As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about strong women leaders who attained success with their incredible ideas, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonia Khemiri.
“People are stronger together.”- Sonia Khemri
Sonia Khemri is the owner and co-founder of ‘Beautyque NYC,‘ a destination where women could find personalized wellness&health, beauty solutions, and safe, efficient products from purposeful brands offering a unique value proposition.
Moreover, she holds experience for over 15 years in corporate environments, from entertainment to real estate. Sonia started many businesses since the age of 27, in addition to the founder of ‘Sunia K.™ cosmétiques authentiques.’
Belonging to a traditional Muslim family, she always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit us in March 2020; she launched the virtual storefront of Beautyque’s on May 13th, 2020, with the mission to become more purposeful than ever — supporting the self-care journey of women; building a community driven by values of kindness, education, positivity, inclusivity, and respect.
Many thanks for doing this for us; please let our users know about yourself and Beautyque NYC?
Beautyque NYC was born from the many challenges that independent beauty brand founders face. We are indie beauty brand founders ourselves — so we decided that instead of staring at this wall before us, we would break it down and build a door. Beautyque is a door for both our own brands and for others.
Beautyque was originally meant to be a physical store located in SoHo NYC. We intended to create a place where indie brands could have their own dedicated shelf space, meet their customers, host events, market their brands, and sell their products. Our role was to provide them with a unique retail environment where they could build brand awareness and foster engagement with their consumers.
On the other hand, we didn’t want to offer what every traditional retailer is already offering to their consumers. We firmly believe that beauty is not only about makeup and skincare. There is a French saying — “être bien dans sa peau” — which means “feel good under my skin.” To achieve this, it takes not only physical confidence but a combination of mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. We embody this at Beautyque by hosting live events with experts in mental health, fitness and nutrition, sexual wellness, makeup and skincare, and more. By holding these one-of-a-kind workshops, we’re able to educate and inspire our audience while introducing them to the right brands and products to help them achieve their own definition of beauty.
How is your journey as a Beautyque entrepreneur, and what inspires you the most?
Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle. A lifestyle is full of freedom in creativity but also full of many challenges. The beauty of doing what we do is the satisfaction of creating and implementing our innovation to help brands craft their messages, have more visibility and more awareness with our other subscribers and retail customers in this crowded market. We use technology to enhance the customer experience. This venture also opened up a door for us that is extremely exciting and promising – technology in the beauty industry. For us, this translates by bringing VR, AI, and AR altogether.
Beautyque NYC was originally created because the co-founders are indie beauty brand founders ourselves, and we personally experienced the difficulties of succeeding. We saw the power in numbers. Many brands working together and having an innovative platform had a bigger impact than indie brands working alone. As we work with many brands, we work as a group of like-minded entrepreneurs. We act as mentors, and it’s fulfilling.
What makes your successful marketing strategies different from others? How do you make it productive?
By being a startup and not accountable to investors yet, we have the freedom to create many marketing operations, test them and measure them. What makes us stand out is that we are crafting our marketing operation specifically for indie brands. Our concepts are not costly and can be extremely effective. The brand evaluation, for example, is one of our marketing operations. It’s designed specifically to create brand awareness and bring deep feedback about the brand and its products. It also creates recommendations and reviews that the brand can use immediately when the reviewer loves the product. When indie brands get into retailers, not all the retailers create specific marketing to the onboarded brands, and sometimes they have to pay large sums of money to be featured because the retailer is usually used to working with bigger brands. There is a barrier of entry for small brands.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My story is a story of a girl who was brought up in Europe and North Africa. My father is an entrepreneur who started his path at 12 years old. Even though it did not seem to be a choice for him at the time, it became his passion. He came from a modest family. However, they still had trouble paying the basic bills. None of his brothers did anything to help, and even though he was a bright student, he chose to work at the same time to help his family. He is now 74 years old and has never stopped. This is the environment I grew up in, and the work ethic was deeply embedded in me, although at the time, I didn’t realize it.
Where I come from, men are more likely to be entrepreneurs, so no one encouraged me to do so. Deep inside, I always wanted to, but I was directed (encouraged) to finish my Master’s Degree; maybe pursue a Ph.D. I received my Master’s Degree, and I was accepted to start my Ph.D. in Finance, but I decided instead to start working. I worked in a corporate environment for a while and decided at 35 that I would start a business in whatever skillset came from my experience, and I am passionate about it. Even though life interfered and things did not go exactly as planned, I still did what I promised myself; start a business. I had skin issues and was using a skincare oil that was invented in my hometown – the original prickly pear seed oil. It was an amazing oil, but no one knew about it, and this is how I found myself in beauty.
I did not pursue a Ph.D. in Finance, but I think I did one in beauty without a diploma attached! I needed to understand the industry I was jumping into. I took classes in cosmetic formulation, networked everywhere, and learned everything I could while facing challenges every indie beauty brand faces, lack of awareness, visibility, and funds. By observing other industry models, I noticed that there is no space dedicated to indie brands in a place like Soho, NY, where savvy customers look for new brands and where we can celebrate beauty. The rest is Beautyque history.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Being a woman, French, Tunisian, Canadian, not all cards were there for me to be a successful entrepreneur. When I look backward, the most interesting thing that I see is that I am where I thought I would be or planned to be a few years ago – I did not know how at the time. I thought about it, I just did what I thought is best. I learned to close the gap where weaknesses exceeded strengths, and even with all the challenges I faced, I know it will sound cliche. Still, I never gave up – no matter how difficult it was. This also relates to the way we, as a company, reacted to the pandemic. Exactly at the time, NYC began to shut down; I was in the process of leasing a space in Soho, NYC, with the intent of showcasing indie brands. As it turned out, Covid-19 forced me to reinvent the business model, and the physical store became the creative and innovative platform we have now.
Share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
When I launched my own indie skincare brand, I thought everything was prepared. I bought customized boxes with the custom engraving of logos, etc., and everything was ready to launch. I was ready to receive hundreds of orders a day as soon as I opened my website. As my expectation was high, I also prepared customized tapes for the shipping boxes and ordered much more than I should have! Everything looked beautiful. One quarter the way down in the first box of “custom packaging,” I notice the wrong name on all of the rest of the packaging. Not funny then, but maybe just a little tragically funny in retrospect!
Who’s your biggest supporter?
My dad helped indirectly because, as mentioned, he never encouraged me; but led by example. He always focused on the solution as soon as he faced problems. I didn’t like having bosses, but one of the bosses I admire told me rigor-method-discipline, and it stuck with me. He called me a thoroughbred. I did not know what he meant at that time, but he saw the entrepreneur in me.
What I always say to myself is to try everything in my power to make it work, and that’s what keeps me going all the time. I don’t even give it a chance not to.
How did your translate your good idea into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
It’s all about doing. An idea is just an idea, and everyone has good ideas. The challenge is to put them in action. I just do. I was not always like that because I know fear keeps us from doing. Then overcoming that fear is key to seeing what our ideas can look like and see what the response is and go from there.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path. Do you have any advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
It’s in the gut that we always feel and think that’s our path; give it a try. I don’t say go and jump, leave everything and do it because it takes a test, in the long run, to see how you are handling everyday work, to see if it’s a good business idea. In my case, when I started at 35, I left everything for it, and it was frightening, but for me, there was no other choice. It is not the smartest way to do it.
Do you practice meditation and yoga to keep yourself motivated?
I am a yoga teacher with no practice and humble I am by nature, and for me, there is nothing that I could do without the team at Beautyque. The credit does not come to me but to everyone. I don’t think and feel that I am a superwoman by doing what I do; I just do it because that’s what I like to do.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
I am not sure if I would have listened, though:
- I wish someone told me that it takes much longer than you think to make a business work. Patience was not a skill set.
- I wish someone told me not to leave your job to start a business because not having money to pay the bills is not great either.
- I wish someone told me that you are not going to sell right away just because you launched a website.
- I wish someone told me that I could make it – I am doing it anyway!
- I wish someone told me that the beauty industry is very complex!
How is your self-care routine look like? How did you take time to keep your mind and body thrive?
I try to run as much as I can. When I am very busy, I tend to forget to eat, which is my weakness, then I create an alarm for lunch to stop and eat. By nature, I don’t eat gluten, nor do I eat junk food. I eat three times a day between carbs, vegetables, and proteins, and I have vegan protein shakes that I take in the morning. I don’t meditate, but I take some walks outside to think freely without pressure, which is the equivalent of meditation for me. Since the pandemic started, I haven’t stopped getting dressed “to go to work” (even with shoes). I always do my skincare routine, take a daily bath, and do my makeup. It makes me feel good, and I keep doing it every day even if I don’t have Zoom appointments.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I am that person of influence, which I would accept immediately when presented, I will make sure all brands with a mission, a great product, and a business mindset get off the ground. At least the ones that are willing to do the work. I would give them the voice to be part of a change in an industry that needs to have more players. Also, I would invest in minority-owned companies. I am not talking about black beauty only because it’s a movement now. I am talking about any community that is facing barriers more than the average – women, immigrants, LGBTQ, etc. Clean beauty and mission-driven beauty would be a standard, meaning the majority of beauty brands are having a measurable impact on their community; their environment and having clean products is the basic.
Also, on the other hand, I would help people of all genders celebrate their beauty by giving them the space to learn how to feel beautiful and giving them the voice to be and act beautifully. The world needs beauty. The more beautiful we are, the better the world is, and I would throw huge parties to celebrate all this!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.