Skincare companies are notorious for targeting women’s insecurities about aging to sell products. “Protect yourself against the inevitable effects of aging” or “turn back the hands of time” are common phrases in commercials or on skincare labels. But you won’t find any of that linked to Redmond’s newest skin care line, Don’t Call Me Ma’am. Entrepreneurs Ilene Ruvinsky and Kathleen Spitzer want to refocus the goals of skincare by empowering women, not putting them down.

In 2009 Senator Barbara Boxer made the news when she told General Michael, “Don’t call me ma’am” at a committee hearing. She asked to be called “senator” instead. “I worked so hard to get that title,” said Boxer on camera.  The senator’s request sparked the foundation for Ruvinsky and Spitzer new business. They were so inspired by Boxer’s words that “Don’t Call Me Ma’am” became the title of their company and helped guide them to create a skincare line with a fresh message on beauty and aging.

“The goal is to age with healthy skin and a healthy body and mind and go out and live your life and live every single phase of your life to the fullest,” said Ruvinsky.

We chatted with the two entrepreneurs about their company, how they got started and what keeps them ahead of their competitors.

Kathleen Headshot

Co-founder Kathleen Spitzer

425Business: The name of your business was inspired by Barbara Boxer requesting to be called “senator” instead of “ma’am.” What was your initial reaction to that video?

Ruvinsky: My initial reaction was “good for you!” And people always say to me, “well he’s in the military and in the military you always use the term ‘ma’am.’”And maybe you do but that doesn’t mean you do in civilian life. In civilian life we’re a lot of things other than “ma’am.” I really felt a strong sense of affiliation with Barbara Boxer and really understood where she was going from.

Spitzer: It was a premier example of a woman who is so accomplished and can be called many different titles but to all of a sudden be given that title, you know, she was the one who said “no, I worked really hard to be a senator.” We feel like that conflicts with a lot of women. Like, don’t put me in a box called “ma’am” when I’m all these other things.

425B: Is it because “ma’am” can make women feel like they’re being put in a box or is it more that it makes women feel old?

Ruvinsky: I think it’s both. We definitely mean it both ways. It also fits with what I would call the ‘anti-anti-ageing message’ that we get from other skin care companies. You won’t find anti-aging on any of our literature or on any of our products. We aren’t anti-aging.  Aging is inevitable.

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Co-founder Ilene Ruvinsky.

425B: Is your product in stores right now?

Spitzer: We are an online retail. The reason we opted for [online] to start is that we have a subscription model. We couldn’t say that we’re not going to eventually be brick-and-mortar but right now it’s an online retail.

Customers can subscribe to get a package of Don’t Call Me Ma’am products every three months.

425B: How did funding work for this?

Ruvinsky: The owners put up some money to get us started. Then we turned to crowdfunding. We launched our first crowdfunding campaign on a crowdfunding site called Fundable. And that was our rewards program. What we did was offer pre-orders and that’s of course a form on fundraising because it gave us access to capital prior to having to send out the product. And so that enabled us to actually have the product made. We set a target for ourselves of $20,000 in our Fundable campaign which we were successful in beating. And that Fundable campaign also introduced us to investors. So, we launched a second Fundable campaign that was an equity campaign and through that, our goal was $150,000 and we actually reached that goal as well.

425B: There is so much competition for beauty and skincare. Was that something you had to consider before launching?

Ruvinsky: Yes. There is a lot of competition when it comes to skincare but I think it’s an aging market in that a lot of the bands are aging. The major brands are very, very slow to change their formulation. So they contain a lot of ingredients that are really bad for us. I think more women are becoming cautious of what we put in our bodies but are just beginning to think about what we’re putting on our bodies.

Spitzer: One of our biggest assets is we own the manufacturing plant (located in Vancouver BC) so we can do whatever we want. This was sort of an aha moment like “Oh, ok we can really make this a modern skincare line” … and we created a business model that we believe will make it really simple for women to use the product consistently and that’s the subscription.

Portraits shots courtesy of Nina Jensen Krasnow and Eric Radman of Radman Photography