Hi, my name is Gillian Stollwerk Garrett, a.k.a. “Gilly,” pronounced with a strong “g,” like “greens” and “girl power” ... see what I mean?! I am the founder of Gilly’s Organics, a luxurious, healing, non-toxic line of skin and hair products found in wellness centers, health food stores, Whole Foods in NY, NJ and CT, dermatologist offices and online. I adore what I do! But, it wasn’t necessarily the path I had planned, which may be the underlying “beauty” and message of it all.
My background after college was in cable TV where I eagerly helped define brands’ messages like USA Networks/ The Sci-Fi Channel and Turner Broadcasting, with a stint of an online adventure at CitySearch in between. Each job was fun and challenging in its own way. While at my last job at Turner, I decided to go out on my own and do consulting. I was itching for something more. My associates thought I was crazy to take such a risk (the mindset of my generation is different than today’s 25-year-olds). I followed my gut, and within six weeks I landed a freelance gig writing for Estee Lauder, earning more money from my apartment in ripped jeans and a messy bun, than I did button up in the corporate world! I was hooked. In this role, I got paid handsomely to write all sorts of copy, including TV and radio spots, describing fragrances with as little as three words, such as “fresh, crisp, summery!” One TV commercial I wrote and got to cast was the “Touch. Tickle. Tommy” three-word campaign. Not a bad deal!
Why do I tell you this? Because it gave me a taste of what’s possible. Yes, I was young and fearless. Or, perhaps I just had more courage? What is it about aging that makes it harder to look our fears in the eye, dance around with them and say, “I see you, I appreciate you, but I am reframing this as excitement and taking this risk anyway!?” I realized over a long time, it’s not always about age, it’s a mindset, and we will talk more about that later. Regardless, as a 45-year-old mom of three, it’s not lost on me that life and its many responsibilities can make you choose safer paths as we “grow up.”
Nevertheless, once I began to live the #entrepreneurlife, I was never going back! Was it stable? No! Was is lonely sometimes? Yes! But, as I put myself out there more and more, I connected with many amazing people to share ideas, meet up with, or get advice. You also either get comfortable with the instability of this lifestyle (and get some side hustle – which I know a lot about), or you stop and go back to a steady paycheck. I’ve grappled over the years with this and took on many side jobs while running G.O., writing articles, helping other brands figure themselves out, running their social media, blogging, coaching other entrepreneurs and more. And when I was offered full-time/ corporate jobs a few times over the years, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted!
So, how did I go from branding for cable TV, to writing for the largest beauty brand, to crafting my own indie, organic beauty brand? One day after years of writing “fresh, crisp, summery,” the VP at Lauder, who was funneling all the copy-writing work to me, got fired. I decided in this moment to be home, be present with my toddler and baby, and figure some stuff out. I had already moved to Tenafly at this point (it’s been 16 years this December)! I had this fleeting fantasy I would make a product. I had always loved mixing things (but please don’t ask me to make dinner). I grew up in my parents’ pharmacy and used to smash things up with a mortar and pestle (not for the customers – ha!). I would take a broken eye shadow off the shelf and mix it with vaseline to make lip gloss – so much fun! I got to tap into that gratifying feeling of mixing something again when I whipped up a sugar scrub from this oil blend that I created for my dry hair and skin. Suddenly, Hey Sugar Lookin’ Good! was born! I started my product line with just the scrub that sold locally in synagogues, churches, preschools and online. It was exciting, and it brought some added, needed purpose outside of parenting. Back then, even though it was a budding business, I viewed it more as a “hobby” for reasons I see now as limiting beliefs of what it could be (and still will be). Today, I have nine products in my line, and we are currently working on perfecting a couple more for release by spring 2020.
In the name of time, let’s condense the next 10 years of this story to these three words: “grief, growth, and transformation” (not exactly “fresh, crisp, and summery”)! Ha! You still with me? Like everyone, I had ups and downs. An enormous down in my life was the death of my incredible mother. Her death at this point in life doesn’t define me, but at the time, and for a long while after, it sure did. The grief consumed me. I almost gave up on my brand. I lost a lot of my “Suzy sunshiny-ness” and became someone who might just bawl her eyes out on the line in the supermarket or on carpool line ... also someone you might want to avoid in the supermarket! A couple of months after her passing, our third child was born, my son who brought a new joy to our grieving family. Somehow, I decided to plug along in business, while also being a full-time mama. Looking back, I’m so happy I did. Grief isn’t exactly linear as we know, and so I won’t say that there was this all-of-a-sudden growth that came after. However, there was a moment about two years in, when I emerged from the “grief bubble” I was floating around in. When it popped, I began to think of Mom in my back pocket, giving me the confidence I felt I had lost along with her passing.
There was a slow shift into healing that over the years brought me back to the positive person I once was. Eventually, I think it made me even more of the optimistic me – almost as if I woke up and realized I didn’t want to waste time, but rather to honor the amazing life she gave me. I sought out self-love and self-improvement unknowingly and knowingly. I went to therapy, did every kind of workout (running, boot camps, spinning). Yoga has become my absolute favorite form of movement, and I could write an article on all of the benefits I have received from it. I think I will! I joined inspirational women’s groups, eventually became a speaker and a coach for female entrepreneurs. Making Mom proud was also making me proud of who I was becoming again!
Success was slow and not always steady. However, when I got into Whole Foods at the beginning of 2014, I stopped crying in the supermarket aisles and started smiling there. I also found mentors, really empowering women who lovingly advised, listened, and infused life and confidence into my world. I can’t express how invaluable these mentors have been to my growth. Believing in yourself is the ultimate goal, of course, but having someone you admire spend time on you and your business is priceless! I began to acknowledge and honor my many passions and what lit me up. I believe that once you become really aware of what you want and decide to be true to yourself (and not try to please anyone else), you have the ability to live life for you and on your terms! Your goals become something you never need to defend, and you find countless people in your corner.
Once I realized this, I was transformed. I wanted to help more women find this pleasure in their lives and businesses. I began to coach female founders through IFundWomen (a crowdfunding platform for business owners to raise capital that I utilized and loved), and also coach women privately on areas they need to succeed. I am now a mentor to some powerful women who give me as much as I hope I give them!
I feel excited and grateful to live in this supportive community where my neighbors, friends, customers and fellow business owners cheer me on. It’s a two-way street. I am honored to be carried in and to support local stores like Healthway Natural Foods, Crush’d Garage, Englewood Health/The Graf Center, Fireshaper Yoga, JUMA Fit and more. As a business owner, while I love seeing my products sell in stores, I also appreciate equally the kindness and warmth extended from my community as I grow (would be so happy if you follow that growth on Instagram and Facebook at @gillysorganics). We live in a terrific area! I am truly honored you asked me to share some of my story with you, BeLocal. Welcome to the ‘hood, new friends! If you ever need a cup of sugar, you know who to ask!
Also, if you want to try Gilly’s Organics, please use the code BELOCAL at checkout, www. gillysorganics.com, for $25 off your purchase of $100.
With so much love!