Since 1911, International Women’s Day has been a global day of recognition and celebration for women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. For the 108th anniversary of this inaugural holiday, we asked Olive + M founder Mariska Nicholson to reflect on her journey as a female business owner.
Founder Mariska Nicholson’s Entrepreneurial Journey
What does it mean for you, as a woman, to be an independent business owner?
“The whole reason why I started Olive + M was to share an amazing skin revelation with everyone. Olive + M was created out of a desire to provide people of all ages and skin types with an honest, simple and effective skin care line that’s designed to hydrate, repair and protect skin. I had been using oil on my skin for years so all of these formulas were really me wanting to educate and share the powerful properties of plant based oils with others.”
With a background in design and culinary arts, Mariska is skilled in all things visual and tactile. Her natural curiosity and drive allowed her to discover and build upon a love for olive oil and all-natural ingredients and making those ingredients accessible to everyone.
“I honestly turned my passion into a career, and I’m loving every day of it. I’ve always said that I’m building an empire for the kids, a legacy. I think it’s good for them to see me work all the time. I’m passionate about my company; there isn’t really a day off. They’re seeing that entrepreneurial lifestyle and spirit and it’s a great lesson for them. It’s kind of what we live and breathe in this house. I didn’t have that growing up. My dad went to his office every day and my mom stayed at home and it was that very traditional upbringing. So I did have to break out of the mold a little bit. Being one of three girls my dad just wanted us to marry well and have kids.”
“I’d say my biggest challenge was starting the company as the single mother of two."
What challenges and rewards have you faced in your entrepreneurial journey?
“I’d say my biggest challenge was starting the company as the single mother of two. I just knew that if I didn’t do it now, I never would. The rewards definitely outweigh the challenges, though. I get to show my children what it means to be independent and sell a product that I am extremely proud of. It is also a large obstacle getting people to embrace oil-based skincare and its amazing benefits. Along with that comes the company consciousness regarding protecting and respecting the bounty that Mother Nature has provided for us.”
Mariska also has passions for fashion, food, beauty, and art.
“I enjoy all things visual and tactile, and to me, these things are all intertwined. Olive + M is not just an awesome skin care regime. It is a lifestyle with many facets and layers that expands and grows daily. It is a privilege and an honor to have created it and to share it with others.”
When you were first starting out, did you find it challenging to break into the beauty and wellness space?
“It is still challenging to this day. Initially, it was a lot of stumbling around in the dark. When I first started out, no one was really promoting oils and now they’re everywhere. That’s why I enjoy the Indie Beauty scene so much. I love that there’s this movement and conversation going on about what you’re putting on your body. In America, the FDA has [only] banned I think like 14 ingredients from cosmetics and skincare. [The FDA] is not doing the work for us, so we have to do it for ourselves.”
Informing people about the harmful components of traditional skincare products is something Mariska does actively.
“I tell people all the time, if you don’t know what that long word is, you certainly wouldn’t take a big spoonful of it and eat it, so why would you put it on your face?”
What is it like starting a business as a single mother?
“In two words: It’s difficult. You have to wear a lot of hats and take on a lot of jobs. I used to work in L.A. as a wardrobe stylist. I had a great relationship with the industry out there. Then, Sept. 11 happened, and the whole industry changed. Production companies shut down, and people stopped flying in crews. I was like, ‘What am I going to do now?’”
From there, Mariska changed her focus and started pursuing other possible career options.
“One of my favorite things to do was cook, so I went to a sixteen-month program at the Texas Culinary Academy. I was very pregnant at the end of it, so the idea of going into a kitchen at that stage of my pregnancy and then with a new baby wasn’t very appealing. So, instead, I used my culinary experience to become a catering director and event planner. I worked for a couple of boutique, high-end gourmet shops and did high-end, high-concept private dinners. I brought my design background and my culinary background into doing them. I’ve had a slow, amazing journey through all things visual and tactile, and it eventually led me to Olive + M. It all started when I got to the bottom of a face oil I was using from Italy. I became really curious about the ingredients in it and started asking: ‘Why olive oil? Why pomegranate seed oil?’ I’m a chef, so I went to the kitchen to blend my own oils. From there, we officially launched the line in January 2015.”
What are some of the most important insights you’ve taken away from your experience?
“Nothing happens overnight. Be patient and believe in what you’re doing. There was a quote from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert that really resonated with me: ‘The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.'”
Mariska accepted that challenge from the universe, and Olive + M was born.
“I heard the idea in my head. I became curious about her. I reached for her and explored where she came from and where we might possibly go together. I started working on her, one day at time. Some days I had no idea where we were going, but we just kept going. I believed in her and she in me. I refused to put her down or let her go. She chose me as the person to manifest her, and for that I am forever grateful. This is the ‘Big Magic’ Liz speaks of.”
“It’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people who possess strengths that you do not. I have learned to prepare for the unexpected, to roll with the punches and most importantly, the power of being flexible.”
What would be your best advice for someone wanting to start their own business?
“Listen to your gut. Your first instinct is probably the right one. I know everyone has heard this time and time again, but it’s true. I have made some costly mistakes when I didn’t listen to my gut. As an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to change your sails. You’re heading in this direction and it’s not working out, so you gotta go the other direction quickly. I think too many businesses that fail aren’t successful because they had this one idea and they stick to that one idea when it’s not working. In an entrepreneurial environment, being open-minded and having the ability to pivot brings success for new companies. Don’t get stuck. And be nice!”
How has your vision shaped what Olive + M has grown into today?
“As we like to say, ‘People who do good, do well.’ As time went on, I got others interested in my idea, to help Olive + M grow. I am so thankful for my creative team and all the ideas they manifest daily. Ideas are circling around this team like big, gorgeous, glittery swirls of magic, and it’s incredible to see them reach for these ideas and wrestle them into ‘the realm of the actual.’ Big Magic indeed!”
The mission of Olive + M includes making the line inclusive to anyone and everyone.
“Something unexpected that happened with our brand is that it became a family affair. The mommies or the girlfriends or wives are the ones who bring it into the house, but then the husbands shave with the cleansing oil and the teenagers wash their teenage face with the cleansing oil. We have mommies that send their daughters to camp with the face oil for sunburns and chapped lips. We have men with bald heads that use the face oil on their bald heads.
Mariska didn’t plan for Olive + M to become a household name, but she was thrilled when this information started reaching her ears — Olive + M was becoming the brand she wanted it to be: accessible and affordable.
“Everyone in the family is using it and that has become a big surprise. We’re definitely exploring doing a men’s line and a baby’s line.”
Quotes sourced from the following interviews:
Olive + M is Changing the Face of Skin Care
Meet the Woman Behind Olive + M
The Chef Behind Olive + M Whips Up Olive Oil Recipes For Your Skin
Olive + M Founder Mariska Talks Olive Oil Based Skincare
Olive + M’s Oil-Based Skincare Products Are Game-Changing
This Natural Skincare Product Has an Ingredient That’s Good For Your Skin and the Planet
Olive + M: Inspired By Mother Nature with Plant-Based Oil Formulations