Ludi Leiva is Supermaker's Director of Content as well as a writer, editor, and illustrator.
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NOT-O Your Average Makeup Brand
Gloria Noto’s sleek, minimally designed natural cosmetics line speaks to the conscious consumer with a level of effortless cool—here's how she built it.
Welcome to The Leap, where women (and nonbinary) entrepreneurs open up about what it took to get to where they are now. In 2018, women founders received just 2.2% of the $130 billion in venture money invested in the United States. Given these odds, it’s time to get real about what it’s really like to be a woman founder. From raising capital to imposter syndrome, we explore what it takes for women to enter the world of entrepreneurship.
Today we chat with Gloria Noto, the founder of NOTO Botanics, a natural, gender-fluid cosmetic line made with simple-yet-powerful organic ingredients. Previously, Gloria was a full-time makeup artist working with top celebrities and photographers. But, after nearly thirteen years, she realized she was longing for something more.
After suffering from acne, Gloria began to scrutinize many of the makeup products she was using. This exploration eventually led her to launch the natural makeup brand she had spent years dreaming about. Fast-forward five years and Gloria’s brand, NOTO, is a success. This winter, she is getting ready to take it to a whole new level with the launch of a flagship store in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Here, Gloria gets real about the challenges behind bootstrapping a brand, the power of self-expression, and what it means to reinvent yourself.
Did you go to college? If so, what did you study?
I went to art school and dropped out after one year. I worked at a thrift store and this collection of makeup artist books came to the register. I started flipping through and was blown away by what you could do with makeup. I thought, why am I going to go to art school? I was studying conceptual furniture design because I didn’t know what else to study. I didn’t have a clear direction; I realized I could pursue this path and knew in my gut I’d be really good at makeup and decided to not go onto the next year [in school].
What were you doing before work before starting your company? Tell us about your career path before becoming an entrepreneur.
After dropping out I went full force into training myself in makeup. I was in Detroit so there wasn’t a real trade for it; it was a bit more underground, but I did what I could. After a while I was working in LA, NYC, and building my relationships. I worked with some of the best photographers, top celebrities—I was just doing it.
You can kind of hit a stride in your career and kind of go on autopilot. Some months I was working seven days a week because I was saying yes to everything. I was pushing myself to a point where I kind of lost sight of some things. I had this underlying dissatisfaction, and around that time I started to ask myself what was wrong because I was feeling this numbness, wondering: “is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?”
Where did you first get the idea for Noto?
About five years ago I decided to launch NOTO. During that time I had been doing makeup for a while and had been really successful. But the business had changed so much and it felt like there was no room for your vision or your ideas—people just wanted to know you could do things well and fast and that’s it, pretty much. I was already thinking of walking away from makeup when my sister got sick with cancer. At the time, there were presidential elections going on and I was questioning so many things in my life, but I didn’t want to throw away my decade plus of experience.
I had chronic acne throughout my 20s and started to really investigate what that was about. That was the last thing I finally connected with—I was working out, taking supplements, but I was still using pretty harsh chemicals on my face. At one point, I had a terrible experience when my dermatologist wanted to put me on Accutane. I remember crying and going to Whole Foods and getting a natural rose cream that reduced my inflammation overnight. That really spawned me into getting into clean skin care.
At the time, the wellness industry was extremely binary, non-inclusive, and had a very particular aesthetic that I didn’t relate to. I felt that there was a giant hole missing. Being a queer woman and knowing a lot of people outside of the norm in some way, it all felt very one-size-fits all. I thought, maybe I should start this makeup brand I had been thinking of for years. Maybe the world didn’t need another product, but it did need a shift in consciousness.
What did the transition from your previous career to launching this company look like?
It came from a really personal space. I started out really small and I put my own money right into it. I researched the ingredients and the outcome of the products that I wanted. I figured out the brand packaging and identity, and researched what it means to start a business. There were so many things you have to ask yourself—it’s a lot!
Soon, I found a commercial space loft to start building things out. During that time I found someone who wanted to work with me. I was still doing makeup full-time for the first year and a half. But finally, around two years in I had this epiphany; I was like, “what you put your attention to grows and right now your business isn’t growing as much as it could be without you focusing on it 100%.” I had to make a choice to connect with my agent and let them know that I was going to be focusing on my company. It was scary, taking a leap of faith. But my company definitely had legs at that point.
Letting go of a steady paycheck is scary for most people, did you have a financial safety net or a back-up plan? If so, how much did you save?
I saved from shoots as much as I could, and had a bit of personal savings I had saved over the years—but it wasn’t anything major. The only backup plan was that I still connected with my agent to do maybe one or two jobs a month that would make me the bare minimum of what I needed to support myself. I took a leap, but I also had a plan. I knew what I had coming in and what I needed in addition to that.
I also felt confident it was a smart choice, not a blind one. But it was time. You just have to be smart, know what the numbers are in your business, check your data, and know whether you can do it or not.
How have your ideas of financial stability changed since starting your own company?
I wouldn’t say that they’ve changed much, other than knowing I must provide for a full team. But I had to really learn how to not spend money. I was making six-figures before and didn’t have to think about it. It took some low points to realize that I had a budget and couldn’t go past that. So I’ve definitely been training myself to understand what it means to be smarter about money—to use my miles when I have to fly and maybe not buy a $1,000 pair of shoes. Just knowing that I’m doing this for a reason and that it’s going to come back in another form.
How are you financing your brand?
We finance NOTO by putting any and all profits right back into the company. We are currently fully self-funded.
Have you ever dealt with imposter syndrome?
Of course, on a monthly basis. That said I wish there was another term because I don’t exactly feel like an imposter, but I do wonder sometimes if I have what it takes and can make it happen. But those moments come and go quite quickly, I kind of talk myself off of that ledge when I look at what we’ve accomplished.
What’s currently your biggest business challenge?
Paying taxes, building a store, and building a team all at once. As for taxes—make sure you do them right or they’ll bite you in the ass. Also we’re a couple of weeks away from launching our first flagship in Highland Park and are building out our shipping team because that’s starting to become a bigger thing for us as we expand. I’m really excited to be able to have our customers come in a physical space to touch, play with the product, and get that full experience. We’re going to have events there and I want it to be a beautiful community space.
What’s been your company’s biggest victory so far?
I think it will be launching our flagship store in the next couple of weeks. We’ve been looking for a space for the past two years and it’s taken a long time to find the right spot. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster and things fall apart, but there’s a duality knowing that it’s inevitable that it will happen in the right way.
I want to get off my computer and talk to people face-to-face. I know when we put that last bottle on the shelf before we open the doors I’m just going to probably sit in the store by myself and soak it in. Opening a store is a big deal—and it’s also a big responsibility.
What does your self-care routine look like?
Having time alone in the morning where I meditate, journal, move my body, play with my dog, and connect with my thoughts before I dive into my work. If I don’t do a combination of these things I feel off, just because the rest of my day becomes a bit of a blur with meetings, planning, email, lots of screens, and being pulled in different directions.
I usually get up at 6 a.m. every day—even on the weekends—and spend those first three or four hours for myself. I’m so lucky that I’m able to have that because when I was doing makeup I had to be on set so early, it really fucks with your routine. It can sound woo-woo, but if you don’t make the time to ground yourself, how do you function? I would just feel lost.
What are some resources that have helped you on your journey?
I go to therapy once a week—that’s extremely vital. I also use this app called Insight Timer pretty much every day. Also, going out in nature with my dog, and being surrounded by trees. And taking time to disconnect from work.
What’s your advice to someone who is considering taking “the leap”?
Really believe in and love what you are going to do, because it takes that dedication to keep going when things are hard. Have an authentic voice, because that will be what brings you the most success. Oh, and make sure you do your taxes right.
Ludi Leiva is Supermaker's Director of Content as well as a writer, editor, and illustrator.
Taking time to ground yourself will help you function and can prevent feeling lost in a sea of things to-do.