Evija Mehra (Class of 1998) – 20 years later, from beauty products to natural wines
Evija Mehra (Evija Ručevska when she graduated from SSE Riga in 1998) has had a truly international career – she went on from accolades (honours and dean’s list) in Riga to the Norwegian Business School for a master’s degree, to plunging into cosmetics and beauty product marketing with L’Oreal as the only Latvian/Baltic person to be picked from 400 Norwegian applicants.
So it only makes sense that she is now the co-founder of a natural wines company and thinking of going into some business related to nutrition, wellness and exercise. As an initially troublesome Skype video link to her in New York is set up, children can be heard in the background. That too – a boy and twin girls – has been part of Evija’s life track since leaving SSE Riga.
Evija’s connection to the beauty business is not by chance: she was Miss Latvia 1998, a time when the recently independent country was emulating certain Western institutions that have since faded. She was also a judge for a Miss Universe contest in Latvia. Cosmetics were part and parcel of beauty contests, so Evija watched, learned and was a consumer herself. “Growing up in Latvia, I saw how discerning Latvian women were, how they researched products and used something from all segments of the market – make-up, fragrance and skin care,” she recalls.
After joining L’Oreal, Evija got insights into how varied the world’s women were in tastes and uses of beauty products. “Russian women take care of themselves and are more into fragrance. Other markets, like Brazil, are into colour or nail polish. Not having nail polish is considered disgusting in Brazil. In Korea, some women use up to 20 skin care products every day,” she says.
Loaded with this knowledge and after moving to the US, Evija founded The Makeup Coach company in 2009 to teach modern women “how to shop for and apply the right makeup in the right way for them”, according to the company’s website. Still in touch with Latvia, where she has family and friends, Evija admires what the Latvian beauty care company Madara is doing. “Madara is amazing, they are doing well, and they hopped onto the trend of going natural, back to nature. Baltic culture is nature-oriented, we spend our weekends out in nature. I also value the fragrance and beauty care company Dzintars (which means amber in Latvian). I always visit them when I am in Latvia, they still have what I consider the best lip gloss. The company has been shifting to skin care and new fragrances,” Evija says.
Continuing with the “natural theme”, Evija has recently been working as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Critical Mass Selections, a company that imports and distributes “natural” wines. Asked whether wine, or fermented grape juice, is not natural by definition, Evija is quick to point out that most commercially produced and sold wines have chemical additives, mostly sulphates, to ensure uniformity of flavour. “Natural producers let the wine have its own life. There is only a tiny amount of sulphates, which means these wines produce less of a hangover,” she says, adding that there are three grades of wines that are not made according to mass market standards – organic, natural and bio-dynamic (the latter being the highest state of “naturalness”).
For Evija, going into the natural wine business took her back to her SSE Riga roots. “As minority co-owner of a natural wine business, I started helping with their financing and fundraising. That took me back to my accounting exam at SSE Riga. The company was run by natural wine lovers and needed to work on financing and growth. I have been with them for three years now and I am back to hardcore finance and business planning,” she says.
Natural wines are just beginning to take a noticeable market share in bigger US cities such as New York and Chicago, where some selected bars serve only “naturals”. By 2020, it is expected that natural wines will have 5% of the US market.
Twenty years out of SSE Riga, Evija is thinking of slowing down and also of the next thing she wants to do. “I am winding down with the wine company because of my children,” she says, pointing out that in the fast-lane business life of New York, it is easy to lose the balance between work and family. But while resolving to avoid this possible “trap” herself, Evija also sees a business opportunity, and for her, the next venture may be into health, nutrition and wellness to relieve the stress of the high-powered urban lifestyle.