$1 item sparks $20m Aussie empire
Irene Falcone had always been a "massive beauty junkie" - but when she started researching what actually went into her favourite products, she was horrified.
In fact, the Sydney woman was so shocked by the level of toxins found in popular cosmetics she took the drastic step of purging her cabinets and throwing away around $10,000 worth of items.
The mum of four - who previously worked in marketing within the beauty industry - was left with bare cupboards, but when she had to attend a fancy event one evening without makeup, she realised she needed to find a solution.
"I started thinking about what we were putting on our bodies and it really triggered things - I started looking at the list of ingredients on the back of all my cosmetic products and food and there were lots of chemicals I didn't even know how to pronounce," she said.
"I kind of freaked out and threw everything away, but you have to understand I am a massive beauty junkie, so we're talking about probably $10,000 worth of stuff.
"I had nothing left at all, but when I went to a beauty product premiere one night with no makeup and not looking very glamorous, I knew I had no choice - I had to find a natural choice to replace my products."
She started a blog in 2011 about how to live toxin-free in the city as a working mum, and soon it had "gone mental".
"It turned out there were lots of women who were so interested in where to find more natural products," she said.
However, at the time natural beauty items were tough to come by, leaving Aussie consumers "grumpy".
So when Ms Falcone stumbled on a $1 lip balm that ticked all the toxin-free boxes overseas, she decided to start importing them for her followers - and soon, she struggled to keep up with demand.
"The whole set up - including products, shipping and setting up a website - cost $100 and I couldn't believe I was getting so many orders," she said.
"I literally had to sneak into the mailroom and lick stamps on my lunchbreak, and I was carrying so many boxes to the post office I realised I needed a bigger car.
"Back then people thought I was a bit of a crazy hippie, but it just went crazy."
Ms Falcone officially launched her natural beauty business, Nourished Life, in 2012 and today she sells around 6500 products with one item sold every six seconds.
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She sells everything from skin care to make up, hair care, fake tan and everything in between, including ranges by celebrities such as Olivia Newton-John, Miranda Kerr and Elle Macpherson - and just five years after launching, the business was worth a staggering $20 million.
"I feel like I blinked and now I have 6500 products - it just blew up," she said.
However, Nourished Life was not an overnight success story.
When Ms Falcone first launched her business, she was working in her "dream job" in the entertainment industry - but she decided to quit to focus on her fledgling business full time.
"I was working as an advertising manager in a film house so it was a glamorous job and I attended lots of film premieres, but I didn't think twice before kicking off my heels," she said.
"We also sold our family home and car and used the money from the sale to pay off the mortgage.
"We had around $30,000 left over and we rented a place, put our four kids in bunk beds and used the money to buy more stock."
But Ms Falcone insists she never saw those drastic steps as a "risk".
"There wasn't a cell in my body that thought this wasn't going to work - I just had a gut feeling," she said.
The turning point came when Ms Falcone appeared on breakfast television several years ago for a segment on natural products, which were then still a "niche".
"I thought if I went on TV and got 10 sales it would be good but I got 1000 when I probably only had 30 products in the garage," she said.
"The website actually crashed because of that massive spike. I never set out to start a business, but I just really loved the idea of giving people an alternative choice."
She said the secrets to her phenomenal success had been authenticity and "honest advice", harnessing the power of social media, identifying a problem and solving it for consumers and discovering her passion.