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Stars — they’re just like us. Case in point: Hilary Duff has been a staple in the entertainment industry for more than two decades and has racked up numerous accolades, but she can’t seem to wrap her mind around her own success. “It takes me literally years to step back and realize I’ve done something good and successful,” she says. “But I think that’s what keeps me going and ignit[es] the fire.”
We met at a swanky hotel in a plush suite perched above SoHo in New York City to discuss her latest gig as chief brand director for Below 60°, a line of 100% natural air fragrance devices boasting complex scent profiles ranging from grapefruit, lily and sandalwood to mint, lavender and glacial waters. The brand is starting simple with three different fragrances — and big plans for growth.
For Duff, adding brand director to her resume is only fitting. As a successful actor, she knows a thing or two about brand savviness and business acumen. “Getting to be involved in the creative process in designing the scents was definitely a bonus for me, because that’s the kind of involvement that I like — I get to be bossy, and I get to be creative — and that works for me,” she says with a tongue-in-cheek intonation.
“I work from the heart and my feelings.”
This is certainly not Duff’s first foray into the business world — she’s dabbled in everything from perfumes to clothing lines to children’s books, and much more. But as with any career marked by longevity, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. After years of playing the eponymous lead in the hit Disney Channel show Lizzie McGuire, she wanted to try her hand at music, which proved to be a less-than-seamless transition.
“It was so hard to get people to take me seriously as a singer because [I was] on TV, and now it’s like you have to be a singer and actress, an entrepreneur, have a skincare line, be a dancer. You have to be able to do it all in order to have anyone pay attention to you,” she explains. “So I think that I was really fighting to be taken seriously.”
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Like the entertainment industry, the world of entrepreneurship can be precarious — sometimes you’re up, and sometimes you’re down. But it’s all about staying nimble, she says, and using failures as fuel. “I never think that pivoting is a bad thing, and I never think that failing is a bad thing, and I never think you can get something right the first time,” she says. “If you know you work hard and you know you don’t give up, you should constantly evolve and change, and I don’t think that’s ever going to hurt you, and I think it would probably help you.”
Emma McIntyre | Getty Images
Although actors and musicians have hawked products for decades through brand deals, endorsements and sponsorships, more recently, those public figures have parlayed their entertainment careers into entrepreneurial success stories. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, Ryan Reynolds, Jessica Simpson, George Clooney, Jessica Alba — and the list goes on and on — have traded representing a brand with being a bona fide founder, conceptualizing and cultivating companies from nascence to, in some cases, billion-dollar valuations.
The driving force behind this shift seems to be a desire to exert more influence and creative control. Duff has also identified this deep desire in herself, recognizing she is ultimately the master of her own universe. “As I get older, I realize my power and my strength are creating things on my own and making them happen for myself,” she says.
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“As I get older, I realize my power and my strength are creating things on my own and making them happen for myself.”
For now, the actor-entrepreneur, who refers to herself as “a creative,” looks forward to putting that ingenuity into practice as the product offerings for Below 60° continue to proliferate. And as someone who has been employed since childhood, it’s clear that creativity, a strong work ethic and balancing multiple priorities are all critical skills that she has honed over time — but not without learning some difficult lessons along the way.
In fact, there is one thing, in hindsight, the superstar wishes she could’ve told her younger self. “Being young is such a confusing time as is, and then you layer on top of it having a public job and not being able to always control the narrative or what people are saying about you or how well something does,” she says. “I think I would just be like, ‘You make it out alive.'”
“My answer is going to be so unrelatable,” she says, with a marked level of self-awareness. “My assistant, honestly…we just check things off the list. I could never keep my world’s orbit going round without my assistant.”
What she’s reading:
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
What she’s listening to:
What keeps her motivated:
“It’s probably quite unhealthy,” she caveats, “but never feeling successful enough. When I step back, I’m really proud of everything that I’ve done. I’m proud of my career. I’m proud of how long I’ve been here. But I haven’t ticked all the boxes yet.”
0:00 – Intro
0:15 – Hilary Duff discusses her partnership with Below 60°
1:28 – Duff talks about her role as chief brand director
2:55 – The actor-entrepreneur describes the product offerings and reveals which is her favorite
4:35 – Duff shares why the natural element of Below 60° is important to her
5:50 – Duff reveals her advice for prospective entrepreneurs looking to make a career change
6:50 – The actor-entrepreneur opens up about setbacks she experienced in the past and what she’s learned from them
7:45 – Duff talks about one of her most essential productivity hacks
8:30 – Duff discusses what keeps her motivated in business
9:35 – The actor shares the advice she wishes she could’ve given her younger self
10:12 – Outro