Heela Yang on How an Uncomfortable Move Inspired Her Bodycare Brand Sol de Janerio

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

Sol de Janerio founder Heela Yang
Image courtesy of Heela Yang

On this episode of the Behind Her Empire podcast, Heela Yang, the co-founder and CEO of Sol de Janeiro, talks about how uprooting her life to move to another country helped inspire her award-winning body care line.

When she first proposed the name of her new premium product, “Brazilian Bum Bum Cream,” Yang said she received plenty of advice on why she needed to change it. Instead, she chose to stick with her idea.

“The world did not need another nice body cream. The world did not need another brand that didn't create noise and made people think differently. And so that was what really gave me the courage to trust my gut,” said Yang.

The idea for the cream came from Yang’s experience moving to Brazil to be with her partner (now her husband). Within a month, she was pregnant, and feeling awkward in her own body in an unfamiliar place. But she said she drew inspiration from the way Brazilian women felt comfortable in their own skin.

The revelation came to her, she said, one day at the beach.

“I was feeling a little bit down on myself – low self esteem, you know, new job, new country and but I just started looking around and they're women, of all shapes, all sizes, all colors, just enjoying themselves and loving who they are caressing their body with oil and creams and their hair and jumping into the ocean and coming back out and doing something else—and just so joyful and nobody was looking at me.”

The experience would become the basis for her new brand, Sol de Janerio.

“At that moment, I thought, ‘Wow, I love this feeling,’” she said. “And this is exactly the feeling the beauty industry should give to women through products and through messaging.”

The “Brazillian Bum Bum Cream” launched in 2016, and became Sephora’s best selling skin care cream within few months. With its success, the brand has expanded to products including fragrance and haircare items.

“We were crazy enough to believe that we could make some difference in the industry. Now, if somebody said, ‘Yeah, you could be doing hundreds of millions of dollars by 2021?’ You know, I would have said, ‘Wow, that would be a dream come true.’ And here we are,” said Yang.

Yang credits her approach to her parents and her experiences as an immigrant. Moving from South Korea to America at the age of 12, she learned to adapt to a new culture despite feeling uprooted, she said, by learning how to make friends and adapt to new places.

That experience helped with her later move to Brazil, she said, and helped her appreciate her host country’s perspective on beauty – including their embracing wrinkles and cellulite.

“That's what I fell in love with when I went to Brazil, which is you just completely love and embrace every part of you because it's you. The Brazilians will be saying, ‘Well, that's cellulite, yes. But that's my cellulite… so I'm going to take care of them’,” said Yang.

Hear more of the Behind Her Empire podcast. Subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA Audience Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.

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