Something that weighs heavily on my mind is the pressure that working mothers feel, both at work and home. For me, it was impossible to escape the mom guilt over how long I was spending at the office, but I also felt like I wasn’t giving my employer my full attention. It’s hard when you feel like a failure both at home and at work. Flexible employment options are limited for working moms in New Brunswick, so it was very encouraging and refreshing to speak with someone who felt like I did, but who was an employer. April MacKinnon, the owner behind the skincare company Anointment, is next in the Ms New Brunswick series. Anointment’s products are stand alone impressive, but so too is April’s understanding and compassion for her employees and their families.
When your work is very rigid in their expectations about your performance and attendance, it can feel like having a family is preventing you from achieving your career goals. Having a family shouldn’t impact your career, but we know that it does. An article that ran in the Financial Post yesterday stated that “women are 15 per cent less likely than men to get promoted — and a mother is half as likely to be promoted as a woman without children”. These are stats coming out of the United States, but the data here isn’t much different.
Tell me a bit about Anointment.
Anointment is a clean skincare company. Our products used to cater to pregnant and nursing women and babies, but has grown over the years and now there is something for everyone. It started as a farmer’s market product in Halifax 15 years ago, and changed to an online retail and wholesale style company when we moved home to Sackville in 2011. Anointment did really well in Halifax because the market was bigger there. When we moved to Sackville we had to redesign the brand to be wholesale-able because we just couldn’t sell at the same volume at the local farmer’s market. Sackville is so much smaller than Halifax so we had to think differently and find a larger market for our products. Now we sell to over 300 retailers and you can order our products directly from us off our website. Every product is still handmade here in Sackville. We’ve grown so much over the years and we’ve done it all in this rural community!
How did you get started?
That’s a complicated answer. My background is actually in civil Engineering and I had done a lot of work in landfills and became really dismayed at the throw-away culture. It’s jarring to see just how much trash we create. Another part of it is that during my first pregnancy I really went through a skincare detox. I became aware and informed about chemicals and cleansers and all the terrible things we are exposing ourselves and our kids to and I became passionate about keeping that stuff out of my house. At the time I owned a baby goods store in Halifax and one of my suppliers was a friend of mine that made soaps that were safe and natural. She taught me a lot about soap-making and eventually she was looking to sell her business, so I bought it. I already had a passion for all-natural products, and I just really enjoyed making soaps, and I loved coming up with new ideas. I also knew that I would eventually want to relocate to New Brunswick to be nearer my family and I thought that this business would be easier to transport than a physical retail store (and I was right).
Anointment looks a lot different now than it did when it started, but when you have a business you have to be in it for the long-term. Success is often a slow build and it’s very much like parenting where you are working day to day for a long-term goal. I’m 12 years in and I am still working toward that long-term.
Has the community been supportive?
Yes! The very first thing I did was join the farmers market to see if there was potential for my business to thrive here. Sackville is small but they have been incredibly supportive. I have two retailers here even though the town is so small. I still go to the market, seasonally and when time allows, but for the first little while that we were here it was a huge chunk of the business. I am so thankful for that.
I also received lots of opportunity and help from the CBDC and Opportunities New Brunswick. I have had great success from those programs, and I feel that they are good resources for small business owners. It can be difficult I think to get in with them, to get on their radar, but once you are you have access to a lot of wonderful programs.
My family has also been a huge part of the reason I’m successful. My husband for one, I couldn’t do it without him. I used to always work Saturdays and he’s always been great at backing me up. He picks up the slack when I’m away at trade shows. It hasn’t been easy; he’s never had a super flexible schedule, but he makes it work. We moved home to be closer to family and my parents live like 500 yards away now. They are very helpful and my Dad even works with me.
You have a ton of wonderful products for pregnant/nursing mothers and babies. Is that still the main focus of Anointment?
I wouldn’t say that is the focus anymore. We have so many lines and have expanded so much we really have products for anyone. As the business grew, so did the opportunities to expand the product lines. As my life changes, so does my interest in the direction of what products to try and develop next. I have adolescent kids now so I am interested in developing deodorants and skincare lines for teenagers.
Do you have any employees?
Yes. I have an amazing team of women, plus my Dad. There are five of us total, and we make, package and ship every single product ourselves. Dad is my soap maker. He covered my last maternity leave (6 years ago) and has been with us ever since. He loves it. The rest of us all work together, but we all have specific roles so everyone can get their work done on their own time. Mostly they all work about 25-30 hours a week and we work around their family schedules. It is so huge to be able to offer flexible employment to these women. It's something I am really proud of. I have kids, I know what it feels like to be worried about your employer’s reaction when you have to pick up your sick kid at daycare, and so it is important to me to be a different kind of employer. And it works, for all of us.
What is the biggest difficulty you’re dealing with now?
The biggest challenge I have had in this community is finding workspace. We are home-based right now - I have a separate production space in a building next to my home, but it’s too small. There’s nothing really suited to my needs in Sackville and I haven’t found a suitable space. I am a medium-sized business that doesn’t require a retail front. I need something like a warehouse, but not a giant industrial-sized one. It seems like there are a lot of options for small businesses, retail, or large-scale commercial operations here.
How do you balance work and personal life?
For a long time, I don’t think I had a lot of balance. I had three small kids and I was working well into the night or getting up at 3am just to squeeze in 4-5 hours of work time before they got up, which I really don’t recommend, by the way. I’ve come to realize that life doesn’t get less busy it just changes. There is no point where it’s easier – there is no point where suddenly things relax and it gets significantly easier. Life is crazy. So, when you realize that, you just prioritize. I make time for my family. I try really hard not to work on weekends, and I don’t work fulltime. I am always around for suppers, homework and helping out. I talk with my kids. I attend their events. You show up for your family, and you multi-task when you can.
What’s next for Anointment?
We’ve started growing some of the ingredients for our products here on the property, like calendula and rose hips, and I am looking to expand that even more next year. My parents were always thrifty and always had a garden, so growing our own ingredients has become a part of the business. We also recently got our cruelty-free certification which was a big deal. We’ve always been cruelty-free of course, but it’s not easy to get the official certification and it opens up a lot of opportunities for us. I am excited for what is on the horizon for Anointment - I’m always playing the long-game.
What is one piece of advice you would give other women looking to start their own business?
Get connected with local business resources like the CBDC and Opportunities New Brunswick. Try and find a mentor even if it is unofficial or online. Find other women in business that you can rely on just to bounce ideas off of. Even just the odd coffee date can really help. Business ownership can be very isolating, so be aware of when you’re giving the business too much of yourself to prevent burnout. Don’t underestimate the power of your small and local farmers market. That community can lead you to the next step and provide you valuable feedback on your business and products. Make sure you know about the regulatory framework that surrounds your business. Also, be prepared to bootstrap it for awhile.
Where can people find Anointment products or get in touch with you?
I immediately went out and bought some of her products after our talk (I got mine at the Feel Good Store in Saint John), and I read the literature she pointed me toward about chemicals in household products. I bought the clay mask and bubble bath and I love both products. After trying them out, I went online and bought the highly rated baby balm diaper cream and you can bet that when she launches an all-natural deodorant I will be all over that.
April quite genuinely cares about people. This is evident both in the nature of her products – clean, vegan personal care products – and in the way she produces them. It’s evident in the way she talks about her community, her family and her employees. She has a wealth of knowledge on her craft, and on business in general (from sales & pitching to marketing and distribution). I love that a company of this scale could be coming out of a rural community like Sackville, and I admire the determination that it would take anyone to operate such a large-scale business from there.
Most of all though, I respect that April offers to her employees what she never received from anyone else; the opportunity to be successful both at home and at work through flexible working conditions.
The Ms New Brunswick project is about taking a title back for all the women who really embody the heart and soul of our province through creative endeavours and entrepreneurship. The makers and doers who are sharing with us their time, energy and talents, and carrying us forward. Full-time or side hustle. Big or small. At home or in an office. Products or service. Crafters, moms, entrepreneurs, shop owners, consultants. Whatever. If there is a woman in our province giving life to an idea or product, I want to know about it.
If you or someone you know would be right for the Ms New Brunswick series please fill out the Nomination Form!