The pandemic may not seem like a great time to start a business—and between virtual schooling and washing masks, who would have the time? Two Dallas moms decided to make the time. And with their product—a chic, better-smelling hand sanitizer called Meli Hands—they feel good about their future as mompreneurs.
We chatted with Maria Sideris and Vanessa Thanos about the creation of Meli Hands and how they balance their passion project with their day jobs and families.
Are you from Dallas originally? Maria Sideris: I’m actually from San Diego. I moved here for work five years ago and married my husband Dino, who’s from Dallas, and quickly made it feel like home. Vanessa Thanos: Like Maria, I’m a California girl, and originally from Los Angeles. I also moved here for work about three years ago. While I of course miss seeing my family who still live in Los Angeles, I absolutely love the Dallas community and family I’ve built.
How did you meet? MS: Ironically enough, we met in Dallas but soon found out that we had so many mutual friends back in California. Our children attend Holy Trinity Academy, so we officially met there in passing, like any rushed mother would! From there, we became fast friends, and recognizing each other’s entrepreneurial spirit, soon began talking about launching a business together.
You are both busy working moms, with jobs in addition to Meli Hands. How did you find time to launch a new venture—of all times, during the pandemic? MS: We didn’t find the time… Ha! But Meli Hands was something we were both passionate about, so we made the time. Now, instead of talking about clothes and shoes over a margarita, we talk about manufacturing, packaging and technology. You know, the fun stuff surrounding building a business!
VT: It’s taken lots of eye cream! When homeschooling and our day jobs are complete, and the kids are fed, bathed and in bed, it’s time to start working on Meli Hands. When we were first getting things off the ground, our kids were thrilled because they got to have all-day playdates together on weekends while Maria and I got to work.
When did you come up with the idea for a more appealing hand sanitizer, and how did it evolve into your partnership? MS: We’ve been talking about starting a business for over a year now. Vanessa and I work really well together, and we knew we would balance out each other’s personalities and strengths in a strong and professional way. We actually came up with the idea for Meli Hands on a walk during quarantine. We started talking about hand sanitizers, and how we hated how most of them smelled and felt, not to mention that the plastic bottles were an eyesore everywhere we went.
It’s interesting, because while the product quickly became a necessity, there were none on the market that took care of germs and your skin. It was then that we knew we could do better, and that there was a real place for Meli Hands in today’s world.
How did you manage to change the smell and feel in your formula? It seems like if that were easy to do, everyone would have already done it. VT: Well, we first had to do a lot of research, and then a lot of trial and error. We sourced quite a few different sanitizers, studied their ingredients and feel, and then decided what we liked and didn’t like about each formula. Thankfully, we have a couple of “chemical experts” in the family that could answer our questions about ingredients.
The other aspect we wanted to fix was the smell, so we sourced a fragrance lab that specializes in all-natural aroma ingredients and essential oils. Working with them, we were able to create our signature Meli scents, and it was actually a lot of fun. We then put the scents and antiseptic ingredients together to come up with the perfect Meli Hands formula.
MS: It wasn’t easy to create that perfect formula. It is easy, however, to underestimate creating and managing all aspects of a business until you’re really in the trenches. One of our first challenges we had to overcome was finding a co-packer. We received dozens of “no’s” because we didn’t want to use their “house” sanitizer, or because the volume we were looking for was too small. It would have been really, really easy to give up.
We ultimately decided to visit the next co-packer in-person to make it more difficult for them to tell us no face-to-face—and it worked! Our determination and passion are as much a part of the “formula” as the physical ingredients.
VT: We really hold each other accountable, and even though it’s tough to run a new business on top of our full-time jobs and families, we believe in our product and our brand. The positive feedback we get from friends, family and customers gives us all the momentum we need to make this a huge success while filling a real gap in the market.
Your hand sanitizers also have an upgraded look. Why is that important—how does it figure into your business strategy? MS: This was something that was built into our strategy very early, as chic packaging is not only nice to have, but also plays an important part in our brand story. First of all, it’s gorgeous! Have you seen the color of our bottles? Second, we live in Dallas, and it gets hot! We had so many friends sending us photos of other sanitizers that were melting in their cars.
But, most importantly, we use glass bottles to be more sustainable. Early on in the Meli Hands journey, we were told that it could take up to a year to source plastic bottles, and this really opened our eyes to the amount of plastic being used. We quickly committed to using glass wherever we could, even if it meant our product was slightly more expensive and more difficult to ship. We are extremely proud of our beautiful glass bottles!
VT: Now that sanitizer is a big part of our everyday lives, we wanted to make one that we were excited to use, every single time. Our signature cobalt blue bottles do just that, and we think the rich color gives our bottles an extra luxurious feel. We’re all about the little details that make our products stand out, and the evil eye charms hanging on each bottle put a smile on our face each time we use them. Fun fact: The “mati,” or evil eye, is a symbol to ward away evil!
Any plans to expand into other products? VT: Absolutely! We’re currently planning the launch of cleansing wipes, followed by other personal care products. Additionally, we have a holiday line coming out in red and green bottles with scents of frosted peppermint and Christmas tree, launching very soon! Meli Hands is here to stay—we think we’ve really found our niche of creating products that are as equally enjoyable to use as they are effective, as well as environmentally friendly.
Even after the pandemic ends, it seems people will be in the habit of sanitizing their hands. MS: COVID has opened our eyes to so many things, a major one being that we need to be more conscious of cleaning our hands. It’s such a simple thing that everyone can do, and we hope we can play a small part in keeping people healthy far beyond COVID. We’re also seeing a huge interest in our products for activities where people are looking to safely gather, like weddings or corporate events, which we think will only increase as people start to venture out more.
What advice do you have for other women who want to become “mompreneurs”? MS: Just do it! Don’t wait for the “perfect” moment, because there will never be one. There will always be obstacles in the way, and we could easily think of a million excuses not to have started Meli Hands. We have five children between the two of us (all age 7 and under), we work 40-plus hours a week for our day jobs, we have husbands… The list goes on! We would still be waiting to launch if we had been hanging on for that “perfect” moment.
What do you think this venture is teaching your kiddos—in terms of identifying a need and solving the problem, the importance of small businesses, women-led organizations and so on? MS: We love this question so much. Both of our husbands not only help out, but, more importantly, have supported us every step of the way, and that in itself shows our children what “teamwork” really means.
VT: We truly believe that we’re teaching our kids the art of hard work—while they’re on playdates, they watch Maria and me set up an assembly line in the living room. They see us putting in those extra hours to follow our dreams, and we hope that we’re instilling the belief that if you put in the effort, it will pay off! My oldest child, Vicky, was even inspired to start her own company this summer after seeing us launch ours. We have to say, we’re pretty impressed with her vigor. Her business is on hold during school months!
MS: It’s definitely taken a lot of compromise to make things work while still taking care of our day jobs and families, but we know that we’re doing the right thing. We’re so fulfilled knowing that our children are watching their mommies go after something that they’re passionate about. We have four girls between the two of us, and we hope that we’re setting the best example to empower them to one day be their own mompreneur, as well as to follow their dreams, always think bigger, and know that if they set their mind to it, they can accomplish anything.
Photo courtesy of Charles Preston Photography.