At just 19 years-old, Bonnie Howland is the CEO of her own beauty company, Indigo and Iris. However unlike ordinary companies, Howland is doing something a little different with her profit. The young entrepreneur is already attracting a lot of attention and in July attended the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya. I was privileged to talk to her about how she is using beauty to change the world.


Bonnie Howland (R)

So you’ve started your own social enterprise, Indigo and Iris, a business that gives back to the community, can you tell me a bit more about this?
Indigo and Iris is a sustainable beauty company and its mission is to cure treatable blindness in the Pacific islands by 2025. We’re creating organic, vegan and cruelty free make-up products to sell. With the profit we’re going to fund eyesight restoration surgeries in partnership with the Fred Hollows foundation.

I know you went through the Live the Dream program by Inspiring Stories and they taught you a lot about social entrepreneurship, which is about creating a business with the purpose of improving the lives of others in some way, was that a part of what inspired you to start Indigo and Iris?
Definitely! I’m really passionate about social enterprise, I think it’s the most empowering and innovative way to create change in our world. However there were some other experiences in my life which led to Indigo and Iris as well. When I went to Vanuatu I encountered treatable blindness and the effects it had on the people in the Pacific Islands. I also worked in the beauty industry which turns over a lot of money and there is a lot of room in the industry to do cool things. Through these experiences, I saw an opportunity and it inspired me to start Indigo and Iris.

US President Barack Obama addressed the entrepreneurs summit in Kenya

US President Barack Obama addressed the entrepreneurs summit in Kenya

Speaking of opportunities, a lot of doors have opened up for you since starting Indigo and Iris, such as the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, how did you get involved with this particular conference?
I was nominated by the US Embassy of New Zealand and selected by the US State Department to travel to Kenya, fully funded, and attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit which is co-hosted by the US President. There were basically a whole bunch of entrepreneurs with small businesses and a whole bunch of high net-worth individuals, quite often investors or big CEOs of companies. It was a really incredible experience for me going to an event of that calibre. Not only because I gained a global perspective, because it’s very easy to be stuck in a New Zealand mindset, but also because I was inspired by all the incredible things happening all over the world.

Sounds amazing! Did you learn anything new about entrepreneurship?
Yes, that it’s such a good way of eradicating poverty. It’s an alternative to terrorism and it’s an empowering development model. I knew this before, but I didn’t really know the ins and outs about how it worked until now.

And how did the summit affect you as a person and your vision for Indigo and Iris?
For me as a person, it’s just changed my mindset to be more ambitious and to dream bigger. For Indigo and Iris that’s obviously great because that means the vision is more ambitious too, I think that we have a greater chance to have an impact now. I’m also really grateful to the US Embassy for investing in me and other young entrepreneurs because that’s just going to create a bigger impact on the world.

Bonnie Howland on the Kenyan plains

Bonnie Howland on the Kenyan plains

So what’s next for Indigo and Iris?
Right now we are developing our first product, Mascara for Sight. It’s really fun, we’ve just finalised our packaging and we’re in our research and development stage of the formula now. We also have an exciting thing coming up soon, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign.

When can we expect Mascara for Sight to hit stores?
I can’t give a date because it’s very touch and go with the R&D, but what I’m aiming for is early next year.

And will it be available worldwide or just in New Zealand?
It’s going to be a global thing but when we first launch Mascara for Sight it will only be available in New Zealand and Australian stores before it goes into other countries. However we will also be releasing it online.

You can keep up to date with Bonnie by subscribing to her website.