Anna-Maja Björkenvall, CEO of LXMI tells us about ultra-clean skincare powered by rare botanicals.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you joined LXMI.
Anna-Maja Björkenvall: LXMI is a clean beauty skincare brand that was not founded by me but by humanitarian and serial social impact entrepreneur Leila Janah back in 2015. In her early 20s, she had started another social impact brand called Samasource, a company in the tech/AI space built around the mission of #givework. By placing computer centers in rural parts of Africa, teaching women and young adults basic computer & data entry skills, they connect some of the poorest communities in the world directly with clients such as Facebook, Google, and Tesla, for example, on projects to annotate images for self-driving cars and image tagging.
Traveling back and forth to Africa, Leila stumbled upon Nilotica. This superfood nut grows wild on trees in northern Uganda and South Sudan and has locally been used for skin healing for generations. Applying the same work model in harvesting raw botanical ingredients such as Nilotica from around the world, LXMI was born and is available through channels such as Sephora, Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong, the spa at Richard Branson’s Necker Island, and various retailers worldwide.
I came on board back in 2018, at first as the head of Operations & Finance. Originally from Sweden and with a background in startup management, Leila and I became a great team and worked closely together. When she later got diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, from which she very sadly passed at the end of January 2020, the board asked if I wanted to step up and continue Leila’s and the brand’s beautiful social impact mission, and I jumped at that.
Leila Janah passed away too soon, she was only 37, but she helped lift over 50,000 people out of poverty through her brief but meaningful career. The team and I are deeply committed to continuing forwarding her work and helping spread the social impact way of doing business.
Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?
Anna-Maja Björkenvall: When it comes to running a small brand, life and business are both the same, and being passionate is almost a prerequisite for the endurance needed. Life is a grind sometimes, there’s no way around that, so it really helps to do something you love and feel deeply for.
Apart from cultivating passion, a couple of traditional good, slightly boring habits make a world of difference to me and help my performance both in life and business: making sure I work out regularly, get enough sleep, and that I fill my body with good, nutritious food. Starting my day with a glass of celery juice and a 5-10 min meditation sets the tone for my day.
How does LXMI market its products online?
Anna-Maja Björkenvall: We sell predominantly through our website lxmi.com, as well as through some retail/dotcom partners. Beyond the traditional SEO, email marketing, and lead generation methods, for us, a lot is around customer education to bring awareness to the work we do and the power of social impact. Many people are unfamiliar with the social impact model. It’s so common for brands to approach doing good as an afterthought (for example, with give-back donations and planting trees type of initiatives), so we spend equal time between highlighting the quality of our skincare line and creating educational content around how modern consumers can do good through simple daily habits by supporting social impact brands like ours.
Don’t get me wrong, planting trees is nice – but it’ll take a lot of years for that to have an effect and doesn’t take away the negative impact created by brands today. By, upfront, giving dignified work to marginalized women in developing nations directly in our supply chain, wild-harvesting the exquisite botanical ingredients we use for our skincare through women’s fair-trade cooperatives, as well as providing a financial incentive to underserved communities to preserve the local biodiversity, we let the do-good mission drive our entire business.
The beautiful brand narrative is something that goes beyond short captions on social media, so the marketing aspect is a long-game approach for us. For example, podcasts and CEO panels are great when it comes to engaging with consumers and sharing and hopefully inspiring other brands to take on meaningful missions of their own.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Anna-Maja Björkenvall: We use various online tools for content creation, manage our social media channels and email marketing, and help our internal performance. Mostly basic tools (for example, Slack, Klaviyo, and Canva) or apps found through Shopify help us reach customers and provide value to them.
It’s easy to go overboard with digital tools; there is so much out there, but for us, it’s more about the process as well as making sure we use our voice in the marketing space in an authentic, genuine way.
When hiring, what do you look for, and how do you retain your employees?
Anna-Maja Björkenvall: We have been blessed to have had a fairly steady team throughout recent years, so we have been doing very limited hiring lately. When it comes to creating a good team, apart from job-specific skills, we’re most interested in attitude and enthusiasm to make sure each individual adds to the whole. Roles can shift quickly as the company evolves in a startup environment, so a growth mindset is key.
Many people, especially Millennials and younger generations, are realizing that a fulfilling life is about more than just the paycheck, and they want to be part of making a difference. A social impact brand like ours is the perfect place for that. Employee retention is so much about the culture. I believe in creating work environments that foster integrity and solid work while honoring the individual as a human being. You, as a leader, really set the tone for that. We spend so much of our lives at work, so why wouldn’t we want to make it be something enjoyable, a place where you can grow in more ways than simply professionally?
As a leader, I believe vulnerability is an untapped trait. Creating the structure for ultimate performance, but at the same time being open to admitting mistakes and learning from them (many times, it’s the mistakes that end up showing the best way forward), putting the prestige aside, and meeting people where they are.
I think that goes for both employee retention and customer retention. We want to connect with other human beings; few things can irritate a customer as much as being met with canned, generic customer service answers regurgitated from a company’s FAQ page. You can feel the energy of a brand in so many ways.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Anna-Maja Björkenvall: It’s about reconciling the paradox in the consumer’s mind of doing business and doing good – they don’t have to be diametrically opposed but can and should power-charge one another. There are a lot of brands in the beauty/skincare world, and more are getting added on a daily basis – especially brands launched by celebrities. There’s some talk in the industry that the market is getting saturated, and I think the consumer really feels that too. Especially from an environmental standpoint, consumers don’t need more brands doing the same thing; they want to see something different and from an original, genuine perspective.
We keep on using business as an excuse to do good, rather than the traditional way of doing good as an excuse to do business – and consumers really like that. People don’t want to see bland, generic statements about, for example, sustainability; they want to see heart and soul and real action for a tangible difference. We will continue with that, forwarding our social impact work and biodiversity conservation projects on the ground in developing nations.
Tell us a customer success story of yours.
Anna-Maja Björkenvall: There are so many great stories we receive from our community, and to feel the difference we can create for the individual consumer is incredibly energizing. From new moms sharing adorable videos of their sensitive-skin newborns or cancer patients mitigating the extreme skin dryness from chemo with our deeply nourishing formulas to people with various skin conditions coming back with glowing, healthy skin…beyond seeing the positive difference for the women we work with in developing nations, the positive shoutouts from our community is the favorite part of my job!
Your final thoughts?
Anna-Maja Björkenvall: I really hope that more companies consider infusing their brand, supply chain, and entire business model with a social impact mission, regardless of the industry. There is always something in a business that can be impact sourced. It might seem expensive or cumbersome to build a brand in this front-loaded type of way, creating the whole supply chain around a deep-rooted mission, but it is extremely doable and immensely rewarding.