Andrea Pierce-Naymon’s foray into the beauty business began as an act of desperation. Five years ago, her daughter, Betsy, began suffering seizures, along with a chronic fatigue so debilitating the athletic 16-year-old literally couldn’t get out of bed. As doctor after doctor, test after test, failed to reveal a cause, Pierce-Naymon wondered if the condition somehow was connected to what she was putting in or on her body. A read-and-research of package labels revealed the toiletries and cosmetics she, husband Wally Naymon and their two daughters used were loaded with chemicals: preservatives to extend the shelf life of water-based products; emulsifiers to keep water and oils blended; phthalates to sustain fragrances — fragrances that can contain up to 3,000 other unlisted chemicals.
“What I found just astonished me and scared me,” says the Richfield resident, a buyer for the couple’s Kilgore Trout men’s and women’s clothing store in Woodmere.
After two years of trips to Cleveland Clinic, doctors diagnosed Betsy with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition characterized by rapid heartbeat, low blood volume, hypotension and insufficient blood flow to the head when the sufferer sits or stands — one totally unrelated to the ingredients in her various cleansers, lotions and cosmetics. But by that time, Pierce-Naymon had developed a passion for concocting all-natural, chemical-free skincare products in her daughters’ playroom-turned-laboratory. She used her kitchen mixer and college job experience as a medical lab tech to tinker with botanical-oil-and-extract formulations she found in books and on the internet until she came up with something she liked.
“I became a robot,” she remembers. “I read medical reports — I was getting used to reading medical reports because of all the POTS things I had to find out about. I was talking to doctors about it. I learned about essential oils.”
In February 2016, Pierce-Naymon, backed by her brother, incorporated her fledgling enterprise, got a trademark and secured space at the Akron Global Business Accelerator. She christened the company OY-L, a variation in spelling of her products’ base ingredients inspired by the Popeye character Olive Oyl. By that time she had landed her first retailer, the spa at Walden Inn in Aurora. Six months later, online newsletter mindbodygreen included her company in an article titled “These 5 Indie Beauty Brands Are About to Explode.” At press time, Saks Fifth Avenue is preparing to sell her eight-product line of OY-L Natural Skincare on saks.com.
The first thing Pierce-Naymon ever jarred was a body butter featuring hempseed oil, a nutrient-rich ingredient with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that doesn’t clog pores. “Once I started using it, I couldn’t go back [to what I was using before],” she says. In 2014, she gave it as a Christmas gift to friends and relatives, along with a body scrub made with pink Himalayan sea salt mined from ancient sea beds untainted by toxins. Doctors had told Betsy to eat salty foods to help keep her blood pressure up, and Pierce-Naymon was using it as a replacement for “bleached and processed and burnt” white table salt.
Weeks later, she received a call from her sister-in-law in Cincinnati. Lynn Pierce had been battling eczema on her legs, arms and torso for the last two years, most recently with a greasy steroidal salve that thinned the skin to the point that it would tear with a nick, blood-blister with a scratch. “I was so itchy I wanted to kill myself,” the retired Liberty Mutual executive sales rep remembers. She liked the soft-butter consistency of Pierce-Naymon’s body butter, the way her skin “sucked it in” and remained moisturized for a full 24 hours. Within a month of making it part of her bedtime routine, she’d stopped using the prescription medication.
The next testimonial Pierce-Naymon received was from a Kilgore Trout customer. She’d given her a sample of the face wash she’d developed that contained medical-grade Manuka honey, a honey made by bees pollinating New Zealand’s tea tree plant that contains the antimicrobial agent methylglyoxal. The customer gave it to her acne-plagued grandson, whose face cleared.
“They couldn’t believe what it was doing,” Pierce-Naymon recalls. “I’m thinking, I might have something here! Then I started researching all my competitors, all the other natural products that I had known about. Nobody was using Manuka honey at the time.”
It was the fragrance of Pierce-Naymon’s orange rose-scented body butter that captivated Spa Walden front-desk manager Karen Scherma. She got her first whiff in late 2015, while a local client was paying for a service after showering and applying the product from a jar she’d brought from home. “It was amazing,” she remembers. “It smelled so good!” Scherma immediately called Pierce-Naymon to arrange for a demonstration, and the spa put all four scents of the body butter and body scrub on its retail shelves.
Dan Pierce, Pierce-Naymon’s brother, was so impressed by the dramatic improvement in his wife Lynn’s skin, along with the rave reviews from those in his circle who sampled his sister’s products, that he insisted on helping her bankroll OY-L. A relative’s friend diagnosed with breast cancer began using the body butter and reported a lessening of treatment-related skin problems. He’s invested approximately $200,000 to date.
“I’m a caveman — I’m not into lotions or beauty stuff,” says the self-described active-angel investor, who recently sold his business-and-technology consulting firm.
Six months after Pierce-Naymon set up shop in the Akron Global Business Accelerator, she headed to the Indie Beauty Expo in New York City with her entire product line. “I was scared there,” she admits. “She caught attendees’ attention with her sleek apothecary-style packaging and press kit: a cosmetic bag filled with samples that dwarfed those of other exhibitors. Two weeks later, she received an email from a Saks Fifth Avenue assistant buyer requesting a meeting in New York City.
The trade-show appearance also generated calls from public relations firms looking to represent OY-L. Pierce-Naymon hired New York City-based The Woods & Co. to set up a series of “desksides,” appointments with beauty editors at their respective offices where she presented her brand. They yielded a mention of the exfoliating Manuka mask in a list of 2017’s most-wanted beauty products that appeared in the January issue of Vogue and an article in the December 2016 issue of Allure titled “The OY-L Face Cream Literally Does Everything.”
“In December, we made face cream around the clock,” Pierce-Naymon says.
There have been hurdles to overcome in OY-L’s Cinderella journey. Pierce-Naymon recounts a March 2016 meeting with an Akron website developer who suggested using the money budgeted for building a site to rebrand her product — namely, revamp a kitschy label designed by a friend. She was upset, but she spent $100,000 to hire Twist Creative in Cleveland to redesign the packaging, as well as build a website and produce a brochure.
“It was the best advice I ever got,” she says. “If I had gone to [the Indie Beauty Expo in] New York with my original label, nobody would have noticed me.”
Pierce-Naymon also mentions the expense of preparing to do business with saks.com: purchasing UPC codes for all products, an electronic data interface so their computer systems can “communicate,” software to generate shipping orders. Then there’s the challenge of maintaining OY-L’s “beauty without secrets” pledge. In early 2016, she discontinued offering her body butter, body scrub and bath salts in orange rose and sandalwood lime. Her zero-chemical branding prohibited the continued use of chemical substitutes for rose and sandalwood essential oils, which were too expensive for her price points. She only recently reintroduced orange rose to the fragrance options.
“I started tinkering around again, and I found an essential oil that was so strong that when I made a batch — a batch will usually make about 12 to 15 jars — I only needed five drops to still get that top note of rose with the orange,” she says.
Pierce-Naymon still hand-mixes and packages all products with the help of production and e-commerce manager Emily Stryker. Betsy, now 21, handles social media marketing on a part-time basis. “I actually do work with a cosmetic chemist,” Pierce-Naymon says, then proudly adds: “But I still came up with all the formulas.”
She may need to hire more help. If OY-L face and body products sell well on saks.com, they could be stocked in 18 brick-and-mortar locations with apothecary departments selling “cleaner” skincare and cosmetics. Earlier this year, she unveiled a Manuka latte lip balm made with coffee butter and the same Manuka honey used in OY-L face wash. And she’s perfecting a “dry mask” featuring a blend of impurity-drawing powdered clays that is mixed with water, honey or OY-L face wash, applied to the face and allowed to dry before rinsing.
She and her brother are exploring the possibility of growing OY-L ingredients on a sustainable farm in southwestern Ohio to increase quality and potency. She’d like to develop her own proprietary blends of essential oils and herbs — she acknowledges that current OY-L formulations can be approximated. “Everybody tries to put in something that’s going to set them apart or prevent people from copying them,” she explains. But her biggest goal remains educating people about exactly what is in so many drugstore and department store products.
“I want to teach them that there’s another way,” she says.