Inform & Connect returns with a duo who share a drive for taking their love for their heritage and natural curiosity to make powerful and beautiful change in the world: ESAS founders Amanda Sichon and Seda Bilgner.
After working in the corporate beauty industry for a combination of over 25 years, Amanda and Seda set out to create a sustainable and all-natural farm to beauty manufacturing company. Inspired by their mutual love for science, agrotech (the application of modern technology to agriculture), wellness and innovation, they identified a need to create skincare and cosmetics that deliver superior benefits without compromising the health of the people who use them, the health of the people that make them, or Mother Nature.
Melody Goodspeed: Thanks for joining us today. We have with us the creators of ESAS Beauty and girls I hope I said that right.
Seda Bilginer: Perfect.
Melody: Thank you. I've been like practicing and practicing. But I just have to say, so you have Seda and Amanda here with us today. And so guys thank you so much for joining us today. We're so excited to have you.
Amanda Sichon: Thank you so much.
Seda: We're so excited to be here.
Melody: I said, well, I am going to go rotate in between the two of you just about. If you could tel us a little bit and I don't know who wants to take this one first about starting your company, but can we talk with maybe Seda's the best one to go with this. Could you talk to us about what exactly kolonya is? Because I think that's a good place to start.
Seda: Absolutely. My pleasure. So what is kolonya? So the original kolonya is actually a 200 year old tradition that comes from Turkey, which was inspired by the cologne of Cologne, Germany. And so what it is is I grew up using cologne. I grew up partly in Turkey, in the summers and of course being first generation American back and forth between New York, New Jersey and Turkey. And so what it is, it's a tradition of welcoming people into your home. And it's like imagine cologne but we put it on our hands and we use it to refresh our senses and refresh our body. And the best way I think to capture the culture of kolonya is another Turkish word called hush guidon. And what that means is welcome with joy. And the idea, in Turkey hospitality is a really big deal.
And so anything that people can do to make you feel even more comfortable, coming into your home, we do. And so it was really my job or the youngest child of the household to, when somebody comes over, you get up and you offer kolonya to your guests. And so when the pandemic started, we had all my cousins reaching out to Amanda and I saying like, "Can you make us some kolonya?" And you know, "They're running out, we can't get kolonya anywhere." And we're like, "Oh," you know, "Leave us alone. We don't have time for this kolonya." And then we said, "Wait a second. This is actually a really good idea. They need kolonya. We can make it." And then, so we said, "How can we make it, but make it our way and make it better and make it healthier." And so what we did is we looked at the formula and we said, "How can we make this more holistic? How can we make it so that it's healthy for you. So that the ingredients are sustainable so that the ingredients are also healing. Not only cleansing with alcohol, but also healing and, and refreshing." And so we did a complete revamp of the kolonya. So it's more I would say a kolonya 2.0, of sorts.
Melody: Yes, that's great.
Seda: So we created this wonderful thing. It's almost like a face serum for your hands it's anti-aging it has all these wonderful qualities. It's not anti-inflammatory. And so we upgraded kolonya and we're really excited about it. And we thought, right before we launched, because our backgrounds are in fragrance, we worked at a company called Givaudan for me 15 years and Amanda 10 years. And so we said, "Okay, we have to do fun scents. And nothing super strong, the original kolonya is really overwhelming and it's more like your grandma's kolonya. And so we said, "How could we make this more modern, more fun and more versatile." So we created five different scents, which also includes of course, an unscented for people with severe, severe allergies. And that's where we are today. And we love it. And we love sharing it with people. And we felt it was the perfect time to, because of COVID and because of the pandemic so many people have been separate and they continue to be separate. And the idea of kolonya is about welcoming people and getting close to people.
And anytime you ask somebody Turkish, what does kolonya remind you of? And they say reminds me of my grandparents. It reminds me of home. It reminds me of family and being together. And so we thought what a nice time to introduce a product like that into the world in a different way and through our eyes. And so, yeah that's what kolonya is.
Melody: I love it. I absolutely love it. So Amanda, I know. And can you tell us a little bit about you before you do that? I love this story that the both of you told me when we first talked about how you met and you both have a chemistry background. So Amanda can you talk about why it's so important for you guys to have things all natural?
Amanda: So I grew up with a multitude of various skin inflammation and allergies ranging from skin eczema, dry skin, severe nut allergies. And I grew up yo-yoinng between different ingredients that I can use and I can't use. Whether it's something I could eat or something that I could put on my skin. So with that in mind, I started chemistry in college, got a master's in skincare formulation and worked at Givaudan, where we could learn so much about natural ingredients and the power of each of these specific ingredients. So when we chose the ingredients that we wanted to use for our kolonya, we handpicked each one to be either locally sourced, to either be the best cleanser that you can have for your skin, the best antimicrobial, the best moisturizing and the best refreshing essential oils for fragrance as well.
Seda: I think if I can add to that, I also had 10 years ago I got Lyme's disease and it completely changed my world. And I realized, I adapted a new lifestyle, completely organic, completely natural from top to bottom. And I saw the power of what organic and clean can do to you. And I started this whole journey of trying to really heal myself with natural ingredients and just seeing the impact that by making a small switch to natural and organic can do to me I just thought I have to run around and tell everybody that they need to do this.
Because it's so powerful. It really changed my life for the better. And so if we can do that a little bit, knowing what we know with our backgrounds infused with our backgrounds, we thought, why not? That could be our meaning contribution.
Melody: No, it's more, it's a huge contribution. And I'm glad you brought that to us because that's another story that you told me that I just love. Especially about the fact that you were also noticing people where you were working were not feeling well. And the fact that both of you just are always thinking about others in every demographic. And I guess this is a good transition point. First of all, I have kolonya and it's amazing, everybody. It really does make your hands so soft and lovely. And I really love it, but really captured me is the story of why you guys have these beautiful packaging, your bottle, and then to have the braille on it. And then when just let our viewers know when I asked these two lovely ladies what inspired you for braille? I'm going to let them tell you their response, because it really moved me.
Seda: So I can start. So honestly, we were playing around my mom, she hoarded a bunch of kolonya in the beginning of the pandemic, and we were playing around with it, looking at it and just completely evaluating it left and right. And we noticed that there was braille on the back. And we said, "Wow, you know, this is very interesting." And I think what we realized at that moment was that's the first time. And I love beauty products, so I'm always using beauty products, but that was the first time. And I think Amanda said the same thing that we felt braille on a beauty product. And it was just honestly crazy to us, right? For the first time. And it's not even a product made here. And so we said, we absolutely have to do this.
Inclusivity for us is key. My parents are Turkish immigrants and Amanda's parents are Filipino immigrants. And so I can't imagine not being as inclusive as possible. And it's just so important to us. And so from that day on, we said, "Okay, we have to do braille at least." And that can be hopefully the first step, first very mini, mini step in the right direction. And so we're so happy to have met you and Stephanie and Nesreen to sort of help us along in the proper direction as we fumble our way through that journey. But it was just something that we felt very passionate about and continue to feel really passionate about.
Amanda: Yeah whether it was from the braille and the packaging or fixing our website, we're learning so much. And we really appreciate.
Seda: Yeah, yeah.
Melody: I think what I really, what I want to key here is this is the way that they're being very modest. I loved how you were talking about with your parents from coming here to the United States and having that. But also the values that you have just with the kolonya in itself. Just that feeling of welcomeness and everybody feeling welcome to me that's kind of what it is, right. Inclusion. It's just everybody feeling welcomed.
Seda: And that's exactly it. I'm sorry go ahead.
Melody: No you go ahead.
Seda: We were talking about inclusivity is obviously always key for us. It's always on top of mind. I grew up very Turkish and feeling, and growing up in the states is an amazing thing and I absolutely loved it, but I think, I can speak on behalf of a lot of first generation immigrants. It's a very interesting journey to grow up first-generation and you sometimes don't quite know where you fit, you know? And so, but having said that, I think my parents, I know Amanda's parents have always taught us to be welcoming no matter who you are, no matter where you're from. And it's just when we talk about inclusivity, it's diversity in terms of everyone, and it's just embracing everyone as much as possible. And that's just what we're trying to do. And we're just learning as we go.
Amanda: And getting to know people who are different than you. And having those conversations and learning more and being vulnerable in those situations as well. I mean.
Seda: That's exactly it.
Melody: No, and I love that and I love the fact that we can get vulnerable because I feel like there is just the three of us talked about this. I don't know, we've talked so many times now, but there's power in vulnerability. And I don't and the fact that we're having this conversation of saying, "Hey, we're not there yet, but we saw this. This is where we want to go." And plugging into what that looks like. And being able to say, "Hey, you know, we did do this, but we want to do this and we want to extend this and we want to do it right." And that's such a huge thing because not many people think that way. And what have you really found to be I don't maybe successful is not the right word, but profound when you do have inclusion?
Seda: For me personally, it's the growth internally. I always, I love connecting. I love learning. I'm very curious. And I think being able to talk to other people and hear their perspective and hear how they perceive the world is just amazing to me. That's really where my passion is just learning from people, learning from people who are different than me. And I think that has been to this day and hopefully will continue to be the most profound thing really.
Amanda: And the level like humility and humbleness and vulnerability, like we talked about before. There's, there's so much you can learn when you're talking to somebody else who's different than you. And if there's any way that we can put that into our brand and who we talk to we'd 100% be doing it.
Seda: You only get better when you learn. And when you go outside of your comfort zone, like doing podcasts, I think it's just discomfort is a sign of growth. Not always, but I think.
Melody: No and I love that you're saying this because it's true. And especially what we talked about in the divided world that we're living in and the sheltered world with everything that's going on, it's a time of thinking about just that heritage of feeling at home and feeling included and feeling being able to sit down and say, "Look things aren't right." But you may think one way, and I may think another, but we can come together and have those conversation. And learn from each other.
Amanda: And get better all together. And that's what we want to do. I think we don't have the answers for anything but we're trying, and I think that's all that matters is that you try and that you try to learn from people that know more than you. And, and that's why we're here today. And so we hope to continue doing that.
Melody: No I absolutely love it. And I'm the same way. And I also really want to touch on what you said about curiosity. I don't think people are aware but we tend to in a time that you're feeling all these emotions that tend right because it's just you're in conversations and you're learning. And if you have that emotion curiosity, and when you actually switch to like, "Why am I feeling this way?" Or "Why does this make you feel?" It removes that emotion to allow the vessel of listening. And I love that you've said that because being naturally curious just makes you grow.
Melody: So speaking of growth, where do you guys see this ESAS Beauty going? Where do you see? Where do you want? What do you dream?
Seda: So it's ESAS beauty, organic beauty rooted in tradition. And so we're really like we said, curious, and we both have different backgrounds. And so our goal and what we're doing is we're actually developing products that are rooted in tradition from around the world. I think when Amanda and I were talking about this about ESAS, we talked a lot about our grandparents and how they kind of had it right in so many ways. I think growing we'll call it sustainable now back then we had other words.But the most sustainable person and my grandmother and my grandfather always had these homemade remedies for skincare, for when I had a cold. And I always used to write it off like, "Okay, this is just some Turkish myth." And then I went to college and I was like, "Wait a second. There's actual science behind everything that they were saying."
And so Amanda had and I'll let her speak for herself, but a similar experience. And so we said, "What if we went back to the things that they taught us and we were able to scientifically optimize them for today and bring and introduce to the world, these traditions from everywhere?" Not just our grandparents, but from places like Japan and places like France, and we have products like that coming out, what if we were able to make them modern and sustainable because they're not. A lot of these traditions are not very sustainable. The concept is, but how can we modernize these products and make them for today? And so that's what we want to continue doing. And so.
Amanda: Definitely coming out with more products by the end of the year, and then also making new ingredients to use into these products. So we love processing new ingredients. So we have rape leaf extract. We're getting chlorophyll from vertical farms. Today we were extracting from fig leaves. So we're super excited to be able to use these antioxidants from these local plants and in future skincare products.
Melody: That is so awesome. I love it. Now you guys have an office in New York where you do this?
Seda: We're in between New York and New Jersey.
Melody: That is awesome. So do you, when coming into different, how have you found that to be looking into other cultures and finding do you find a lot of similarities or differences?
Amanda: As Seda was saying, our grandparents had it right where they use all these natural ingredients without being called natural. It was just obvious to them to be using vinegar, to be using these random oils on their skin. It was just commonplace. And then for some reason, we stepped away from that for a few years. And then now we're really getting back into that with more organic ingredients and knowing the farmers where we get these ingredients from.
Seda: Yeah. And I think it's amazing. Every country has something different to offer. And there are a lot of similarities. At the end of the day, you can break everything down into, the elements of the earth. And so, but what's interesting is how the culture changes, how people interact with one another and interact with the ingredients. And that is what we're learning a lot about. And especially with the way we are growing our ingredients or collaborating with farmers we're really into agriculture. That's how this started. We wanted to start with growing ingredients vertically, which is like a technology meets growing and you grow indoors. It's a much cleaner and healthier and more consistent way to grow. And so I think there's so much more to learn from everywhere and when we can travel again, we will hopefully continue to bring back really cool traditions from around the world.
Melody: That is so awesome. And I feel like we've only been talking for 30 seconds, but we are about the question and answer time, which I can't wait for the audience, but before we do that, you guys, I just want to say, your hearts are huge. And I'm blown away with like how you are marrying the two culture bringing it to the modern day. And then just making sure that every voice is heard because it's so important. And at the American Foundation for the Blind we are all about creating a life with no limits. And it is for people that are blind and vision impaired, but truly it is for all of us. I'm saying that has been, I just love how your product itself, it stimulates all senses and it's wonderful and fantastic. And thank you so much for being here with us today. And I'm going to get it back to Suzan for question and answer time.
Seda: Thank you.
Amanda: Thank you.
Suzan Henderson: We do have some questions and some comments. So we'll start with Nezring. Her comment is "I love the version three great scent of Jasmine and other florals." And she says, "Thank you for that ladies."
Amanda: Thank you.
Seda: Thank you.
Suzan: The question is. How do you get braille to stick on the glass? Usually that is not done, or I have not seen it in that space. So it's interesting.
Amanda: We source different labels. So we got bio sourced labels which are actually made from stone. And that's able to hold the form of the braille a lot better than if we use like a paper label that we would have originally done to be. Yeah.
Melody: That is awesome.
Seda: Yeah. We love our labels. They're made of stone. And so it definitely helps with the braille a lot more.
Amanda: Because we're trying to also reduce plastic as plastic would have been another option, but we wanted to use stone for that.
Suzan: Wow, that's amazing.
Melody: That is amazing.
Suzan: You guys are really inventive. So we have another question from our dear friend, Gail Tissue. She says "What are the various scents available?"
Amanda: So we have five scents and then unscented. So the original is an homage to the original kolonya. So it has a nice citral, floral blend of organic lemon herbs like those. And then we have a Neroli that's number two. And that's also an organic neroli and orange blossom flower. And then we have Jasmine Vanilla, which Nisreene pointed out one of my personal favorites. And then we have the Sage, which is a citrus and sage, which a lot of men love as well. And then we also have Elang Elang, which is more of like a topical scent. A nice spicy sweet flower.
Melody: Hmm. Yummy.
Suzan: Those all sound lovely. We have another comment and question, this is from Alexa, "Your company has such incredible values. Well done." And her question is "What information do you include in braille on your packaging?"
Seda: So in the beginning, we tried to reduce as much packaging as possible. So we did not have what you would normally call a primary box, which is the box that the kolonya would go into. So it's really only the bottle. And what we did was send a flyer along with the kolonya. And we had a QR code on that. So in braille, on that flyer, we had some descriptors. And then we also had a QR code that would lead you directly to the website. We tried to braille the QR code. So like I said, I think we're learning about what's important and what's not important to the user. And so hopefully we're looking forward to working with Melody on that.
Seda: That's definitely an area of improvement, but we will be getting primary box packaging, which we're working on now. And we're trying to come up with an innovative way to apply braille in a way that makes sense. So we're still working on that. And if anyone has any suggestions, we are wide open.
Amanda: Yes, please.
Melody: Yes. We're going to get your contact information for people before this is over.
Suzan: Yes you're in a good place for feedback. So we have another question from Ross Adams. She asked "Do you have plans to include countries in Africa as part of your work?"
Seda: Absolutely. A hundred percent. We are looking at the North Africa. That's definitely on our we sat and we kind of have something brewing. We don't want to give it away, but that's a hundred percent we're going there. We're going to Africa.
Melody: Fun. They tell me this a lot you guys, and I can't wait. Three things I'm waiting for them to tell us about, yes.
Suzan: You mentioned earlier about kolonya being antimicrobial. Can people use that as an antibacterial?
Amanda: Yes. So we have, we have two ingredients in there that it's definitely great for antimicrobial. We have 70% organic ethanol from a local distillery here in the U S and they will also have colloidal silver, which has been used for over 2000 years as an antifungal wound healer and anti-microbial. Yeah. So we actually exceeded the CDC recommendation and they recommend 62% alcohol and we use 70%. So it's definitely meets and exceeds all recommendations. And so it's definitely safe to use as a sanitizer for bacteria for virus. And it was important to us as well what type of alcohol we use. We know that there's been a lot of sanitizers out lately that have been smelling.
Melody: I was going to ask what organic because in your ad it's organic alcohol. What is that you guys?
Amanda: That's. So it comes from organic corn alcohol.
Seda: Yeah. So it's so important to us because a lot of the sanitizers out there, as you know, they smell a little different and there's a reason for why they smell a little different. The alcohol that they're using is called denature alcohol. And what that means is that people are adding and not specifically people, but the alcohol manufacturers are adding chemicals in there. To prevent you from technically drinking it. And so there are many reasons why they add it, but that's one of the primary reasons. And so we wanted to make sure, obviously being an all natural and organic company, that we were sourcing the cleanest and the best alcohol and in the middle of a pandemic that's probably the hardest thing that we've done so far. So we're really happy and proud of the alcohol that we were able to source and horde.
Melody: Now that's something I can guarantee you we're not going to hear on any other podcast. I love it. No it's so good to use because I've been using it a lot for that. And I love how once it goes on your hands, it's just my hands are so happy. Because then they're refreshed. I was thinking, so we've talked about it and your scents and everything. So I know people are going to want to check you guys out. Where could they go to find your website, social media handles, where could they go?
Amanda: Our website is esasnyc.com, and then we're also on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram with the handle @esasnyc. That's Esas NYC. Yeah.
Melody: Nice. And then if anybody had any questions or comments or after this, that they could reach you, is there a way to do so that's best?
Seda: Absolutely. They can either reach us directly and we'll give our emails or they can go on the website and there's firstname.lastname@example.org. But our emails are pretty simple email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melody: Nice. Okay. Well, I guess they are very good about responding to you guys. And I do encourage if there's any questions or comments I have just talking to these ladies has been so much fun. I know we're going to continue into our future to keep moving forward and just, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I want to speak for AFBT for being transparent and saying we're not there yet, but we want to be, and for the things that you're doing, and just the fact that your grandparents and parents did right, because you guys are gems.
Seda: Did you guys hear that?
Melody: Don't worry they will it's recorded. And I was just checking the website out and another thing before we go you were talking about agriculture in your philosophies, I did notice on your website. Can you tell us what part of your proceeds go to?
Amanda: Action Against Hunger. So 10% of our proceeds goes to Action Against Hunger to help provide clean sanitation, clean water and food to actually to Africa and to communities in Africa.
Melody: That is awesome, ladies. I am so glad of that. My heart is full. I'm so happy to be here with you two today. Thank you for joining us. And if you guys want to learn more about Amanda and Seda and they're amazing products, and we can't wait to see what's coming up. Because I know three different things you've said wait to come, which I'm mostly excited about, esasnyc.com And if you want to learn more about the American Foundation for the Blind, as we move into our centennial next year and celebrate 100 years, which is amazing. Yes, you can check us out at afb.org. And again, thank you so much for spending your Wednesday with us. We really appreciate it. I hope everyone has a great rest of your day. And thank you so much. Bye guys.
Amanda: Thank you everyone. It was our pleasure. Bye.