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She Was Living in a Shelter Six Years Ago. Now She’s the CEO of Her Own Beauty Company

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Wealthsimple is an investing service that uses technology to put your money to work like the world’s smartest investors. In “Money Diaries,” we feature interesting people telling their financial life stories in their own words.

In the song "Bodak Yellow" Cardi B raps, “These expensive, these is red bottoms/These is bloody shoes/Hit the store, I can get ‘em both/I don’t wanna choose.” I relate to some parts of Cardi B's story, and I wanted to live out the same happy ending. So I went to Christian Louboutin and bought three pairs.

That was the only splurge I made, even after my company took off. And I felt so guilty about it that I donated two of the three pairs soon after.

Before the age of one, my mom moved to the prairies from Ontario with my two sisters and me. In the early days, the four of us lived in a one-bedroom apartment together. My mom worked four jobs and put herself through nursing school while supporting three little girls.  Financial literacy wasn’t something we learned anything about. Savings was not a word in my vocabulary.

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When I was 17, I moved to Vancouver to work as an assistant at a modelling agency, at a starting salary of $1,000 a month. I shared my first apartment with my then boyfriend, who worked on the Alberta oil rigs. I was fortunate enough that he paid our rent while I built a career and did correspondence courses to work towards my high school diploma. We lived in subsidized housing, though at the time I don’t think either of us even knew that was the case. The apartment buildings’ common areas were grungy and the windows were broken, the hallways lined with stained carpets and there was always this inexplicable odour. Without a doubt, our neighbours on one side sold drugs out of their unit. And the neighbour on our other side had about 12 cats — that was likely where the odour came from. It was the kind of place where, while we were watching TV one night, a car was blown-up outside our window.

The good thing is we didn’t know any better and we were happy. My boyfriend and I lived in a two-bedroom unit for $875 a month. It was minimal, but we had some leather couches, a TV, an Ikea bedroom set, and we happily visited the laundromat with a fist full of quarters. Because my boyfriend worked on the oil rigs, I spent 24 days of the month living alone.

But my boyfriend and I grew in different directions. And I found myself, at 19, living alone for the first time, in a basement suite in Surrey, B.C. My sister helped me source garage sales to decorate it carefully with what little I could afford. Six months later, one of my friends from Alberta introduced me to her cousin. He was in his 40s, charming, intelligent, and an entrepreneur. We started dating. It was when we got together that my financial life changed radically. He was successful and generous. Suddenly, I was going on lavish trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs. I remember on one of those trips he suggested I go down to the spa at our hotel so he could get some work done. It was my first time at a spa, I got a manicure because getting a pedicure seemed indulgent. When I told him that, he laughed. But I never wanted to live outside of my own means. I remember moving into an apartment that was $1800 a month – although I was living paycheque to paycheque, it was important to me that I could split the rent.

Five months into our relationship, something happened. One day I called him and got his voicemail. I couldn’t reach him. I texted and he didn’t reply. It didn’t take long for me to realize something wasn’t right. Over the following weeks, I received emails from him — rambling, incoherent messages that did little to explain why he’d left or where he’d gone. Finally, after five months away, he emailed to say that he was coming home. I picked him up at the airport, and we continued as if nothing had happened. Life seemed to return to normal.

In many ways, we didn’t have a traditional relationship but we cared a lot for one another and took care of each other. I guess that explains why, when I discovered he struggled with a cocaine addiction, I felt concern, not anger. But other signs of trouble began to emerge as well. At times he seemed consumed by paranoia, his actions became unpredictable and dangerous. Four months later, in the midst of one of his outbursts, he threw a metal tray in my direction, leaving a deep gash in the floor, then got in his car and sped off. I ran into our home office, jammed a chair under the doorknob, and — hands shaking, listening for the sound of his car — I googled nearby shelters.

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There, in a room decorated with 1960s and '70s riot grrrrl posters, I began to work on the branding that would eventually become Evio Beauty. I googled ‘makeup manufacturer’ and I learned about white label cosmetics (stuff that’s made by a manufacturer that you could simply put your logo on). I drew inspiration from my surroundings — the women at the shelter spoke different languages, came from different places, had different income levels and ages, but we all used beauty products. I envisioned a cosmetics company that would help people in a direct way. I used YouTube videos to teach myself how to use Photoshop. I built a website and created a catalogue of products — lip glosses, bronzers, lipsticks — by downloading stock images. I emailed retailers in Vancouver to spread the word. Of course, none of the products existed. At least not yet.

As with most people’s experience with domestic violence goes, my situation got worse, and eventually he was arrested. As he sat in jail, I went home to find that he’d cleaned out our apartment and our joint chequing account. My photos, my clothes, my makeup kit — everything was gone.

I moved home to Alberta and lived in my mom’s basement, working at a private jet terminal an hour from her house from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day, and then coming home and working on my makeup company until 10 p.m. I’d sleep until 2 a.m., get up, and do it all again. I was putting all of the money I had into paying off debts, lawyer’s fees, and building my company. I always ran on empty, financially speaking, and I was fine with that. But being completely broke never stopped me from going out with friends — I would eat dollar store mac and cheese before going out, and order water at the restaurant. When friends would ask why I wasn’t eating, I would say I just ate. I was simply obsessed with building Evio, and that always came first.

In 2014, I moved to Toronto. By then Evio was starting to get some traction, but not enough to keep me afloat. I worked part time with a temp agency, usually reception or assistant jobs in the financial district. Which became ironic when our office was in the same building I was a receptionist in just three years later. Then one day I got an order of 250,000 concealers. I said yes but had no idea how I was going to finance the manufacturing run. I didn’t have credit, and I had nobody to cosign a loan for me. I couldn’t even get a credit card. So I sold everything I owned except for my bed, laptop, and phone, sold my first equity in the company and cobbled enough money together to pay a manufacturer to make the order. It wasn’t the last time I’d sell my possessions to make enough money to keep the business going.

I began to travel to New York for store openings and events, often not knowing when I would be able to afford to eat or how I’d be able to afford to get home. Once, one of my employees was upstairs at a red carpet event schmoozing with Elle editor Nina Garcia and I was downstairs in the washroom, using my last $100 to buy her a ticket home. Goes to show, you never really know what things look like behind the curtain.

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I don’t know any successful entrepreneurs who haven’t pulled all-nighters working, who haven’t lost everything at one point, who haven’t sacrificed their relationships or partnerships, who haven’t been completely down in the dumps emotionally at one time or another. That is not sexy. You have to be somewhat self-loathing to put yourself through being an entrepreneur, but there is nothing that makes me happier than building something that I think is inspiring and changing lives.

It wasn’t until I had a million dollars in the bank that my bank would give me a $5,000 secured credit card. Because of that, I don’t have any debt and neither does Evio. I still check my TD app every time I go out to buy a coffee to make sure I can afford it. I have rules for buying clothes: if I don’t love a pair of jeans more than my current favourite, I don’t buy them. I can still fit all of the clothing I own into a single suitcase. A few weeks ago, my purse broke and my friend asked me if I was going to buy a new one. I decided to glue gun it back together instead. She laughed and joked that I will never change.

Six years ago I was in a women’s shelter, staring at the ceiling wanting to escape my reality. You don’t forget what that feels like. Five and a half years later, I sat on a stage at Forbes Under 30’s first-ever global women’s summit in Israel. It’s pretty surreal; it’s a lot to process, and a lot to be grateful for.

The relationship I have with money hasn’t really changed, I just have more of it now. My net worth is in the millions but I still live very minimally. Basically the only things in my kitchen cupboards are avocado oil and pepper. I have four forks, four spoons, four knives, and one steak knife. I’m not attached to material things. I’ve just learned how to let go.

As told to Katherine Laidlaw exclusively for Wealthsimple; transcript edited and condensed for clarity. Illustration by Jenny Mörtsell.

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