Sara Quilter is the founder of Tailor Skincare - and, may I say, all 'round babe.
Smart, gorgeous and with a mind for business, this Taranaki native settled in Wellington to grow her small business, based on a clay face mask, only 4 years ago. Today, Tailor Skincare is one of New Zealand’s most loved up and coming brands. I tried Tailor this summer and loved the results it gave me. Now I won't be without the lip balm in my bag!
On a sunny Saturday morning Sara and I meet up at Prefab for a delicious chia coconut bircher muesli so I can find out more about her story. Sara has already arrived (parking her Tailor branded car outside) when I turn up. She has a flawless face with minimal makeup and her hair in a voluptuous ponytail. Sara is gentle when she speaks but conveys a real passion and clarity about what she does. She gesticulates often, which I love (because I do it too). Over tea, and coconut bircher muesli, we talk about her life, travel and love for making skin and her business the best it can be.
Growing up Quilter - The little girl from the 'naki
Twenty-eight year old Sara was born independent. She came into the world via Taranaki and grew up in a littler surf village called Oakura, outside of New Plymouth. Her mum is from California and father from England. As we talk, Sara remember’s the romantic stories about her parents fondly. “They met when Dad was in the Navy and they went to California. Mum saw him and was like, ‘Ooooh you’re pretty hot’ so they got together and moved to Christchurch and then to New Plymouth.” Sara’s parents split up when she was five so for most of her life she has been an only child. Nevertheless she has remained close to both. Now Sara has a half brother who is 15 and she says she has a strong connection with.
Oakura was a New Zealand kiwi kid’s dream hometown by the sea. “There were just paddocks and rock pools and you’d go down to the beach and spend all your money on dollar mixtures of lollies. It was great” she recalls with nostalgia tinting her voice. High school was Spotswood College in Taranaki. “It was a co-ed school deemed as the smoker-stoner school. I didn’t quite fit in with the kids there. I’d end up down the field with the smokers and the stoners hanging out, but at the same time I had my own class room for the university paper I was doing in 7th form.” As a creative with a curiosity for how things work at a micro level, Sara loved sewing and fashion design but also biology and psychology (she did the latter through Massey University after asking the Dean).
“There were just paddocks and rock pools and you’d go down to the beach and spend all your money on dollar mixtures of lollies. It was great”
Sara thought she would become a clinical psychologist when she finished high school in 2006 so she moved to Wellington to study a post-graduate degree in psychology at Victoria University. She chose Wellington because it was a place that would fit her personality and loved it’s friendly reputation. During university she developed more of an interest in what she was putting on her skin. “I was always interested in skincare but I got very interested in it in my last year of university.” Sara also learnt the hard way that bad habits can’t be cancelled out “I was a smoker at the time. My theory was I could have a cigarette and then ‘invest’ in this expensive skincare. It’s ludicrous!”
“Spotswood was a co-ed school deemed as the smoker-stoner school. I didn’t quite fit in with the kids there. I’d end up down the field with the smokers and the stoners hanging out!”
California - here we coooooooooome!
Sara applied for clinical psychology as a graduate “but I didn’t get in” and found herself working in a call centre. With life not going as she imagined, she did what anyone would do and booked herself a ticket to California. Sara had an opportunity to help a friend out on a new business venture selling organic fertiliser for a while in Grass Valley. “It’s north of California” she explains. “There’s a lot of scrub oaks and they turn into massive pine trees as you drive north. It was an old mining town so people would go down a kilometre into the ground”.
Apart from family ties, California appealed to Sara because of the 'Cali' lifestyle. She already had a love of Yoga, but then Sara stumbled across the raw vegan movement and decided to follow its eating. “I started to become really interested in how what we eat affects our health and our stomach but then I asked why are we putting all these toxic ingredients on our bodies biggest organ - the skin? It didn’t make sense to me to eat so healthy but put all this stuff on our skin.” Sara’s findings led her to pouring out her alcohol based toning solution down the drain. And while the raw vegan eating didn't last for good, the skincare experiment was the beginning of something real. It was at that moment she decided to make her own skincare.
Small beginnings - and THAT face mask
“The first formulations were awful it’s safe to say but I ended up making this face mask that I got really excited by. I wanted to share it with every person who would listen to me” Sara laughs. With this combination of ingredients Sara moved back to New Zealand to Taranaki. She started up production in her father’s garden shed with her Kenwood cake mixer and took a job as a support worker to help fund the business. “I would help people with disabilities live a more independent life. Take them out to meet friends, do their shopping, help them in the home.” Although the work was rewarding it was also demanding. “It was 24/7 so there were sleepover duties too sometimes. While I loved my clients the whole system was very interesting and I just wasn’t a fan of the politics which made me want to move away from psychology and move into something more rewarding.” Skincare quickly became Sara’s main focus away from work.
“It’s a challenge keeping everyone engaged but it is a worthwhile challenge.”
In April 2012 Sara started a Facebook page for the skincare she was making. At first it started with just friends and family that wanted to support her. Sara had to learn how to find her customers who would fall in love with her brand. She sought out online communities and would add people to her mailing list religiously. “It’s a challenge keeping everyone engaged but it is a worthwhile challenge.”
Soon Sara moved to Wellington for her partner, Vaughan. She took at job in government but was working non-stop on Tailor outside of work, exhausting her. At this time Sara’s Dad stepped in and offered to invest in the company. This allowed Sara to quit her job and go full time on Tailor, something she was hugely grateful for.
She spent the next months completely immersed in Tailor and was “obsessed” with making it work. She has now been able to loosen her hold on the company. “I now figure out how to do something, systemise it and hand it over to someone else” Sara explains. After her Dad invested, Sara was also able to add more products and produce mini’s. All up there are 8 product and a 9th on the way in the winter 2016. Tailor is now her life and she lives and breathes the products, backing them one hundred percent.
Tailor Made Business for Welly - Little Blue Gems
Wellington has provided Sara with the perfect base for her business, not only for the great clients Wellingtonians make but also the lifestyle. She walks to work from her home in Lyall Bay to the Tailor office near the airport. “Last week we saw dolphins - twice!” she exclaims.
Sara is a multi-passionate entrepreneur. She equally loves making the product and the marketing of Tailor Skincare. “I love biology and science and understanding how the ingredients interact with each other in the product to produce an effect. For example, Bentonite clay has a small electrical charge and is shaped like a business card. It is positively charged so it acts to draw the negatively charged ions out of your skin.” She also uses her background in psychology to get stuck into the promotion of Tailor. “I also love learning about the digital experience as well. We are working with our team to improve the user experience the Tailor website which I am really excited about” she says.
“I love biology and science and understanding how the ingredients interact with each other in the product to produce an effect"
Sara knows that “there’s a lot of fluff out there!” She is wary of people that claim they can put ingredients together in any old way. “Google is a powerful tool but you need to use it in the right way by looking at the most credible sources to make sure the answers are consistent across the board. This is especially important when it comes to product formulation. You need to understand the mechanisms and how to keep your products safe for consumers” Sara explains. She also knows her limitations and while she admits she loved neuroscience at university while studying psychology “I know my boundaries.” This year Sara decided to up her game with her Tailor formulations and pair up with a chemist to make sure her customers are getting the best product they can.
"Most of all, Sara loves running the business - and is sincerely grateful for her customers. “I love getting customer emails that tell me they can now go out without wearing make up. It reinforces I am doing the right thing."
Most of all, Sara loves running the business - and is sincerely grateful for her customers. “I love getting customer emails that tell me they can now go out without wearing make up. It reinforces I am doing the right thing. Tailor has also become known for its great customer service. Sara takes it seriously, especially after her experience working in a call centre. “Keeping communications open is key” she says. “When the person places the order, tell them when it will be shipped, ask them to share your purchase. Word of mouth is the best advertising when you do it right.”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff”
A self-starter attitude is Sara's strong suit. As an only child, she has always been independent. The ‘figure it out’ approach has meant when she doesn’t know something she discovers the answer and thrives being her own boss. Sara also emphasises balance. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for all when it comes to skincare or health. Eat whole foods and incorporate some kind of movement, says Sara, from walking to yoga or swimming. “It’s about finding a mindful way to move.” Sara’s other top tip is ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. She also advises that people keep in mind that what is in magazines and Instagram isn’t real life. “It’s so easy - you see people looking their best and you can end up comparing your own life to someone else highlight reels. Just keep it real. We are spending more and more time on our phones so it’s just something we all need to remember.” I can’t help but feel that if we had more women like Sara advocating for health and wellbeing, we would all do a much better job at not sweating the small stuff. Except, perhaps, the occasional pimple.
“It’s so easy - you see people looking their best and you can end up comparing your own life to someone else highlight reels. Just keep it real."
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