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I Started a Cosmetics Company to Honor My Friend Who Died of Cancer

My friend Kristy was one of those absurdly happy people. We met in college, and she was the girl down the hall who everyone turned to when they missed home or flunked an exam or just needed a little cheering up. After graduation, we set off on separate adventures—she went to teach English at an orphanage in Chile, while I moved to Paris to work for L’Oreal.

Her cancer announced itself quietly. She didn’t even feel sick. She noticed a bruise on her hip that wouldn’t go away, and eventually it began to ache. Her Chilean doctor believed it could be cancer and recommended she return to the United States immediately for treatment. I flew home to see her, and we learned that the sore spot was actually a malignant tumor. Kristy passed away only nine months later.

It’s shocking when any 24-year-old gets cancer, and it was particularly difficult to watch this radiant girl fade away. Our lives were just starting, and hers was already over.

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I returned to work at L’Oreal, and I thought about Kristy every day. She loved trading beauty tricks and playing with makeup. During her treatment, she talked to me about her desire to just look like herself again. Along with her hair, her gorgeous, long eyelashes fell out. She couldn’t find beauty products that would work for her—it's especially important for cancer patients to have products that are toxin-free, and faux lashes only work if they can adhere to your natural lashes.

As someone who worked in product development, the lack of lash offerings seemed like such a hole in the market. I researched companies and finally started experimenting with creating false lashes that could stick directly to the eyelid.

Photo courtesy of Karissa Bodnar

In the early hours before work and into the night after I got home, I’d test ingredients in my kitchen. I needed a flexible strip base that would bond to your eyelid whether you had lashes or not. The lashes also couldn’t be too heavy—one of women’s biggest complaints about falsies is how they make your lids feel droopy and weighed down. Ideally, the product would be an improvement for anyone who wanted great faux lashes, not just women who had lost their hair. I created a base with a reverse C shape that would fit along any eyelid, and the lashes themselves are made of a vegan material that’s super lightweight. If you treated them carefully, you could wear them up to thirty times.

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While I perfected that prototype, I investigated launching a business. The experiments were a hobby when I was 25 and then a full-time career by 26. I wanted a one-for-one model like Toms shoes that we call Beauty with a Purpose (I even trademarked the phrase!); for every beauty product sold, one would be donated to a woman with cancer. It’s really hard to get any new business off the ground, but it's even more difficult when your model is to give some products away for free.

I dealt with the issue by taking a giant leap of faith. I gave away products up front—specifically to women’s cancer groups, celebrities, and makeup artists. I knew that if I had created something truly effective, women would tell their friends. I hoped that the combination of effective products, positive word of mouth, and a feel-good mission would create the foundation for a successful company. Thankfully, I was right, and Thrive Causemetics was profitable in our very first year.

Photo courtesy of Karissa Bodnar

We're now expanding beyond eyelashes, eyeliner, and brow liner to a full cosmetics line. It’s an unbelievable thrill to have this dream come true, but of course it’s even better when a woman reaches out to say that Thrive products made her feel better after a chemo appointment. Yes, it seems like such an incredibly small and superficial thing, but these beauty products can lift the spirits of people who are suffering. Thrive is a mission and movement than anyone can join simply by purchasing our products and sharing our cause with friends.

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I've stayed in touch with Kristy’s family, and they’ve been wonderfully supportive. Her parents will share products with friends and even come to events. We name our products after inspiring women who have been impacted by cancer. One of the styles of falsies is named the Kristy. They’re the most full, most fun, most playful and flirty lashes in the line. She would have loved them.

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