By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun
It's been 10 years since Hana Zalzal created the foundation for a fresh new line of cosmetics from the den of her small house. CARGO cosmetics were soon snapped up for use on prime-time TV shows like Friends, have been included in an Academy Awards gift basket and will are being launched in Australia and France.
Hana Zalzal worked in engineering, marketing and finance before deciding to follow her passion -- she created the hugely successful CARGO Cosmetics company from her small Toronto home.
"I always loved makeup and I saw an opportunity in the marketplace," says the Toronto resident. "The market was well penetrated with professional brands. I could predict that the market was becoming more innovative and cutting edge. It was following the path of fashion. Women didn't want to wear the same makeup that their mother's mother wore."
Zalzal immigrated to Canada from Egypt as a youngster and grew up in Scarborough.
She completed a civil engineering degree at the University of Toronto and an MBA at York University.
"There was so much I was interested in. I wanted to use a bit of all my talents," says the mother of three young boys. "I was analytical, creative and a problem solver. Surprisingly, I brought those skills to makeup."
Zalzal worked in engineering, marketing and finance before deciding to follow her passion. "I didn't feel like what I had been doing was a fit for me. I wondered what was wrong. Everyone else was doing it ... Someone had told me that if I followed my passion I'd never work a day in my life. I knew I wanted to get to that zone, that if I won the lottery I'd still want to work."
Zalzal enlisted the industry's top professionals to develop CARGO Cosmetics and launched her first line in Eaton's department stores in 1996. "It was surreal to see the products in the store for the first time," Zalzal says.
When the retail giant closed its doors, she pursued other opportunities "We had just started selling to the U.S. and escalated our expansion there ... How quickly it was embraced in the U.S. took me by surprise. It wasn't our home turf and marketing the product is different there than in Canada. It's now our major market," Zalzal says.
The name of the company is reflective of Zalzal's passion. "The point I was trying to make is that makeup is basic and intimate for women. It's as basic as a toothbrush but as intimate as your clothing. It's meant to be part of what you own and who you are."
She attributes CARGO's success to product quality and innovation. "It was picked up by a lot of professional makeup artists and was being used on many TV shows ... We continually try to make our products smarter. As an example, we created a concealer and foundation in one."
How did Zalzal get Hollywood stars like Courteney Cox, Debra Messing, Camryn Manheim and Star Jones to design custom shades?
"I asked them. It was that simple," she says. "A portion of the proceeds goes to children's charities ... They're women like the rest of us. They're creative. They approach makeup like the rest of us."
But that doesn't mean Zalzal hasn't faced challenges. "Growth has always been a challenge. We have a lot of demand for our products from retailers, but we want to be true to innovation."
She credits a strong team with CARGO's success. The Toronto-based company has 13 employees and works with labs to develop new products. "A strong team is critical. I'm pretty aware of what I do well. My employees do their jobs way better than I would ever be able to do their jobs. That part wasn't hard for me," Zalzal says. "I'm probably most engaged in product development. I like the challenge of looking at makeup with fresh eyes."
The rewards have been many. "Our most recent lip gloss innovation was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and Time," Zalzal says. "We've gone beyond the pages of fashion and beauty into the mainstream, which is just wonderful."
Being included in the Oscars gift bag to presenters and winners in 2003 was equally rewarding. "It was wonderful. It is the Oscars, which is so well recognized throughout the world. It was a nod to the product quality."
Despite her many successes, Zalzal continues to push the envelope. "I don't ever feel like we're there. I know it's going to work, but it's not just one destination. It's a continuous journey. I've never stopped and thought, 'Wow. We're there.' There's always more to do."
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