As Middlebury College sends its graduates off into the real world each May and February, the question “What will they do next?” is often on people’s minds. After spending four years at a school where sustainability is an integral part of the College’s mission, it is only natural that some Middlebury alumni dedicate their post-graduate efforts to professions in the environmental sector.
Terri Elofson Bly ’96 approached this commitment to being “green” in a unique way. Bly was working as a clinical psychologist and a human resources consultant in 2008 when she was first struck with the idea to create The Nature of Beauty, the online and in-store business based out of St. Paul, Minn. that she now owns, which sells natural, organic and environmentally-responsible beauty and personal care products. As a clinical psychologist, Bly worked with gastric bypass surgery patients before and after their surgeries and she noticed that women in particular were suffering from what seemed like a never-ending list of chronic conditions, many of which were only peripherally related to their weight. Around that time author Mark Shapiro published Exposed, revealing research linking everyday chemicals to hormone disruption, especially estrogen. Bly knew that obesity and estrogen were linked, and she began to wonder what damage different kinds of chemicals could be doing to women’s health.
“The evidence linking chemicals and women’s health was far too compelling to do nothing about it,” said Bly. “In what was the most impulsive, devil-may-care leap of faith I’ve ever taken in my life, I decided to create an online store and boutique in St. Paul where women could find a large and varied collection of beautiful and effective skin care, hair care and makeup, staffed by someone who could answer their questions about ingredients, safety, research and then offer them truly fantastic alternatives.”
Bly’s company, The Nature of Beauty, has two primary goals: to educate men and women about the chemicals in everyday beauty and personal care products and to have beautiful, high-performance alternatives to offer. She strives to have a collection of products that are accessible to people of all budgets. “The best part of starting The Nature of Beauty has been the men and women I have met in this industry,” said Bly.
Of these people she named Rose-Marie Swift, creator of RMS Beauty and one of the busiest celebrity makeup artists in the business, as one of her heroes, sharing an anecdote illustrating what an incredible woman Swift is: when Bly expressed interest in carrying Swift’s line of natural beauty products, Swift invited Bly to her apartment in Manhattan and gave her a mini makeover while chatting about what she had used on Gisele Bundchen the day before. Bly was pleased to see that she was treated as though she was just as important as the supermodels Swift spends most of her time with.
“That kind of passion and down-to-earth quality is so rare in the beauty industry,” said Bly.
Bly also emphasized that her Middlebury education has affected her professional pursuits. She majored in theater and psychology but feels it was not so much the subjects she studied specifically, but rather the critical thinking skills and the emphasis on writing that have helped her career.
“I’m not sure I would have been as passionate about environmental and women’s issues had it not been for an education that encouraged me to question assumptions and examine issues from a much more critical point of view,” said Bly.
Bly cited the “sky’s the limit” approach to life that Middlebury’s atmosphere fostered as one of the keys to her success, as it gave her the confidence to pursue her dreams.
“[At Middlebury], I saw just how high the bar could be set and how reaching it had largely to do with your belief in yourself,” she said. “I learned that I could survive major setbacks and how to keep going when I really wanted to give up and go on; in other words, I learned resilience.”
Bly offered some advice for students interesting in owning their own businesses or pursuing pro-environmental initiatives, though she has a different take on what “green” means. “I find it interesting that ‘green’ is associated with tree-hugging hippies, because I think environmental sustainability is about as practical and grounded in reality as it gets,” said Bly. “I tend to regard the things I do that may be classified as ‘green’ as simply being ‘mindful.’”
Bly believes that green business initiatives are the future, but she does caution others that “being an entrepreneur is not for the weak-hearted. You need to be passionate about whatever it is you’re doing or selling, because there will be times when your passion is all you have.”
Still, she finds that even in the most difficult moments, there is nothing comparable to owning your own business and realizing your true potential — it can be truly exhilarating.