This article is part of our Women and Leadership special section, which focuses on approaches taken by women, minorities or other disadvantaged groups challenging traditional ways of thinking.
When Zoë Foster Blake gets frustrated by a problem, she creates the solution. Struggling to rein in emotions during a bad breakup? She made an app for that. Looking for a flatulence-based narrative to read to your child? She wrote it. Trying to find skin care products that are simple and natural, but not obnoxious? She has made them, too.
Ms. Foster Blake, 39, is a beauty editor turned author and entrepreneur who is seemingly everywhere in her native Australia. One of her books, “The Wrong Girl,” was turned into a television series there. She regularly appears on the covers of the glossy magazines she used to write for and has a loyal following on Instagram. Her children’s book, “No One Likes a Fart,” was named picture book of the year at the 2018 Australian Book Industry Awards. And her cruelty-free natural skin care company, Go-To, just keeps growing.
Hailing from a small country town, Ms. Foster Blake moved to Sydney at 17, where she completed a degree in media and communications. She started her career in magazine publishing in what she says were “the glory days of magazines,” but her high-octane productivity pushed her to look further afield: She began her own beauty blog in 2006 just as the blog world was ramping up and had three books published by the time she was 30.
Go-To is her new focus, a business she never thought she would start but one that has been a runaway hit in Australia and has expanded into the United States. Recently, motivated by her search for gentle natural products that worked on her two young children, Ms. Foster Blake began the offshoot line of children’s products Gro-To.
This interview was edited and condensed.
Where did the idea for your skin care company come from?
I’d been writing about beauty for six or seven years (for Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and an online blog called Primped.) I’d never thought I’d start a business. Someone at a fashion retailer offered me the chance to do a capsule collection. It occurred to me, like “what’s going in the products, where are they being made?” And they said, “you don’t need to worry about that, just put your name on it at the end.” If I’m going to tell women to put stuff on their face, I need to know what’s in that stuff. I thought there was a huge gap in skin care for just something simple. It was legacy bands or really clinical brands or supermarket brands. I just wanted it to be simple and uncomplicated, clean, trustworthy products that you wouldn’t be wasting money on and would know which ingredients actually worked.
What was it like starting the business?
Somehow, we got five products to launch by early 2014. It was completely digital and was only going to be digital. There was no talk of retail back then. That’s where my following was and that was how I knew how to converse with people. I thought, “beauty can be fun, why are we taking this so seriously?” It’s just lotions and potions that you put on your face, why is it so earnest? Especially the clean skin care category, which was always classically even more earnest. I love being able to play with every customer. Even now, we put a treat in every box and have a giggle with them.
Since you began Go-To, how has it grown?
We’re in a really strong and really lucky position. Clean skin care is a huge market right now; people really want to know what’s in their skin care. We’re super transparent, and we love to be honest with our customer at every point.
In the last 18 months, we’ve had exponential growth. We jumped the chasm from a small to a medium-size company, and that’s come with a lot of challenges. We moved into 400 stores in Sephora in the United States. (The brand will soon announce a new U.S. retail partnership and is also available at us.gotoskincare.com.) We did that before we went into retail in Australia, and we’re in about 120 stores here.
And now you have children’s skin care products.
That was me with two young rashy children; I found myself constantly using Go-To products on their skin. And I was like, “there’s got to be a cheaper way to do this because this is not economical.” So we launched Gro-To late last year in the United States and Australia. It’s four products for babies and kids. The whole genesis was you want skin care you can trust for yourself; well, you probably want that for your kids as well. The design is meant to look like toys and meant to fit in the kids’ world, rather than baby skin care that is either pharmacy-looking or has tiny baby ducks on it. My 5-year-old son doesn’t want tiny baby ducks on his bubble bath.
Your social media audience is a big part of the Go-To business. How do you approach it?
It feels ludicrous to have a free billboard to talk about your work, to go “I’ve put a lot of work into this book, I hope you enjoy it, here’s why I wrote it.” To have that platform is bonkers. People have opted in; they want to hear from you. It’s a huge privilege. I never mess with that trust.
How do you manage your time with all of the different things you do?
I just launched my children’s book in the United States a few weeks ago. It’s been my greatest book success, which I’m trying not to be offended by. I have a new picture book coming out this year in Australia and I’m just about to start writing fiction again. I have a nanny who helps me three days a week, because if I didn’t have those three days to work I couldn’t do any of this. My husband and I are a good team as well. I don’t have an answer. I’m scattered and I get anxious and I get stressed like everybody. The best thing that I can do is compartmentalize. At the moment I’m traveling and doing podcasts and interviews, and as an introvert that’s really draining. I have to come home and recuperate because it really takes it out of me. I can do it, most introverts can do it, but they just need to be in their soft clothes and watch “Goop Lab” for awhile to come back down.
What advice do you give to young women?
There’s never been a better time for entrepreneurs. There’s no barrier to entry. No idea is a bad idea. The market is thrilled with newness and novelty and innovation. You’ve got to make something that you want or where you know there is a gap. Don’t do a version of something that already exists, but have a really strong purpose and give people something to connect with. People want that connection.