Indigo & Iris: Eye sight for sore eye lashes

Teenage entrepreneur Bonnie Howland put her university degree on hold to launch a cosmetics company where every sale will help restore the sight of blind people in the Pacific Islands.

It was the clashing of two worlds that gave 19-year-old Bonnie Howland her business idea. On the one side there was her part-time job in a hair salon in Auckland’s trendy Newmarket suburb, while she studied for an event management degree at Auckland’s AUT University. 

And on the other was an experience in Vanuatu, where she met a young woman who was sacrificing her education to care for her mother, blinded by cataracts.

It didn’t seem fair somehow.

“I could see the power and influence behind the beauty industry. There was an opportunity for the beauty industry to do something really cool.”

By which Howland meant she could do something cool. Earlier this year she set up Indigo & Iris, whose first product is Mascara For Sight, an organic and vegan mascara.

Working with The Fred Hollows Foundation, Howland’s business model is that for every four mascaras sold, one person’s sight will be restored. “I wanted to see a brand like Indigo & Iris, so I just went for it.”

The next step that Howland took was to enroll on a ten-week intensive accelerator programme, Live the Dream, run by 2015 Young New Zealander of the Year Guy Ryan and his Inspiring Stories organisation. 

Participating in the programme gave Howland the kick-start she needed to embark on making a difference, together with the business nous that she needed to progress.

“Live the Dream teaches participants how to use business as a way to change the world. It was really awesome and interesting learning about business, and the ten weeks were
very empowering.” 

As a business model, social enterprises are becoming more common. Think TOMS Shoes (free shoes for the third world) and Thankyou, an Australian water, food and bodycare products company which uses sales to fund global sanitation projects.

Closer to home, companies like Eat My Lunch, Mr Foureyes, and Frank Stationery donate packed lunches, glasses and stationery (respectively) using the “buy one-give one” model.

The crucial factor for Howland is that she’s running a business, not a charity, though the outcome is similar. 

“We will pay all our business expenses first, and then use all of our profit on impact. It’s exciting looking at social enterprises and what they can bring to the traditional charity models.”

Howland has already gained international recognition. In July, she was chosen to represent New Zealand at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya, an event co-hosted by US President Barack Obama.

While Howland didn’t meet him personally, she jokes they made eye contact – just. And the experience was “mindblowing”.

“The three day conference involved entrepreneurs from all over the world, with lots of high-net-worth individuals doing some amazing things. It was great to step outside the New Zealand mind frame for a time.”

Meanwhile, Howland has taken the bold step of putting her university studies on hold to work full time on Indigo & Iris. The launch of Mascara For Sight is imminent, with the product to be sold online and in stores across New Zealand and Australia.

Howland is still working out the finer details of where the business is headed, but there is
no denying that the potential pot of consumers to use her products is huge.

“I read an article that stated that in the US the average women spends $4000 on mascara in her lifetime. It’s just crazy when you add it all up.

“I am really excited for the day myself, my friends, other women, anyone that loves wearing makeup, can look into the mirror, apply their mascara, and know that someone is getting their sight back because of the choice they made to purchase Mascara For Sight.” ⋅