This story is long overdue so you may need to sit down with a cup of tea, juice or wine if you prefer and apply your favorite green face mask as a tribute to us makers. It seems almost daily that I read about “clean beauty” and how the industry is thriving, rising, taking over mainstream beauty or is unstoppable with increased customer interest and celebrity approval. Well, in essence, that is all true, “Clean Beauty” is rising and people are jumping on board, taking notice and waiting. Waiting for a myriad of reasons; opportunity, investments and to see who will in fact, become the “Green Beauty Sephora.” This is big business, a breakthrough market and a fascinating story.
It wasn’t that long ago that Karen and I were newbies reaching out to beauty editors and retailers who brushed us off with claims that green beauty was a “passing trend” or that products like ours would not sustain the interest of “real” women or my favorite explanation of all time, “Thank you for your interest in our shop, but we feel that there isn’t a market for your type of product and your brand as lovely as it is, does not fit in with the modern consumer.” (Side note: that retailer is currently selling both clean and green beauty products like hotcakes!) It was true that during that time it seemed as though we as a brand didn’t fit in and needed to find our customer. Who was our customer and why did they need to know about us? That was my principle question and it would become our main focus. We were on a mission to find out and if you don’t know me or Karen there is one fundamental thing to know about us; we do not give up. That fact coupled with our experiences as educators made it quite clear that we had a long road ahead of us to reeducate people about beauty, products and their efficacy. We felt very much like David on his way to battle Goliath, small. The green beauty industry (I’ll be sure to explain my definition between green beauty vs clean beauty in this post, I promise) did not yet exist. There was no existing market for luxurious and high performing products, but we knew it was coming. Each time that Karen and I spoke to women about the products they were using and the ingredients being used in their products we saw the look of horror and confusion in their eyes. Heck, we experienced the same thing when it first dawned on us. This is a process I now refer to as, The Discovery Stage. The more and more we connected with women (and a fair share of men too) the more we realized that it was just a matter of time before the big secret was out. It was a dirty little secret too and one that big beauty companies didn’t want you to know about. Most of the products many of us had been using most of our lives were made from less than desirable ingredients (unless you desire petroleum, sodium lauryl sulfate, parabens and other preservatives I don’t know quite how to spell) packaged in pretty boxes and sold on the pristine shelves of glamorous stores. Why was this allowed? Who else knew about this? Who could we trust? So many questions and the answers are like an Agatha Christie novel, a damn good mystery. Let’s move on for now because this story has quite a few layers and I don’t want to fast-forward without laying out the foundation.
The moment Karen and I agreed to become LBF there were two things for us to do. The first was to become our own customer and the second was to create products that we as our own customer would want. So we did that. Unfortunately (and I write that with irony and subtle sarcasm) that meant that our ingredients were going to be of the finest quality and therefore, expensive. Oh, how I wish that wasn’t true, but it is! At $1,500 USD a litre we fell obsessed with the effects and results of our organic Barbary Fig Seed Oil. Then we fell in love with kakadu plum extract, raw avocado oil, cupuacu butter and the green coffee bean oil we use, which is unprocessed, undeodorized and unheated containing all of its essential cofactors within its sweet, rich oil. These ingredients in the state that they arrive to us are what power our high performance formulations. These are the treasures of the hard working producers and farmers that we seek for ingredient excellency. It also became our mission to know who are producers were. At this point we’ve toured plenty of farms to know what it takes to grow the most nutrient rich crops. The work is intensive, laborious and difficult to say the least. I wish it wasn’t the case to allow more folks access to nutritious food, but the farming industry as we all know is big business and not as focused on quality, sustainability or the environment as it is on cashing in on their crop. So, now you know the background for our uncomplicated strategy for product making. Putting the finest ingredients into our formulations. Simple, right? (Of course, there is a lot more that goes into the way we do things, but I’ll keep those secrets for the book I intend to write one day.) Ingredients are our main focus in product formulations. We say that over and over and over so much so that even the young interns we had this summer rolled that mantra off their lips like a prayer and meditation.
One day, Karen and I were in our weekly meeting when the idea for A Night For Green Beauty was born. It was a radical concept to collaborate with other brands like ours and take our stories directly to our customer. As a business person I have always focused on my customer. I knew we had interesting and motivating stories to tell and that people wanted to hear them. In order to produce an event where brands in a not-yet-existing market could showcase their products, connect directly with their customer and cross promote one another under an umbrella of “industry” well it took a lot of work. I remember getting in touch with Pressed Juicery in LA and pitching the idea to them. They were not yet outside of the California market, had no affiliation with any beauty brand, no financial incentive to collaborate with us yet agreed to sponsor our event in New York City. They graciously provided hundreds of fresh juices for our guests and covered the event it via The Chalkboard Magazine. We asked Katey Denno, who was an up and coming celebrity makeup artist based in New York at the time to be our MUA-in-residence and adorn the many faces of the fans and customers that would end up in her chair that evening. We asked her to do it gratis and she agreed! It was pretty amazing if you ask me. I personally called and spoke with every single brand owner/founder to connect about the idea. I wanted to get to know these risk takers/dreamers/forward thinkers as well as share the idea of a brand focused event. We had one rule. To cross promote one another and enter the event as a community. The few brands that said no because they didn’t feel comfortable cross-promoting a competitor brand came back the following year with full enthusiasm. I’m not a convincer of things. Either you believe or you don’t. Luckily so many people believed and that alone was extraordinary to me. We had two lion-hearted friends who helped make it all happen, Amy Dufault and Susan Linney. They used all of their NYC connections, contacts and beauty editor friends to bring this event from concept to reality. As a team we had many challenges with this event. These challenges turned into magnificent lessons and helped shape me as an entrepreneur, as well as shed any thin layers I might have had. Trust me, it was heart-breaking when the retailer I adored came to the event, but neglected to say hello to us because we weren’t her standard of a brand. (Never meet your idols they say for good reason. They’re only flawed humans like the rest of us.) For a moment we also thought it was all going to fall through with so many twists and turns happening daily. To be honest we were struggling with threats from the venue dropping out, cancelations from people we hoped would be present to a lack of ice cubes to keep all of our green juice from spoiling. Yep, not enough ice cubes in Manhattan for us! I’ll admit, there was a moment where I thought to myself, “what the hell did I just get us into?” Except I didn’t “think” the word, hell nor was it just one fleeting moment. If you were a guest who attended the event it all appeared flawless, spectacular and was executed beautifully. Thanks to a tight team. It really was a whirlwind of an event rich with reward, but no one knew all the snafus we experienced other than our team. All who kept their cool, rolled up their sleeves and paid me no mind when I got a bit snappy. The brands had no clue of the bizarre background antics that were transpiring or of how our heads were spinning from having to solve problem after problem after problem. We had a job to do and I will reiterate, we do not give up! Our aspirations were focused on connecting with our customer. This was a vital element to the success of our event. We wanted the customer to connect with other brand founders and hear in their voices the stories they had to tell. This was a public event and we were not charging people to enter our doors. (When opportunity knocks you don’t ask, “how much so I can let you in?”) We wanted the brand to connect with the customer and hear from them what they wanted and expected. Guess what? It came together! The venue was so jammed packed that the body heat of hundreds of customers made it feel like we were on a tropical island. The beauty editors and press that came couldn’t believe the crowd. We counted close to 500 people attended the first ANFGB in NYC. The customers were delighted to meet the real people behind the products they were falling in love with. The brands were inspired by the passion of their customer. The retailers were excited that a viable market was open for business. It was a great party and it wouldn’t have happened had we not participated in a community based collaboration. Karen and I are big believers in collaboration. I thank my 5th grade teacher Mr. Lidenger for teaching me about true teamwork. (He passed away some time ago, but will always remain my favorite.) It was a risk that paid off and we produced ANFGB again two more times to the delight of all each year growing bigger and moving to new cities and raising money for charities. This was not a business, it was an opportunity and an experience. One that I hold dearly in my heart with invaluable lessons learned and many fond memories. I am a sentimentalist after all.
This part of our building block is simply called foundation. We laid out who we were as brands with a level of transparency unaccustomed in the beauty industry. With one simple focus in mind, to connect with our customer and it was successful. Success is a word I tend to ignore. My version of success seems to differ from what others would associate with that word. I guess to some, “success” would mean we made a ton of money that day, partnered with dozens of retailers and were plastered on the pages of Vogue. Not exactly, but it was even better than that. We found you and you found us. We were the “Green Beauty” makers that captured your hearts, held your faith and factored you in with the way we were creating a business. As we all know trust is the unassailable element of any relationship. Which brings me to Part II of this blog post. I will post it tomorrow because this is already too long and there is so much more to this story.