“I learnt many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love,” actor Jim Carrey said in his commencement address to the class of 2014 at the Maharishi University of Management. Those were the words that inspired Evelyn Marieta to turn her hobby into a full-fledged business.
After training as a nutritionist, she decided to work in an IT company but found herself unfulfilled. “You know when you are younger, you tend to drift to better-paying jobs. In my free time, to fill that void, I used to make products of my own. I started out in my parents’ kitchen making lip balm, lotion and soaps,” she says.
An advocate of plant-based products, Marieta was looking for purple lip balm and was disappointed with the lack of choice. She was also searching for affordably priced body butter and those she found were ineffective or well above her budget. Making the products herself seemed the only logical solution.
“I thought, ‘Why isn’t anybody doing things that are fashionable and, at the same time, made from natural materials?’ I started out with lip balm in purple, black and maroon. I found that with very simple plant-based ingredients, I could create something fashionable,” she says.
Marieta then started selling her products to family and friends. Feeling strongly about her business, she decided to pursue it fulltime, quitting her day job in the process. The first time she was invited to display her products at a bazaar, she went all out, making sure that she had enough lip balm, body butter and food-shaped soaps. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is my calling. I’m going to launch my brand here. It’s meant to be.’”
Wanting something quirky and whimsical, she named her company Wunderbath. One of the challenges she faced early on was building a team. Despite only having a background in business development and food science, she was handling everything from marketing and digital advertising to accounting all on her own, learning these skills as she went along. “I realised that I could not do it alone, but it was quite hard to let go initially because when you are so passionate about something, then every little bit has to be perfect … I have learnt to let go over the years, realising that unless I do, I would never be able to scale this business up,” she says.
Although being a perfectionist means having a high attention to detail, it slowed some processes down. “We wanted to be in e-commerce for the longest time but because I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, the website was under construction for a long time. It took me a year to build it.” The delay was also caused by Marieta having to learn on the go, and with all the skills she has gained, she says she would probably be able to set up a website in under a month today. Now with a team of five, she admits that she is glad she does not have a larger team “because we are so lean we remain profitable and still have our year-on-year growth”.
Wunderbath’s products are all vegan-friendly, handmade, organic, and paraben and sulphate-free. “My vision initially was to provide the benefit of using natural products to as many people as possible … Being vegan is one of the easiest things for us to do, which allows us to cater for everybody,” says Marieta.
With her products, she wants to prove that being natural does not mean being boring and plain. Wunderbath incorporates colour and fun elements in its offerings, such as its angku kuih and karipap-shaped soaps, realistic-looking Nasi Lemak Candle and Pokeball Bath Bomb. “We integrate art and creativity with science,” she adds.
“Of course initially, my friends and family asked me, ‘Can you even sustain a living? You spent four years on a degree, what are you going to do now?’ I told them to just give me one or two years and I would prove it to them. So, the big eureka moment was when bigger brands started noticing us and wanted us to curate for them,” says Marieta. Some of the brands that have used Wunderbath’s customisable services are Swarovski, Gap and Marriott Hotels.
She realised the need for a bricks-and-mortar store when she ran into some difficulties. “What we did was put our products in different shops, so we were in 20 shops at one point. But I found that it was really hard to keep the stock fresh, especially with natural products.”
Wunderbath’s flagship store is in Da Men Mall in Subang Jaya, Selangor, where customers can personally experience its products. They are also available at The RUB Bar KL in Menara MIDI as well as online at Hermo, Zalora and Watsons. In the future, Marieta plans to release exciting new formulations for face and hair. She also aims to distribute her products all over the world. Not bad for what started out as a void-filler, eh?
This article first appeared on June 24, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.