Connie Lo and Laura Burget caught the entrepreneurship bug young. In March 2017, the duo put together $4,000 in savings and launched natural beauty brand Three Ships in Connie’s downtown T.O. apartment kitchen. The pair handmade and hand-labelled all beauty products while focusing on their passion for wellness and eco-consciousness. We caught up with Connie and Laura to talk about what inspired Three Ships, the brand’s focus on transparency, their new Buttercream Lip Mask, and of course, get the lowdown on their beauty essentials.
Tell us about Three Ships – what inspired you to create the brand and how you kicked-off.
Laura: The idea for Three Ships was born out of our frustrations as consumers. Both Connie and I are huge fans of natural beauty and have been using products within the natural space for years. However, the more we started to look into the natural industry, the more frustrated we became with what we found. For one, products were super expensive. As recent grads, we couldn’t justify spending $400 on a full regimen or $80 on a “clean” cleanser. And when we did find natural products that we could finally afford, once we turned to the ingredient list, there was actually nothing natural about it. These were the problems that we set out to solve in 2017. So we each put in $2000, bootstrapped, and grew the business from there while manufacturing out of Connie’s downtown Toronto apartment.
How did you come up with the name Three Ships?
Laura: We initially launched the brand under the name NUI BODY and we just rebranded to Three Ships in July 2020. We love this name because of the story it represents. Three Ships is based on the mythical discovery of the Fountain of Youth, which was uncovered by a Spanish explorer’s small fleet of three ships, at a time when much bigger armadas usually set sail for such explorations. This speaks to our values. We believe that less is more and we try to formulate with as few ingredients as we can by using high concentrations of natural actives. We also believe consumers don’t need to have a 10-step skincare routine to achieve real results – all it takes is a couple of great high-quality products.
What sets you apart from other well-known competitors in the industry?
Connie: Our mission is to be the most transparent natural beauty brand in the world. Laura and I aim to empower our consumers with knowledge. Three Ships shares every single ingredient used in each product. We have a searchable ingredient glossary on our website where you can find where ingredients are sourced from, the scientific study of each ingredient as well as what products those ingredients can be found in. This is a step beyond most of our direct competitors, where most brands focus on the ingredients they don’t include in their products. We also formulate based on the EU guidelines for skincare, which means that we avoid over 1,400 potential toxins, as opposed to the U.S. which only bans 30.
How do you choose your ingredients and test your products?
Laura: We rely on our consumers at every point of our development cycles. For example, when we’re planning out the next products to develop, we go directly to our consumers and ask what they would like to see us come out with. We’re constantly collecting this data through post-purchase surveys and our Fleet community. From there we can determine what type of products we want to develop, go to our lab and discuss the product, the price point, and a few of the hero ingredients. In terms of determining those ingredients, we’ll also ask for feedback from our community. This will include options such as scent, price, and packaging. When we have our first line of samples, we will go through several rounds of testing before finalizing the formula. We then send those samples to a group of selected customers to try for two weeks and then use their feedback to create the final product.
What are important factors in creating a clean skincare line that people may not consider?
Laura: One of the most important considerations is shelf stability. A lot of natural brands have this reputation of their products going bad after a short time or having preservation challenges. This is seen when companies are using lightweight preservation strategies, including radish root ferment. We’ve worked hard with our lab to develop a preservation system using a salicylic acid extract which not only preserves the formula but also has amazing benefits for your skin.
Can you explain the low price point behind your products?
Connie: Our products will forever be under $40 USD. The way we can keep our pricing so affordable is by focusing all of our costs on what goes into the bottle. We only use ingredients that have proven benefits, we don’t use any filler ingredients and we also don’t use custom packaging which is very expensive but does not directly benefit the consumer. I’d say we are very intentional about where we spend our money and it reflects in our pricing.
Walk us through your daily skincare routine. How do you incorporate your own cult-favourite beauty products?
Connie: It has definitely changed during COVID because I’m wearing way less makeup now but it’s pretty simple. In the morning, I wash my face with our Purify Cleanser and then I apply our Radiance Day Cream and always follow with SPF. The evening is where I take more time with my routine because I see my skincare routine as self-care. I always start with our Nourish Cleansing Oil, followed by our Purify Cleanser, then comes the Dew Drop Serum which contains hyaluronic acid and vitamin C, followed by our Radiance Day Cream. If my skin is still feeling dry after that, I’ll use our Glow Serum. On a weekly basis, I’ll use either our Detox or Soothe Mask.
Laura: Mine is also pretty simple. In the mornings I cleanse with our Purify Cleanser. I have combination skin that tends to get congested in my T-zone so having a hydrating cleanser is important. I’ll follow up with our Radiance Day Cream. The evening is also really simple: I’ll start by washing my face with the Purify Cleanser, I’ll use both our overnight Hydrating Mask and Night Cream (both launching this year!), and twice a week, I’ll use our masks.
Only a year into the start of the company, Laura was diagnosed with a brain tumor. How did you find the ambition and resilience to work through this difficult time and still come back to the brand?
Laura: It was probably the hardest thing that either of us had ever been through. In terms of resiliency, I didn’t see any other option. I knew I just had to get through the surgery and that Connie would take care of things while I was away. I feel very lucky to have had Connie because I was able to just ease back into things as needed. I came back after three weeks and then fully integrated back into the business 12 weeks after the surgery. This brand is what I want to be doing, I never saw any other option but to just keep going.
Connie: Laura is one of the most resilient people I know and I feel very lucky to be her co-founder. Her going through this health journey gave us even more of a purpose to set the example as young business leaders that even when you are faced with a challenge, you can overcome it and do amazing things. One of the ways we decided to give back from this experience is by donating 10 percent of all profits to the Make A Wish Foundation, specifically to individuals and families suffering from brain tumors.
Where can consumers find your products?
Connie: The easiest place would be threeshipsbeauty.com. In terms of retailers in Canada, we recommend Holt Renfrew, Indigo, Hudson’s Bay, well.ca, and in the US, we’re available at 500 Target stores.
Does Three Ships have any new launches in the works for 2021 you can tell us about?
Connie: We’re launching a variety of new products in 2021, including several masks and treatments. We found that during quarantine our consumers (ourselves included) were spending a lot more time on self-care, which obviously includes lots of masks! We’re also rounding out some more staples, such as a night cream which has been highly requested and on April 7 we launched the Buttercream Hydrating Lip Mask.
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