By  on May 13, 1994

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bare Escentuals, a purveyor of natural-based beauty products, is charting a path of steady growth that is expected to culminate in an $8 million volume this year.

It wasn't always smooth sailing for the company, which was founded by entrepreneur Diane Richardson in 1978. A peddler of small clay pots from India that contained crushed minerals used as blush, Richardson realized early on that many women were allergic to major color cosmetics collections because of the many preservatives and chemicals they contained.

She soon filled that void and over the next decade added natural fragrances, bath gels, lotions, potpourri and aromatherapy oils to the line, which she sold out of a small shop in Los Gatos, Calif.

Bare Escentuals now also offers everything from Habit, its skin care line, to hair care, foot care, PABA-free sun care products, massage products and even men's toiletries under the Mesa for Men label.

Priced at 20 cents to $20 retail, everything is free of animal ingredients and animal testing. The products are also biodegradable, and the minimal packaging is made of recycled material.

About 25 percent of the company's sales are now done in the bath and body category, chiefly with the California Spa line. The collection ranges from Seamud Soap, priced at $6.75 for a 6.9-oz. bar, to Seaweed Bubble Bath, $11 for a 6-oz. bottle, to Seamud Body Mask, $20 for a 12-oz. container.

In addition, 70 different custom scents can be added by customer preference to the company's wide range of unscented items.

Terranomics, a group of venture capitalists here, bought the company in 1988 and set out to expand it. Terranomics opened four more company-owned stores, three franchised stores, launched a mail-order operation and hired chemists and a staff to manufacture products in-house.

Two years later, Bare Escentuals found itself financially overextended. In came Dolphin Associates -- an investment company here specializing in retailing and led by John Hansen -- to acquire the company and turn it around.

Although Richardson left the company at this point, Hansen's efforts soon paid off. In 1993, Bare Escentuals grossed $6 million, and Hansen, now the company's president, projected gross earnings of $8 to $10 million this year.

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