Lily Galef co-founded Hilma with Nina Mullen and Hilary Quartner two years ago after becoming dissatisfied with the options in her medicine cabinet. Instead of sugary syrups and pills or unscientific natural remedies, she and her colleagues wanted science-backed options that also used natural ingredients. Hilma offers customers “clinical herbals,” made of ingredients that have been clinically studied, for a variety of purposes such as relieving tension and soothing upset stomachs. We chatted with Lily to learn more about the vision behind Hilma and what she does to stay well in her own daily life.
What is the most important thing you’d like people to know about Hilma?
What we’re doing at Hilma is really upgrading your medicine cabinet with natural remedies that are backed by science. So, the key things that are really different and exciting about what we’re doing are that we’ve created a suite of products that we call your new medicine cabinet staples that are meant to be used in the moment, that are made with amazing, powerful natural ingredients and that are truly backed by science. And “backed by science” is kind of a nebulous term so I’ll explain exactly what that means. To us at Hilma it really means three things. The first is that we formulate all of our products at Hilma with our board of doctors, which is made up of MDs, herbalists, and PhDs. The second is that we only use natural ingredients, but we actually only use natural ingredients that are supported by existing clinical research. So the starting place is that our board of doctors does a deep dive into the literature on the most effective natural ingredients in the case we are applying them to. And then the final piece, which is our biggest differentiator in the space and the thing that’s most special about what we do, is we actually run our own clinical studies on our products ourselves. And that’s the thing that most brands in the natural space don’t make an investment in, for a lot of reasons. It’s very expensive and time-consuming and complicated and the FDA doesn’t require studies to be done on supplement brands. It’s definitely a big extra step that we take, but we do that because we think there’s a real appetite for natural remedies out there. There are a lot of people, probably like myself (prior to starting Hilma) and yourself who are really interested in a natural approach to their health who buy clean beauty products and clean household cleaning products etc., but don’t really have the time or resources to research what herbs they should be taking if they are having an upset stomach or a tension headache or if they feel a cold coming on. We take the most scientifically-backed herbs and minerals that are out there, put them together in a really accessible format, so someone can just say “oh, that’s upset stomach relief.” And it’s all natural, and it’s supported by doctors, and you know, easy breezy. That’s what we’ve created at Hilma.
Are Hilma products meant to fully replace traditional OTC medicines?
We see them as a natural option that can be used as a first line of defense or in partnership with OTC products. There are a lot of people who are uncomfortable taking some of the OTC products out there. Emergen-C, for example, is full of sugar and dyes and fillers and our immune support product is made with natural ingredients, no synthetics, and has less than one gram of sugar. For people who are really trying to make those natural and clean label choices, we see ourselves as a great option for them to use. We are very much in support of western medicine, however, and using Advil is wonderful and if you have a terrible migraine you should totally turn to it. But there are a lot of people who get their afternoon tension headache who don’t really feel comfortable taking a drug every day or a couple times a week. And so we see ourselves as a really nice option for that person to use.
What’s a fun fact about you that Hilma customers might not know?
Oh, that’s such a fun question. Well, I’m the oldest of five children and grew up in a very loud household with four siblings and four dogs. Having an early-stage startup is so chaotic and I think I’m well-suited to roll with the punches because of my upbringing.
How do you stay healthy and well?
It’s been such a crazy – I hate to say – almost year since the pandemic has struck. I’ve always been pretty focused on my health and wellness and yoga has been really important to me for the past several years. I try to eat more vegetables than anything else, although I’m not by any means plant-based or vegan. And I also, starting with some stress caused by the pandemic and everything that’s going on in the world, have started meditating which I actually really enjoy. And I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it because it’s something that I never considered. And one thing that’s just a weird quirk of mine is that I’m obsessed with staying hydrated so I have to have a bottle of water at my desk and I’m carrying it around in my bag and I’m very focused on that because I feel such a difference in my mood and my body when I feel like I’m hydrated vs not. And I guess another thing is that I’ve always been a really good sleeper, so I’ve always had the luxury of not realizing how important sleep is. But lately I’ve had some trouble sleeping and have been realizing how important it is. So I’ve been trying to put my phone away 30 minutes before I go to bed and plug it in in my bathroom so I do not have access to it and read a book or do some deep breathing or something before I go to bed. Because I find it really does help me have a better night’s sleep if I’m not staring at my phone.
We launched Hilma in January of 2020, so one month before everything kind of happened. For many reasons it’s been a really interesting time to start a business, but it has been fascinating to talk to some of our early customers and really hear about how people are so intensely leaning into health and wellness during this time, I think for a number of reasons. One, because everyone’s health is more at the top of their mind than ever, but also everyone is kind of stuck at home so there is this new time and space that you need to fill. And I think so many people have been turning to yoga or meditation or even just learning how to cook healthier recipes and finding some sort of self-care that they hadn’t necessarily been focusing on before. So I think that’s maybe a silver lining.
What is one trend in the wellness space you find to be a little “eye-roll emoji”?
The thing that I would roll my eyes at in the wellness space is there’s a lot of – I don’t know what to call it – I guess purism? Like people saying “you can never have sugar; sugar is the enemy,” or “you have to do this elimination diet,” or “you have to do xyz,” and “if you don’t take your probiotics every day, then you might as well not take them because consistency is so important.” There’s a lot of dogma, I think, around certain wellness trends that can be very exclusive and kind of intimidating to someone who just wants to live a healthier life and is interested in trying out supplements or trying out yoga or trying out meditation. And I think that what’s so important, and what we’ve really tried to embody in the wellness space at Hilma, is a level of accessibility and a level of just saying it’s okay if you get migraines and you take Advil, that’s totally fine. For your tension headache, try Hilma. If you don’t want to take whatever OTC you’re using for your acid reflux or your upset stomach, here’s an option that you can try. We’re not saying you have to throw out everything that you’ve used before, we’re just saying here’s an option that’s been informed by research that you can feel comfortable trying. And I think that approach is just a little bit more inclusive and little bit more accessible than some of what I’ve seen in the space. And also price accessible. There are a lot of really great wellness products out there that are just prohibitively expensive for most people. And we’ve really made an effort to price our products in a way that’s more accessible.
What is the one health product you think everyone should own?
I am going to give probably a predictable answer: Hilma’s Immune Support. What’s great about our products are that they are meant to be used in the moment, so if you struggle with an upset stomach or if you struggle with head tension or if you struggle with issues with pollon, we have a product for each of those things. But our immune support product is really great because it’s really something to be used every day for your immune system. And I think right now when everyone is so focused on their health and keeping their systems as strong as possible, immune support is a great place to start. At Hilma we’re very focused on this idea that there’s no magic pill for immunity, that it’s really all about a healthy lifestyle. But the reality is that your lifestyle is always going to fall short, there’s always going to be a night when you don’t get enough sleep, there’s always going to be a day when you feel really stressed out or when you indulge in Shake Shack or something like that. And that’s okay and that’s a part of life, but that’s kind of where Hilma’s immune support comes in because it’s there to supplement your system and make sure that you can stay healthy and strong even when your lifestyle isn’t necessarily perfect all the time. It’s made from some really amazing herbs and minerals. There’s some Vitamin C from the Camu Camu berry, which has one of the highest concentrations of Vitamin C of any fruit in the world. And we have zinc, echinacea, ginger, and ivy leaf extract. And it’s just such a great thing, especially if seasons are changing, just to incorporate into your daily routine.