When Tiffany Wesley created her first bar of soap in 2013 — simply in hopes of healing her skin from the effects of polycystic ovary syndrome — little did she know that she would not only build a business, but a worker-owned business with a sense of community at its core.
“I didn’t imagine what it could be,” says Wesley, founder and creator of Pure Vibes. “I suffered with a hormonal condition called PCOS that had stricken me with really bad skin — oily skin, severe acne, hyperpigmentation and really bad dark spots all over my skin — so I was really just fed up.”
Her doctor recommended that she try the holistic route, and see if vegan, gluten-free, organic products would help her skin.
“So that’s what I decided to do and, at that particular time, there was only Lush Cosmetics,” recalls Wesley. “Their products were full of glitter, full of sparkles, but that was the closest thing that I could get to fresh products.”
That struggle to find simple, pure products ultimately lead her to create her own.
“Pure Vibes started out with just small, basic skincare products,” says Wesley. “Then once my daughter started to develop her eczema, I knew I had to go full-throttle and do more research to help her.”
This ultimately led to the launch of more products — everything from body butters to facial care and more.
“It wasn’t enough for me to just create good, natural products,” says Wesley. “I wanted to go a little bit further than that, which sparked me to become a licensed esthetician. I think that is the defining thing about Pure Vibes — not only do we have a commitment to this in terms of everyday life, but we’re expanding in terms of professional expertise and skin health and wellness.”
That drive to go further extends beyond the products Wesley makes and services she provides, to how she runs Pure Vibes as a business. This was noticed by Forbes, which included Wesley in its 2021 “Next 1000” list honoring “upstart American entrepreneurs redefining the American dream.”
“I transitioned the company into a co-op in 2019 at a time when the world was so divided,” says Wesley. “We needed a sense of ownership, a sense of togetherness, a sense of community. I didn’t want to just be another skincare brand.
“I wanted to be something more impactful — not only in the sense of health and wellness, but make an impact in our community.”
Transitioning the business to a co-op that brought people together and offered opportunities for equity and ownership was especially forward-thinking, given the upheaval that was to come in 2020.
“That impact on the community is the number one thing we want to strive for,” says Wesley. “People are searching for something much more than just another title or paycheck. We’re part of the great resignation, right? People are leaving their jobs and companies because if you don’t stand for whatever beliefs or pillars or morals that are actually near and dear to their hearts, people are searching for substance in the essence of something so much more. We don’t want you to just come here and have a job — we want you to help create equity, ownership and generational wealth.”
The brand accomplishes this by giving individuals an opportunity to not only work at the store, but also have a say in the store’s operations itself.
“A cooperative is a worker-owned company that contributes in terms of equity in overall ownership of the company,” says Wesley. “So even though I am a founder of the company, I still have one voice in the same agreement with all the other worker owners. How it works is that people, based on their hours worked, get a direct equity share.”
For Wesley and her business partner Demetrius Neal, community is everything.
“Community is vital because it’s your first interaction outside of your home,” says Wesley. “It’s where you are rooted. It’s the essence of who you become. And the health of your community has a direct impact on your life.”
And a direct correlation to why Wesley chose to plant her business in St. Louis.
“St. Louis has so much potential, and St. Louis has so much wealth in terms of talent,” says Wesley. “We’re known to be a city that really makes things happen and gets moving. Just being immersed in the St. Louis startup ecosystem, and also being like an innovative thought leader in terms of change and business models, it’s important that we aren’t behind the times, but that we sit here and that we show our local community other ways to do things and how we can impact our lives here just locally.”
Wesley has had an inside track to seeing some of that talent through participating in Greater St. Louis Inc.’s Diverse Business Accelerator and WEPOWER’s Elevate/Elevar Accelerator.
“Pure Vibes’ participation in WEPOWER’s accelerator and the Diverse Business Accelerator is one of the driving success factors in our business,” says Wesley. “When I started WEPOWER, I had so many questions about business and how to run a business successfully. I wanted to know how to price our products correctly and what percent of margins equates to profitability. I started to understand how to work on the business and why having a business mentor was important.
“The Diverse Business Accelerator helped me perfect our brand story and lean into the ‘why’; it prepared me for pitch competitions. It also allowed me to understand the importance of local partnerships and how to go about engaging community stakeholders.”
Wesley hopes to take all that she’s learned and continue to build Pure Vibes not just for herself and her community, but for future generations.
“Being St. Louis born and raised, my children are here, and I want to be able to have a better future — to show them that you don’t always have to get up and leave St. Louis,” says Wesley. “Part of it is creating the opportunities where you are.”
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Learn more about Pure Vibes or shop their products on their website.