By Allyson Sutton
Susanne Norwitz has written speeches for Rudy Giuliani and C-suite executives at Fortune 100 companies. She’s managed external communications for Dunkin’ Brands, Kellogg’s and the Savannah College of Art and Design. She’s a Cornell graduate with a master’s from Harvard. So what inspired her to swap an impressive corporate CV for the entrepreneurial hustle?
A tiny ingredient that you may have had in your morning smoothie.
“I was undergoing a detox several years ago and the doctor recommended taking chia seeds,” Susanne says. “There was so much talk surrounding this superfood — I became really curious.”
A self-proclaimed nerd, Susanne dove headfirst into researching the nutritional content of chia seeds, which offer more omegas than wild caught salmon and more antioxidants than blueberries. She read countless articles and clinical studies, discovering that chia oil could increase skin hydration and skin barrier function.
“I immediately thought, ‘Is anybody using this powerhouse ingredient in skin care and if not, why not?’” she says.
In 2014, she answered her own question, launching Maya Chia with the company’s first product, a chia face oil developed using a patented process that she says retains the purity and potency of the seed.
While it may have seemed like a dramatic career change at the time, the path toward Maya Chia had been subtly and slowly shifting into view for decades.
Even as a little girl, Susanne was endlessly curious about skin care.
“It was the first section I would go to at Barnes and Noble,” she says. “I could never get enough information about skin and skin care and how to treat it.”
And she’s felt a deep connection to Central America and the indigenous Maya people since she was young.
“My father was a surgeon and for many years during my childhood, we would travel to Guatemala where he provided pro-bono cleft lip palate surgeries,” she says.
When she realized that chia seed oil had been a staple in the Maya culture for thousands of years, it all just clicked.
It didn’t take long for Susanne’s passion project to become a successful skin care business. Shortly after launching, she gained a handful of local retail accounts and garnered national media attention, catapulting Maya Chia to cult favorite status.
“We were named one of the best clean face oils by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop,” Susanne says. “We didn’t know a soul in the industry, it was the first product we introduced, and it was surreal.”
The company was recently named a best indie beauty brand by Allure Magazine, and InStyle called Maya Chia “One of 5 Skincare Brands Doing Big Things.”
Susanne credits her brand’s success to a steadfast focus on quality, rather than “slick marketing or trends.”
“We work very hard to find the most cutting-edge ingredients that have a lot of muscle and proven efficacy,” she says. “And we put a great deal of thought in creating our formulations, so that they are different from what exists in the market. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
On any given night, Susanne says you’ll find her reading about ingredients. She works on the formulations in her Charleston studio, making countless iterations until finalizing with a chemist. Every Maya Chia product is made by hand in the company’s North and South Carolina workshops, taking anywhere from an hour to half a day to blend.
“I’m not a trained chemist, so I realize my limitations,” she shares. “But I have an unrelenting passion for this stuff, and it is just one of the best aspects of the business. I get to use the full base of my strengths in research and creativity.”
Despite her global success, Susanne strives to be as intentional and present as possible each day.
“I try to practice mindful meditation when possible,” she says. “It’s important to just breathe sometimes – to just take a moment, put down the phone, step away from the computer and connect with your breath.”
That concept of presence is woven into her business, where she tries to connect with customers on a regular basis.
“One of my favorite parts of the business is meeting people and hearing real-time feedback about the products and how they’ve transformed their skin,” she says. “We never forget for a second what an honor it is to be in their home, and a part of their lives in even the smallest way.”
As her skin care line continues to grow — both in products and popularity – she maintains strong links to the Maya culture that inspired its name.
Maya Chia donates a portion of all product sales to Adopt a Village in Guatemala, a grassroots organization that builds schools and teaches the Maya people sustainable and organic farming practices.
“The Maya culture has been oppressed for thousands of years. They are impoverished, and yet still have a vibrant, loving and kind spirit,” Susanne says. “When we are at our best, we try to go about our business with a strong sense of gratitude — gratitude for the blessings we have, and for the people in our lives who make this company possible.”
And as fate would have it, Susanne now has even more reason to grow this socially minded beauty biz.
“My adopted stepsons are of Maya descent and from a village very close to where my father volunteered so many years earlier.”
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