“I love this damn brand!”: An interview with Founder and CEO of MIRROR WATER—Estée Lalonde
12 07 22
By: MIRROR WATER
Ok—this is the story of MIRROR WATER. It all feels like forever and ever ago, especially now that we’re in the real thick of things with the brand
By: Julie Tanner for MIRROR WATER
"Then when the pandemic hit I realised how exhausted I was, like how everybody was. You know how you don’t realise how tired you are until you stop?
When did MIRROR WATER begin?
Ok—this is the story of MIRROR WATER. It all feels like forever and ever ago, especially now that we’re in the real thick of things with the brand, but for a long time I had wanted to create something around the connection I felt with my online community.
When the pandemic hit I realised how exhausted I was, like how everybody was. You know how you don’t realise how tired you are until you stop? That, but on a grander scale. Personally, I’d been churning out content every day for ten years, and although it’s a part of me and doesn’t always feel like a job, it does come with its own pressures. In 2020 a lot of my work dried up: I stopped getting sponsorships, even product send-outs were on pause, there was just nothingness. I had the time to put the energy into some older ideas that had been sitting below the surface and figure out how to make them happen. I gave myself permission to take this idea seriously.
Why did you decide to focus on bathing and body care?
At the start of the pandemic I spent a lot of time thinking about what drew me to start YouTube in the first place and it really came down to connection. I’ve shared so much of my life online, including my mental health journey and, although I’ve had to reflect on boundaries at times, sharing in that way and especially on that scale creates a unique relationship with my viewers and that connection is so important to me. At work and in my personal relationships I can’t hide how I feel; I seek out strong connections. Then alongside that there’s my beauty and lifestyle content and, in particular, viewers will know that the ritual of bathing has always been there for me. It helps me to feel more connected with myself but also taking that time for myself helps my connection with others as well. And during the pandemic I was in the bath every single day. Sometimes it was a way to escape the pandemic and at others it was my chance to process. That period was what helped me to make that connection between my journey, my interest in community, connection, and mental health, and my belief in the power of bathing. I knew those things are what I care about and what my audience cares about because that’s why they follow me in the first place.
"People in the comments have mentioned that they feel less alone, and that's very meaningful to me
Is that a complicated thing when you see that your audience resonates when you post about mental health?
There was a time about 5 years ago when, out of various mental health issues, anxiety was a particularly ‘hot topic’. I think it was even exploited a bit, to be honest. But at the ultimately it’s good to talk about it. In terms of sharing, it hasn’t been too complicated for me because I usually know when I want to discuss something, if I feel pulled intuitively to share it. A while ago I met someone at Maltby St market and we got talking about anxiety and she said that my videos helped her to realise what she had been struggling with. People in the comments have mentioned that they feel less alone, and that’s very meaningful to me. I will say that sometimes after I’ve shared something I will get what I call a vulnerability hangover, like when I share a video where I’ve spoken about something serious, I’ve cried on camera and then I think ‘Ahh why did I share that?!’. But I share those sides to it as well, this uncertainty about how to manage sharing things, because I don’t want to be a spokesperson either.
You mentioned the challenge of founding a brand. Can you talk more about that?
I swear, if I’m not struggling then I’m bored. If a day in the office is going well I’ll think ‘what can I do to shake things up’—maybe that’s a Leo thing, we love drama! But when I started I didn’t know all of the jargon; in a meeting I had to Google what MOQ (minimum order quantity) is, I felt so over my head. But I learned on the way. The main challenges for me have been operations, logistics, and packaging. In the past I’ve listened to founders talk about their products, presenting them to me saying ‘this lip balm took blood, sweat and tears to make’—and now I really get it. Did you know that it costs about £10,000 to put a single product through stability testing?! No one teaches you how to be a boss, and I don’t mean like a girlboss, I’m talking about how I was used to talking with other people working in beauty about new product launches and now I’m on the other side, talking in depth with suppliers about the cardboard shortage! My therapist tells me to put the air quotes down when I say that I’m a ‘boss’ and I’m ‘running two companies’—she’s like “You literally are!”. Some days, though, you feel like you’re drowning—oh wow drowning in MIRROR WATER, that’s a phrase—but you need mentors, a team, willingness to delegate sometimes, asking for help. It’s been a journey (at this point Estée is massaging RUB into her neck). Everyone said that the market is so niche, that bathing and fragrance are the hardest areas to break into, but I knew it was the right thing to do, and we’re doing it!
"I don’t think I’ll ever feel pressure like that again.
So we’ve spoken about challenges, what about a standout highlight?
Seeing the products in their packaging. The Monologues series on Instagram, especially now we’ve opened them for our audience to create as well. The Vogue feature. The Elle feature. Being nominated in the Sunday Times Beauty Awards. Another one, this was huge—in the days leading up to our pre-order sale, I’ve never felt pressure like that. I don’t think I’ll ever feel pressure like that again. It was such a responsibility and I wanted so badly to be able to keep going. And then when it actually happened I could see that the idea did resonate with people. I made a video to go with the launch and people in the comments were writing things like ‘These products make so much sense for you’ and I can’t tell you the relief I had that my audience got it. Our team is always so excited with everything in the works and looking to the future together. (Laughing) I love this damn brand!
What’s next for this damn brand?
We’re working on merch! But we do have our tote bag that's available now! I really want to make a cap. My friend was out with his tote bag, he was getting a suit fitted, and the tailor asked about MIRROR WATER and I was really excited to hear about that.
There’s a lot going on and we always have so much to look forward to. Next there’s a new product coming that’s amazing and I think people are going to love what we’ve done with it. I can feel it in my bones.