Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.
The next time you go to re-stock your mascara, you'll also be helping a woman in need. That is, if the mascara is by Thrive Causemetics. The vegan, cruelty-free beauty brand founded by Karissa Bodnar donates a product or monetary donation to a non-profit organization supporting women for every purchase made. Thrive gives to five different pillars: domestic abuse, cancer, homelessness, re-entering the workforce, and veterans.
In just five years, Bodnar has turned the company she started in her one bedroom apartment into a multi-million dollar business that's donated over $100 million in beauty products and cash to non-profit organizations. All by the time she turned 30.
But giving back isn't the only thing that sets Thrive apart in the beauty industry. Thrive's loyal customers, called the Thrive Tribe, are completely involved in all aspects of the brand. "Whether it’s product, the design of the website, troubleshooting on the website, designing the makeup bags that come with every order, and suggesting charities for donations," the founder says.
Here, we caught u with Bodnar to find out how Thrive Causemetics chooses the charities it supports, how they involve customers when making products, why approachable, charitable beauty brands are becoming popular, and more.
What inspired you to start Thrive Causemetics?
I started in the industry as a makeup artist and ended up in product development at L'Oréal in the company’s luxury division. The idea for Thrive first came to me back in 2014, but I didn’t launch the brand until much later. I wanted to create a brand that was truly giving back and empowering women through beauty. The way I wanted to do that at first was through product donations. Now we also donate funds as well, but when it I started the brand it was really about donating products to women who were going through a tough time in life. We give to organizations that support women effected by domestic abuse, cancer, homelessness and re-entering the workforce, and veterans. Since we’ve launched in 2015, we’ve donated over $100 million worth of product and cash to the organizations we work with.
How do you decide where the donations go, and which organizations get products or cash?
We practice what we call responsive giving. This means we’re donating where there’s the most need as well as what is needed. We sell one mascara every five seconds and we’ve donated millions of mascara at this point, but if a charity we partner with is looking for false lashes, we will make sure to donate that specific product. If needed, we’ll do a separate production run of a product to ensure that the charity gets exactly what they need for the women they’re supporting. My goal from the beginning was to be able to donate a full bathroom-worth of products to women. One example of how we donate cash is when the wildfires hit Northern and Southern California in 2018. We donated 100% of the profits from our website to five different charities that our community connected us with. That wound up being over a quarter of a million dollars.
Our Thrive Tribe also recommends specific charities and our internal giving team that manages the flow of donations will reach out to them. We now work with hundreds of charities around the world.
Thrive does everything internally from product development to e-commerce. What were the challenges of building the brand without any outside help or endorsements from celebrities or influencers?
I’m not an influencer or a celebrity so I didn’t start with any type of platform. Overall, the challenge is you have to be incredibly creative. You have to throw the rule book out the window and how you think about product development. For example, I have really sensitive eyes and couldn’t find an eyeliner that would stay on without burning them. So, my goal was to create a waterproof eyeliner that would stay on for 24 hours but is also not going to make my eyes turn red. I actually made the formula in my kitchen, but I collaborated with optometrists for testing. Because we were able to successfully make it, we sell millions of eyeliner every year, and that’s the product that put us on the map. It was always our customers that got the word out; the everyday woman that wanted a better-for-you product that did more.
The Thrive Lab is the brand’s way of crowd-sourcing during product development. How does customer input influence how the products are made?
What I love about working with the Thrive Tribe is that it allows us to understand exactly what our consumer is looking for. We essentially have a huge focus group, and we send lab samples out to our customers which is why our product development takes longer that it typically would.
For example, when we were developing our Buildable Blur CC Cream, we did clinical testing and worked with thousands of women, including celebrities, celebrity makeup artists, our employees, and our Thrive Tribe. They’re the reason we created an inclusive shade range for our CC cream. If you look on the market, most CC creams only have around five shades. We wound up coming out of the gate with 18 shades because we were able to test it in real life with our customers and beneficiaries. When you’re selling with a third party, it isn’t always possible to have a personal connection like this with your customers.
The Liquid Lash Extensions Mascara went viral when you launched it. Were you surprised by this? Are there any other products you're really proud of?
The mascara was surprising because the eyeliner had been so successful for us and that’s really what turned us into a multi-million dollar brand. I’m always cautiously optimistic when we launch things, but for a product to immediately sell out and then continuously sell out and now have a high sales volume is a testament to creating a product with your consumer and removing the ego around it. I think a lot of luxury brands want to tell the consumer what they want and we take the exact opposite approach. I want Thrive Causemetics to be known as the kind girl in beauty.
Another product that really surprised me was the Overnight Sensation Brightening Sleep Mask we launched in 2018. We never launched a skincare product before, but one weekend in the lab and played around with making a sleep mask. I gave samples to around 100 consumers and all of them loved it. When that product finally came out, it was kind of like an overnight sensation for us. We’re so rooted in color, but I’m proud of the success we’ve had in skincare and we’ve since launched more products in partnership with our Thrive Tribe.
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Beauty brands traditionally have a level of aspiration attached to them. Today, more people seem drawn to approachable brands like Thrive that also give back. Why do you think there's a shift?
Personally, as a millennial consumer I will absolutely buy the product that’s giving back or making a difference in the world if it’s the same or better. I think Thrive Causemetics is this movement and mission where the only barrier to join is literally just following us on social media to see the impact you can have on the world. Buy a mascara or cleanser and you know something good is happening.
It’s exciting, and I’m glad that other beauty brands are doing the same. We’re a large brand now, but I started this business out of my one bedroom apartment less than five years ago and I funded it myself. I’m not a celebrity or influencer, but if I can create a company like this that’s now donated over a $100 million in product and cash, that’s extraordinary. Think about the impact on the world we would have if everyone was doing that.