Spa owner wins award for finding the good things in adversity

Only a fool would mine the Yukon for gold, copper and other precious metals. The real money is in body butter and face masks.

Only a fool would mine the Yukon for gold, copper and other precious metals.

The real money is in body butter and face masks.

Or so hopes lotion maker and esthetician Rebecca Brauen.

The 33-year-old owner of Lilli Pie Lotions is planning to market her Yukon Green line to the rest of Canada.

Yukon Green’s products use clay excavated in the Yukon, exploiting its healing properties.

She isn’t blind to the clashing imagery of a rugged mining scene and the spa lifestyle.

“That’s what gives it this quirky appeal,” she said on the phone from Vancouver.

Brauen is in British Columbia to received her Young Entrepreneur Award from the Business Development Bank of Canada. The awards congratulate entrepreneurs in different regions across the country for their perseverance in business.

Brauen has gone from making body lotion in a garage to a full-on therapy spa with four estheticians and two assistants.

She’s happy to get the pat on the back, but it’s only a brief stop on a longer road to success.

“The future of my business is to take the natural skin care that I make and branch out throughout Canada,” she said.

The Vancouver event has been great for networking, especially with marketing types, she said.

But her plan to go national doesn’t mean going to war with the body lotion giants.

“I’m not trying to compete with the Body Shop and Lush with my body butters, hand creams and lip balm,” she said.

That’s why she’s focusing on the Yukon Green line. It’s unique, natural and you can only get it here.

It may never have come to the minds of Skookum Jim or George Carmacks, but the Yukon’s clay contains negative ions, giving it a detoxifying effect, said Brauen. It’s also plush with minerals to keep your skin healthy.

“(The line) has bath salts, body butter, deodorant, toothpaste and a mask,” she said.

“(The clay) is just fantastic. It pulls toxins right out of you.”

She’s following a strong trend line toward natural products, she said.

“The health industry is pretty big right now in getting the formaldehyde out of our deodorants.”

It might sound ridiculous to put Yukon mining and esthetics in the same sentence, but marketing is all about breaking the mould so you get noticed.

“The Yukon right now has kind of a sexy name. People are very drawn to it. There’s wide open space and there’s a lot of adventure and mystery,” she said.

But enough about those sun-baked southerners, what can you offer for the rugged Yukon life?

“Even if people aren’t rushing out at minus 50 to get their toes done, they are rushing out to get the fingertip stick that their cracked, poor, dried cold fingers need and their rushing out to get their extreme healing butter for their heels and their elbows.”

When it comes down it, the spa treatment doesn’t seem so alien to the North.

“It is so cold it becomes therapy. It turns from a want to a need at that point,” said Brauen.

The Business Development Bank award chose Brauen for facing adversity in the business world.

“I began in a garage when my daughter was quite ill and I needed to stay home with her and make some extra income,” she said.

“So I started making lotions and I literally grew making one vat of body cream at a time until 2005 when I was able to open up my first storefront.”

The hardest part of operating your own business in the Yukon is the seasonal aspect of it, she said.

“In the esthetic business, when you have winter for eight months out of the year, people aren’t feeling like getting their toes out there in a pair of sandals.”

Despite the challenges, she finally opened her larger spa last year at 2110 2nd Avenue, just above Doc’s Diner.

“I liken it to childbirth,” she said. “People can tell you it will be so exciting and you’ll never love anything more than that child and it will never be so painful. All of that is true but you never know until you do it.”

Despite the hardship, quitting was never an option, she said.

“Just like your child, it’s unconditional. You have to love it that much. You have to want it that much.”

Happiness through hard work isn’t about denying the struggle, it’s about finding contentment that gives you strength, she said.

It’s the same for spa goers.

“It’s empowering to take good care of yourself,” she said. “It’s just sending them a message that ‘I am worth it.’”

“It gives (her clients) new life, new wind under their wings to continue on with an undervalued role where they’re cleaning up kids and making dinners.”

Brauen learned to see the balance between work and rest through her own entrepreneurial adventure.

If life gets too easy, pleasure loses its purpose too.

“There’s a thrill in the risk,” she said. “If I start something and I learn it too quickly, I move onto the next thing. There’s no limit to where it can go and it’s a little overwhelming sometimes.”

Now it’s a lesson she shares with her clients.

“I think that’s how I operate best,” she said, “a little overwhelmed, a little confused, a little scared and a lot excited.”