Women in Business: Q&A with Julie Merriman Wray, Founder of Olivine

Olivine combines two of Julie Merriman Wray's longtime passions, beauty and retail.

She began laying the foundation for her career when she traveled to Australia and New Zealand and spent several months there studying aromatherapy and blending oils prior to attending college at NYU. She next gained retail experience working at a perfume blending bar before opening her own aromatherapy and perfume blending bar, Aromatica, in 1993. Julie also created a wholesale line of bath products under the same name.

Bitten by the retail bug, in 1996, Julie opened the first natural pet boutique in Seattle. Five years later, she sold it, and the owner went on to open another location as a result of the original's success. In 1997, she opened Olivine in its first iteration, as a clothing, lingerie, shoe and beauty boutique in Seattle. The store quickly took off and was named one of the "10 best boutiques in the country" by MSN.

Julie shuttered Olivine to focus on her return to beauty and in 1999 launched Lulu Beauty, a perfume and cosmetic line. Lulu Beauty was carried by retailers including Sephora, Nordstrom and more than 50 boutiques throughout the country and counted Madonna as a celebrity fan. The brand was a runaway success and earned accolades in Allure, Lucky and Marie Claire, among others. Lulu Beauty was retired in 2012 so that Julie could funnel all of her creative energy into creating the Olivine Atelier perfume line. In 2003, she launched with five fragrances, and the line has since grown to include six signature scents available as eau de parfum and perfume oils. Today, Julie continues to develop and grow the line and spends as much time as possible in Hawaii with her family.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've always been an inquisitive person, even from a very young age. And I feel that constant search for answers, better solutions, learning how things work has led me to be an effective leader - both in my own trajectory and that of others. I trust my intuition, learn what is out there to learn, and let my creativity make things better.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Olivine?
I started first business when I was 24 years old because, frankly, I couldn't stand working for other people and kept getting fired (doesn't have the best ring to it, I know). I would say that I learned that working for others wasn't for me, because I rarely had the same passions or aligned goals. Prior work experiences showed me that I am my best master and I'm most invested in my own ventures.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Olivine?
Highlight: Every single time I get an email from a customer telling me how much an Olivine product has changed his/her life. Especially the ones where customers tell me that Olivine makes them feel beautiful and guides them to love their body and life more. Those never get old.
Challenge: Always remembering to make business decisions from my heart, as opposed to only following the best financial strategy.

How has Olivine changed the beauty industry?
It would be amazing if Olivine was or turned out to be a force for good in changing the beauty industry. Right now, my goal for women is not to smell good or look good. My only goal is for women to feel good in their skin.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
The advice is simple and straightforward: Follow your heart. Go with your gut. Do what makes your soul happy. Create what you love whenever possible.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is a constant work-in-progress for me. I try my very hardest to draw a firm line between family time and work time, but my home is my office and they tend to mesh a bit more than I'd ultimately like.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I like to think that women can do whatever they want in the workplace, but alas, that's not always true. I think the biggest issue is that traditional workplaces are not very emotion-centric or open, so women are often made to feel silly or unprofessional for making decisions from their heart, expressing compassion or frustration, or harnessing some of those assets (after all, I believe sensitivity, emotion, compassion to be assets) to create new, powerful solutions and approaches. I think, however, this gets better with time, and especially when fantastic female leaders come to the fore.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have used business coaches and personal development coaches for the last 10 years. My life absolutely wouldn't be the same without them.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Christy Turlington is such a role model for living such a graceful life and inspiring others. There are so many inspiring female leaders out there, whether they're women who are using their celebrity for good or the everyday gal who is launching a business, heading a household, nurturing children or animals (or a garden), etc. I think, if you look hard enough and are open to it, you can find leadership inspiration everywhere.

What do you want Olivine to accomplish in the next year?
I have a new online class that is going to rock women's worlds that I want to grow and develop. And, of course, I want to continue to create more products that inspire me and my customers.