People + Places
Say hello to Vy Nguyen, a talented entrepreneur with a unique journey, from her birthplace in Norway to a new life in Ireland. Vy is the founder of Literary Lip Balms, a brand that creates thoughtful, book-inspired lip balms and soaps which reflect her passion for literature and creativity.
November 14, 2023
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Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with good friend and budding entrepreneur, Vy Nguyen. She was kind enough to share her enchanting tale.
Vy is a talented individual whose passion for books and creativity led her to establish a unique business, Literary Lip Balms. Inspired by her favourite fairy tales and books, Literary Lip Balms offers a delightful range of lip balms and soaps, each crafted to tell a story, evoke emotions, and whisk you away to literary worlds.
In our interview, Vy shares her experiences and insights on everything from her academic background in media technology and design, her early career in digital marketing, and ultimately, her success as a business owner.
I couldn’t wait to hear how it all started.
From a tranquil town in Norway to the buzzing streets of Dublin
The 35-year-old Norwegian grew up in Bergen, Norway, a picturesque town nestled among mountains and coastal views. After completing a Bachelor's degree in media technology and design, Vy initially began her professional journey as a graphic designer in a small print shop.
This led to a position at one of Norway's leading performance agencies where she became a consultant for numerous companies, dealing with aspects like paid advertising, website optimisation, and content strategy.
Working with the performance agency was rewarding, and Vy could have built a remarkable career there. However, tempted by her long-standing dream of living and working abroad, she made the bold decision to move to Ireland in 2016 where she quickly snagged a job at Google. But it was not long before she was wooed by the allure of art and craftsmanship.
Inspired by the bustling markets and the creative spirit of Dublin city, Vy tells me how she found herself yearning to contribute to this vibrant artistic community. Captivated by the creative community and craftsmanship in Ireland, she was eventually lured, ‘almost accidentally’, into starting her own business.
Vy attributes this to the entrepreneurial spirit in Ireland. She quickly fell in love with the distinct sense of community in Ireland and the respect for craftsmanship. The prevalence of independent shops, coffee houses, and restaurants offer a stark contrast to her native Norway, where the high level of comfort and security afforded to its citizens often means people are unwilling to take risks or pursue entrepreneurship.
When Stories and Scents Collide
Where did the inspiration for Literary Lip Balms come from?, I ask next.
Enchanted by the magic of stories and inspired by the creative backdrop of Dublin, Vy began crafting lip balms inspired by literary tales.
She recalls reading an article about natural perfume and making your own perfumes, and it sparked something in her. Vy envisioned a unique fusion of storytelling and aromas, encapsulated in lip balms inspired by books. "The beauty of scents is that they can transport you to a different time or place. It’s like magic, how a smell can evoke memories and feelings that you thought were long forgotten."
When Vy introduced her first products as Christmas gifts, she was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response from her friends and online network. “I accidentally built up my customer base. That was not the point where I realised it was a business”, she recalls. So she thought to herself “Okay, well, I’ll make it nice to shop, and whoever wants to buy it can buy it”.
“For the first two or three years," she explains, "I didn't have my own website, I just sold on Etsy as a side hustle. And it just gradually built momentum to the point where it was taking up a lot of my time.” Balancing her day job, part-time courses, and the burgeoning demands of her side business, Vy found herself at a crossroads. So, she made the pivotal decision to fully commit to Literary Lip Balms.
Not all fairytales – embracing the challenges too
Admittedly, the transition has not been without challenges.
Our conversation quickly turns toward the ups and downs of running your own business.
"Being an entrepreneur has taught me the importance of resilience. You have to bounce back from disappointments, adapt to changes, and keep moving forward. It’s a continuous process of learning and growing."
“I love having my own business and managing my own time. I think that's one of the key benefits of being an entrepreneur. No one else is in charge of your schedule. You can establish your own routines on the days where you feel good. You can work less on the days where you have less energy.”
"In entrepreneurship, every day is a new challenge. You have to wear many hats – the creative hat, the business hat, the customer service hat. It keeps you on your toes, and I love that dynamic aspect of it."
Building a reliable network and embracing the emotional rollercoaster that comes with entrepreneurship has been crucial, Vy tells me. She believes reaching out to others for support when you’re feeling overwhelmed is so important.
“When you're working on your own, you need someone to encourage you and say this is very well done, that you've achieved something. And when you're feeling low, you need that support from others who can understand your situation.”
In addition to leaning on her community, Vy also embraces failure.
"Failure is a part of the journey. It’s not the end; it’s a lesson. Every time I faced a setback, I learned something valuable. It’s what makes success so much sweeter – it’s the triumph over all those moments of doubt and struggle."
Making a positive impact
Vy’s conscious approach to business echoes in every lip balm, every scent, and every interaction.
"When you create something, it's like a little piece of you going out into the world. It's an amazing feeling to think that something I created is in someone else's hands, and it’s a part of their story too."
She also believes entrepreneurship goes beyond profits—it's about forging connections, supporting communities, and leaving a positive impact on the world.
"I want my customers to feel like they are a part of a community, a community that appreciates art, literature, and creativity. It’s not just about selling a product; it’s about sharing an experience and a passion."
"One of the most fulfilling aspects of my work is the connection I have with my customers. Hearing their stories and how my lip balms have become a part of their daily rituals is incredibly heartwarming. It’s a reminder of why I started this journey in the first place."
"I believe in the power of handmade products. There's something special about knowing the person who made your product, and knowing that it wasn’t mass-produced in a factory somewhere, but crafted with care and passion."
Books – a window into different worlds
Perhaps not surprising to hear from such an avid reader, Vy is passionate about education. This stems from her own experience as a child. As a second-generation immigrant, she was afforded the education and unique opportunities her parents, who came to Norway from Vietnam as refugees, didn’t have.
Vy cherishes the accessibility of free education, which she believes should be available to all, and tells me about the special role libraries played in her personal growth.
However, she laments the lack of diversity in children’s books and advocates for more diverse representation in literature. For example, books featuring characters from different backgrounds.
Reading promotes empathy, compassion, and a broader understanding of diverse perspectives, she tells me. By crafting products inspired by such literature, Vy hopes to contribute to this essential cause.
"Reading is a journey in itself. It takes you to places you might never physically visit, and you meet characters who become your friends. That’s the kind of magic I wanted to capture in my lip balms."
Blending hard work with self-care
With such a busy schedule, I wonder if Vy has any spare time for hobbies and what she does when she is not knee deep in her business?
What else do you enjoy beyond the world of scents and stories? I ask.
Vy tells me her weekends are filled with creative pursuits and self-reflection, such as reading, writing, drawing, and exploring new foods. As a confessed introvert, her hobbies mainly involve spending time alone, recharging her creative energy, and focusing on her own projects.
But I was also surprised to learn that this calm, soft-spoken and gentle soul also finds solace in the art of boxing. A lesson to never judge a book by its cover!
Contrary to the sport's aggressive reputation, Vy views boxing as a discipline that provides focus and mental clarity.
Her calm demeanour is a striking contrast to the intensity of the sport.
Adopting sustainable habits in all facets of life
Finally, our conversation shifts toward sustainability. In recent years, Vy tells me, she has grown more conscious of sustainability, particularly since moving to Ireland.
As a staunch advocate for sustainability, she emphasises the importance of conscious consumer choices. In a world dominated by fast fashion and disposable trends, Vy encourages individuals to embrace mindful shopping habits.
"Sustainability is not just a trend; it’s a responsibility. As a business owner, I feel accountable for the impact my products have on the environment. It’s about making choices that are good for the Earth and future generations."
But she also believes the key to sustainable living is not to make drastic changes overnight. “The general rule is just one step at a time. You don’t have to go out and buy a whole new sustainable wardrobe. That's not going to solve anything,” Vy advises. Instead, she advises taking small, intentional steps to reduce waste and make sustainable choices in daily life.
“Sustainable fashion for me is not something that happens overnight. It's being more aware of the brands you buy from, where the clothes are produced, and what kind of materials they are made from.”
Sustainable fashion, according to Vy, is about making thoughtful choices regarding the brands you support and the materials used in your clothing. She emphasises the importance of considering where a product is manufactured and whether it has been ethically produced.
Beyond that, she says "Sustainability, to me, is a way of life. It's about being mindful of our choices, whether it's recycling, conserving energy, or supporting eco-friendly initiatives. It's a collective effort that starts at home and ripples into the world around us."
Finally, I ask Vy what she loves most about the brand and what her favourite Bon+Berg piece is.
“I love that Bon + Berg products are so comfortable. They don't just feel like they’re functional, they're wearable, and something that just makes up such a basic important part of the wardrobe. I don't like frills and lace or patterns. I just want underwear that's fairly priced and that feels good on my skin.”
“One of my problems is that I can’t get bra straps to fit correctly. I have narrower shoulders and they usually slip down even if I tighten them. But I don't have that problem with the Aura Triangle Bra since you can wear it criss crossed.”