Badur Ramji is an internet friend and his vegan skincare company, PunkMedics, is a sponsor of the site. Though we hang out online on Twitter and exchange emails, I still felt like I didn’t know very much about him, and wanted to learn more about Badur and what he does. I asked him a few questions about entrepreneurship and developing vegan skincare, and he generously answered in candid detail. He also mentions some other gutsy entrepreneurs worth checking out.
What inspired you to create PunkMedics?
I’ve always been a frustrated artist. I can’t draw and I can’t paint. Even after my years at Ryerson in Fashion Communication I still never properly learnt how to communicate my design ideas onto paper. What I did learn from Ryerson, and what I believe was more powerful to me then learning how to draw, was learning how to look. I learnt how to see a niche audience, learn how to solve their problem and how to grow a business around them. I knew upon graduation I was an entrepreneur and didn’t want to work for someone else. So I took the leap and started my first business in web design and online marketing. We were developing proprietary systems for the then burgeoning online analytics industry and I found that I was good at being a creative liaise between marketers and developers. All of this is old hat now-a-days but in the early dot-com era these skill sets were innovative and valuable.
I learnt a lot from those days. The most important thing I learnt was I hated the corporate environment, and though I could be successful in it that wasn’t the role I wanted to play. I got tired of selling hope. I wanted to get back to my design roots and develop products and things that were tangible. I wanted to develop a self sustaining business that took ideas and made them into tangible products.
PunkMedics started as an accident. In its first iteration we were a supply company for the body modification industry. We grew quickly and developed a decent market share but that market is now saturated and conscious more about price points then quality. We then moved into the new and growing niche of after care products for that industry. We researched about the skin and it’s needs and wants, what happens when you tattoo or pierce that skin and how it affects the natural equilibrium. We developed a few care products that are the basis of what PunkMedics eventually grew into.
Because I’m a minimalist at heart and always look for simple solutions to complex problems I continued researching ingredients to improve our initial formulations and learnt what actually made them effective and how I could make them simpler and more natural. I’ve always believed the less you put into the body the better. The advantages to this concept of simplicity is that the formulations themselves are more stable and easier to produce in-house on a large scale basis.
From years of researching ingredients and dissecting formulations I eventually realized that people love simple, clean, and effective products and that adding the same principles to package design could be a powerful combination. I was already developing products for an audience that looks at our after care line as a quality product so I decided that doing a full line of skincare products for the same audience would be a natural progression. PunkMedics was born from those early principles of natural ingredients, quality manufacturing, and a product brand that speaks to it’s audience.
My market is my friends and their friends. My products are solutions to skincare problems that my friends have had for years. Everything from irritated piercings and dry tattoos to facial cleansers and lip balms that
don’t irritate or dry the skin.
Now things are growing again. The parents of my target audience have taken notice and are loving the product line and asking for something that speaks to them. We’ve recently launched a more adult contemporary brand called Fuchsia Natural Skincare.
From your pictures it looks like you are creating your own factory – why is it important for you to manufacture in-house?
I’m a control freak. To understand my audience and my products I need to be a part of the entire product cycle. My friends wanted products with no scent, with quality ingredients, and little to no chemicals. Something made with value in an age that sees the youth as a commodity and deems them as a throw away and faddish society.
My issues with control and my audiences need for quality made in-house production the only solution to making a product with value. What started off as an in-house lab to test ideas, turned into a small production facility to make a small run of products, and now we make all our core products in-house. Having the equipment to make 1000s of bottles a day has also allowed us to expand our services to other companies looking for small contract manufacturing for their niche markets without any large outlay in
production costs and essentially no minimum orders.
I like working on formulations, love designing packaging, and get glee out of solving production issues or finding ways not to buy expensive production equipment. It’s taking the DIY craft paradigm and turning it into a small scale production business that can be done locally. We know everything going into our products. We’ve touched every label on each bottle, we even produce some of our labels in-house for small production contracts. In the end you have a line of products that are made locally and made with love, enthusiasm and care.
What are the challenges when it comes to creating skincare products for vegans – is it like baking where you have to find substitutions for certain ingredients?
As I mentioned before I’m a minimalist. I like simplistic formulations, I like making products that are effective with the least number of ingredients. I want to make products that are as natural as they can be
while still being safe. Making products vegan is actually very easy once you realize that most commercial skincare products are filler with a touch of active ingredients. They develop products that meet a certain claim at a specific price point. To keep price points down they add in animal derived ingredients to help things feel softer or lather faster or give you the sense of cleanliness.
We develop products to actually solve a skincare problem and challenge ourselves to meet that problem with the least number of ingredients. The simpler a formula is the easier it is to price it fairly and still be
competitive. What we’ve learnt from this minimalist approach to production is that most natural ingredients are vegetable derived and are just as effective as any chemical based or animal based equivalent. Why make something that’s not vegan if you don’t have to.
How do you test your products?
Every product we’ve developed to date has started as a solution to a skincare problem that a friend has faced. I develop a few formulations for that problem then give out test samples to a small close knit group of
friends and of course test everything on myself before handing out test samples. My friends believe in what I do but are honest about what they like or don’t like. From there we narrow down and tweak the formulations to the pre production version and then do broader testing with a larger audience of friends and current clients. Based on their feedback we finalize the product and develop a large batch which then goes out for safety testing to ensure stability.
What other entrepreneurs do you admire and get inspired by?
Because I have my hand in a multitude of areas of the business my interests are very broad. I read about marketing, about fashion and colour trends, about packaging design, about new skincare ingredients, about SEO and online marketing and of course about other small businesses. Because of that I have broad range of influences and companies that inspire me.
In Toronto I love that Sarah Campbell has managed to create a haven for new Ontario Based designers with The Rage in Kensington. I love Erika Shuhendler’s Cruelty free lingerie line Purrfect Pineapples. It’s fun and she’s a true local entrepreneur. I love what you blog about and how you’ve become a “connector” to like minded people in toronto. I love my friend Jana. She’s a no no-nonsense women who has shown the world you can be intelligent, successful and still have a unique identity and view on the world. I also love that she knits me presents all the time.
In Montreal I love Akumu Ink‘s T-shirt designs and attention to detail. I also love that Joey recently took the leap and quit his job to 100% pursue his passion.
In Cambridge I love my friends at Thrive Studios. They’ve leaped of the cliff and have made one of the best Tattoo and Piercing shops I’ve seen in a long time and have managed to make the art of body modification safe, comfortable and approachable for all ages of people. I only wish they were in Toronto!