Maker Profile: Giselle Wasfie, Owner of Remix - Chicago
What is your background?
My previous career was in magazines. I had always wanted to be a writer and did undergrad at University of Michigan in creative writing as a sub-concentration. I got rejected from the program, but I wrote a novel and was the first person in my class to write one. Then I went to New York to work in magazines, and I did the Summer Publishing Institute at NYU. I started working at Glamour as an editorial assistant and then assistant editor, which was a great opportunity.
I was doing well, but I wasn’t convinced that it was for me, which I think started to show in my work. I don’t know if I appreciated Glamour as much as I should have because it fell into my lap at 24. I felt like the career was really unstable for me. I could see the top-level editors getting axed and they wouldn’t even know, and I was scared about that. I then went into music journalism and thought that that might keep me more stimulated and hold more value for me because I was such a music fan. I started to write a lot about hip-hop and started to write a new novel hoping to sell it to a publisher. I sold the book, but I was still searching and kind of wanted a way out.
My book agent left New York to become a massage therapist, and at this time we had sold the book to St. Martin’s. I didn’t make a ton of money, but I felt good about it. One day, my agent Sita White, told me about this guy she met who was studying Chinese medicine. We were just having a casual conversation about acupuncture and herbal medicine and I thought it was so interesting. I’ve always been attracted to botanicals and tried to use natural things. My parents are both MDs, and I tried pre-med in undergrad. I had thought about it again, by the way, when I was searching for a new career. This opened up a new world to me because I only thought that Chinese people did Chinese medicine.
A year before I started Grad School for Chinese medicine (I had already done a Master’s in journalism), I had an opportunity to be in the running for an Editor-in-Chief position at Time Out Magazine in Chicago and I had just gotten into Grad School. I had to pick really fast between these two opportunities, and I picked Grad School. It was a very difficult four year program. I left my friends in LA, I left my life and I came to Chicago. It was a lot, and I wasn’t always doing well in school because it was a lifestyle adjustment. I stuck it out because I always felt connected to the content that I was studying.
How did you begin Remix?
Remix started to come about while I was still in school. We had a dermatology class where we were learning about Chinese herbs and how to make salves and poultices. I thought it was so interesting that I wanted to make my own. Some of my classmates remember me coming up with formulas that I don’t even remember making. When I got out of school, I started practicing in Chicago and I wanted to stay here. I liked doing my own thing and realized that I was an entrepreneur. I liked putting together a website and writing the content because it appealed to my magazine background.
I was freelancing for Daily Candy at the time, writing their weekend guide and stories about the city, and I started to get to know more people in Chicago. I started to really like the community and wanted to be a part of it. I then started making my sprays for people with issues with sleep and anxiety. I was interested in aromatherapy and I started thinking about [the sprays] as Chinese herbal formulas. I started with the two sprays, Chill Night and Chill Day. I made the labels myself and did my own packaging, and people were complimenting me on it. I did my first Dose Market and people came up to my table and asked me about Chinese medicine.
One of my goals with Remix is to make natural medicine relevant and accessible to modern society. Humans are still humans even though the environment has changed. I called my business Remix because of my background in music. The whole philosophy with the Remix lifestyle is using the power of natural medicine, acupuncture, herbal medicine, aromatherapy and natural beauty to treat outside issues from the inside. Thinking about beauty and balance from the inside and having fun with it too, because I really believe that healing can be a fun and interesting way to learn about yourself.
I also have a private practice where I practice Chinese medicine with reiki, cupping and herbal medicine. Right now the practice is in the Loop where I rent space with other acupuncturists. The goal is to get Remix all in one space, where you can come in and shop the retail section, hang out and have a service.
Was there any particular person who helped shape your career in formative way?
In a way, Sita, but I don’t think she would ever take credit for it because we were just having a conversation. Sometimes people light something in somebody else without even meaning to and it can be so powerful. My parents also, because they are both MDs and helping people was a big part of my household.
There is so much to learn about natural ingredients, is there a place where people can start and ease into natural healing?
In terms of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, the best way to learn about that is to have a treatment with a licensed acupuncturist who knows the meridian system and can treat that mind/body level.
There are so many good resources online. You just have to try it. I made a lot of stuff in my kitchen and not all of it worked, but I learned. With my hand balm, I tried a few different versions before I got one that I really liked. If you want to make homemade products, those resources are really easy to find. A lot of my stuff came out of my own needs, and we are all human, so our needs are not that different.
What are some of your favorite herbs/essential oils?
There are a few oils that I have learned that people are very polarized by. One is patchouli. People either love it or hate it. Lavender is one that I didn’t realize that people have such a strong feeling towards. I have learned that you cannot please everybody and that’s okay.
I love patchouli because that is an oil that evokes a lot of memories for me. I was your punk rock, hip-hop kind of high schooler who was smoking cigarettes in my blazer, just trying to be a badass. And then in Ann Arbor, where I went to school, I was going to their hippy shops buying amber oil. It has a memory for me that is strong, but it is also used in Chinese medicine orally as an herb.
I also love angelica. Angelica is in the celeriac family and in Chinese medicine is used for gynecological disorders. It is used to move any sort of stuck blood. When I was making my eye balm, I was thinking of what Chinese herb would be good for it. I was researching and I thought angelica moves blood, so for dark circles, which is blood pooling, it would be great in an eye cream. I love the smell, it’s very light, fresh and different.
Bergamot and neroli are also great. We use the bitter orange a lot in Chinese medicine because they are Qi regualtors.
What are some of the challenges you face in your business?
It is so challenging. Patient-wise and clinic-wise, just getting your business going and creating a patient base. A lot of what happens is word of mouth, but in the beginning when you have just started, there is no word of mouth.
Also, just learning about starting a business, like getting your license and displaying it. Then, products became challenging due to the physical demands like carrying glass and 50lb boxes of soy wax and packing for events. The demands of seeing patients and making products, along with labeling and events takes a lot of time. Sustaining that is very difficult energetically. Five years in, a lot of foundation has been laid out which is great, but building something from the ground up is a wonderful experience and extremely exhausting. I tell people if you are not maxed out, running around like a crazy person all day, I don’t think you’re doing enough.
Besides Remix, what are some of your favorite natural brands?
I really like Herbivore Botanicals. I think they do a wonderful job with what they make. I like S.W. Basics. I was actually in Adina Grigore’s new essential oils book. She’s really open to that internal/external beauty model and cultivating that idea, so I’m really supportive of that.
I’ve started to learn more about people through the community online. I like the more cosmic components of Moon Juice. Herbally, I have some thoughts about it, but I like the vibe and culture around it which is connecting you to a bigger experience.
Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local makers?
It’s super important. This is the culture that makes up somebody’s city. It’s great to have diversity in terms of company sizes, but we want to have a connection with our community. When you go to a Dose Market or go to some of the boutiques in the city, you realize how rich this city is in creativity and the small business culture that they bring. There is a lot of care that goes into it. I guarantee that if you use a natural product or handmade product, you just feel a deeper connection.
We [business owners] also love to feel connected to people in a community. When people are into what we are doing, then you feel connected to the city as a whole. You catch the vibe of the city. My friends own Sir & Madame in Hyde Park and I think that their store is so cool because it gives you a vibe of what’s going on. If you go into Humboldt House, you see what is happening in 2017 in Chicago. That’s exciting.
We cannot survive without support. Support is buying something and spreading the word. All of that stuff is invaluable to a small business.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
The first person I thought of is Garance Dore. I saw her speak at Soho House a while ago, and I was a fan, but I really didn’t know that much about her. I liked her style and her vibe. When she spoke during this interview, she was just very down to earth and charming, and I remember she admitted her age, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but we get very age shamed in our culture. She was just like I’m 42 and the interviewer said “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you say your age.” She was so cool, open, and loving. Then she told me she liked my outfit!
Of course I love my Madonna, and I think of her as an idol. My friend Autumn from Sir & Madame is an awesome inspiration. She has two children and she works hard. She’s so loving and fun. Carolina Rodriguez, who took the photos for my website is so talented and energetically a very wonderful person. I’m surrounded by wonderful women. My mom is a big inspiration to me. She was always into the arts and took us to museums, and she was also a doctor.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
I am totally a feminist. It’s silly to even have to say that, because everyone should be a feminist. I ran my feminist magazine in college and it’s part of the reason why I got into the NYU program.
The feeling that you get when you are around women who are supportive and who genuinely have your back is like no other feeling. I firmly believe in the abundance of the universe. There’s room for all of us. I’m a competitive person, so I always want to be the best at what I do, that’s just my nature, but it has never meant that I can’t be supportive of other people or even inclusive, especially as it relates to business. I hope that the people I have worked with know that I’m just as much a fan of them as they’ve been to me. At the end of the day it’s about community. I always try to go out of my way a little bit more because I know how hard it is to be a woman and it is a different struggle. I refuse to not stand in solidarity with women and small business owners because we do need a little more support. The more that everybody shines, the brighter this city glows.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
I don’t. I don’t necessarily want it to be this disproportionate, but my work is my life. I think when you are an artist, your work is not separate from your life because it’s an extension of you. I feel like I officially launched the products two years ago with the redesign. I always use this analogy coming from a hip-hop background, the two years before that were my mixtape and I dropped my first major label two years ago when we did the redesign. I think once it is established, it will kind of run on its own. Once Remix the headquarters is up and running, it’ll be working on its own. But I think for right now, my work is all encompassing, but that is not negative.
I do try to do some self care because my acupuncture practice is also demanding. When you are helping people, it’s a big responsibility. The things that I do to help me are a little 5 minute meditation in the morning, I walk my dog, I get acupuncture myself and sometimes I just have to force myself to go out at night or do something different.
What are some of your favorite places in Chicago?
Alice’s Lounge for karaoke. I love Floriole. They have the best pastries in the city. The Soho House pool is worth the membership. I love Soul Cycle Southport and Jeni’s Ice Cream afterwards. I love the Hideout. I love places that have a sense of environment and culture. Also, walking in Lakeview and being by the water.