As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ada Polla.
Ada Polla (43) is the CEO of Alchimie Forever: Clean-ical (clean formulations, clinical results), vegan, dermatologist formulated skin + body care with Swiss roots.
Ada is “based” in Washington, DC, though she uses that term loosely, as pre-COVID, she was flying three or four times a week (about 150K miles/year), whether it was to New Orleans (where her husband is based), Geneva (where Forever Institut and Ada’s family are) or to key accounts, stores + spas across the nation.
Such a pleasure having you; please let our users know about yourself and Alchimie Forever?
Alchimie Forever is my family’s skincare brand, developed by my father, Dr. Luigi L. Polla, the leading dermatologist in Switzerland and the first physician to offer lasers for use in dermatology in Europe. I started working in my Dad’s medical office when I was 10 years old, and it was there that I began understanding how important the way one looks is to how one feels and acts.
I ended up in the US for college in 1995, at the age of 17, attending Harvard University. What was meant to be four years [in the US] ended up many, many more, as I am still based here, now in Washington, DC. (I received my MBA from Georgetown University, fell in love with the DC area, and have been here ever since.)
A couple of additional fun facts about me: I am the eldest of four daughters (and we’re all involved in the beauty industry in some way or form); I love to read, run and write; I adore champagne (Ruinart Blanc de Blanc or Billecart Salmon Rose are my favorites); I have four cat fur babies.
How special is it for women to have a self-care routine?
I am a huge believer in self-care, and more specifically, self-care through skincare. We are all moving at warp speed in this world… Allowing ourselves a minute or moment to breathe, to apply a face mask, to light a soothing candle, to soak in a bath, etc., is essential for our well-being, both physical and emotional.
How did you come up with this thoughtful idea of providing women a clean, vegan, dermatologist formulated skin essentials?
(It’s worth noting that Alchimie Forever is for all – men and women!)
The genesis or beginning of Alchimie Forever stems from crying children. Truly! In the mid-80s, my father, who, as I mentioned above, is the leading dermatologist in Switzerland, was the first to offer laser technology in Europe. Back then, lasers were used to treat port-wine stains and hemangioma in infants and toddlers. Parents from all over Europe would bring their children to my father’s practice for the pulsed dye laser treatment. While they were extremely effective, the treatments created pain, swelling, heat, irritation (as is the case with lasers) in the kid’s skin, and naturally, they would cry. My father is a softie and can’t stand to see a child in pain, so he set about creating a product that could be applied to the child’s skin immediately post-treatment to heal the skin… and subsequently stop the tears. That is how our Kantic Brightening Moisture Mask was born. The parents of my father’s patients would apply the mask to their own skin to encourage their children to try it, and they (the parents) absolutely loved the texture, the soothing factor, and most importantly, the results. They began asking my father to create more and more batches of the mask — as well as other products — and that was the true start of Alchimie Forever.
Over 15 years later, here we are, with 17 SKUs across the skin and body care (and more in development!), incredible partners (Amazon, Dermstore, Pharmaca, Walgreens), as well as select spas (Heyday) and beauty boutiques.
What challenges did you face at the start, and how did you overcome them?
Where to begin?!? Let me be frank (as we Swiss always are)…there were many, many challenges, especially in the beginning. First of all, I had never created and marketed a beauty line before – in the US or elsewhere. Second, I was in business school, finishing my degree and launching a business simultaneously – ambitious, to say the least. Third, the European consumer and the American consumer are quite different, and I had to adjust everything we had been doing “at home” to our “new market.” Lastly, I started the business alone, which means I was doing everything – no matter how small or large the task. It was…a lot. But with all of that said, I can look back and say with confidence that those challenges were true learning experiences that made me who I am and Alchimie Forever what it is today.
What do you do every day to keep yourself fit and energized?
I run a few times a week, always outdoors, no matter the weather or temperature. Being outdoors makes me feel connected to the world. I grew up in Switzerland – a love of the outdoors is instilled in you at a young age there! Plus, running is my form of meditation.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
The many conversations I have to have with myself – motivational conversations, coaching conversations, fierce conversations, level-setting conversations… Sometimes, I miss having “a boss” with whom to have these conversations.
Which is your favorite moisturizer or lotion?
While I don’t have children, I imagine that this question feels a bit like asking a parent who their favorite child is… I love them all and develop most products with somewhat a selfish goal in mind (read: my own skin).
However, I do have to admit I have one item I positively can’t live without. But it’s a serum – not a lotion! It’s our Advanced Retinol Serum. I use it twice per week and see immediate results in terms of glow and skin tone, and my fine lines and brown spots (I am 43, so trust that they exist!) are less visible. This product is a must for any (nonpregnant or nursing) woman in her 40s…
What is an important lesson you’ve learned from running your own business?
Lead by example. From the simplest things, like being the first in the office and the last one to leave to having done all of the jobs at least once, so I know what I am speaking of when I coach. Also, always remember that success is the team’s, and failure is your own.
Work with love. Love for what you do, love for your team members, love for the challenges, love for your clients. I am not afraid of love in business, in particular during challenging times. Love is more important in work than ever. I just read a great book – DO / PURPOSE by David Hieatt. My favorite quote in the book relates to love: “The customer can tell when a company loves its customers. And that love is felt and appreciated. Love scales.”
One morning habit of yours that makes you productive?
Waking up around 4:30 AM (yes, 4:30 AM) on weekdays. I love the quiet before everyone else is “up and at it.” It’s when I get some of my best thinking/writing/strategic work done. I wake up, brush my teeth, make coffee, light a candle, turn on my computer, and work on the one most important project of the day.
What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?
This depends on what is keeping me stuck, per se. Sometimes, I ask my subconscious brain to get to work and find a way to “unstuck” me (it works surprisingly well). Sometimes I go for a run. And sometimes I read. Now that I think about it, both running and reading are also ways to encourage my brain to work on something while I am not explicitly working on something.
What does the world need more of right now?
Kindness and courtesy (now and always). And the ability to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
According to you, what five skill-sets should a woman have to give them strength?
- Strong quantitative skills.
- The ability to mentor others (aka leadership skills).
- A strong work ethic.
- The willingness to use the word “no.”
If you had taken a different career path, what would it be?
Some days I dream about being a writer. Who knows? Maybe this is in my future.
If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
- My husband (who thankfully is alive) – because there is nothing I cherish more than a dinner date night with him.
- Bill Belichick – because his mind and football strategies fascinate me, and I have a long list of questions I would love to ask him. (Yes, I’m a Patriots fan from my Boston days).
- Amanda Gorman – because her words are so inspiring.
What is your favorite mantra or affirmation that you say to yourself to keep you going?
One of my best girlfriends shared this quote with me many years ago:
You are but dust and ashes
The universe was created for me.
The first sentence is a reminder to keep my ego in check when everything is going so right. The second sentence is a reminder of everything that is to come when work (or life) is more challenging. I love, love, love both of these sentences so much.
Lastly, what does success mean to you?
Knowing that if I learned today, I would die in a year, I would not change much at all in how I live my life daily.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.