We had the pleasure of talking to Suzannah Raff, founder of Cleo + Coco, the clean beauty brand that is elevating personal care products. All products are made with safe, natural ingredients and are zero-waste.
Read on for the full interview!
Megan Block: I’m very excited to speak with you and hear more about Cleo + Coco and about all these wonderful things that you do over there! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to create Cleo + Coco?
Suzannah Raff: So, I am a mother of four as you are, and I have two Master’s degrees. I have a Master’s in business. I have a Master’s in social work. I worked in technology and business consulting and strategy consulting for many many years.
I even taught in universities and I decided to start Cleo + Coco for so many reasons. I really had a vision that I wanted to start something, to run a business and maybe have some kind of business to pass on to my children – at least be a role model, especially to my daughters, because as you know, that’s a lot of what I was doing in my business.
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I was making my own deodorant, but I didn’t want to use aluminum and I also didn’t want to wear synthetic fragrances. I was always very good with scents.
So, before I got clean and started to eat clean and put clean products on my body, I used to wear a lot of perfume, and I used to blend my own – I used to take different perfumes and mix them and make my own. So when I stopped using aluminum under my arms, really nothing was working.
And, at some point, when I was just making my own deodorant, even though I wasn’t really such a do-it-yourself person, I had this “aha” moment and I realized, my gosh, I’m not the only person who needs this.
There’s a huge market opportunity, so I put on my strategic glasses and looked at what was. I knew that nothing on the market appealed to me personally, and I started to study it and I realized that we were really at the precipice of a huge shift, and this was like five, six years ago, where I just thought all the products in Target and in drug stores were going to start to shift and become clean.
And I had this great formula. I knew I had incredible scents. So I really jumped in – I started to do a lot of research. I found top chemists, found my manufacturers.
We spent over a year perfecting our formula, and then the following year, we spent on our branding because I really felt that we were really transforming and changing personal care and deodorant to a formula. I come from a quality control, quality improvement background as well, so a formula that just improves the experience of deodorant and personal care in every way. It works. It works from day one.
It smells incredible. It has a really incredible texture. There’s no residue and there’s nothing harmful. And more than that, the ingredients that we’ve chosen are actually nourishing your body and full of minerals.
So, that’s the vision behind Cleo + Coco and our personal care.
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MB: That’s amazing. I love it, and you look incredible, so that sounds great. I don’t use natural deodorant, but I totally will as soon as we’re done with this.
I haven’t found anything on the market personally that has gravitated to me that I feel like works long term. I work out every day, and I feel like deodorant is my best friend.
You may have already touched on it, but what would you say is Cleo + Coco’s main mission?
SR: Our main mission is really to provide really clean, better for your body, healthy personal care options. You really should not have to compromise your health to smell good.
You shouldn’t have to compromise your health for any of your personal care needs. Every day we’re using body soap. Every day we’re using deodorants and, historically, we never thought about what was in them, but if you took a look — read and understood the ingredients in the products that we’ve used traditionally for hundreds of years — they are really not ingredients that you want to put into your body. They’re not ingredients that you want going into your skin, into your blood, under your arms.
And our mission is really just to provide these daily personal care necessities that are unquestionably clean and you understand the ingredients. Not just that they’re clean. They should really be enhancing your wellness.
MB: That’s wonderful. What was the very first step you took once you decided you wanted to create Cleo + Coco? When you decided OK, this is what I’m going to do – what was the next step for you?
SR: Lots of research on how to do it, how to build the business, how to package it.
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MB: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you were creating Cleo + Coco?
SR: First challenge was, I think, building my network, especially my supplier network, finding the manufacturers, finding the suppliers and getting my supply chain in place.
MB: How did you overcome that? Were there any bumps in the road when you found the supply chain?
SR: You just have to kind of jump in. You go to shows and you participate in shows. Anytime I went to a show or an event, I made contacts. I met people and eventually, I think, my first manufacturer.
A sales rep walked up to me and handed me her card and I said “Oh my gosh, I’ve gone through like 100 different manufacturers.” I Google searched and looked for them, and I couldn’t find a hard core, which is what was required for deodorant. It’s a very tough product to make. And then finally, somebody walked up to me at a show and said “Look, we do hard cores.” It’s like a marriage of sorts, right? You’re like, yeah, that’s so wonderful.
MB: Well, that’s wonderful. You have four kids. How do you balance being a mother and being a business owner?
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SR: I multitask, I move very fast. I do some things really quickly and some I prioritize. You know, you just set aside time when my kids are off in school.
I have my early morning hours or personal time for me where I exercise because that really gives me the energy and the feel-good for the day. I’m pretty good about focusing on my work throughout the day so that, when my kids get home from school, I can focus on them for the next few hours. And then, you know, pick up work in the evening, when necessary, so you know, because I run my own business, I can set my own hours and set my own pace and boundaries at the same time. There’s always so much to do.
MB: Do you ever feel like you need to tend to business while you’re with your children, or do you separate the two very, very well so that you don’t? I personally work from home too, and I have two girls, and especially during the summer, it’s like I feel tethered, but I also feel like if I don’t make that very clear separation, then one is definitely being punished. So, just curious how you, you know, make sure you make that family time?
SR: A little bit of both. I definitely separate it. I’ll close my door — and they’re used to it already — and I’m working, but then, when I’m out of my office, I’m with them.
It’s usually in the kitchen where we’re together. I’ll take them on an activity. A lot of the time – you know, my kids are not so little, they’re bigger – so they are a lot more independent, so I am on my phone doing things, looking things up, answering, dealing with a crisis or an emergency. So, I usually try to be very focused on them during meal times when they first come home. Or, you know, when we’re at an activity together.
But there’s also that flexibility that if I’m taking them somewhere during the day, I’m 50% with them, 50% still working, absolutely.
MB: Do you have any tips for mothers that are thinking about branching out into the business world? Maybe possibly starting their own business? Any tips you may have for them?
SR: I guess, be clear what your goals are. Set your priorities. Set your boundaries. Like you were just saying, it’s OK to take time for yourself. It’s OK and important to set time for your family. You know you can. You can do it slower.
That’s also if I’m working less hours because I’m prioritizing my family. So, instead of building it in six months, I’ll build it in one year. But definitely do it.
I think it’s wonderful for our children to see this, to see this kind of role model and the flexibility that you get. And you really just get to build your own culture on your own terms – I’m having the time of my life. It’s a lot of fun.
MB: That’s so inspiring. Between your kids and running your business, you have, I assume, a very busy schedule. How do you make time for yourself? How do you carve out that time that’s just for Susanna, just for you, where you’re not answering emails and you’re not tending to being a mom of four?
SR: I guess my workout time.
MB: OK, I love that. That’s me too. I’m the same way. It’s non-negotiable and I think that’s fantastic. That’s great. How do you practice self-care? Is that through working out? Do you do something else other than working out to practice self-care?
SR: So, lots of ways. My workouts, definitely. I go for a monthly facial. What I mean, all the products I use, I, you know, being in the beauty industry and personal care and skin care, I have access and I’m testing and researching, so I’m using beautiful, wonderful, enjoyable products all the time.
MB: That’s really neat. How do you define clean beauty in your own words or your own terms?
SR: So, definitely ingredients that are free from synthetics, parabens, palates, synthetic fragrance is a big one, there’s a lot. There’s a lot of green washing, so there’s a lot of fragrance that will be used to hide ingredients that you don’t want, but they claim that they’re clean.
Start reading ingredients is what I always tell people. Most of you want to understand all of the ingredients on the ingredient list. If there’s something that looks like a chemical, it’s probably a chemical. Look it up. There are so many databases that will tell you if it’s healthy or dangerous.
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And then fragrance is a whole ball game. Not only is it a catch-all for anything that you don’t want to put in the disclosure, but synthetic fragrances are known hormone disruptors, especially in natural deodorants and in soaps. Synthetic fragrance is used to mask the odor instead of using ingredients that can actually work to eliminate the odor, and the synthetic fragrance can be just as harmful as the aluminum that you’re trying to eliminate.
So, I think just reading ingredients and learning about ingredients to really understand what is clean, and if you can understand every ingredient, then you know it’s clean.
MB: Other than reading the ingredients, what would you say our readers can do if they want to start living a cleaner lifestyle? Is there any other thing that you suggest they replace when they can? Are there any suggestions that you have for our readers if they want to start beginning this lifestyle themselves?
SR: Sure, I mean, I would just say, pick one or two products at a time. You know, one small change, one or two small changes at a time. Usually the first change people make is deodorant.
I say deodorant and soaps, which is why I created the soaps, because soaps are just as important, and they really go hand in hand, right? Charcoal soap is going to help your underarm body odor along with the deodorant. But take it a few steps at a time. You know, once you fall in love with your new clean deodorant, find your next new clean product to switch to.
MB: This has been such an eye-opener and so inspiring. I’m going to leave this and go check out all my things, because I feel like we’re putting so much time and energy, like I said, into the things we put in our body. And I know some people are making the conversions of, “oh, I don’t do candles anymore, I do essential oils.” It’s like, OK, but what are we putting on our skin? What are we putting under our arms on the daily? That could be just as bad. So, I am inspired and I can’t thank you enough for your time.
SR: This has been wonderful. Thank you so much for having me. We’ll talk soon.
We loved learning about Cleo + Coco and its female founder! Tell us if you use their products below!
About Suzannah Raff
After deciding to halt the use of aluminum deodorant, Suzannah Raff bootstrapped Cleo + Coco in 2017 to create a deodorant that was completely clean and free of synthetic, health compromising ingredients. Suzannah bootstrapped the business to offer consumers an elevated experience with conscious and natural personal goods that would not compromise personal health or the environment. In addition to their other products, the brand offers their Scent Free Zero-Waste Deodorant Bar which is wrapped in compostable paper and is dipped in wax for easy/non messy application.
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