After 23 years maneuvering the fast-paced world of fashion magazines, Larissa Thomson needed a breather. “I knew it was time for a change, and I knew my next move would be to enter the wellness world in some capacity,” she says.
As a professed product junkie and a believer in self-care, Thomson, 49-year-old co-founder of Onda Beauty, had the idea late one night to create a haven where people could converge, judgment free, to learn about holistic living and natural products and then apply this knowledge to themselves. After meeting through a mutual friend (actress Naomi Watts!), Thomson and Sarah Bryden-Brown decided to launch an online destination that would encapsulate Thomson’s idea. From that first spark, ondabeauty.com was born.
Thomson got to work curating what she believes to be the best of the best natural beauty products out there — many of which come from Australia (think: Saya and Grown Alchemist) — and offering them through Onda. Authenticity is a main goal for Onda; Thomson and Bryden-Brown want users to truly believe in the journey to wellness. To that end, Thomson slathers on every product available through the site and often blogs about her experiences, sharing what she loves in beauty, but also anything else that meets her fancy at that moment.
Here, she shares how she got into the wellness arena and how holistic beauty is the gateway to a life well lived.
You grew up in New York City — home to high levels of hustle and little downtime. Do you think people who live a fast-paced life tend to have imbalance?
I think in a time when our lives are moving faster and faster due to advances in technology, and people’s need to feel that by doing more they’re achieving more, there is also a new awareness in people to slow down and practice self-care. For me, life is all about balance, and I’ve learned from personal experience that going too far in one direction creates an imbalance for me that just doesn’t feel good on any level. Losing track of what our bodies, minds, and souls need to thrive is playing a dangerous game.
Does that imbalance affect the aging process?
The stress and lack of sleep alone causes premature aging in your skin and hair and a variety of health issues — some of which I started to experience when I worked in the world of magazines. When anything is pushed too far, a natural backlash is created. People have become so disconnected from each other and the simple joys in life that it’s no wonder there is a strong focus now on wellness and mindfulness. It was inevitable. It’s nature’s way of saying: “Hey! Wake up! Look around. Pay attention and take care.”
About your time in magazines: In what ways did your career as a fashion market director at several Condé Nast titles lead you to where you are today with Onda?
I’ve always had an interest in health, fitness, and wellness, but I think as my life became more stressful in my [magazine] career, I tried to balance it more and more with eating well, doing a lot of yoga and just staying in touch with what was happening in that world. It was a way for me to feel good and minimize some of the stress in my life. As time passed and the wellness world started to evolve into other categories — like beauty — I think there was just a natural alignment that started to occur for me — a sort of knowing that this was what I wanted to do, the direction I wanted to go in. I just didn’t have it all figured out yet. Sometimes you just have to be patient for the universe to step in and take over when the time is right. Forcing things never works.
Did your past career determining fashion market trends hone your eye for your current lane: curating beauty products?
I think a certain confidence comes over time being an editor and forecasting what’s next. You start to hone that ability; it beings with, “Hmmm, I’m not sure. Is it that?” to “OK, I think that’s it,” to, “Yep, that’s it — next!” It’s a confidence you develop in your abilities to know what you think is right and what resonates with people. I don’t doubt much anymore. It’s a simple yes or no.
What ultimately made you decide to take the leap from magazines to creating your wellness site, Onda Beauty?
The determining factor? I knew it was time for a change and I knew my next move would be to enter the wellness world in some capacity. I just didn’t know what it was yet, but I was willing to be patient and take some much needed time off to spend with my family and on myself, exploring who I was and what I wanted in my life. It all came naturally after that.
So, as you took that time off, when did you think: Onda Beauty?
The idea came late one night while I was shopping natural beauty online and researching ingredients. You know those moments when you’re hit with a lightning-bolt thought that’s been staring you right in the face, but you just weren’t looking? That was it. It all came flooding in: the idea, the space, the feeling, and aesthetic. The next morning I woke up and spoke to my husband about it; he has a small advertising shop called Van’s General Store (VGS). He helped me connect with a few people that could help me start working on a brand deck and numbers. But the vision was clear from day one. The name came a bit later.
What does Onda mean?
I was walking down the beach in Tulum, Mexico, where I’ve been vacationing to for over 20 years now, and I had been trying to come up with a name but nothing had resonated. I saw a sign that said “Onda” and was immediately struck by the graphic shape of the letters and sound of the word. When I got back to the hotel, I asked the owner, my friend, Karla, what it meant. She said, “It means ‘wave,’ but more like a flow. Flow of energy or events.” It just fit. My life at that point, and still now, felt like a consistent but changing wave or flow forward. I knew that was what I wanted Onda to be: always moving forward like a wave, but with a natural and balanced flow. That’s also what I feel with the whole natural beauty segment movement.
You champion a holistic approach to beauty. How does this benefit women later in life?
Beauty isn’t just about your skin and hair; it’s how you chose to live your life. Most of one’s beauty comes from the inside and affects your outward appearance. There’s a certain glow that comes from the energy you carry; it’s all connected. Think: What you’re eating and putting on your body coupled with how you handle stress and choose to move or slow down your body and mind, and how you treat others and respond to the world. All of it contributes to a holistic lifestyle. It’s all connected, and we’re all connected. Our energy is cumulative and feeds off each other. Practicing this daily is my goal, and I try not to beat myself up when it doesn’t always go as planned.
Part of Onda’s mission is to help people live beautifully, and that includes encouraging people to use natural products. You stress on ondabeauty.com that switching to natural products shouldn’t come from a place of fear of what one is doing wrong in her beauty regimen — why?
Everything is a choice. How we perceive things is a choice. The beauty industry is largely based on fear. Fear of growing older, fear of not looking your best, fear of what others think of you — it’s all driven by fear. Natural beauty to me is the opposite. It’s about the experience, the ritual of carving out time for yourself to nourish and feed your body with natural ingredients that will bring out the best version of you. The key word being you — not trying to be someone else.
It’s about self-care and, for me, part of that is enjoying the experience of the scents, textures, and natural results of these products. It just feels good, right, and balanced. Your beauty regimen should also be a time for de-stressing, as opposed to creating more stress about what you don’t have; it’s about what you do have that’s beautiful, and everyone should find that and love it in themselves. As we age this becomes more important, so with any luck, women who start practicing this earlier will just be ahead of the game as they grow older.
What’s your advice for women 45+ when they’re trying to discern what’s good for them in the beauty realm?
The great thing about the founders of most natural brands is that they make authenticity a priority, so there is often full transparency. I would say when looking for a results-driven brand, if you’re shopping online, read a bit about the brand or the founders’ mission. If they state clearly and passionately what their products offer, the ingredient list is botanical- and/or mineral-based, and they relate what they don’t do or include in their products, you’re OK. All the right info shouldn’t be that hard to find.
Other than that, depending on where you live, if you have a great shop like Onda [Editor’s note: A permanent Onda pop-up store can be found in the Malia Mills clothing shop in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan!] that you feel is trustworthy, it’s always great to go in and talk to the people who work there and actually see and try the products that are good for anti-aging purposes. Most products that are results-driven will say so, and an experienced and knowledgeable person can steer you in the right direction. You can also do things like search anti-aging on ondabeauty.com to find a great selection of products suitable for you. Or email me through our website if you have specific questions and I’ll do my best to help guide you.
What’s your own beauty regimen?
As a rule, I like to make sure I’m exfoliating properly and enough (everyone is different with the amount of exfoliation they can take) and then nourishing and hydrating a lot!
There are so many great and effective natural products right now! More discoveries are being made every day as to the benefits of various natural ingredients, and new brands emerge every day as well. There’s just no need anymore to use anything that’s chemical and toxic.
Finally: What do you think is most important when it comes to aging gracefully?