The dominant face of what’s most exciting in the beauty world is, in fact, an actual face — or rather a big group of them. Women founders, entrepreneurs, and CEOs are helming interesting new brands in the industry, carving out a substantial role for the presence of independent product lines in a world long dominated by large corporate conglomerates.
“All of our vendors, on the whole, are women and women-owned businesses,” Kerrilynn Pamer and Cindy DiPrima, the owners of the luxury boutique for all things natural beauty and wellness CAP Beauty, tells Yahoo Beauty. “They know what women want.” And the two also note that the women and brands they work with, and with whom they say they have “really cultivated partnerships with,” are more than just vendors but rather those who share their outlook on what the business of beauty really is and really can be.
“I always go back to the fact that I believe what we’re doing benefits other,” Pamer says. “It is transformative, and it makes people feel good in a way that is not just topical. It may be perceived as topical, but this idea of beauty is really engaged with your whole self — this is not just skin or makeup. It’s larger than that. And I think that is a common sentiment in the beauty industry right now.”
And while independent brands focused on “clean beauty” seems to be the most compelling, and seemingly thriving, sector of the beauty industry at present, the emotional and financial realities of the women thought leaders who choose to strike out on their own tell a more nuanced story, one that shows a deep and holistic understanding of risk, opportunity, and success far richer than any balance sheet can even begin to disclose.
The entrepreneurial “itch”
Julie Fredrickson, the co-founder and CEO of Stowaway Cosmetics, tells Yahoo Beauty her business was born out of her being “tired of lugging around a bag of [makeup] samples from brands I didn’t love because the products I loved didn’t come in sample sizes.” She says that after she started researching the economics and logistics behind what the manufacturing and cost structures would be for her favorite brands to make smaller (and more woman-on-the-go, purse-friendly) sizes of her makeup go-tos, she quickly realized why none of the big brands were ever going to take this route.
“Entrepreneurship is if you have an itch, you absolutely have to scratch it. I knew I had to move forward,” she says of her drive to make her beauty routine more conducive to her busy life. Which explains just how she now helms a company that makes high-quality cosmetics scaled in a size designed for modern women. Stowaway also labels its products as “100% safe,” as in the products are EU-compliant, and thus free of the 1,300 ingredients that Europe bans in its cosmetics. (By comparison, the U.S. bans only 11 ingredients.)
Fredrickson says that entrepreneurs, in any industry, see and identify needs in the market that other people may not see. In economics terms, she says, this phenomenon is known as the inefficient market paradox.
She gives this analogy to explain: “Let’s say there is a $20 bill just lying on the ground. What we’re seeing now is that there are lots of women who see that $20 bill on the ground and start to see different opportunities with it. Someone says, ‘That’s $20 for treating skin conditions.’ And someone else says, ‘That’s $20 for making products with smaller packaging.’ You see what you see as a hole in the market — and how you can deal with that.”
The challenge for entrepreneurs seeing and seeking to address these problems outside the structure of a large corporate entity — like the brands highlighted in this story — is trying to explain a problem you experience to someone who doesn’t. “The hole you are trying to fill may not be obvious to others,” she says.
Identifying problems and creating solutions
April Gargiulo, the founder of Vintner’s Daughter, tells Yahoo Beauty that after 10 years in the wine industry working for her family’s winery, she found herself unable to find an effective treatment for her skin problems that she also felt was safe.
“Everything I ate was organic and locally sourced, everything I cleaned my house with was thoughtful. I had a lot of skin issues — I couldn’t just put coconut oil on my face and wake up the next day. Looking at skin care products and reading labels, there was so much filler, and so much was toxic. Stuff I wouldn’t let in my house to clean my house was stuff I didn’t want to put on my face,” Gargiulo says. “I needed performance-based products, but when I went looking in the natural world, everything smelled nice and looked nice, but wasn’t performing. Vintner’s Daughter is about being uncompromising — in performance, and being nontoxic. I wasn’t willing to compromise one for the other.”
And when it came to launching her business, Gargiulo says, “I was sourcing the finest ingredients in the world, and what was driving everything was being passionate about the product. It was about making one of the finest and most safe products in the world, no shortcuts.”
Gargiulo says that by “flipping the script” — and investing in the product over marketing — her company’s growth has all been, as she says, “G2G — girlfriend to girlfriend. We grew because of word of mouth about our product.”
Stefani Padilla, the founder of La Tierra Sagrada, a luxury all-natural hair care line, has a similar story. After a decade of living in New York City and working as an on-set hair stylist for commercial and editorial shoots, Padilla says she “was tired of using garbage on people’s hair on set — there are so many products out there that are completely toxic and not good for people at all. There are so many chemicals in hair products.”
Meanwhile in her personal life, she was not only beginning to explore the world of plant medicine and herbalism but also dealing with an autoimmune disorder that caused her to begin a heavy course of steroids — and lose her hair as a side effect.
“So I created a hair medicine line,” Padilla says. “To get my hair to stop falling out, yes, but more than that, to actually heal. I would share it with friends and then clients — I never considered turning it into a business at all. I just did it to help people in life. I had friends who had lost hair after having a baby, friends who had fought cancer, were dealing with autoimmune disorders. I was like, ‘This is my gift from me to you, and I hope it works for you.’”
Taking risks and managing costs to preserve integrity
Angela Shore, the founder of Jiva-Apoha, says she was “guided into the healing for myself, a personal spiritual growth, and seeking truth,” leading her to found her line of body oils that are developed from Ayurvedic and Native American plant medicine traditions. But creating products that embody the healing principles Shore seeks to share with others doesn’t come cheaply.
“Economically, the sources can be high in cost. Organic goods — and working with premium essentials — fluctuate in dollars. The quality is always my No. 1 priority,” she says.
And so Shore started first working out of her Brooklyn Heights kitchen during nights and weekends, using the healing therapies work she performed during the day to help fund her ability to research and develop her line.
“I have always taken personal financial risk using my own credit” in building her business, Shore says. “Maybe not so wise at times — but it was definitely a starter with Jiva-Apoha. It requires more money than one thinks in creating vendor relationships, studies, and research. It soon became a reality that there is only one way and that is to keep moving forward with focus.”
“Financially, it takes time to see a real profit,” says Shore about her experience building Jiva-Apoha. “It takes money to make money. It’s a cycle. You have to keep one foot ahead in multitasking.”
Shore also says that the first piece of advice she would give to another woman looking to launch a beauty or wellness line of her own would be to do a financial forecast and have a business plan projection in seeking capital funding — especially since there are concrete costs associated with beauty, and especially green beauty, that are unavoidable.
Fredrickson says, “In beauty, you have to deal with minimum-order quantities. … The inventory minimums are often tens of thousands. You can’t order a run of 100 lipsticks and be confident in the quality control.”
Gargiulo says she was turned away by lab after lab that refused to make her product. “They wanted to use less expensive extracts and products versus starting with whole plants, which is much more costly. I was really passionate about the process and how ingredients are put together — it’s my background in fine winemaking — and understanding that the process is as important as ingredients themselves. So I knocked on a lot of doors.”
Chase Polan, the founder of Kypris, tells Yahoo Beauty, that sourcing her ingredients in a way that made ethical sense was a choice she hopes to see have a larger economic impact on the industry.
“My hope is that because we took the time to source green actives and botanicals from biodynamic, fair-trade, co-op-run, organic, woman-owned, family-owned farms that there is greater fairness and health in the supply chain,” Polan says. “We are not able to definitively measure anything yet, but this seems like the general right direction.”
Supply, demand, and self
Out of Gargiulo’s commitment to produce her serum the way she wants and with the ingredients she wants comes the reality that “sometimes we sell out. We go at the speed of our quality — you can’t just throw things in a bowl, mix it in a jar, and then there it goes. It takes a lot of time — and so sometimes we sell out. But we have a group of customers who understand that quality takes time and that something like this goes at the speed of quality.”
And Fredrickson says, “One of the most common misconceptions is that we’re capable of solving customer demands and problems at pace. But beauty has really long lead times. You can’t turn around a new product without first designing and manufacturing the packaging for it. It all takes time.”
May Lindstrom, the founder of eponymous skin care line May Lindstrom Skin, says that this challenge is why she “made a promise to myself to only release a new product if I knew that it was truly special, a remarkable formula that wasn’t already on the market. And then I promised to package it beautifully and to provide the most over-the-top personal customer service that I could — exactly what I think my clients deserve. I have so many dreams of what is ahead. We are growing quickly, but my foundation and core philosophy stand so firmly on the grounds of intimacy, on being special.”
Creating and managing thoughtful growth
This kind of thoughtful growth is something that so many independent beauty brand founders say has been so essential to their success — and preserving the sense of self that fuels their brands to begin with.
“It’s a challenge to balance the responsibility of nourishing a quickly growing baby of a business while simultaneously giving what is needed of myself and my time to my own family — my dear husband, sweet daughter, and all our animals — we have chickens, a pig, a dog, and a cat! I’m pregnant now with my second child and know that the challenge will continue as even more is put on my plate. It’s vital for me to remember that I chose this and that I keep choosing it every day. If I need something to shift, it’s my responsibility to determine what that is, and how to do that in a way that is still true to my company, my family, and myself,” Lindstrom says.
Gargiulo found one solution to the balancing act of startup-founder life by bringing on her husband as her co-CEO.
“We’re trying to find a work-life balance by sharing responsibilities,” she says. “We complement each other very much in life and business. And this way, both of us are able to spend time with each other and with our kids. It’s worked so well for us.”
Polan notes that the work of launching a beauty brand is never done. She says that when she first launched Kypris, “I thought that once I manufactured an item, once the website was up, once our education materials were made, that each of these things would need to be a platonic version of itself, perfect and not needing to ever be changed. Everything has to be in its best, most polished form now — yet now it’s created with the full knowledge that in six months, a year, a few years it will need to be updated and evolved.”
Women founders: High tides lift all
Gargiulo also is quick to mention the community of women entrepreneurs she is in. “The community of women in this industry — all these smart, entrepreneurial women — I have never been a part of a business community like this before. It’s so supportive. It’s so gratifying. You know what they say: High tides rise all — and that is so true in this space. This group of women is, for me, endlessly inspiring. I have two little girls at home and for them to have all of these incredible role models, for me to show them that you can have an idea and a dream and make it happen and go for it is so important to me. To have all these other women in this ecosystem is an incredible sense of support.”
Lindstrom agrees and says, “Indie beauty definitely has a strong core of women founders and creators, and that’s incredibly exciting. There is lots of opportunity here — financial and otherwise — and it’s great to be in a space where my gender has a voice and relevance, and where we aren’t put in a position to need to fight for or defend any bit of it. In this space, it’s easy to celebrate being a woman. I certainly do!”
Polan takes things one step further, citing writer Roxane Gay in explaining the way that creating, and leading, in this field bolsters her sense of identity as a woman and leader, even if it makes her a “bad feminist”: “I’m a woman. I love being a woman. That’s not going to change. I approach it from the perspective that different people value different things. … If people have a lack of respect for beauty as a business, my guess is they’re not interested in it or do not understand it. As someone with an interest in beauty, ‘making stuff,’ geopolitics, feminism, wellness, sustainability, science, story-telling, pleasure, data analysis, and social justice, I cannot think of a better industry or outlet. “
Helping women care for themselves
And despite the countless hours and the immense financial risk, these founders all speak to their desire to truly help other women through their product offerings.
Lindstrom explains that her brand “is an invitation for you to create the time and space for the personal connection you deserve with yourself. This action alone will transform you. What I want to do is get this message out there, to start a shift in how we care for ourselves, starting with the most basic and intimate of rituals — how we cleanse.”
“What I love and what my whole company is based on is the act of ritual and self-care,” says Padilla. “Taking the time each day to use the products in a ritual sense — I see that in so many other small beauty brands and their focus on self-care. Beauty is fundamentally about self-care.”
For Stowaway, Fredrickson says, “We’re about making women feel beautiful, no matter where they are, no matter what situation they find themselves in. We make products that fit into life. … We made a decision to make our customers’ lives easier. Will she feel better at the end of the day for using this? If the answer is yes, then we’ve managed our risk. You will never go wrong if you go in the best interest of your customer. You may fail, but you will never do wrong.”