Welcome to Byrdie's series, The Hustle. We're profiling BIPOC women and woman-aligned folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
Anne Nguyen Oliver's interest in beauty began at an early age, and like many of us, she spent hours watching tutorials on YouTube. "I started following Michelle Phan when I was 12 years old living in Vietnam," she says, "Since then, I've been in love with anything related to makeup and skincare."
Though beauty has been a lifelong passion for Nguyen Oliver, she never thought she'd step into the industry as a founder. However, her experience with postpartum depression and pregnancy-induced skincare concerns opened her eyes to new possibilities. Nguyen Oliver turned to saffron—an ingredient known for its mood-boosting benefits—to improve her mental health. After incorporating it into her routine, she noticed her depressive symptoms began to subside and her skin appeared more radiant.
The spice's transformative effects on her skin inspired her to launch House of M, a saffron-infused luxury skincare line, in 2019. Since launching three years ago, the brand has cultivated an engaged community of thousands (many of whom Nguyen Oliver now calls friends) and found fans in beauty pros (like celebrity makeup artist Jamie Greenberg). House of M's steady growth has also positioned the brand to make its retail debut later this year.
Ahead, Nguyen Oliver opens up about the journey she's been on as a beauty entrepreneur and mother. Keep scrolling to read everything she had to say.
Was there a specific moment where you realized you wanted to create your business?
Before starting House of M, I was helping my husband build his dream career. And I thought that was my thing—being a wife and having our children. However, when I gave birth to my first son, I went through postpartum depression. It was one of the darkest moments of my life. I realized I needed more in life. I didn't want to leave this world wishing I could have done something else. That was the moment I decided to build something for myself.
What inspired the brand name?
M stands for miracles. My entire life has been little bits of miracles here and there. I was born and raised in Vietnam. My dad passed away when I was 14. At 15, I came to the U.S. to study as an international student. At 19, my mom passed away, so I couldn't go to school anymore. I was on my own and had to work to survive. So I can't believe I now have a family of my own and a skincare brand.
How did you decide to use saffron as the hero ingredient of your line?
I stumbled across our hero ingredient, saffron, by accident. During my postpartum depression, I couldn't take medication because I was still breastfeeding my son. I asked my doctor for a more natural alternative, and he recommended saffron. I went to the market, grabbed a jar of saffron, and went home to make the tea as he instructed. It didn't give me the relief that I was hoping for. So I did more research and found out saffron has five different quality levels. The highest quality of saffron is only for medicinal use. It has to be handpicked, separated, and dried within the same day to capture all the nutritional value. After a while, I figured out where to get it. It helped me sleep better, and my mood started improving.
I also stopped using many of my typical skincare products because I didn't know what was safe during and after pregnancy. However, doing that made my skin very sensitive, and the hormones from pregnancy gave me a lot of melasma. The first product we created was something born out of my need to address hyperpigmentation and soothe my skin.
I'd love to talk about your product development process. What has been the most challenging product to create?
The Saffron Miracle Serum because it was our first product. When we started, not a lot of manufacturers worked with saffron. I also wanted to control the sourcing process of the raw material saffron. Most people don't do the extraction in-house. They usually purchase the raw material from a third party, then do the blending in-house. As I mentioned earlier, saffron has a lot of quality levels. And I wanted to make sure that we used the quality that helped me in our formulation—so finding a manufacturer that could work with the requirements I have was challenging. But I love working with our chemists. I learn new things every day, and that brings me joy.
What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned while building House of M?
I've learned a lot about the misconceptions we have about ingredients. I've also learned that having truly sensitive skin is rare. Most of the time, your skin barrier is just damaged. I often talk to customers, and they tell me, "I need products that work with my sensitive skin." And then, after discussing with them for a while, I figure out that their skin is just damaged and they're using too many actives in their routine.
What's been the most rewarding part of this journey?
The most rewarding part is talking to my customers and hearing how our products have helped their skin. It's been three years since launching, and I still get excited when I hear their comments. I also love the meaningful relationships I've been able to build with them. Many customers have turned into friends, and they often celebrate my milestones with me.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Each day is very different. There are some days we can celebrate wins, and some days we have to troubleshoot. Some days we're brainstorming about launches, and on other days, we could be working with our sales team. I will try to be in the office by 8:30 AM. When I leave work, I spend time with my kids, have dinner, and put them to bed.
Do you have any advice for aspiring beauty brand founders, who may be moms themselves?
When we started, I held back a lot. I didn't want to launch because things were not perfect. But I'm so glad I did. Along the way, you will make changes and improve certain things. You just have to get it out into the world first and fix it as you go.
For moms specifically, understand there's no balance. Life as a mom feels like juggling many balls— some are glass, and some are plastic. You're trying your best not to drop the glass ones. However, you will drop the glass balls someday, and it will feel very painful. And somedays, you drop the plastic balls, and it won't be as bad. You have to go with the flow, give yourself some grace, and remind yourself you're doing the best you can. Mom guilt is a real thing. I try to remind myself when I'm at work, I'm at work, and when I spend time with my kids, I'm 100% with them. I don't pick up the phone until they go to bed.
What are your plans for 2022?
This year, we're further introducing House of M into the U.S. market. I'm so excited that we're in talks with a few buyers. Our focus is to get our brand awareness out there and into a retailer this year.
You're constantly juggling motherhood and entrepreneurship. How do you practice self-care?
After going through depression, I realized I always gave to others and never cared about myself. Now, I have to fill my cup first. When I wake up, I take 15 minutes to meditate and journal. I also do yoga through CorePower online.
What does your skincare routine consist of?
At night, I double cleanse. I love the Deviant Skincare Cleansing Concentrate ($41) and Farmacy Whipped Greens Oil-Free Foaming Cleanser ($28). I love that cleanser. Then, I go in with the I'm From Mugwort Essence ($31). I'll also use a serum and our Saffron Silk Night Concentrate ($70). I like to use a lighter cleanser like Summer Fridays Amino Super Gel Cleanser ($35) in the morning. Then, I'll apply a gel moisturizer and sunscreen.
Jackson PA, Forster J, Khan J, et al. Effects of saffron extract supplementation on mood, well-being, and response to a psychosocial stressor in healthy adults: a randomized, double-blind, parallel group, clinical trial. Front Nutr. 2021;7:606124.