Leo Weinstein 1942 - 2004
Herbal cosmetic pioneer Leo Weinstein, founder and president of Levlad, Inc., a major manufacturer of natural cosmetics, died in Los Angeles on July 30 at the age of 61 after a long battle with cancer.
Mr. Weinstein's life story is an inspiration to all would be entrepreneurs, especially those who have immigrated to the United States. Leo and his brother Vladimir were émigrés, born in Uzbekistan, and after emigrating to Poland, arrived almost penniless in California in 1961. Twelve years later, they virtually helped pioneer the natural personal care industry with the creation of their first product, Rainwater Herbal Shampoo. At the time they owned a Venice Beach herb shop, and after a rare California downpour, they decided to combine pure rainwater with herbal extracts and came up with a unique shampoo. As a graduate of California Slate University at Northridge, Leo provided his business acumen while Vladimir, a UCLA trained physicist, developed and refined the formula. The shampoo, first sold at the Weinsteins' herb shop, quickly became popular in health and natural food stores nationwide, and the brothers soon found themselves on the cutting edge of the natural beauty products industry.
Weinstein was one of the first cosmetic manufacturers to create his products with an environmental and planetary vision, with no animal testing, animal byproducts, potentially harsh preservatives, or artificial colorings. In addition to his own Nature's Gate brand, Weinstein's company developed an extremely successful private label business, producing herb-based cosmetics for many other companies.
Weinstein's sister Linda Etting recounted his business philosophy: "He would always say, 'Look at the big picture,' when he was being pressured in the market by increasing competition from other manufacturers. He said that 'We'll take it slowly, and our time will come.' He was big-hearted and helped many people out financially, even when he didn't have any money himself."
Weinstein was widely admired and respected in the natural products industry. Evidence of his friendship with so many people is seen in the fact that over 500 people attended his funeral, and all in attendance stood and clapped for 20 minutes to express their respect to his memory, according to Etting.
One of Weinstein's first distributors back in 1973 was Rishi Schweig, founder of Feather River, a former Northern California distributing company specializing in natural body care products. When he learned of Weinstein's death, Schweig wrote, "There is nothing about Leo that could make me sad. Creative, intelligent, innovative, friendly and dedicated to his family and his work, Leo always made me and others around him happy. It has been a gift to know him and to work together with him. We first met in 1973, very early in the history of Nature's Gate. While I would tease them about the water they were using in their wildly popular Rainwater Shampoo and Rainwater Conditioner (Los Angeles rainwater?), I knew that they were giving our industry some substance and quality it sorely needed. This was a time before Tom made his first toothpaste, when artificial color and harsh ingredients were common in personal care and cosmetics, yet still called 'natural.'"
Santosh Krinsky, owner of Lotus Light, one of the nation's largest distributors of natural specialty and body care products, opined on Weinstein's strong commitment to natural ingredients: "Leo cared deeply about the quality and purity of the products he produced. He wanted to provide alternatives to the harsh chemical based personal care products sold in the mass market, and to show that these alternatives could and would be adopted by caring people everywhere. He was a pioneer and had to over-come incredible odds to turn his passion into a successful and continuing business."
Leo Weinstein is survived by his wife Lela, his children Jason, Robb, and Lisa, his brother Vladimir, along with his mother and his two sisters, Linda Etting and Rosalyn Feldman.
By Mark Blumenthal