Cake With... Susie Ma
Welcome to the club, Susie Ma! The founder of Tropic Skincare, the way she has grown her business quite literally from the ground up is so inspiring - we are chuffed to share her story and TLC tips.
Tell us your story…
Where to begin?! My story started as a passion for natural skincare, and it remains a huge part of my life today. I grew up with natural ingredients as my go-to for skincare and health; my grandmother was a toxicologist, meaning she had extensive knowledge of how certain ingredients in food, medication, beauty and other products in our daily lives can affect our wellbeing. We lived in Shanghai back then, and I moved with my family to Sydney in Australia when I was 6 years old, eventually settling in Cairns, Tropical North Queensland. In Cairns, there were so many beautiful tropical plants, and my mum and I would even grow them in our garden to make natural skincare recipes. It was this early exposure to the power of natural ingredients, specifically from the tropics, that ultimately went on to inspire Tropic Skincare’s ethos.
We moved to London when I was 13, and I started selling my own natural skincare products on a stall at Greenwich Market. The body scrub recipe, which I packaged in jam jars, still exists in the Tropic range today, but is now known as our Body Smooth Refreshing Polish and has more sophisticated packaging! My first day of selling at the market was such a success that I continued working evenings and weekends to develop the business while studying at school, eventually saving enough money to buy my mum a house, and fund my university studies.
I worked for a very brief period in investment banking after university, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I missed being my own boss, and spending my time developing natural skincare recipes, so I made the decision to leave and concentrate fully on the growth of Tropic. Soon after, I applied for BBC’s The Apprentice along with over 70,000 other people, and was lucky enough to be chosen, which was a great PR opportunity to share the products with more people. This eventually lead me to a 50/50 partnership with Lord Alan Sugar in 2011, even though I finished as a runner-up. His investment allowed the business to reach new heights.
Today we employ over 160 internal staff and have created business opportunities for over 12,000 Tropic Ambassadors throughout the UK… not bad for something that began with a jam jar and a market stall!
What makes you feel on top of the world?
Quite literally… climbing to the summit of mountains! I’ve taken part in two Strive Challenges so far with Sir Richard Branson and a group of other inspiring entrepreneurs and philanthropists, and both have been packed with life changing moments. I’ve climbed Mont Blanc and Toubkal so far, and next on my list is Kilimanjaro. It’s the feeling of overcoming those physical challenges and pushing yourself to new limits, giving you a rush of adrenaline and endorphins which is so exhilarating. It’s a great way to find out what your body and mind are really capable of, and I often think “if I can do this, I can do anything!”.
What do you feel should be spoken about more?
Over the years, my research on natural ingredients has deepened my understanding of the damaging ingredients found in many skincare products on the market. The toxicity of ingredients in skincare, makeup and personal care products is frightening, considering that most of us apply an average of 16 products every single day of our lives, and have done since we were children. It’s why I’m so vigilant about the ingredients we use in Tropic’s products, and it’s why I speak often about this issue to our Ambassadors and the wider community.
When you look in the mirror each day, you may not see any visible effects from using these harmful ingredients in your products, but over the years the impact can be incredibly damaging. Not only for your skin and body, but for the wider environment. Residue from each and every shampoo, face wash, body wash and more ends up in our water, affecting wildlife and ecosystems. At Tropic, we always aim to use either biodegradable or inert ingredients to minimise our footprint on the planet as much as possible. I don’t think enough has been done to combat this issue, and though natural skincare is becoming much more popular, the reasons why it is so beneficial are not yet spoken about as much as I feel they should be.
Top tip: if you want to discover how kind-to-skin the ingredients in your products are, download the Think Dirty app. You can use it to scan the barcode of your beauty or household product, so Think Dirty can provide you with easy-to-understand information on the product and its ingredients. Each product is given a helpful rating from 0 - 10 to indicate how damaging the ingredients are, and I’m so proud that all Tropic products are rated ‘clean’ with a score between 0-3.
How does your day start?
I like to spend time organising, and having a little time to myself before I come into the Tropic office. We have an amazing team, and the business is fast-paced with a lot of decisions to be made. I like to take time to set myself up for a great day before I start answering questions. I’m a big believer in having green tea every morning as it’s so full of antioxidants! So I usually start the day with a cup of green tea and lemon, then I’ll check my emails and review that day’s to do list. I always try to tackle the most challenging tasks first while I have the most energy, and ease myself into the afternoon.
How does your day end?
A thorough skincare routine, always. I use our Tropic range of course, but I’ll switch the specific products up ever so slightly depending on what I think my skin needs more or less of. I love to slather my skin in nourishing oils and let them soak in while I get ready for bed, and that’s usually when I write my to do list for the following day. It’s a great way to empty my busy brain before bed, and helps me get a much better night’s sleep.
One little thing that most don’t know about you?
I’m hypermobile, which basically means some of my joints move beyond the normal range. I have double jointed fingers, shoulders, hips, and more, so I’m pretty bendy, which comes in handy sometimes - especially in yoga classes!
Do you have a personal quote or mantra?
I genuinely believe that “there’s always a way”. So no matter how impossible or improbable something seems, no matter how much push-back you get, no matter how many times you hear the word “no”, it doesn’t mean you should give up. There is no reason why you can’t make something happen… there’s always a way.
A nugget of advice that has stuck around?
One piece of advice that has always come in handy for me in business is to never focus on turnover, always on the bottom line. I always say “turnover is for vanity, profit is for sanity”, and I can’t stress this enough to other entrepreneurs. Look at the bigger picture and where you’re going, rather than being blinded by irrelevant numbers. That’s how to grow a business that has longevity and purpose.
Your favourite yoga pose and why?
Savasana… just kidding! I can’t lie, I do enjoy lying down like that! But when I’m in the mood to stretch out my body, I go for the classic poses, like Cobra. There’s something graceful and satisfying about that one, and it always makes me feel strong.
No bells and whistles, just a good old Victoria sponge. I could eat it all day.
What is on your baking bucket list?
Learning how to bake anything is probably number one…
Your ultimate TLC (tender loving care) tips?
I could talk for hours about the different ways to show yourself some TLC, which I feel strongly that we should all be doing more of, but if I have to choose just one? I’d say massage your face with a nourishing oil. Not only is it taking care of your skin, but it just feels amazing. I think people believe they need to book an expensive facial to get that feeling, but you can do it in the comfort of your own home, and it honestly feels great. I’d encourage anyone in need of some self-care to give it a try - it’s impossible not to enjoy it.