SIX YEARS AGO, SHE WAS LIVING IN A SHELTER. NOW SHE’S THE CEO OF HER OWN BEAUTY LINE

I was 21 when I entered a women’s shelter. With nothing but a few dollars, I started a cosmetics brand. Today, my company is worth millions. This is my story

Brandi Leifso / Evio Beauty

was born in rural Ontario. The closest town was Elmwood, population approximately 250. When I was six months old, my parents split up, and my mother took me and my two sisters to live in a shelter in Walkerton. Soon afterward, we moved to Alberta, just outside of Edmonton, to be closer to her family. The years that followed were challenging and fractured, time split between my parents, step-parents and grandparents. They were all kind in their own ways, but by age 17, I was eager to find a life somewhere else. I had been working for a photographer who owned a modelling agency in Vancouver, and he liked my work ethic and had told me to call him if I ever needed a job. So I did. His agency needed an assistant immediately. I went home and told my mom I was moving. She didn’t try to stop me. I packed my meagre belongings into my silver Hyundai Accent—hot-pink flame decals running down the sides—and drove 12 hours west to Vancouver.

The author and her sisters, July 1994

Through Craigslist, I found a dingy apartment with broken blinds in a subsidized housing complex in Surrey’s Whalley neighbourhood. I slowly worked my way up the agency’s ladder, and by the time I was 19, I was managing my own roster of models. I also finished my high school diploma through correspondence, studying at night and passing my exams after a few tries.

In 2010, a close friend introduced me to her cousin, a man in his 40s who had just moved back to Vancouver from New York, where he had run a series of successful businesses. He was intelligent, charismatic and passionate—unlike anyone I’d ever known—and we clicked immediately. We talked and laughed for hours. For our first trip together, he took me to Palm Springs and Las Vegas, spending thousands of dollars on hotels, food and entertainment. But for all the extravagance, what I was really attracted to was the way he saw me: as capable and smart. He was always encouraging me and telling me all the things I could do. I was swept away.

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