Erbaviva: An Organic Twist

LOS ANGELES — Erbaviva founders Robin Brown and Anna Cirronis like that their customers — retail buyers and consumers alike — are acting like babies.<br><br>Although the couple created the line of organic herbal and vitamin-enriched...

LOS ANGELES — Erbaviva founders Robin Brown and Anna Cirronis like that their customers — retail buyers and consumers alike — are acting like babies.

This story first appeared in the August 30, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Although the couple created the line of organic herbal and vitamin-enriched products after the birth of their first son (horrified, they recall, by the artificial additives they realized existed in most baby skin care products), they have found an audience. Customers picking up the baby cream and sunscreen at accounts such as Palmetto in Los Angeles and Harvey Nichols in London are admitting their personal predilection.

“Our customers with sensitive skin really love it,” observed Cindy Chua, buyer for Apothecary at Barneys New York, which has carried Erbaviva for nearly a year. “I think the whole idea that it’s based on living herbs, that it’s very natural and very gentle is why they want it.”

The all-natural skin care line, made of certified organic ingredients, launched in 1996 with the “Baby Washbag,” soapless, milk powder sachets filled with ingredients which Cirronis contends are almost edible. Besides baby’s first baths, parents also found that they were ideal for sensitive adult skin.

“There’s been this strong movement for natural products, but there’s so much rubbish inside and on the labels of products,” said Brown, his native British accent still strong. “Companies today trying to cash in are very sneaky of how they get around labels and it leaves consumers either confused or obsessed to find something pure.”

There is an entire industry, of course, based on these ingredients and concepts. And the first Erbaviva products — the sachets, a body oil and lip balm — had their initial start in health food stores.

The cuddly, graphically cool line drawing of a baby and frog apparently has resonated with a customer that may have been bored with the generic bottles and labels found in health food markets. “The packaging is absolutely adorable,” concurred Barneys’ Chua.

When the pregnancy line, complete with oils for stretch marks, back rubs and postpartum depression, bowed in 1997, the couple realized they were on to something.

“People who never cared about natural products all of a sudden do when they get pregnant,” noted Brown, a former film cameraman who met Cirronis, then a makeup artist, on a set. They married six months later in 1991 and now have two young sons. “If we show them then how beneficial they are then, hopefully they will continue after the pregnancy and throughout their family.”

With company growth at about 300 percent each year, said Brown, Erbaviva is at a turning point. Conservatively, he said sales are expected at $600,000 this year, with nearly 400 accounts. And, despite having self-funded the line thus far, they are exploring opportunities to take the line to the next level, albeit one that maintains the purity and boutique aesthetic of the line.

The Erbaviva staff of eight is based 30 minutes away from the couple’s bohemian, woodsy Malibu Canyon home in the industrial city of Northridge, where the products are developed, and in some cases, formulated, as well as packaged.

As a line of bath salts and oils for adults hits the market in November, the pair is also considering a mass version of the skin care line under their other company brand, Vital Botanicals, a line of herbal supplements and aromatherapy oils sold through health stores and on the erbaviva.com Web site. The brand had its first topical cream success this summer with an eczema cream made of Oregon grape, a wild root.

Erbaviva wholesale prices range from $8 for a sampler of five wash sachets to $150 for the nine-item baby gift set.