Jane Iredale describes her modus operandi in one word: improve. It’s an impulse that drove her to formulate a mineral foundation back in 1994 when she was a film producer and noticed that many actresses were having skin issues. In so doing, she not only launched her business, but also a category—mineral makeup—which has since exploded into a key color segment. Improvement has also propelled her to funnel a passion for health and wellness into an estimated $135 million mineral makeup empire, which grew 15 percent over the last two years, according to industry sources. Today, her namesake line includes some 400 products sold in boutiques, salons and spas across more than 50 countries around the globe. The company continues to go it alone, eschewing outside investors, in what Iredale calls “a sea of icebergs.”
This story first appeared in the June 15, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
There was an explosion of mineral makeup in 2007. Where do you see the category headed now?
It’s had an evolution since 1994, when we brought out our line and Bare Minerals introduced its line the same year. We were considered to be a niche brand. And then we became the trend. With the explosion in 2007, we became a category. Now, we’ve become mainstream. Almost every brand is incorporating mineral makeup into their line. It’s now being used as a marketing term to interest the consumer. Mineral makeup is just part of the makeup [category] in general. It’s confusing for consumers because they don’t really understand what is a true mineral makeup. I wish consumers read ingredients and labels more.
What is your assessment of the industry overall?
We are in a period of real change, and I believe the mineral makeup category has helped to affect that change. The industry is being forced to innovate to satisfy consumer demands. That’s a really good thing, because it has forced us to be more transparent and make sure everyone can access our ingredients quickly and easily. On our Web site, every product has the ingredient list next to it. We’ve done that right from the beginning, because we are very proud of our ingredients and the way we formulate. The industry is starting to have to move toward that sort of transparency.
What opportunities excite you the most and why?
Technology and the science that’s now available to us—for example, products can now actually adjust to your skin’s needs—that’s very exciting. The other thing that I find rewarding every day is the ability to interact with our consumers. It used to be through focus groups. With our brand, we were always selling through aestheticians or makeup artists or doctors to the consumer. So, we didn’t really have feedback from the customer. Now, we get feedback 24 hours a day from all over the world because we sell in 50 countries. What I’ve learned is that the consumer wants to be herself, only better. Makeup is her private ritual, and she wants to look the best she can. The confidence that the right makeup gives her is such an important part of it. Recently I was doing a seminar in Sweden and I was talking about these scientific studies on how the better we feel about the way we look, the better our immune systems are. I was approached afterward by a woman who said she had had a double mastectomy. She said, “When I put my wig and makeup on, I feel ready and open for anything.” Appearance plays such an important part in the way we feel physically.
What do you think the industry needs to pay attention to in the year ahead?
I sit on the board of the Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers & Distributors. The industry needs to pay attention to what’s happening with product regulation. That’s the number-one issue. Both the Personal Care Products Council and ICMAD are at the forefront of making sure the industry is represented properly. Regulations that are too limiting are going to curtail innovation and vastly impact small companies. Some of the regulations want ingredients to be listed down to parts per million. Natural products are much more complex than synthetic products. They may have 20 to 25 more aspects of an ingredient that have to be listed on a product label. As well-meaning as some of these bills are, there isn’t always a full appreciation of what it means to the industry as a whole.
What do you make of the current distribution landscape, and what retail opportunities are most significant for the brand?
The smaller retail opportunities, where they have an aesthetician or makeup artist on staff, interest me most. Our brand is better off in the hands of people who know skin and that’s why we started out in the professional world. But there are more and more places that incorporate [service]. Ulta does that, for example. And there are smaller versions, like Pharmaca in California. Retail is becoming so much more a part of peoples’ lives no matter where they are. It’s such a moneymaking opportunity for the spa, the salon or the clinic, partly because what a woman does when she goes home is even more important than at the spa. People dedicated to their profession want to make sure their clients are leaving the spa or salon with home care products. We just launched our new beauty gallery, which for the first time puts all of our line on one display. It’s a little retail magnet, and we’ve seen sales at accounts double in a short period of time.
Your company is an independent in a sea of giants. How does that impact how you run your business?
I see it as a sea of independents floating around some great big icebergs, and we are sort of chipping away at the ice. We’re able to move much faster and be more nimble so I can respond to consumer demands, if I hear them often enough, very quickly. There’s a lot less stress in our company because we don’t have someone looking over us. If we want to try something and it doesn’t work, no big deal. We just move on to the next thing. I hope we can stay this way, and do our own thing. It seems to be working so far. I started the company with $10,000, and all of our growth has been supported from sales. We haven’t had to go outside for help. I am hoping we can keep innovating and bringing out new products… and do it our way.
How would you describe your management style and how has it evolved?
I think I started out running everything democratically. First of all, there were only two of us. Now, I like to think of my style as more of a meritocracy, where you need to earn your place. People respond to that. They like to know a good job is appreciated. It inspires other people as well. I tend to be noncombative. I don’t like a lot of controversy. I work better in a peaceful, harmonious environment. We live in a tiny town with 6,800 people. We are surrounded by organic farms. We have gardens all over our company campus. We are a dog-friendly company. We have an environment that is fairly relaxed. I think of myself as one of the gang, but I also know the buck stops here. After the discussions take place, I don’t have any trouble making a decision.
How do you stay close to the needs and wants of your consumer?
I do a lot of traveling. I recently went to six countries, including Russia and all of Scandinavia and China, where I did seminars and events and met with distributors and the press. I got a lot of input from that. Through our social media site, we get a lot of reviews on our products and I read them all. We also get a lot questions through the Internet and I try to answer every one. I like to think of our town as a walking focus group because wherever I go, someone will approach me and say, “Have you ever thought of making this?” or say, “I didn’t like this.” It’s reached the point now where if I want some peace I put on dark sunglasses and a hat and try to go incognito. I have input coming at me from all directions and at all times.
Do you believe in mentors?
I’ve never had a mentor. There are some people who do well with mentors. I tend to be inspired by people who I admire. Someone who I find totally awe- inspiring is Meryl Streep. She’s said, “I’ve always been my own tower of strength.” I think about that phrase a lot. In that sense, she’s been a long-distance mentor. Also, my mother was always very encouraging and didn’t push me to get married and have children. When I was a teenager, I remember I was looking in the mirror—probably worrying about a zit—and my mother was telling me to do something, and I turned around to her and said, “Mother, let me make my own mistakes.” And I think I have learned from my mistakes.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like to garden, and cook the produce from the garden. I am a very big fan of Alice Waters and I love the slow food movement. I also walk my dogs, which I adore. I do play some golf. And I like to travel. Another thing that I really love to do is renovate old buildings. Part of that came out of building our company’s little campus. As we needed more space, we’d take on an old building and renovate it. I love improving things.
IN BRIEF: Jane Iredale attended New York University, and later obtained her master’s degree in English and Philosophy at the University at Albany-SUNY. She started her career in the entertainment industry, working first as a casting director and then as a writer and producer in both New York and Los Angeles. She left film, television and theater behind, though, to introduce the mineral foundation Amazing Base in 1994. She currently runs her independently owned business from the quaint town of Great Barrington, Mass., where the company’s campus comes complete with organic gardens and a dog-friendly policy. She lives in town with her husband and two dogs, Ceilidh and Christmas Cookie.