Why Linda Stephenson left a gig developing products for one of the biggest names in beauty to launch Mèreadesso, her unisex skincare brand, now stocked at Nordstrom
Linda Stephenson is no stranger to product quality. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in chemistry and botany, she joined Johnson & Johnson, working as a chemist in the quality assurance and raw materials testing of family-planning pharmaceuticals. She eventually made the move into beauty by landing a technical quality assurance role at Mary Kay’s Canadian manufacturing facility.
In the early ’90s, opportunity came knocking: Stephenson was headhunted by Frank Toskan, one of the founders of M.A.C, then still a small Toronto brand. “I took a chance on this family-run company, and it was probably the best decision I ever made,” she says.
When Estée Lauder bought a stake in M.A.C in 1995 (they’ve since acquired the brand), Stephenson transitioned into product development, working on launches like Viva Glam II, II and IV, M.A.C Wipes and Fast Response Eye Cream, as well as revamping packaging. She acted as the conduit between marketing and R&D, translating cool concepts into effective products.
In 2001, Stephenson left Lauder to start her own consulting agency, partnering with brands and lending her beauty expertise to venture capital companies. Working for herself allowed her to stay home with her young son, born in 2002. It also inspired the birth of Mèreadesso.
“As a new mom, I was lucky to even have a shower for the day. That’s when I started noticing that the consumer, like myself, doesn’t have time, and that’s what we needed to address,” she says.
The first Mèreadesso product, launched in 2008, was the All-In-One Moisturizer, a multi-tasking gel-lotion made with 16 botanical extracts, eight minerals and enzymes, and more than 20 antioxidants, also available in four tinted shades. “Every single ingredient I have ever loved is thrown in there,” says Stephenson.
Initially sold online and at salons and spas, and eventually The Shopping Channel, last November Mèreadesso was picked up by Seattle-based department store retailer Nordstrom, which carries the brand at seven locations in Canada and the U.S., catching the attention of WWD. “My joke was Nordstrom already carried my products; they just didn’t know it,” she says, referencing her years spent in product development for other brands.
Stephenson recently stopped by the Cosmetics office to talk about her new retail partnership, and to preview the launch of Mèreadesso’s new Travel Ease + Kit, $54, a pouch with carry-on-friendly, resealable sachets of the All-In-One Moisturizer, Beautiful Body Balm and Face + Neck Cleanser, plus a cleansing cloth. Here, she answers our Proustian beauty Qs and reveals why celebrity endorsements aren’t all that.
What is your idea of perfect beauty? Whatever makes you happiest.
How do you look when you feel most like yourself? Well rested! When I feel like I have just had an amazing workout and I have behaved properly by eating that salad for lunch, and I think, I did good today.
If you could create a fragrance that encapsulates your personality, what would it smell like? I have always liked oceanic, cool notes. That is actually my favourite type of fragrance.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received at a beauty counter? The best advice is when somebody actually listens to what your issue is and maybe even directs you to another brand. [When] they say, “This isn’t really right for you and I wouldn’t recommend this,” and you think OK, they have my best interests at heart, rather than just trying to push the $500 cream at me.
What is your biggest beauty extravagance? Maybe my fragrance. I wear Original Vetiver by Creed.
Which one of your signature techniques should every woman know? Exfoliating. Even if you were to forget product and just use a warm, wet washcloth every morning and night, it’s amazing what that will do.
Who do you admire as a living icon in the beauty world? I really value the counter people—they are the front lines, the ones who sell my product. They get the [customers] who take up their time and don’t buy anything. They take the rude customers. They take all that stuff in, and still give good service. I’m impressed by that.
What is your greatest beauty regret? I once had my eyebrows waxed and she removed half of them.
What is your anti-aging motto? Be happy. Try to eliminate stress.
What do you consider an underrated skin commandment? Exfoliation. It’s so easy, and people don’t do it. It would save a lot of time and hassle.
If you could change anything about the beauty industry, what would it be? I sometimes struggle with celebrity endorsements. When so-and-so launches their own line, they are not really [launching it]. They have allowed the licensing of their name. I think that’s caused a level of artificial hype that, for entrepreneurs, makes it very, very difficult to enter into the marketplace because [they] don’t have millions and millions of dollars to get celebrity endorsements. Ultimately, the product does speak for itself. If it’s not the greatest, it will eventually go away.