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Q&A with JoAnn Fowler

JoAnn Fowler made actors and actresses look picture-perfect for decades. Her career as an Emmy-nominated makeup artist landed her a prominent spot on television shows like The L Word, and major silver-screen series such as Twilight and the Final Destination franchise. But when an actress drew Fowler’s attention to the parabens, phthalates and other hard-to-pronounce ingredients with either known or suspected harmful properties, Fowler’s conscience compelled her to do something about it. Today, she is the founder of Sappho New Paradigm, a Vancouver-based company producing a line of natural, organic cosmetics that function as beautifully in real life as they do on high-definition screens – created with a business model that stands for best ethical practices, honesty and transparency, without compromise.

What Motivated You To Start Your Business?

A paragraph from the book Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of Beauty (by Stacy Malkan) changed my life. It cited hundreds of chemicals found in the blood of test subjects – parabens, phthalates and even rocket fuel from the 1970s. The test subjects were newborn babies from across the United States in 2004, so new they hadn’t even left the hospital yet.

I read about the permeability of skin and realized that as a makeup artist, I had been putting chemicals on people without any conscious understanding of what I was doing. But I loved what I did and I wanted to keep doing it, so I felt compelled to create a clean-performing alternative to what I had been using and to allow others to make their own choice. 

What Is The Biggest Challenge Not Only With Starting Your Own Business, But With Maintaining It?

The biggest challenge has been learning how to negotiate basic business with integrity and ethos. The intricacies of commerce have involved a huge learning curve because it was something quite alien to me. Coming from a creative background, learning business terms and protocols and demystifying the investment process has been intense. I highly recommend a good lawyer, a good business mentor and a good accountant. 

What Is The Biggest Reward?

The biggest reward, and the one that really keeps me going, is knowing that Sappho is offering a product that is good for both the individual and the world. The more intimate reward comes with seeing someone’s face light up after we have done their makeup, or hearing from someone recovering from cancer and being able to be a small part of their healing process. 

What Have You Learned About The Power Of Plants Since Starting Your Line, And Are There Any “Super-Powered” Plant-Based Ingredients You Prefer?

Plants and their properties are very important to Sappho, and we utilize many in our formulations. I realize that jojoba oil does not seem particularly exotic, however, it is one of the most important plant ingredients that Sappho utilizes. The structure of jojoba oil is different from other oils as it’s actually a wax ester and not an oil at all – it’s deeply hydrating and full of vitamin E and B, as well as antioxidants and minerals, yet it does not affect oily skin. It does not evaporate and naturally deters microbes, helping to prevent the growth of bacteria on skin. Because jojoba is a wax ester that behaves much the same as our own skin oils, this ingredient is amazing for acneic skin as it is “oil-less” and yet performs beautifully on dry skin as it provides a substantial long-acting layer of moisture.

How Do You Prioritize Self-Care — Do You Have Any Rituals Or Me-Time Musts?

Probably the most important ritual that I prioritize is a morning meditation. Meditation helps me stay grounded for the day, and I think it also makes me more receptive to any magic that might come my way. Certainly the long hours of running a business are a challenge but, then again, when I worked in film I did those same hours but often outside! Frankly, my biggest struggle is feeding myself properly – working in film for 25 years, I was accustomed to being fed, so to take the time to make a meal that I find inviting, delicious and nutritious is a rare event. I often eat on the go. 

What Are Your Favourite Spa Experiences?

I love to get a facial, but bringing this back to the question of self-care, it is not something I am able to do as regularly as I would like. There is something so inherently healing when you get a great facial, as it’s not just about your skin but also about the experience of de-stressing and being cared for. I also go for an elapromed treatment a couple of times a year. It is a system that opens the pores and enables pure serum to be deposited very deeply into the skin – the difference in my skin is amazing!

What’s Next For You?

This is intrinsically connected with what is next for Sappho. These products are not only my legacy but also my apology to the younger generation. I want to continue to create cleaner, better, more beautiful products that serve both our need for sustainability and for adornment. 

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