Yong-Li Zhou is CEO of Embrace Products Group Pty Ltd and Co-Founder of Enbacci (Skincare). Yong-Li’s introduction into the personal care industry began when she first started working in the family packaging business over 10 years ago, where they supplied globally (and continue to supply) product packaging to leading sunscreen, skincare, cosmetics and food brands. It was there that she learnt the processes involved with product development and was inspired to create skincare that was luxurious, effective, inclusive and uniquely Australian-made. Yong-Li is also an accredited product formulator and advanced skin science expert.
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Thank you for joining us, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Yong-Li Zhou: My name is Yong-Li Zhou. I am the CEO of Embrace Products Group Pty Ltd and the Co-Founder of Australian luxury skincare brand, Enbacci. I have a Diploma in Personal Care Formulations and I am accredited in Advanced Skin Science. I have been working in the cosmetic and personal care industry for over 10 years, with my first introduction into the industry through the family packaging business. It was there that I learnt the processes involved with product development and was inspired to create skincare that was luxurious, effective, inclusive and uniquely Australian-made.
A little fun fact about me is that I wanted to study medicine after high school. I was all set up for it, having chosen all the prerequisite subjects, had it not been for a discussion with my Mum one fateful evening where she blatantly told me, “you’re not going to be a doctor”. Contrary to most Asian parents, she didn’t want me to become a medical professional. Luckily for her, I wasn’t very good at chemistry, found that I had a natural affinity to languages and linguistics so stopped pursuing a medical degree. Ironically, I now run a company that involves a fair amount of human biology knowledge and chemistry.
I suffer from endometriosis and adenomyosis, so bringing about awareness of these disorders is an important cause to me.
Can you tell our readers in what ways you are disrupting your industry?
Yong-Li Zhou: There are a few ways in which I believe our brand Enbacci is disrupting the cosmetic and personal care industry.
Firstly, we are an Australian made and owned, luxury skincare brand. If you ask a person off the street to list some luxury skincare brands they may know, you will no doubt get the traditional brands such as Estee Lauder, La Mer, Lancome. All very luxurious but also all originating in foreign countries such as the US or France. Having worked in the family packaging business prior to creating something of my own, I knew of Australia’s capabilities, availability of resources and infrastructure to create something special. Mum and I wanted to encourage and support growth and development of the industry within our country. We have been privileged to take this further with international clients who have sought out our consultancy to create Australian made brands for overseas markets.
Secondly, as mentioned, Australia is not only abundant in raw ingredient resources but we also have access to the world’s leading technology. When we were developing Enbacci, new skincare technology was being developed in Switzerland, which harnessed the stem cells of fruits and plants to create extremely powerful and effective antioxidants. We knew we had to incorporate these ingredients into our products. Moreover, in utilising fruit and plant stem cells, we are also supporting the cultivation and conservation practices that go into protecting these rare varieties of fruits and plants.
Lastly, unlike the beautiful, glossy, highly photoshopped campaigns of the traditional luxury beauty brands, we at Enbacci have chosen to take a different route and tackle social issues and social change through our product campaigns. Examples of these social issues include cultural inclusivity, body diversity and environmental awareness. Over the years, Enbacci has been able to develop a global audience and with that, a sense of responsibility to use our platform for positive change.
Did you become a disruptor by choice or by necessity? Tell us more about the journey.
Yong-Li Zhou: It was a bit of both. In our early days, with brand and product development, being a disruptor in the industry was very much a choice. It was our way of showing our point of difference. However, over the years, I feel like it has become more of a necessity. As mentioned prior, with our growing global audience, we feel that we have a social responsibility to use our platform for positive social change. I didn’t want Enbacci to be another brand that sells you a solution to a problem we made you believe you have.
Although our Australian diversity campaign and body positivity campaigns started off as reflections of personal experiences, we felt that they were very much relevant shared experiences. When the “Stop Asian Hate” movement started, I felt that it was even more important to continue our “I am the Face of Australia” campaign, to break hurtful stereotypes and racial prejudice. When Covid first hit Australian shores, we saw an exponential increase of racial hate. The incident that hit me the hardest the most was when two young girls of Asian ethnicity were walking along the Melbourne streets only to be harassed, spat on, kicked and told to “go back to where you came from”.
As an Australian-born Chinese, it upset me to know that such ignorant behaviour continues to exist in our home. It is our hope that through our campaigns, we are able to educate and create compassion, where there perhaps was none, in our community.
Now for the main focus of this interview: Many readers may wonder what are the biggest challenges women entrepreneurs must overcome to be successful?
Yong-Li Zhou: The biggest challenge I have had to face as a female entrepreneur is managing, building and growing a business alongside motherhood. I started my company back in 2012, when I was a 19 year old, single University student. As you can imagine, my personal identity has shifted many times throughout the last 10 years, the biggest when I had my son in 2019.
I truly believe that in the last two years with the Covid-19 pandemic, Mum entrepreneurs would have been the most overworked group of individuals. You may have seen this quote “we expect women to work like they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t have work”. For myself, the problem wasn’t the struggle of balancing work and meeting the needs of my child. If I had to parent all day and wait till my son went to bed for the night before I pulled an all nighter in order to get the to-do list done, that is what I did.
Rather, the problem I experienced was having the headspace to be creative and innovative so that my company may grow, when I was so occupied with keeping a human being, who was so dependant on you, alive. We often hear about “Mum guilt”, but I also experienced “work guilt”, the feeling of guilt for not being able to focus my attention on nurturing my business. Ultimately, in the end, we Mumpreneneurs make it work. With time, things sort themselves out and we survive.
How did you overcome these obstacles? Who helped you during these difficult times and how did they?
Yong-Li Zhou: I had to change my own perspective to realise and understand that the work I was doing, although it may not have been illustriously grand or as innovative as I would like, it was still good work. When I sit back and reflect on the first 6 months of my Motherhood journey, I realise that I had also travelled on a whirlwind 48 hour international trip to not only pitch our brand but to also present a new business venture, I created the foundations of our “I am the Face of Australia” campaign and I planned and organised a product launch event.
My family have always been my biggest supporters so naturally, they are also my biggest helpers who are very hands on if need be. In that first year of Covid lockdowns, my little family were fortunate to have found ourselves living with my parents. We had just put our property up on the market with the intention of upgrading to something bigger once it sold, however, for obvious reasons, that was delayed. Luckily, with work from home orders in place, we had plenty of helping hands at the ready if I needed with our little one. Thankfully, their help didn’t stop there, with the grandparents from both sides actively helping to care for our child while I am able to return to normal hours of work.
I am also grateful that I have built a team of individuals at Enbacci who are highly motivated and show initiative. My team delivers not only what is expected of them, but particularly during the Covid lockdowns, they have been able to present ways of improving our business, which relieved my pressure and feeling of guilt for not being able to take on creative and innovative projects.
How did these lessons shaped the way you conduct business today?
Yong-Li Zhou: When I first started the business, it was just my Mum and I. Together, we had to wear many different hats. We were the accountants, the product and packaging designers, the researchers, the logistics team, the customer service team, etc.
When I found out that we were expecting my son in 2019, we were only a team of three and slowly, I had to relinquish certain roles as I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform them. In the last two years, as our team has grown again, I have had to make that big mind shift away from being involved in the day-to-day business to focusing my attention on building, growing, planning and strategising for the the business, only getting involved with the day-to-day when I need to or just want to check in with the team.
What advice you wished you had received when you started, that you’d like to share now with aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Yong-Li Zhou: When you have an idea or a brand that people really like and they think is very sellable and profitable, you find that there are plenty of individuals or companies throwing themselves at you, presenting partnerships with all kinds of promises. My advice is to protect what is yours. Know your worth. Do your research on the other party and don’t be afraid to ask for information or proof. Partnerships work both ways, so if one party is benefitting from it, so should the other.
Out of all of your proudest moments as an entrepreneur, is there a particular one that stands out the most?
Yong-Li Zhou: Nothing beats that feeling of standing at the end of a giant shipper container, filled to the edges with products you have so lovingly created, ready to be closed up and on its way to an international destination.
What do you plan on tackling during the 2022 year? Share your goals and battles you expect to face.
Yong-Li Zhou: I came to the realisation that what makes a luxury brand a luxury brand is the expectation that the consumers’ experience is something better. For example, in a traditional luxury retail store, we expect high quality, personalised customer service, whereas consumers may not have the same expectations of customer service of their local grocers. With consumers no longer just looking to buy good products but also support good brands, I realised that we really should be reflecting on how we as a business “do better”.
So in 2022, that is our goal. Ensuring we have a way of doing better for every aspect of our business. We are starting with how we do environmental sustainability better. We have already aligned ourselves with the “Clean the Seas” project, where customers can choose to donate $1 of the sale of their purchase to this project. However, we plan on expanding our initiatives with our biggest project for 2022 being opting for sustainable packaging. The hardest part about this projects has been ensuring that the new sustainable packaging we use are the most green, energy efficient and lowest carbon emitting option that fits and works not only within the Australian market, but also the other international markets we distribute to. It is a process that has required a lot of research so far and a lot more to come.
I’m sure our readers will be very thankful for the insights you have shared. What is the best book you’ve gone through lately and please share some take away lessons from it.
Yong-Li Zhou: I recently read “Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It” by Michael Grose. It is a book about birth order theory, where according to the order of a person’s birth, they may exhibit certain characteristics or behaviours. I found this book to be particularly interesting as it gives insight or perhaps perspective about why an individual behaves in a certain way and what motivates them. As a first born, I could particularly relate to some of the characteristics highlighted such as being a goal-setter, responsible and a rule-keeper.
A takeaway for me from this book was about how birth order can determine how well an individual fits certain workplace roles. An example that is presented in the book is when looking at your admin versus sales team. First-borns tend to dominate administrative, accounting type roles, whereas later borns tend to be better sales people. When interviewing for roles in our business in the future, I think asking the individual of their birth order will be an interesting question to present.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, I do have one more question for you. When was the last time you did something for the first time and what was it?
Yong-Li Zhou: Given the events of 2020 and 2021, it feels like it has been a while since I last did something completely new for the first time. A big focus for me in the later half of 2021 was to be consistent with movement (something that is surprisingly hard when you are a parent!). My husband is a natural athlete and loves running. I am the polar opposite. However, with a lot of support from him and keeping me accountable, I found myself going on daily runs. They started off short but soon enough, I had completed 5km and towards the end of the year, 10km. My personal best is 11.5km. My goal for 2022 is to run a half-marathon.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Yong-Li Zhou for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Yong-Li Zhou or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin
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