Passion. That’s the first thing that immediately is seen and heard when meeting Brescia Political Science alumna, Heather Reier, ’96. Passion, and a commitment to success, is also what propelled Heather to create and establish the successful Canadian beauty brand, Cake Beauty. From a grassroots beginning in her Kitchener, Ontario home, Cake Beauty’s success has flourished across the nation, so much so that in January 2018 it was acquired by MAV Beauty Brands. A natural creative-thinker and entrepreneur, Heather credits Brescia’s all-women’s, supportive atmosphere for helping to shape her critical thinking and leadership skills.
Why did you choose Brescia for university?
I immediately loved Brescia’s all-women’s environment, its smaller campus and small class sizes. But, at the same time, as a Brescia student it was amazing to have access to and be part of the larger campus at University of Western Ontario. So, being a Brescia student was almost a two-for-one experience – both academically and on a social level.
My parents also loved that Brescia was an all-women’s school. When I was at Brescia, rules were different than they are now, and boys were not permitted in residence. These rules fostered a sisterhood environment, where you made authentic and genuine relationships that were conducive to real growing and learning. I am still very good friends with many of my floormates from Brescia.
What path led you to your role as Founder & Creative Director of Cake Beauty?
I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset. That, combined with a great passion for creating. Running Cake Beauty as a business and growing it to the size I have is no doubt exciting, but the aspect of ‘creating’ is a still a huge passion of mine. And by creating, I don’t necessarily mean creating the product itself, which I do love. But, even more so, taking an idea and turning it into a vision and then turning that vision into a business that’s actually going to make money – there is nothing more thrilling than that. Even if there wasn’t any money attached, there is something so thrilling about that creative process.
I also have a solid pragmatic side, with a strong sense of realism. This skill was essential in building Cake Beauty and making sure the business was a success. So, that’s what started my journey.
After I graduated from Brescia, I worked for Roots Head Office in Retail Operations. It was while I was at Roots that I started Cake Beauty.
I’ve always loved beauty products, and knew I wanted to start a business. Being a beauty junkie, I realized that there was something missing from the market, which was a pairing of natural, paraben-free, vegan, cruelty-free ingredients incorporated in fun beauty products. Natural beauty products weren’t a thing when I started Cake 15 years ago, but I always found the natural concept so appealing. However, when you think about “natural” you see browns, beiges and boring. So, I thought, “What if I took that natural product and made it fun, girlie, sassy and playful?” That was the vision. And, as soon as I had that vison, I knew I could make it into a business.
What are some of the learnings that you have been able to take away from your experience at Brescia and apply to your career?
Brescia really helped form my critical thinking and how I process information. I don’t believe that the average student is always going to remember the nuances and details of every class, but Brescia’s classes helped trigger my brain to think about issues differently and learn how to effectively communicate.
The other big learning experience for me stems from the small, all-women environment. There is nothing that can catapult your maturity level more than plopping an 18-year-old in university residence. You meet so many different people with different outlooks on life and different experiences. I know this happens at every university, but I found this especially compelling at Brescia, because our entire floor felt like a sisterhood. You knew these people on a real level, who they were, what their background was. The environment helped exercise that important muscle in your psyche that builds respect, acceptance, empathy and tolerance. It was a pivotal time in my life.
To what do you attribute your professional success?
Two things: Resiliency and hard work.
There is no question about the hard work piece of it. I often think that people underestimate what the grind is like for someone creating a business. There are many years of hard work, difficulties and simply grinding it out. For anyone who is an artist, or anyone creating something or building anything, you have to be willing to lay it out there and work really hard.
Resiliency is critical as well, because as an entrepreneur there are ups, but there are definitely downs too. I had to hone that skill quickly in order to be able to survive and to learn to get back up and say, “Okay let’s keep going.” If you have that attitude, no matter what you do, this is how you get the keys to the proverbial castle and you can’t fail.
What advice would you give to Brescia alumnae and students?
Do what you love and find your passion. This may sound cliché, but I think a lot of people get strayed off their path because they are chasing a paycheck or chasing what they think they should do. That is never going to work out. You can’t underestimate how important it is to wisely and carefully choose what you are going to do with your life day-to-day, because this will significantly impact your level of happiness and satisfaction, and chances of success.
How do you define leadership? Or, what characteristics make a great leader?
Leadership to me is being able to impart your vision on someone or a group of people, and then trusting them and giving them the space to rise up and lead themselves into key players that have palpable, meaningful impact. This is the truest sense of leadership that I have tried to impart over the years, and I think it is a game-changer for growth – both for the business and for the individual. Whatever leadership role you are in, this is key.
What are your hopes for Brescia in the next 100 years?
According to a study conducted by the Rockefeller Foundation and Global Strategy Group, currently, one in four Americans believe we’re more likely to see humans colonize Mars before we see women occupying half the Fortune 500 CEO seats. My hope is that Brescia continues to be a place that nurtures and teaches women to be meaningful contributors to our society and become the leaders of tomorrow. Leadership comes in many shapes, sizes and forms – way beyond a Fortune 500. The world needs our well-spoken, Brescia women to lead, be bold and to voice their opinions in every place, whether it’s your kid’s school or a boardroom. I am a firm believer that everything in society changes for the better when women rise up, take a seat at the table (kitchen, boardroom or otherwise) and contribute to society in a way that helps to influence gender parity. And, I believe that an organization like Brescia will take us to a higher level of diversity. This makes me incredibly proud to be a graduate.
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