Stark Skincare has definitely been on DOA’s watchlist. A green, micro-batched skincare brand run by Canadian native, Jessica Lafleur. Stark Skincare focuses on great plant-based ingredients and excellent value for their customers. Many influencers rave about the quality of her range and we were keen to find out about Jess, her background, interests and all things skincare with this all-round cool lady.
What led you to start Stark Skincare?
A lifelong interest in making my own skincare. This is so cliché but it was simply a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. Seems kind of a dull or obvious response now, but at the time I’d never have dreamed of making it into a business I love! Falling in love with my now husband gave me the audacity and courage to quit a stable job at a growing, successful startup in Montreal to do my own thing.
Stark’s unofficial motto is “love & rebellion”, and that’s exactly what drove me to start my business, and keep it going years later. I also have a background in herbalism, geography, I’ve since also studied advanced cosmetic formulation and aromatherapy (and who knows what’s next!).
Tell us about your journey with plants and herbs?
As a child vegetarian, I kind of developed a natural respect towards plants as I felt I was consistently defending their nutritional value to my peers, their parents, and various family members who didn’t understand my choice to not eat meat. I always had my own houseplants in my bedroom as a child, and when I had my own first apartment at age 17, it was FILLED with plants and light (same with my current home…to me, nothing makes my house a home like natural light and plants). I also grew up in a rural area, and even now I am finding myself inching closer and closer away from the city and into the forest, where I really want to be living (I suspect I will be living in a cabin somewhere very woodsy by 2020). As an adult, I went on to study herbs and then in university (round 2) I studied Geography, with a particular fascination in plant ecology. Now, studying and appreciating plants is just a day by day thing. I work with them, eat them, live with them and go out and walk amongst them! They excite me, inspire me, and are just fascinating.
How do you develop and produce Stark’s range?
I usually start off with a general idea for a product that I think my customers would love. For example, “let’s make a classic foaming cleanser..”. I work out what product functions I want (e.g detoxifying yet gentle, light exfoliation, for all skin types but will really help congested skin in a warm climate), followed by few base ingredients I want to incorporate, how they will function together (types of surfactants, oil, additional active ingredients) and the type of product (gel, cream etc).
Once those details are worked out, then I keep my eyes open for ideas! Inspiration can strike anywhere. Back to my cleanser example, the inspiration for my gel cleanser, Eclipse came to me while I was in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The texture, look and scent came to me then, I had to figure out what ingredients I wanted it to have when I got back to Canada.
Which brands and individuals inspire you in the green skincare industry and why?
I am friendly with a lot of similar brand founders, such as the founders of Meow Meow Tweet, Province Apothecary, Cocoon Apothecary, La Bella Figura, Josh Rosebrook and others. These people and their brands each inspire me because I have found them to be my colleagues, not my competition. We share ideas, information and encouragement with the utmost respect and generosity. I find this to be incredibly inspiring. In the larger picture, I find Patagonia to be one of the most intriguing brands out there.
What other hobbies do you find interesting and why?
I love to cook, practice yoga, go for long walks and snowboard. Cooking is a practical hobby when you have a family, plus you never know how it can inspire a new skincare product (sometimes I have Chef’s Table playing in the background while I work!). Yoga has been part of my life for the past 18 years or so and as someone with anxiety, I wouldn’t function well without it.
Walking in nature is therapy to me, it helps clear my mind and brainstorm new ways of framing a problem. I took up snowboarding again last year, Alpine sports have always been a part of my identity, I skied from the age of 4, took up snowboarding when I was 14 and loved it for over a decade, then and got back into it at 35! I love how fast and fierce I feel on my board, being all geared up against the climate and fully immersed in the moment: the steepness of the mountain, the freezing air, my muscles burning.
What part of a skin care regime do you think is the most important and why?
Protecting your skin from the elements and controlling the damage. Our skin needs a “layer” against the effects of pollution and harsh climates to look as un-weathered as it can. (Aging is fine but why not keep your skin looking fresher and less damaged if you easily can.) That’s why I formulate to fortify and safeguard skin from urban elements. I believe Stark Skincare plus sunscreen is all you need to keep skin looking healthier in the long-term.
What part of a skin regime do you think women neglect?
A good cleanser and protection. There’s still too much just letting skin “breathe” without any products, or focusing on too much makeup and not enough on good skincare.
I’m all for simple, but that doesn’t mean neglecting your skin. On the flip side, for those a little obsessed with skincare products and building a regime, sometimes I find people are using too much product (too many serums and masks) and unless you know each product very well and have used it for years, how do you know how skin will react?
What ingredients do you think are underrated and why?
Humble ingredients from common plants. There’s too much focus in the organic skincare community on rare, exotic plants. Many of them are awesome but at what cost? How sustainable are they? How much more beneficial are they really, compared to something simple and already grown in abundance. I try to look for common but kickass ingredients, such as ingredients that come from rice. Humble rice!
Do you have any expert advice for taking care of your skin?
Never underestimate the importance of those quiet moments you have with yourself when you get to cleanse and prepare your skin for the day or night. Having a skincare routine twice a day, even if it’s only 2 minutes long maybe your only moments of quiet time fully focused on checking in with yourself in a day. Incorporate massage into your routine (your hands are your best tools) and never go to bed with your makeup still on.
What’s made you decide to evolve Stark Skincare to the 2.0 version and what products are you obsessed with?
Stark 2.0 will be a larger range than the original, and I wanted the look to still be whimsical and a little edgy, but more uniform. I also made changes that allow me to be more flexible with my brand for it to grow more organically (no pun intended).
I am usually obsessing over what hasn’t been released yet or on reformulations. In my current range, I’m obsessed with Midnight Regenerating Oil. The scent alone is enough to fall in love with, it also has a thick, satisfying serum-like texture that sinks in beautifully, the next morning my skin feels so plump and fresh.
What new products are you working on that you are really excited by?
I am working on reformulating both my cleansers at the moment. I want to make them more modern and meet the demands of my customers. Eclipse (the gel cleanser) is being tweaked to be gentle and moisturizing to acne-prone, adult skin while still offering up a great exfoliation. Aurora (the cleansing balm) will basically be magic in a jar! I’m keeping the elements my customers love about these cleansers and tweaking them to add what the customers are asking more of. Luckily, we all seem to be on the same page so I’m really excited to release them!
I am also working on my hydrating serum, which was the last of the products launched in the 1.0 version of the brand and hasn’t been released yet. It will have better functionality, skin benefits and be a better price point than its predecessor, I’m obsessed. Oh, and a mask and re-releasing the perfumes! I’ve been editing my online course also.
I’m super busy!
Tell us what your usual day is like?
For the past few months, I have been my mom’s caretaker as she has been sick so that’s been sort of the biggest morsel on my plate, energetically, emotionally and time-wise. I am with her nearly every day, hanging out or helping out.
We are also home-schoolers, and although my husband is the primary educator and child-rearer in the family, I am still on mom-duty 24/7. Three days a week, I try to work full days and I am in my studio from 8 am to 5 pm, but lately that’s more flexible. As a result, my work projects are taking longer.
2017 has been about what I can start to say no to, and concentrate on working in my zone of genius every chance I get. 2018 will be more of this, lots of leaping and growth on my terms.
Tell us who you love following on Instagram?
Mostly my customers. There are also a few “influencers” I follow, such as Caroline Hirons (one of DOA’s favourites) or The Anna Edit who I love (apparently I love British influencers), as well as smaller influencers who I consider to be my friends such as L’Amour et la Musique and Jenn Rogers. I love following fellow brands that I’ve watched evolve for years and years.
Living in Montreal, tell us your favourite hotspots (food, shopping, art & culture).
We left Montreal two years ago, packed up all our things, put them in storage and travelled for 5 months in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Afterwards, I moved “back home” to the Gatineau Hills. So, my closest city is now Ottawa-Gatineau, which is certainly not quite as cool and laidback as Montreal (sorry Ottawa!!), but it definitely has its charms.
There’s a modern Italian-ish restaurant I love called Town on Elgin, and there’s a beautiful bar/speakeasy in a classic Victorian house called Prohibition. Mostly I hang out in the neighborhood called Hintonburg, a ten-minute drive for me, which reminds me of Montreal in a general way. There are a few great cafes like the Ministry of Coffee, where you can start the day with a great latte and end it with a glass of red wine while you work on your laptop. The neighborhood is also where I get my hair cut, go shopping and there’s a few micro-brewers and fancy old-timey haunts that feel European to me like Absinthe or the Hintonburg Public House where you can get a pickled egg that will blow our mind (they also serve a delicious local vermouth on the rocks, which is my old-man drink of choice). My cultural haunt nowadays is 100% the Gatineau Hills. It’s basically a national park that is all forest, hills and lakes and it’s the size of the island of Montreal! I walk and play in the there as much as I can. It’s everything to me, these days.
Shop the range: Stark Skincare