Chanelle Louise was a derivatives analyst at The Bank of New York, quickly climbing up the corporate ladder, when her partner Darcy was hit by a van.
He was returning home on his motorcycle to collect his suitcase; his flight to London that night was a chance to reunite with Chanelle after a year of long distance. Four weeks of European holidaying awaited, plus a big discussion on what they would do next. Just around the corner from home in his quiet coastal neighbourhood, a van driving on the wrong side of the road hit him head on. He died at the scene.
Fate, luck, whatever you might call it – a trauma specialist was driving past when he saw the accident scene. He revived Darcy before the ambulance arrived. Chanelle took the next flight back to Australia to be by his side as he lay in a coma for a month. What followed was six months of learning to walk and talk again, and two more years of Chanelle acting as Darcy’s full-time carer.
Their worlds were turned upside down; few of the realities that existed before existed now. Even small rituals changed. Darcy’s traumatic brain injury meant he could no longer indulge in their Friday night glass of red, as alcohol could cause seizures. While some might have reached for the strongest drink possible to ease the stress, Chanelle started to drink rose tea religiously.
My customers are top surgeons in New York, doctors in Texas, lawyers in London… They’re independent, smart women and they don’t need to be told by social media to buy shit. They’ll buy what they want.”
“I was enchanted by how the rose buds slowly opened in the water. It embodied something soothing and romantic,” she said. She began to source premium non-alcohol alternatives that could replace the sensory elements she so loved about wine.
What began as an experiment in their tiny kitchen took on a life of its own. As Chanelle realised the commercial potential of her invention, she engaged the consultation of a naturopath, a chemist and a beverage advisor. What she eventually created was CILK, a concentrated rosewater extract that, when combined with sparkling water, expelled the fragrance and therapeutic rose properties she wanted to capture.
Fast forward a couple of years and a 2016 Stylus report estimated that the global beauty drinks market would be worth over $1 billion by 2019. CILK was mentioned by name as a brand to watch.
“I had no launch strategy, I had no marketing strategy. My only goal was for the brand to enter the market organically,” says Chanelle. “My only strategy was to create a really unique, beautiful, high-quality product.”
While some entrepreneurs and advisors would think that’s naive (even reckless), CILK broke even within two months and now, almost 12 months later, has an impressive six-figure turnover. “Initially, yes, I think breaking even had to do with our profit margin. I didn’t want to restrict my business decisions based on moving mass volume just to get cash flow, nor produce on such a large scale that I would have to compromise on quality. But I also think it had to do with organic press – I had some authentic reviews and write-ups that weren’t pushed by a PR company.” Vogue soon called, followed by Alexander Wang’s team, who wanted to partner with CILK for their Paris Fashion Week shows.
A streamline approach to social media marketing has proved effective. “My approach is not to sell my product,” Chanelle explains. “I don’t do the ‘Shop Now!’ or ‘Buy Now!’ thing. My customers are top surgeons in New York, doctors in Texas, lawyers in London… They’re independent, smart women and they don’t need to be told by social media to buy shit. They’ll buy what they want.”
“Yes, I have a 60-70% open rate on my eDMs,” she laughs, “but I only sent six last year.”
Chanelle recently commemorated the fifth anniversary of Darcy’s accident and the opportunities that have come her way are more defined by those that she chose to let pass.
“I really do believe that success can be defined in the opportunities you say no to. It’s important that you don’t get distracted. I get ‘opportunities’ in my inbox every single day, but you can’t get caught up in it. You have to stay true to your milestones. Now the first thing I say is, ‘Sounds great. Send me a proposal.’”