"Over time my parents finally started accepting that this is who I am".
I met my friend Maheen Lemon, founder of Touch Me Vegan Skincare, at the Long Island Flea Market where she was selling her gorgeous wares in the pouring rain one Saturday in April. I had the unfortunate task of photographing the Flea Market for their website. Upon seeing this soaking wet, crotchety photographer, Maheen handed me a few sample products to brighten my day. I threw them in my bag and almost forgot about them. A few days later, whilst attempting to excavate a pen from the depths of my overstuffed handbag, I came across the sample, tried a little and was seriously hooked!
The consistency of her Body Butters were amazingly rich. They just melted into my overworked New York City girl skin like a dream. Moreover, it was the fragrance that had me coming back for more. Using blends of essential oils, Maheen creates unique perfumes for each product. Favourites of mine included: Steamy Shower Sex (oh stop, that's the actual name - we're all grown-ups here), Dirty Cake, and Drunk On Absinthe in the Body Butters. Happy Ending Massage Oil (take your mind out of the gutter people, I was using it on my elbow scar) and the divine, and I mean divine, body spray Wild Forest. All products are 100% chemical and cruelty free, organic and totally natural. I've been using them all week and recently a friend commented suspiciously: Why does your face look so healthy? Not sure whether to be flattered or insulted, but either way I have to credit Touch Me.
I caught up with Maheen at my apartment recently where we held a photoshoot for her products and she talked to me about how she began her business.
MH: Well, it was about December and my husband didn’t know what to get me for Christmas, so he just surprised me with an organic basket that had all these natural products in it. I was using the products and I liked them, but then I was reading the labels and I thought, you know, I could probably make this stuff and I can do it the right way without all these chemicals. I thought: I could definitely start something here and after that I decided, okay, you know what, let me look into it.
RD: You told me that your father's recent death had also been a motivating factor in your decision?
MH: Yes it was, but not only that. My father had been sick when he was alive, but it was also because I wanted to set an example for the other people in my life, you know, I wanted them to realize that you could live a healthy lifestyle and still be able to enjoy certain things here and there. I didn't just want to say it, I wanted to live it too. My father, in his last year of living on this earth, he was trying. When I was cleaning out his house, I saw all this stuff in the kitchen, he had goji berries and all these superfruits. Exactly the kind of things I would talk to him about when I first became vegan and he would just always tell me, “Aw, you’re crazy”, and this and that, but I discovered that he actually was listening to me, but it was too late for him.
ML: He died from diabetes and heart disease and it’s because he didn’t take care of his health properly. He didn’t exercise, he didn’t eat healthily, and anything that me or my Mother would tell him, well, he just wouldn’t listen. I think later on though, he had started to realize, “Okay, maybe they are right, maybe I should be incorporating some of these things”, but it was too late for him, and so he left this world and that’s when it really, really struck me: I really need to do something because this hits so close to home.
ML: I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it was on my mind. I’m not very good at cooking so I couldn’t go into that field and I just figured, it’ll come to me eventually. That’s when my husband bought me the basket and I thought, you know, I have this education behind me - I went to school at the Aveda Institute and I have my Esthetics license - I know about skin care, maybe I could just learn to formulate certain products and educate people through my product. That’s when it all started to come together, and that’s how Touch Me got created.
RD: You mentioned you would like to educate people about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle, do you like to teach?
ML: I do enjoy teaching people - down the road, I do want to teach. Maybe children, or senior citizens, probably volunteer or charity work because I really don’t want to charge money for those things, because I do it for love.
RD: So, now, tell me, how did all the fun names, like Drunk On Absinthe, and Happy Ending Massage Oil, come about? Is that your sense of humour?
ML: Yes, it’s totally my sense of humor! Something for a bit of perspective - when I worked at different spas and I worked for many different cosmetic companies, they all have their own philosophy and their own approach to presenting their product, and over time I started realizing that this is what sells. It’s the quality of the product, but it’s also you, you have to put your personality into it.
RD: Yep. Personal branding is very important!
ML: And, you know, I’m a funny person, I have a bit of a sense of humour, plus I’m kind of perverted! I think that it's a very good thing for women to be liberated from the sexual repression that patriarchy has forced upon us over the years. I wanted to just open that up. That’s why I came up with some sassy names. When people look at my products, I want them to laugh, I want them to feel good about what they’re holding, what they’re using.
RD: It certainly appealed to my sense of humour!
ML: Perfect! I’m so happy!
RD: You were born in America-
ML: Yes, I was born and raised in New York.
RD: How was that, having Pakistani parents, and being an American kid, was there any tension with that?
ML: Oh, wow, that is a great question, Ruthie! You raised something that I had to deal with for a long time. I had to convince my parents of so many things, when I was a teenager, as a young adult. They were very Third World, you know, they had a Third World mentality, very traditional and very cultural, so coming from a Western point of view, it was very hard, we always had clashes. We would always argue about things, especially my Mother I, because she wanted me to be a certain way, she wanted me to be religious and incorporate our culture and our lifestyle, and I do incorporate some things, but I’m American. I was born and raised here, I really wanted to take advantage of everything that America had to offer -education, work, anything! I think my parents just wanted me to follow in the path of being a doctor or a lawyer.
ML: I think over time my parents finally started accepting that this is who I am, they’re just going to have to support it, or they’re probably going to end up not being in my life. Slowly they became more accepting, especially my Father, no matter what, he was always very supportive of me, so my mom was the biggest hurdle. She finally came around, she even - like, I married an American guy, he’s White, and she’s very supportive of that, in fact she loves him, and things are a lot better than they used to be.
RD: Do you ever think about incorporating any Pakistani ingredients into the line? A nod to your heritage?
ML: Actually, I already do! Shea butter is used a lot in Pakistan and India and everywhere in the Middle East and Africa. Also coconut oil is a huge, huge ingredient that they all use and I use in many of my products. The reason is that it’s something that many cultures have been using for centuries. It’s from the earth. Now Western people are beginning to realize how versatile it is, it’s fit for cooking, you can eat it, you can use it for your skin, you can use it for your hair, there are so many different things that you can do with it.
RD: What do you want the future of your business to look like?
ML: I would like to grow, but I don’t want it to get to a commercial level, because, again - I don’t want to take away from the whole handmade aspect, the whole natural vegan cruelty-free and chemical-free aspect. I want it to be still very true to what I started out with, but I do want it to gain national, perhaps international momentum. I’m approaching small boutiques, and if I can get into small boutiques, that would be very good for me. I’m also looking into to being an educator in spas and cosmetology schools, because people need to learn that there are other ways, you don’t have to do the conventional way, there’s other ways of doing things. I want people to be educated, and that’s why I’m doing this, it’s not just for income, it’s not just for what I want to do with the rest of my life, it’s mainly because I want to educate people, and we need to change, we need to reconstruct the way we operate, our society is operating backwards, and it’s really bad, and it’s only gonna get worse so that’s why I want to be a contributor to changing things and starting a revolution!
RD: That’s fantastic! I remember when you came over and you went into my bathroom and you came out of my bathroom and you said “I’m so proud of you! You have, like, castile soap and rose oil?
ML: (laughing) Oh yes, it smells so lovely in there!
RD: I try.
ML: Another thing I wanted to add is, I am doing boutiques and doing flea market stuff and I am going to be doing trade shows, because I want it to reach everybody, but I don’t want it to be commercialized, I don’t want people to think I’m going to mass produce this, it’s gotta be niche. But I want people to start their own businesses too.
RD: Like a franchise idea?
ML: Yes! I want people to get ideas from this, that they can start something with it too. Why not?
RD: You know, I have a blogger friend that I work with sometimes, Gina of WhatTheDoost, and when we first met she shared information with me all the time. I was very surprised by this at first as lots of fashion bloggers don't want to share their contacts or tips. I asked her about it one day and she told me: "We rise together! Never against each other".
ML: Yes! Exactly! That’s exactly what I want to do, and I think that truly it is going to gain momentum.
ML: One other thing I wanted to add is that people need to also remember that commercial products are a lot different than natural products. The consistency is different. People are always so used to the store-bought products, for example: it’s going to last long, it’s got to feel smooth like this, but with natural products it’s not going to feel that way, the consistency is going to be different, and that’s because it has a shelf life. It doesn’t have chemicals in it, it’s all from the earth, its extracts, its essential oils, it’s all natural so of course it’s gonna break down a lot. You have to keep it in certain temperatures, these are things that people need to realize and I think they forget because they’re so used to their commercial products.
RD: That’s a really good point, like sometimes you’ll see sediment in Kombucha, you’ll see there’s natural separation because this is a natural product.
ML: Exactly! That’s why you have to shake Kombucha up!
RD: Now you said when you here that you were thinking – if this is too personal you can tell me – but you were thinking about having a baby, I wondered if you were thinking about introducing some baby stuff to your product line?
ML: Actually, that’s a great question, and yes, down the road I really do want to incorporate things for pregnant women and for babies too. I am in the midst of formulating some things. I just finished making deodorant and some acne products, but for the baby products I want to do more testing and researching because I know that babies’ skins are a lot more absorbent, if they have anything absorbed in their skin that’s wrong or that’s not good for them it’s gonna affect them later on in life. Babies don’t really need a lot of products because they naturally cleanse on their own. It’s more the pregnant women that need products and there are formulas for pregnant women, so maybe next year I can unveil something like that.
RD: Thanks Maheen, for the gifts and the time!
ML: My pleasure!
You can purchase products from Touch Me Vegan Skincare online at www.touchmeskincare.com and at Shag in Williamsburg. Maheen will also be selling at the very place we met The LIC Flea Market until the end of October.
Below is a more detailed list of the products and their ingredients:
Body butters: All ingredients are sourced from organic farmers and overseas in Africa (raw shea butter) which is completely raw and 100% organic. The fragrance oil is a blend of essential oils to get a unique and beautiful scent. The purpose of body butter is to moisturize your skin whether you have normal skin or severely dry skin with eczema and psoriasis. These body butters will protect your skin from wrinkling prematurely and will keep the skins natural elasticity. Not to mention the coconut oil that is in the product will protect you from the sun since it is a natural SPF 15.
Body Spray: Since my products do not have chemicals for preserving, I use organic vodka to help maintain the longevity of the body sprays. It is an alternative to synthetic preservatives! These products are a replacement to the commercial chemically-infused perfumes. I blend many essential oils to get a unique scent for each one. All have sweet almond oil, organic vodka, essential oil blend, and filtered water!
Massage Oils: All of my massage oils are 100% organic with raw materials such as sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, and essential oil blends. All three are unique in their own way but the 2 flavor oils have only 100% organic food grade coconut oil with a blend of food grade essential oils in order for it to be edible. These can be used for massage therapy, aromatherapy, and bedroom play (pleasure).
Breath Spray: An alternative way to freshen your breath minus the chemicals. Organic vodka, filtered water, cinnamon essential oil, mint extract.