Style Voices

Thursday 26 April 2018

Our #WCW: Dublin businesswoman Ellen Kavanagh shares her inspiring story

We're adding our own twist on #WomanCrushWednesday - highlighting real Irish women and their inspiring stories

Ellen Kavanagh
Ellen Kavanagh
Ellen with her then three-week-old son Cooper in 2013
Ellen Kavanagh. Illustration: Holly Shortall

Holly Shortall

Women are used to being told they can’t “have it all” but Ellen Kavanagh is on a one woman mission to prove otherwise.

The mother-of-one and founder of Waxperts is one of Ireland’s hardest working businesswomen. Whether she’s in the office, at home, or plugged into a multiple of social media outlets - she is always ‘on’ and receptive to the questions posed to her by her thousands of online followers.

Ellen, 35, from Rathfarnham, tells us how she manages a healthy work/life balance, how she copes with having 10,000 people following her every move and why she’d rather inspire her followers than influence them.

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Ellen Kavanagh. Illustration: Holly Shortall

How Her Business Came About:

I didn't go to college after school. Like many, I began working in retail as soon as I left. I returned to college eventually, when I was 24, to study beauty.  I opened our Waxperts salon in 2008, right at the height of the recession. It was basically impossible to get any bank loans or help. Rents and rates were still extremely high and it was a really stressful time. I felt very alone and only had the support of my family and clients who believed in me. I was married at the time but that ended very abruptly and without warning shortly after I opened my business. So, not only did I find myself with the challenge of starting a business, I also had to rebuild my life from scratch. I had never even lived on my own before so everything was new and terrifying. Looking back, I think those couple of years have taught me a lifetime's worth of lessons in tenacity, bravery and self belief.


On Balancing Family Life with Work:

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Conrad Jones and Ellen Kavanagh are currently planning their Dublin-based wedding. Photo: Steve Humphreys

I’m engaged to a wonderful man Conrad, and together we have our little boy, Cooper. Conrad also has four other amazing children, who are aged from 15 to 22.  My own father was a hotelier and publican (I must get my entrepreneurial streak from him). He sadly passed away from MS when I was just 16 and that changed my life as I knew it forever. In terms of finding that work/life balance, I just try and do the best I can with each aspect of my day. So, if I'm with Cooper, I give him all of my attention and when I'm in work I give that all my attention. It's hard for any parent to balance it all and not feel guilty at times. Luckily, my mum helps us out and we would be lost without her. I'm also really lucky in that I adore my job so I never have a day where I don't want to go into work. If Cooper is sick or my family needs me, then work will just have to wait. My family are always my priority.


On Her Snapchat Popularity:

I originally joined Snapchat because Trish, the other half of Waxperts, and I were heading to Las Vegas for a trade show and meetings so I thought it would be fun to show people what we got up to. I then decided to open a personal account, as I figured it was the most sensible thing to do. I had absolutely no idea it would become such a big thing. I've been on it since August and at present I have nearly 10,000 people watching my every move. My snaps are a mix of work life, home life and nonsense! Through Snapchat, I’ve made some wonderful friends that I feel I've known forever.


The Ups and Downs of Social Media:

Social Media is great for brand awareness – it’s basically word of mouth through a loud speaker. I love that our stockists and clients can get in touch with us so easily, and that we get to connect with them. I also love helping people and social media gives you that ability to advise others and answer their questions. I'm pretty lucky I haven't had any negative feedback. I know some of my friends have and it's very tough. But you need to remind yourself that it's people hiding behind a screen and they don't think of the impact their words might have. I think anyone on social media feels that the positives far outweigh the negatives.


Her Advice for Aspiring Businesswoman:

If you're passionate and believe in your business or idea, then the world is your oyster. There is a brilliant mentor programme called Going for Growth, which is for Irish women in business. It's run by Paula Fitzsimons and it pairs female start-up entrepreneurs with experienced businesswomen, who give mentor coaching for six months. This cycle, I had Louise Phelan from PayPal as my mentor. She is an incredible businesswoman, leader and mentor. I've learned so much from her. It is an amazing programme that has help transform our business. (For rural start ups people should check out


On being a ‘Social Influencer’:

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Ellen with her then three-week-old son Cooper in 2013

I have no idea why I am popular! I don't really think about that! To be honest, I'm just myself online and I don't pretend to be anything I'm not. I try to reply to everyone and if I can help, I do. I suppose people see that I didn't go to college and I'm a bit of a grafter and not afraid of hard work. But they see that I aim big and believe in our brand and the impact it's having in the industry. Also, a lot of young mums follow me too, so that's lovely. I'd hope not to influence per say but to inspire. I certainly don't have all the answers!

What's next?

At Waxperts, we grasp every opportunity with both hands, so who knows what's around the corner? We love doing TV and radio bits for work. What seems like 100 years ago, I did a course in tv production, so I’m comfortable in that space. I'm a firm believer in the mantra: ‘Say yes and figure it out after’. This year I did a lot of public speaking for different events and companies, so there will be more of that next year too. We have big goals for Waxperts and are set for serious expansion and new products to launch.  I reckon the next 5 years will be busy but fun!


Do you know someone who should be our #WCW? Tweet us @Indo_Style_ and let us know

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