In honor of Earth Day today, HF had the pleasure of sitting down with Zoe Mesnik-Greene, founder of Lasting Smiles, who is changing the world one lip balm at a time!
What is Lasting Smiles, and how did you get the idea to start it?
Zoe Mesnik-Greene: Lasting Smiles is a social purpose enterprise with a core focus to positively impact lives around the world through essential personal care products we use every day. Our mission with Lasting Smiles’ first line of lip care is to nourish your lips while nurturing the world. Our lip balms are made of the very finest virgin and unrefined organic ingredients, which we source from small-scale fairtrade cooperatives around the globe: Coconut oil from India, shea butter from Burkina Faso, and cocoa butter from Peru. And we don’t stop there! Every lip balm works to fund cleft lip and palate surgeries for children directly in the same countries where we source our ingredients, thereby completing the full circle.
The idea for Lasting Smiles came to me while I was viewing a video online in my college dorm room. I was shocked and upset to learn that millions of children around the world born with cleft defects do not receive the relatively inexpensive surgeries necessary to correct their problems due to lack of resources and funding. I immediately felt compelled to make a difference, but only in a way that had huge sustainable potential, rather than just asking for donations. What was a product I could innovate that people need, love, and use every day? After a restless night, it literally dawned on me: Lip balm! Millions of people use lip balm every year. My vision was to create a beautiful lip balm that not only cares for us, but at the same time makes a positive lasting impact on the world. This was the initial spark that drove me to create Lasting Smiles.
For our readers who might not know, what is a cleft lip or cleft palate, and what does it take to treat it?
ZMG: A cleft lip and palate birth defect occurs when the tissues in a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy, thus leaving the opening (cleft). Did you know that one in every 600-700 births a child is born with a cleft birth defect? That’s a huge number of babies affected!
Millions of children around the world suffer with unrepaired cleft lip and palate and they experience huge physical difficulties with eating, breathing and speaking. They live in shame and isolation and are often ostracized and shunned from their local schools.
But there is a solution: Cleft surgery truly transforms a child’s quality of life forever! And the surgery is relatively inexpensive and simple. Patients see their smile for the first time, parents cry tears of joy, and lives and communities are changed forever. We just need more funding to ensure children around the world get the surgeries needed.
What’s a challenge you’ve faced with starting Lasting Smiles, and how did you overcome it?
ZMG: As a young entrepreneur, there are huge challenges. There are so many aspects to starting and running a business that I had to learn along the way. I am constantly learning how to be resourceful. Countless times, I have worked really hard and have hit brick walls. That has forced me to be creative in ways I did not know possible beforehand. The most important thing I have had to learn is to pick myself up–and not give up–because what I am trying to achieve through Lasting Smiles is really about transforming the quality of life for so many people around the world. That dream keeps me going.
What’s been the most unbelievable or surreal moment of creating and running Lasting Smiles?
ZMG: As Americans, we have so many consumer products we use every day, but we are totally out of touch with what goes into producing them from a global perspective. Last summer, I traveled to Peru to meet with the cocoa farmers who work so hard every day out in their fields. They didn’t even know what lip balm was! I gave them tubes of Lasting Smiles and they were so proud and happy to learn how their organic cocoa harvest went into the fabrication of lip balms manufactured in the U.S.
While in Peru, I also had the amazing opportunity to spend time with a plastic surgeon who has performed over 6,000 cleft surgeries to children in need. Witnessing a cleft surgery in his operating room, and meeting with families and children before and after surgery, was rewarding to experience firsthand. I have received countless emails from parents thanking us for the important contributions Lasting Smiles is making to children born with cleft conditions.
It’s also unbelievably wonderful to hear from people who are using Lasting Smiles who say it’s the best lip balm they have used because of its high quality, yummy flavors, and ultra moisturizing finish. They value its philanthropic built-in cause. So many consumers are savvy these days and want to express their values with their pocketbook. All of this feedback drives me to continually work hard to share Lasting Smiles with more consumers and to enable us to change more lives around the world.
What advice do you have for women hoping to start businesses, nonprofits, or other organizations?
ZMG: So many pieces of advice:
- Start small but always dream big!
- I started Lasting Smiles at age 19 out of my dorm room completely bootstrapped. Don’t let age or a lack of resources scare you!
- Stay focused!
- Use your gut instincts!
- Surround yourself with those who challenge you, who are creative, and wholly believe in your vision.
- Don’t let the naysayers fool you and bring you down.
- Do something that you are deeply passionate about each and every day and when you hit bumps along the road, continue to think about the core reasons why you get out of bed each day.
- There is no one right path.
- Strong partners who share your vision matter.
- And one last thing: it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the all-encompassing demands of a start-up that you forget to have a balanced life. Make time to exercise, spend time with your friends and family, and give yourself a teeny bit of down time. You will be healthier and happier, and your results will be better.
How can our readers get involved with Lasting Smiles?
- Try Lasting Smiles! And if you love it (which we are sure you will) please make it your lip balm of choice. Share and gift it to others. People love to receive gifts that they give back. Use your purchasing power and your personal values as a means for bringing more economic justice and needed sustainability to our world. AND smile knowing that you are transforming children’s lives forever and that you are putting a beautiful smile on their faces for the first time!
- Become ambassadors of Lasting Smiles and help us multiple our impact through the power of WE. Write about it, take a picture of yourself using the product, post it on your social channels, and share our storytelling video of how you can use lip balm to nourish your lips and nurture the world!
- Strive to be environmentally and socially conscious consumers!
- Spread some love and “lasting smiles” to a stranger you may meet or your friends and family you care about.
Where do you see yourself and Lasting Smiles in the future?
ZMG: Lasting Smiles is still a very new enterprise. Over the next few years we hope to grow our enterprise and thereby increase our potential to positively impact communities around the world. Every 1,000 lip balms sold transforms one child’s life forever! The more consumers purchase, the more lives are improved around the world. We see ourselves as change agents. Businesses can be a powerful force for change in the world. The more consumers become aware of their purchasing power, the more they will demand of companies to change and be positive forces for bettering people’s lives around the globe.