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Leaves of Trees

Modern beauty apothecary.

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It takes something truly unique to stand out in the crowded all-natural beauty landscape these days. And yet, Leaves of Trees is doing just that by bringing solid science to the world of small-batch, ethically sourced skin care. Where many others outsource product development, design, and packaging, founder Dr. Roohi Qureshi is doing it herself. She earned a degree in medicine, a masters in chemical engineering, and a certificate in pâtisserie from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before cooking up a modest line of shea butter soaps and beeswax lip balms in her kitchen in 2012.

Qureshi was born in Birmingham, England, where her father studied radiology and her mother taught physical education and art before the family settled in Canada. In Toronto’s Moss Park neighbourhood, Qureshi’s Leaves of Trees boutique is an inviting, Zen-like sanctuary. “I designed it myself,” she says, referring to a floor-to-ceiling white-tile feature wall and plywood floors. When the fledgling business outgrew her tiny condo (and local craft fairs) in 2013, she bought the late-1800s building on first sight and spent a year renovating. That’s the thing about Qureshi, who still works two days a week as an occupational medical consultant at a nearby hospital—she’s a modern-day Renaissance woman.

Leaves of Trees founder Dr. Roohi Qureshi is the first to admit that “natural” doesn’t count for anything if the products don’t work.

A vacation in Morocco piqued Qureshi’s interest in the hair- and skin-nurturing wonders of argan oil, the impetus for Leaves of Trees. Drawing on her background in chemistry, she considered a number of manufacturing methods before settling on the women’s cooperative in that country that now extracts, by hand, the raw ingredient in exchange for fair wages. “Because I’m able to read scientific literature and understand it, I was able to knowledgeably identify good quality,” says the 46-year-old Qureshi. Where many products that list argan oil as an ingredient contain only trace amounts of it, Leaves of Trees offers 95 per cent pure argan oil, in addition to half a dozen argan-infused hand and body lotions scented with essential oils such as lavender or frankincense. Ingredients for all of the products—which include cleansers, exfoliators, moisturizers, deodorants, and balms—are mainly organic and are free of synthetic preservatives.

But Qureshi is the first to admit that “natural” doesn’t count for anything if the products don’t work. She was spurred to develop a collection of deodorants when customers told her that none of the all-natural versions they had tried were effective. “When there’s a problem, I like to look at ‘What’s the mechanism?’ The reason for body odour isn’t the sweat itself, it’s after, when the healthy bacteria normally living on your skin break down with the sweat, and the by-products created have an unpleasant odour,” she explains. She created a formula that merges antibacterial ingredients with others that absorb moisture. Sold in an apothecary-style metal tube, the lotion dissolves into a dry finish and doesn’t transfer onto clothing.

In addition to the Toronto locale, Leaves of Trees has a list of global stockists, the most recent being Goop’s e-store (and is said to be part of Gwyneth Paltrow’s offerings in her first bricks-and-mortar shop, set to open in Los Angeles later this year). This increased demand has precipitated further expansion. Instead of products being made on the lower level of the Leaves of Trees boutique, Qureshi has a new East End facility for production and this lower level will transform into a companion home goods department featuring cotton Turkish towels, cozy tartan blankets, and more. Laundry soap is set to debut this fall under the moniker LoT Home, and the founder hopes to have scented candles ready by the holidays. Qureshi can’t promise they’ll be delivered in time, though—there’s only one of her to go around.

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October 23, 2017