Tami Blake wears many hats every day. She is a mother, a licensed esthetician, a certified cosmetic coach, an eco-warrior, an active lifestyle adopter, an adventurer and a beauty entrepreneur. Quite a list of activities, demanding her daily attention! She also supports non-profits and creates effective skincare products that allow her customers to look after their skin needs, without spending too much time on daily beauty routine. I thought it would be timely to do a Q & A with her, at the time when the world continues to reel from the effect of pandemic and we all need inspiration & real knowledge grounded in experience.
One of the important elements of looking after our skin and body is the ability to learn from & about the founders of the brands that we choose to use on our biggest organ – our skin. So that we understand what motivates them to create skincare and hopefully be able to ask questions related to our individual product choices and skin concerns. The more Free and True Skincare products I tried, the more I became curious about the woman powering this mighty special beauty & wellness brand. So I am grateful that Tami found the time to answer with much detail a lot of questions that I had for her. I hope you enjoy getting to know Tami from a distance as much as I did, because her writing provides meaningful pleasure, as well as deepens the knowledge you might already have.
Tami, please tell me what led you to create Sweet & True Sugaring and Free + True Skincare? Which business was born first and how do you find the time to run both?
Tami Blake: I made a life changing career move in my mid 30’s. One day after taking a class in herbal preparations for skin I discovered my passion for aromatherapy and plant based healing. After I had my 2nd child I had this yearning to pivot and try something different. In 2012 I took a leap of faith, left a career in banking compliance and risk management and opened a spa. I dreamed of offering cleaner, non-toxic beauty alternatives and expressing my creativity. But when I opened my spa, the clean beauty options were not as robust as they are now. So I immersed myself in the study of skincare ingredients and botanicals, got licensed as an esthetician and began my journey as a cosmetics formulator. And then I took another leap of faith. I launched my first product line Sweet & True Sugaring a botanical based, sugaring hair removal collection for professionals in the spa industry. This allowed my own understanding of skincare to evolve, inspiring a deeper definition of beauty that’s achievable through purpose-driven work. For me those are the things that allow inner beauty to shine. I continued to nurture my passion for aromatherapy and my gift for formulating. Then I started using my formulas to heal people’s skin. When the time came to develop my facial care line, Free + True Skincare, I considered my active lifestyle and those of my clients; we had little time for complex regimens but wanted high performance results.
As a self-funded brand, I’ve had to work twice as hard so that I could reinvest every dollar back into my brands. Hiring a good team is the only way to grow. I currently have five in house employees and 15 educators across the United States.
What’s your professional background and how difficult it is to be a beauty brand founder in current times, when so many beauty brands compete for customer attention?
Tami Blake: Starting off in the beauty industry as a spa owner and esthetician gave me a different perspective on beauty and skin. When I was in esthetician school, I fell in love with the chapter on ingredients. I was fascinated by how various ingredients both botanical and lab created interacted with the skin. I knew that in order to stand out I needed to get focused. Launching a collection of sugaring products for the professional spa and esthetics industry seemed like a winner. Sugaring is an ancient, natural form of hair removal that uses a paste made of sugar, water and lemon. There is not a ton of competition in this niche category and I had already experienced the success of bringing that treatment into my spa. There are an abundance of skin care lines in the world, but sugaring was the road less traveled and I jumped at that opportunity. Perhaps hair removal is not as glamorous as skincare but it’s a lucrative career move for estheticians and a service that many clients seek out even when the economy is down. I think that is important in any business–you fill a gap and meet a need in the marketplace. Free + True Skincare is my true passion. I love formulating results driven formulas that are affordable but elegant. Every esthetician will tell you that you need a hyaluronic serum, chemical exfoliator, vitamin C and retinol product in any skincare line. So my approach is very clinical and research based but rooted in the spirit of indie, whole botanical beauty. I want to bring those two worlds together while keeping it simple, accessible and mission based.
My approach to the beauty business has always been to work hard, formulate effective products, invest in branding, relax and let the energy flow.
What are the main foundations/principles that you’ve built Free + True Skincare on?
Tami Blake: I created products based on what I observed as an esthetician. Most skin is either oil or water dry from lack of hydration, over exfoliation or stripping the skin’s acid mantle. Product overload is an issue for many. I wanted to simplify the process for women who are too busy for 5-7 step routines. For me the foundation of glowing skin is to keep the skin’s barrier in optimal health with the proper balance of essential fatty acids, hydration, gentle exfoliation, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients. Skincare is like a well-balanced diet.
What is the Free + True Skincare product/s that you tend to use the most & why?
Bright Side Vitamin C Serum, Ramblin Rose Hydrating Serum, Freedom Fighter Antioxidant Face Oil my favorites. Sometimes I’ll mix them together to make a customized emulsion that my skin needs. It’s a trio rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids and hydration. In the mornig I always top it off with a tinted SPF.
How has the pandemic affected you & what are your tips on looking after your health & appearance that help you to thrive and move forward during the pandemic?
Tami Blake: This pandemic has encouraged me to see the world with a new perspective. It’s allowed me to value human connection and the privilege of being able to live each day in the present moment. The premise of the Free + True collection is to simplify our daily skincare routines to free up more time to do what matters most in life. The pandemic helped me to take stock of that.
Meditation and spending time in nature are my favorite self care rituals. They are the foundation of my mental health and allow me to show up in the world with my best foot forward. My daily meditation practice has been a game changer in bringing me a sense of inner peace and grounding. I do it most mornings for 15 minutes and it sets the tone for the day. I am productive, happier and less stressed.
I started roller skating and it has become my happy place. I think as women who are juggling so much that taking time for meditation (self care) and physical activity matters. My son and I go to the school yard together to ride bikes and roller skate. I think that I’ve become much stronger emotionally by taking time for wellness, roller skating, meditation and diet.
You trained as a ballet dancer, you recently have taken on roller blading – how important is the discipline and physical activity to you personally & professionally?
Tami Blake: If it weren’t for the pandemic, I would never have dusted off my roller skates. I love dance and being able to connect again with ballet though roller skating has been therapeutic for me. Becoming a professional dancer was not in the cards for me. I didn’t love it enough; it’s not the best route for a wild and carefree spirit. But the rigor of dancing 3 to 4 hours a day, five days a week, teaches you discipline. When you’re building something that matters in your life, it becomes an obsession that makes you happy. It doesn’t feel like work. I am in love with the process of building something and not the end goal. Training as a professional dancer is a never ending process and that taught me a lot. You’re always challenging yourself and learning about yourself through expressive movement.
There was an article published recently on the Business Of Fashion talking about skin immunity & convergence of beauty, health & wellness. What does the word ‘beauty’ mean to you and how can your customers get healthier and more beautiful skin while using your products?
Tami Blake: I formulated simplified routines that feed your skin the essentials so that you can face the day with confidence. I believe that embracing our natural beauty is a form of liberation. From our hair, to facial features, skin tone and body type, we are bombarded with images that dictate what is beautiful. This form of conditioning consumes us to the point of doing tremendous harm to our skin and spirits. Working with many different skin types gave me an intimate look inside the conditioning that subconsciously tells women that their natural looks are not enough. I took a different approach. Using my products to support healthy glowing skin allows our perspective of beauty to evolve. True freedom and confidence comes from loving who we are and from believing in nature’s perfection. Beauty is an inside job. You can slather on all the creams in the world but if you’re stressed out, eating poorly, not exercising or not immersed in what brings you joy, you’re not going to feel your best. In the spirit of a more holistic approach to beauty, my brand Free + True Skincare is moving in the direction of health and wellness because I am committed to helping women nurture that inner glow. That comes from listening to your body and knowing when it’s time to take a step back to rest, heal and recharge.
How does one choose the right combination of Free + True products for their skin depending on age and skin type?
Tami Blake: Shoot us an email and I’d be happy to help. When I recommend products I like to get an idea of your lifestyle, commitment to skincare, what you’re loving now in your skincare routine and what your goals are. Then we dive into the mechanics of your skin’s personality, I always recommend going slow with any new product line and starting out with a skin reset if you’re transitioning into clean beauty. That usually starts with a combo of Ramblin Rose Hydrating Serum and Freedom Fighter Antioxidant Face Oil before we incorporate the more active Free + True products.
There is an increased confusion among consumers when it comes to terminology in the beauty marketplace – terms like clean, holistic, chemical-free, sustainable etc What ‘niche’ do you place your products in & how can consumers make better choices when it comes to looking after their skin & body, without falling prey to misleading marketing products?
Tami Blake: I try to steer clear of labels like green, organic, chemical-free or holistic and focus more on the formula and using ingredients that do not harm people or the planet. I seek out and pay a premium for organically grown or locally grown botanicals when possible and lab-synthesized ingredients that do not negatively impact our planet.
If you’re not an ingredient junkie like me, then it’s important to source your skincare from reputable stores that have standards for cleaner, non-toxic formulas. Clean Beauty Box, Beauty Heroes and Aillea are great introductions to the world of clean, non-toxic beauty.
There have been so many advancements in clean beauty since I opened my spa eight years ago. Overall my formulas are pretty simple (plant water, thickener, plant oils, botanical extracts emulsifiers, lab synthesized actives (vitamins, antioxidants etc) and Ecocert preservatives). Once you understand what makes up the base of a skincare formula, then it’s easy to formulate with the right balance of high tech actives and botanical extracts that deliver those ingredients in the safest most effective vehicle possible.
You use local Californian botanicals with high-tech ingredients in your formulations – have recent fires in California impacted your sourcing & what can we do as individuals through our beauty routine/choices in order to be kinder to the plant and its resources?
Tami Blake: We will see the effects of climate change on ingredient sourcing in the years to come. We’ve seen how wildfires, politics and the pandemic have influenced our ability to source. Some of my suppliers went out of businesses or had operational delays. There is a ripple effect. I am working closely with my suppliers and am willing to do whatever it takes to support the work they do during these challenging times. My locally sourced herbs have so far not been impacted. We are expecting our last 2020 shipment of fresh botanicals next week.
If you want to be kinder to the planet, less is more (in all we do)! As far as beauty goes, you only need a few products to address cleansing, moisturizing, hydrating and any targeted needs. Keep it simple and stick to what your skin loves. Supporting indie brands committed to treading lighter on the planet is critical. At Free + True Skincare and Sweet & True Sugaring we source locally and organically grown ingredients. We offset our carbon emissions as a business and donate to many environmentally conscious organizations. As we grow we are aware of our environmental impact and in 2021 our goal is to make incremental changes to become more sustainable in our business practices whether reevaluating our supply chain, packaging or ingredient sourcing. If there is a more sustainable way that we can do things, we want to consider those options.
As a mother, do you talk about skincare with your son? What habits should we teach our children in order for them to look after their skin well and build their own confidence in the process?
Tami Blake: Safe sun starts early! I focus mostly on sun protection with my son for obvious reasons. Additionally, most aging is due to the cumulative effects of sun exposure over time. So the best “anti-aging” routine is to focus on sun protection.
With regards to skincare for young adults, start with inexpensive, but quality ingredients to balance out sebum production. Niacinamide and clay are my favorite ingredients for teen formulas. A lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer (Mama Pacha), a non-stripping creamy gel cleanser (Marigold Morning) and toner (Moment of Clarity) and maybe a clay mask (Raw + Wild) are a good start for teen or tween skin. The next step is to teach your kids to love eating fruits and vegetables. When my 7-year-old reaches for a red bell pepper or a sliced pear on his breakfast plate, it makes me happy. Diet is important. Lastly, confidence is learned. As mothers, we must live by example and give our kiddos the tools they need to nurture their talents, to find passion in sports, dance or academics. Life is complicated for our youth– they need a lot of love (hugs, kisses and quality time), they need to stay busy doing things that matter and they need to spend less time on social media.
Can you share anything about the new product launches you are currently working on?
Tami Blake: I am excited to be launching a collection of products formulated to support your inner beauty by boosting wellness and vitality! Stay tuned!
“A Simple Act Of Kindness can Make A Big Difference. It has the power to change the world. And right now, we need it more than ever.“Tami Blake, Free and True Skincare moto
P.S. I also want to spotlight two initiatives that are important to Tami Blake, as a woman and an entrepreneur. The first one is the Free and True Skincare partnership with INNER CITY BLISS, a non-profit organization dedicated to offering trauma-informed mindful yoga and meditation to Black and Brown communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as online. Founded by Andre Humphrey, his mission is to bring bliss & emotional care to where it simply doesn’t exist. Andre is the recipient of the first Free + True business grant, which is Tami’s way of playing things forward. Why, you might be curious to know? Well, in 2012 Tami herself received a business grant from a local Bay Area company, which allowed to start her first business, Sweet & True Sugaring. So Tami hopes that the funds available to Andre will enable him to scale his mission upwards & onwards. On an ongoing basis, the brand will be donating $2 from every purchase of Bright Side Serum to the Inner City Bliss that plays an important role in sustaining mental health of those that might need it quite urgently.
Another partnership is of a buzzy kind. In all that Free and True Skincare does as a skincare brand, from sourcing botanicals to creating simple and natural formulations, it strives to have a positive net impact on the planet, leaving it better off than it was. That’s why Tami chose to team up with Pollinator Partnership, a non profit organisation that promotes the health of pollinators (like bees, birds and butterflies) through conservation, education and research. $1 from every sale of Raw + Wild Illuminating Honey Mask goes to Pollinator Partnership.
“Pollinators are absolutely critical to agriculture ecosystems, our food supply and surrounding landscapes. These creatures fly from plant to plant, carrying pollen on their bodies and depositing it on flowering plants in a vital interaction that supports and sustains the plants’ reproduction. These plants bear the fruit and vegetables that we eat, provide over half of the world’s oils and fibers, prevent soil erosion and increase carbon sequestration. To put it simply – without pollinators, our ecosystem as we know it would collapse. Their conservation is critical to the health of this planet.”
At the time when many brands shout loudly about commitments they make – to consumers and the planet, it’s worth paying attention to the quiet voices that focus on their daily actions in order to slowly bring along meaningful change. From simple but effective skincare routine that will allow customers to look and feel better to the genuine social blocks in the foundation of the brand, Tami Blake is the voice worth listening to.
To learn more about Free + True Skincare, please click here (the link is not sponsored). At the moment the brand doesn’t have European or UK retailers, but you can order directly online or from beauty retailers like Beauty Heroes or The Clean Beauty Box.