A career as a doctor is enough for most people. Not for Roohi Qureshi. The Torontonian still practices part time as a specialist in occupational medicine, but she is also the founder of Leaves of Trees, a natural beauty brand that recently arrived at Beautymark. Here, she talks to Vancity Buzz about beauty and business.
I’ve always loved skincare, bath products and fine perfumes – I enjoy the experience and ritual, how products can make skin feel soft and smooth, and the way that scent is evocative of place. A few years ago, I discovered argan oil on a trip to Morocco. I began to make soaps and lipbalms for myself and some friends. Demand increased by word of mouth and in 2012, I set up Leaves of Trees. I did everything by myself until the beginning of 2014, when my natural deodorant was featured on Lainey Gossip. Sales volume increased immediately, to the point where I didn’t have the resources to fulfil orders. Now my products are sold all over Canada and in Singapore and Australia, and Leaves of Trees has a stand-alone shop in Toronto.
Before I went to medical school, I got my Masters degree in chemical engineering. This means I have an understanding of how to put products together, but it also helps in the way I think about product development. I’m problem-focused and methodical, which is the way things are in school. I start with a problem I have, or that a friend brings to me – for example, we want a natural deodorant that actually works. Then I research the mechanism of the body and why a problem arises, then I develop the product and test it on myself and others. I like to see what all the peer-reviewed science says, but I’m also interested in traditional knowledge – remedies that have been passed down.
Mine stands out because of the simple, elegant formulations and packaging and the effectiveness of the ingredients. For example, the deodorant has a lotion base and is heat-stable (it won’t melt), spreadable and doesn’t stain. Most of my products are based on unrefined argan oil, sourced from a women’s collective in Morocco. It’s high in antioxidants like vitamin E and ferulic acid, which can reduce the damaging effects of free radicals.
Many brands make big claims for their products, but there’s only so much that skincare can do. It can help maintain skin in a good condition by moisturising and protecting the barrier function. It can make skin feel smooth and soft, and some ingredients like retinol have been proved effective at anti-ageing. When it comes to claims like reversing wrinkles or balding or cellulite, that’s just not possible. The best things really are to avoid smoking and the sun.
I wouldn’t describe myself as ambitious – I don’t desire things. I go with the flow, try hard and am optimistic. My positivity is a really important factor in giving me the ability to take risks and try things. I’m very passionate about everything in life and I think that’s an important characteristic for an entrepreneur – to do something that you love and are good at, and always be on the look-out for opportunities. I’m also the type of person that, when I start something I do it with full force. Expanding slowly and taking small bites has been critical. Having my career in medicine has been helpful as I had the resources to fund the business.
In the next few months we’re launching a baby line and burn cream that can also be used for diaper rash. We’re also working on a travel kit, retro styled and made from waxed canvas, which should be ready for spring. Overall, I’d like to have more reach into Eastern Canada and the US, but beyond that, I don’t have a plan. I’m inspired by women like The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick and Jo Malone, who started their businesses on kitchen tables and in garages, but I have no plan of how to achieve similar success, not even in my head. It’s a cliche, but I really believe that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.