Why Gus* Modern Co-Founder Amanda Schuler Pivoted from Furniture to Skincare
Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they’re doing now is not what they initially set out to do. Making major professional changes—even mid- to late-career—can often lead to more fulfilling and successful outcomes. That’s what our series The Pivot is all about. Each month, we speak to founders, business leaders and entrepreneurs about how—and why—they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here, we speak to Amanda Schuler, founder of skincare brand Ember Wellness.
When Toronto-based Amanda Schuler set her sights on creating a natural skincare line, she found the lab to bring it to fruition using old-fashioned, analog research. “I went into a health food store and looked at the back of a package of a beauty product,” she says. Schuler had spent more than 20 years in the furniture business, first as one of the founders of the furniture store StyleGarage with her husband, David Podsiadlo, as well as business partners Matt Parass and Neil James. Then, she co-founded a wholesale company called Gus Design Group, the makers of a line called Gus* Modern, with Podsiadlo and Parass. Schuler’s husband designed furniture and she handled everything from choosing textiles to facilitating sales partnerships.
But like most people, when the 48-year-old was stuck in lockdown in 2020, she started to question her life, the demands of her job, and began feeling guilty for not having been around as much for her kids who were 10 and 13 at the time. “It all just kind of came to a head and I needed to modify what I was doing,” Schuler says.
Driven by a love of brand building and an itch to create something new, she decided to pursue natural skincare. She was already a user of it, having been influenced by her mother, and was aware of beautiful, high-end brands in the category like Odacité and Tata Harper. But she found their formulations quite complex. “There still wasn’t anyone publishing percentages of what’s inside [the bottle], which I thought was crazy,” Schuler says. “That’s when I accelerated my product development.” What she envisioned for her own skincare line was combining just two plant oils in high percentages in order to get the true efficacy of the particular ingredients. Schuler believes you don’t need a lot of components to make a great product.
Schuler researched the lab she’d found the name of in the health food store and was impressed by their previous work and the scientists on staff. She called them up, certain they wouldn’t work with her since she was a start-up, and ended up driving to their offices in Quebec for a meeting. The lab agreed to move forward with her idea. She used the money from selling off her shares in Gus (she still works there one day a week) and her own savings to get the products off the ground. Guided by the lab’s in-house chemist, Schuler came up with five face oils and five hydrosols (floral waters that you apply by misting) that pair with each other. The collection is formulated based on skin concern (dry, sensitive, balanced, mature and oily/acne-prone) rather than skin type.
With an interest in traditional Chinese medicine—Schuler is currently studying acupuncture part-time—the entrepreneur also wanted to include gua sha stones in her line. The smooth, flat tools are made of jade, rose quartz or amethyst and are rolled on the body to stimulate blood circulation in the skin. “They’re beautiful objects,” she says. “With consistent use, they really do help uplift the face.” One of her tools—the Cloud gua sha for the body—has a patented design that’s intended to relieve muscle tension that she created herself.
“I don’t have anything to hide”
Schuler’s brand, Ember Wellness, launched online last fall. But she also wanted a physical space where customers could experience the products. She contacted the team at Greenhouse Juice on Toronto’s Queen Street after noticing that they had done previous pop-ups with other companies such as lifestyle brand Frankies Surf Club. In October 2021, Schuler moved into the back of the shop. Since then, Ember Wellness has been picked up by Ssense (Schuler has a friend who works there who helped facilitate an introduction) and Indigo—the latter being a result of an employee discovering the line when she came in to buy a juice at Greenhouse. “That’s the benefit of having a bricks-and-mortar space,” she says, explaining that having customers see products in person can make a big difference.
To enhance that aspect even further, Ember Wellness now offers 15- and 30-minute facials once a month at its pop-up at Greenhouse and has also been providing them at Mortimers Point in Muskoka this summer for the cottage crowd. More events with local Toronto retailers are planned, as is a new product for later in the year. The ingredient list on that will also be kept low, and Schuler will continue to list exactly what’s in each of Ember Wellness’ products. “I don’t have anything to hide.”