways, we don’t exist yet – but we’re about to.

Some of the S.W. Basics products available at select Target locations

GP: This is a great way to conclude. Adina, you clearly have such gratitude for finding this unexpected retail partnership with Target – isn’t that such a nice parallel to the partnership that you two forged? The fact that an illustrator and a cosmetics maker were able to work together in this way – you’ll probably continue sharing ideas and collaborating indefinitely. 

LV: Adina inspires me so much as a business person. Knowing you has made me a better business person.

AG: Libby! I love you. Knowing you has made me feel more creative. Because I think for me, the day-to-day of running a company is just like working anywhere else. Right? I come in, I answer emails, I do phonecalls – it was so exciting to even have that idea for the book trailer. To know I could be creative too. Because of Libby.

LV: It’s so nice to work for a client you can say no to. Or, “That’s not good enough.” There were moments where I was like, we’ve come up with the story, but it’s not good enough yet. Not to mention, what a pure joy to work for a client who has a sense of humor.

AG: I think there’s something happening in business in general where younger people are starting to hit the age where they’re saying, I’m going to manage how I want my career to go. And I’m going to be myself. And be friendly, and creative, and it’s going to work. It’s rewriting how to have a career.

LV: I’ve built my career by being scrappy, and really hard-working. There’s a lot to be said for creating your own projects when they don’t exist.

Thanks to Adina and Libby for sharing their stories with us and speaking to the power of collaboration and self-starting. Keep up the great Greenpoint work, ladies!

About Liz F

Liz became a contributor to Greenpointers when Propeller Coffee opened on her block, making an instant regular out of her; the urge to tell the neighborhood was irresistible. She works in a cross-section of film, TV, and music and writes for Greenpointers to feed her fascination with small businesses.

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