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My name is Elizabeth Santiago, a mother of three amazing children and wife to the most loving husband for 29 years. Born in Hell’s Kitchen Manhattan with Puerto Rican and Dominican descents, I was the first in my family to finish college and start my own company. I am also a skincare chemist and CEO at CeleBritAy New York Inc. and this is my story.
Established in 1998, CeleBritAy is an award-winning, eco-friendly skin care company specializing in hand-crafted raw and organic skincare products packaged in recyclable materials.
As a Holistic health and skincare coach emphasizing on healthier lifestyle and the digestive system, I help people understand the connection between unhealthy habits, depression, and their skin ailments like psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
I studied Ayurvedic and Holistic Nutrition with Dr. Naina Marballi at the Ayurvedic Beauty School in New York City and I have a nominal background in the field of Western Medicine and soon to be a graduate from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I have degrees in Chemistry, Biology and Herbology.
During my 3rd year in college, I dabbled in soap making starting with the melt and pour kind and sharing them with friends. I soon realized I needed to charge if I was to continue giving it away but if that was the case then my chemist mind needed to know exactly what was in them. I started to read the ingredients and the more I learned about them in the melt and pour soaps, the more I knew had to develop my own wholesome soap formula.
My new products were an immediate hit! People were sending me grateful notes –I didn’t have a website at that time- for helping them get rid of their lifelong skin ailments like extreme dry skin, eczema, keratosis pilaris (a condition also known as “chicken skin”), and other skin problems. The results people experienced made me so happy that I started researching for ingredients to improve my soaps with medicinal herbs.
My soap making passion grew to moisturizing and healing creams, lotions, lip balms, sugar scrubs, body sprays and more, all enriched with super food oils like Tamanu, Sea Buckthorn Berry, Primrose, and Sweet Almond as shown now in completely developed line of CeleBritAy products.
Why the skincare business?
One of the most common questions people ask me is, “Why did you choose to go into skincare?” Well, for me, it just felt natural. As a mother and wife, I have always been a nurturer. Latina women in general are nurturers. We have been taking care of our families for centuries, providing meals, making sure our husbands and children are taking care of themselves.
Since inception, CeleBritAy was founded on the philosophy that a big part of taking care of oneself is making sure you have some downtime every day – even if it’s just five minutes – to unwind, stop thinking about what is currently stressing you out, and treat yourself.
Even before I had any ideas about starting my own skin care business, I had a mind for chemistry, attracted to discover why certain ingredients in nature reacted in different ways when combined. I was also interested in the healing properties of ingredients that can be mixed in different ways to cure illness or repair a weakness or injury in the body.
Increasingly frustrated with many of the skin and beauty products that were available out there –many using ingredients that I wouldn’t be even able to pronounce– I really thought these were not components I wanted to put on my skin or sell to other people.
Thinking of how I could give back in my own specific way, I decided to make a career transition –I was in school studying to get a degree in pediatrics– and finished my Bachelors in Science and Botany, which lead me to become a skincare chemist, Ayurvedic nutritionist and a health coach.
A difficult business start
I wish I could say that since I had come up with a great idea, it was only natural that the business was an immediate success. Despite the products great acceptance, starting a business was difficult. In the process, however, I’ve learned and lived through experiences that have been invaluable to me as a person.
In the beginning it was hard for a lot of people around me to understand what I was trying to do. Although I am very proud of being a strong woman, those of you who are Latinas know that in our culture, women are the caregivers, the nurturers.
It’s not that our men and children do not allow us to have dreams of our own, but rather it has always been assumed that the home and family is a woman’s most important responsibility. What a lot of people in our community don’t realize – and it doesn’t mean they love us any less – is that it is possible for Latinas to perform just as well in the professional world.
My family had a hard time understanding why I wanted to start my own business, and I have to admit that there were times where I felt scared. But ultimately, I learned that I had to stay strong and confident. And that was so important because when other people see you do things with such passion and self-assurance, it is easier for them to take you seriously.
And as results with CeleBritAy began to come together, my family and friends in my community saw that I had something special to give and they could share it with me. My husband has supported CeleBritAy both financially and with his patience. He and my three kids have helped start my company and were able to learn first-hand about running a business.
The most special gift for me about being a Latina business owner are the memories I have made with family and friends by doing what I love and sharing it with others.
If you are thinking about starting your own business, I would like to remind you that it is not just a goal, but a journey. And although the determination is yours, please know that in starting a business, you must look to those around you for inspiration.
Now, I am a very determined woman, and it took a lot for me to ask my friends and family members for help. I kept thinking in the back of my mind, “They won’t want to help me” or “They’re too busy to help me” or “They don’t’ understand my dream”. But sometimes you just need to swallow your pride and muster up the courage to talk to the people you love, the people who care about you to see if they might like to be a part of your business in some way.
Whether it is helping you with merchandise or sitting at the desk for a few hours, every little bit counts. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people in my life who actually really did care about what I was doing and offered to lend a hand. That kind of attitude is one of the hidden blessings of starting a small business –you are reminded of those special people in your life.
And like any other journey you take in life, it is sometimes very hard and very easy to fall into self-doubt. I’ve certainly been there before. But just remember that it’s okay to ask for help and guidance. If you just keep going and don’t give up, you are sure to achieve your dream. It is possible.
There were times I felt like giving up, but then I looked at all the great things I had in my life, all the blessings and knew I had to keep going. And because I kept going, my company kept growing. I can now say with pride that CeleBritAy is an award-winning eco-company and I have been recognized by Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez at the Annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute for being a Latino Entrepreneur Leading the Green Economy.
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