First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Anna Björkenvall: Considering the circumstances, we’ve been fortunate to remain healthy during this time, thank you – even though it’s obviously been a weird and nerve-wracking time emotionally like for so many people.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined LXMI.
Anna Björkenvall: Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, I’m fueled by a background in startup management, a strong passion for clean beauty through my own journey with problematic skin, as well as a deep desire to make a difference. In 2018 I joined LXMI, which is a social impact clean beauty brand focusing on rare botanicals and medicinal plants sourced from remote areas around the world. We partner with women’s fair-trade cooperatives for the sustainable harvesting of our raw ingredients, providing work to marginalized women in, for example, East Africa. Furthermore, by giving the local communities a financial incentive to keep these rare plants alive and preserve the biodiversity, we combat deforestation, habitat loss, and fight climate change. I am so excited about this very empowering concept of fighting global poverty and climate change through something as simple as our daily skincare habits. When I met LXMI’s late founder, serial social impact entrepreneur Leila Janah, and joined the team, it felt (how cheesy as that may sound) like coming home.
Shortly after I came on board, Leila was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and I was asked to step up to help run the business while she focused on her treatment. At the end of January this year, Leila very sadly and unexpectedly lost her battle with cancer. Despite being only 37 when she passed, she had already started several successful social impact ventures and had lifted over 50,000 people out of poverty worldwide through her work. Naturally, it was a devastating time for everyone around her. Having already been asked by Leila before her passing if I’d be open to considering officially leading the company when the board appointed me as the new CEO for LXMI, it was a great honor. The team at LXMI and I are working hard to forward the brand mission and Leila’s legacy in the social impact world and beyond.
How does LXMI innovate?
Anna Björkenvall: Rather than, like for many businesses, innovate as a way not to get left behind in the marketspace, at LXMI, we’re first and foremost passionate about global change and how we can use the business as a vehicle to have a broader positive impact on poverty and climate change. We believe strongly in the power of work as a core component of human dignity. We live in a world in which talent is equally distributed, but the opportunity is not, which is why we choose to work directly with marginalized communities in the sourcing and sustainable harvesting of our rare botanical ingredients. It also helps spread and keep the knowledge of these potent ancient plants and gives the local communities a financial incentive to preserve the biodiversity.
One of the interesting projects we’ve put together is the conservation initiative for our recently launched LXMI 33 Face Oil. Done in partnership with environmental non-profit Conservation International, the Surinamese government, and a tribe in the Amazon called the Trio tribe, through the sourcing of one of the face oil’s key ingredients called Tuhka oil, the project enables the local community to protect 235,000 hectares of pristine Amazon rainforest. That equals about 4.8 football fields of Amazon jungle protected per bottle. Especially as most tangible ways for individuals to fight climate change involve limiting one’s way of life (driving less, flying less, eating less red meat, and so on), this is such a hopeful and empowering way for individuals to make a positive difference by just getting ready in the morning.
We know the power of community and how we can all do more together when we collaborate with other organizations, activist groups, and government agencies like in this recent project. A lot of our innovation work comes down to building those relationships. Oftentimes across business silos, connecting progressive companies with federal key players and global change agents to find synergies and ways to support one another for a deeper, more meaningful positive change on a global scale. Especially in the startup world, it’s easy to get bogged down by the here and now. Still, it’s so important to also find the time to lift your gaze and see 5-10 years ahead and envision not just where you’d like the company to be, but more importantly, the type of world you want to live in and then work towards that.
How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting your business, and how are you coping?
Anna Björkenvall: As a small social impact brand, like for many other small businesses, 2020 has definitely been an interesting year, to say the least. Beyond the coronavirus, with the passing of our beloved founder and previous CEO Leila Janah just a few weeks before the pandemic hit, the brand and the team has definitely been through some turmoil. Apart from the obvious operational urgency of ensuring our team members’ safety and our operations’ integrity during the pandemic, it’s also important to address the emotional component of this uncertain time. If anything, this global virus outbreak has been like a massive Ctrl-Alt-Delete for all of us, and we have taken the time as a brand to take a step back, regroup, and process the loss. Some days it’s just a matter of breathing deeply and taking it step by step – and that’s ok. Being authentic and vulnerable, I think, becomes extra important as a leader in these types of situations. For me, knowing that I had Leila’s full support, and the board and the investors’ faith in me, as well as the warmth from our community, really makes a massive difference. I’m very excited and grateful to be able to continue making a difference with LXMI.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Anna Björkenvall: This pandemic has naturally been a never-ending stream of difficult choices, and a lot of it comes down to the type of company we want to be, what we want to continue standing for in the world. There is so much uncertainty around us, and every decision can seem critical. One thing I’ve learned through my career working for small startups is that you cannot get stopped by inertia or fear of failure, or you’ll lose your momentum. You cannot steer a parked car, so sometimes it’s better to get the ball rolling while staying present and aware to quickly course correct if needed, rather than getting blocked by trying to find the perfect solution. In general, it’s about quickly and authentically admitting if something is off course or a mistake has been made, to create a human-centric work environment where your team has the space to show up perfectly imperfect like we all are. If the team sees you as a leader with a vision, evolving and being real with them as we move past various startup hurdles, rather than giving off an air that you have it all figured out at all times, it makes it much more engaging for people to go to work as their full selves and join you on this challenging but exciting startup journey.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and LXMI in the future?
Anna Björkenvall: For me, it’s all about the basics: exercise, meditation, and eating nutrient-rich food that supports my body. It is often during my long Saturday morning runs that I come up with my best ideas and sort through work problems and challenges in my head. LXMI, to me, is more than a job, even though it is my dream job – it is a lifestyle. I view this as a long-term adventure, so it’s so important for me to prioritize strengthening my body, mind, and soul to be able to sustain the pressures of building a business and avoid burning out. Recharging is critical; the days of people bragging about only needing 4 hours of sleep, I hope, are behind us.
We see, especially in the light of the current pandemic, that the consumer is craving more sustainable, authentic brands with a deeper mission. Through COVID-19, many of us have also realized how what we put on and in our bodies impacts our overall health, and the mission-driven, clean, clinically effective, plant-based LXMI line fits in nicely with that. There is so much power in Mother Nature and these rare medicinal plants that have been used by indigenous communities for generations, beyond what can be fabricated in a lab.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Anna Björkenvall: The clean beauty space has definitely exploded in recent years, and the market has changed a lot since we launched as the first social impact clean beauty brand at Sephora in 2016. There are a lot of brands out there doing really great things, and especially since COVID-19, we’re seeing more and more brands doing give-back donations or plant-tree initiatives, which we definitely salute. What is a differentiating factor for LXMI is how our social impact mission is value-led, rather than a value-added nice-to-have: it is weaved into every part of our supply chain and entire business model, fueling our whole business. Customers are so savvy when it comes to seeing through greenwashing campaigns and recent diversity inclusion. I believe it’ll be brands with a deeper purpose that will continue pushing progress and disrupting the beauty industry and the world at large. For us at LXMI, we have been working with marginalized communities, fighting global poverty and climate change since day 1; it’s part of our brand DNA, and we will continue working for change in the years to come. We love being activists for change, powered by our supportive community of committed brand fans.
Your final thoughts?
Anna Björkenvall: I oftentimes get asked what other brands and industries can do to become more sustainable and apply our social impact model to their field. Even though impact sourced brands are not the only solution when it comes to fighting global issues, of course, it’s one tangible way we can make a difference together, so we really invite business owners, startup entrepreneurs, and people in any industry to take a moment to think about how their business can apply a stronger social impact mindset. Look at the vendors you work with, your supply chain, the partnerships you can create – are there ways you can infuse your business with a genuine mission that’s more than skin deep?
For individuals, it’s time we acknowledge the power they have in voting with their dollars. By actively choosing what products, services, and brands you use and support, you can take part in shaping the future for all of us. There are many social impact brands out there beyond the clean beauty space, so there are so many ways we can use progressive business as a vehicle for change.
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