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One Year In, Alicia Keys Reflects on Keys Soulcare’s Inside-Out Beauty Success

"Trying to find out who you are, and what's good for you has been a big theme of my life," the keynote speaker said at WWD's Beauty CEO conference.

It’s not often that a conference keynote starts with a ritual candle lighting and the setting of an intention.

But that’s what singer, songwriter, actress, author, activist and Soulcare founder Alicia Keys did at WWD’s Beauty CEO Conference.

“I’m all about rituals, Keys Soulcare is all about rituals — creating that space for yourself is really powerful,” she said, lighting her brand’s Sage + Oat Milk Candle in front of the room full of beauty founders and executives.

And intentions, “they allow us to have a moment to ask for what we need, and you have to define what you need to get it…My intention for tonight is that we continue to be aligned and united, through bravery and strength, to move forward, to be fearless, to continue to push the boundaries,” said the superstar, Zooming in due to a recent COVID-19 exposure.

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It hardly dimmed her enthusiasm in joining Soulcare president Kory Marchisotto and WWD’s executive editor of beauty Jenny B. Fine to discuss the spark behind and year-one progress of her community-first, clean, cruelty-free “beauty lifestyle” line launched with E.l.f. Beauty.

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Soulcare has been a leader in the category blending of health, wellness and beauty, a trend that’s accelerated during the pandemic. The brand launched with a candle, face roller and a bakuchiol-packed Skin Transformation Cream, and has since added a full range of skin care and body care products such as Sacred Body Oil with Marula Oil and Mind Clearing Body Polish with Glycolic and Lactic Acid.

Keys has also created a whole new language around beauty. Products are called offerings, content creators are light workers and Keys’ title is “goddess in chief.”

“I didn’t name myself that though, I don’t want to sound big-headed, thank you to Kory and my team. But I accepted it,” Keys laughed.

“What we’re here for is something deeper and more fulfilling and purposeful. We now more than ever are realizing we have to pay attention to the soul. We’re so used to paying attention to our outward appearance and everything that’s external. We’re realizing as a culture the internal is important, and if we can take care of ourselves with loving kindness and grace, we can take care of each other in loving kindness and grace. So we changed these words,” said Keys, explaining the language around the brand. “It’s an offering for us to open up all these powerful ways to pour love into ourselves, to fulfill ourselves so we can go out into the world and be strong, powerful and beautiful — because it comes from the inside out.”

Keys had challenging skin issues all her life, and realized that a lot of her struggle was a result of stress and the “toxic energy” around her.

“There were a lot of people who were no good for me and I wasn’t brave enough to move on. But I started to realize when I first became pregnant, and that mom thing kicked in, that I wasn’t going to tolerate it anymore. I realized by putting good things inside of you, not only physical things but emotional things…I saw a change in my skin. That’s what led me to wanting to create something effective from an emotional and spiritual level…”

She shopped that vision around to a few companies before finding her soulmates at E.l.f.

“I would go into meetings, and they’d be looking at me saying, ‘We know you’re trying to destroy our business,'” she said. “Because you’ll remember I chose to stop wearing so much makeup. I wasn’t trying to mess with anyone’s business. Trying to find out who you are, and what’s good for you has been a big theme of my life. When I met Kory and [E.l.f. chief executive officer] Tarang Amin, I felt we were meant to be together because there was such a powerful connection…I really feel there’s a culture of disruption and community that naturally lends itself to the Soulcare ideology.”

“We call E.l.f. the bold disruptor with a kind heart, so sure we’re out there breaking conventions and challenging norms and blowing up the status quo, but we’re dong it with empathy, kindness and passion,” said Marchisotto. “We’re fearless — and you don’t have to be fearless and heartless.”

Keys’ quest for truth in her image and identity reached a crescendo in 2016 when she stopped wearing makeup, igniting a debate about beauty standards and self-esteem.

“I had become addicted to making everyone else happy,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I looked a certain way because I didn’t want to come off like I wasn’t who everyone was expecting me to be. I was getting sucked into a trap of societal beauty images that we’ve all been forced to ingest…so I had some separation from it…That was my own personal journey. Now, I understand who I am much better. Some days I want a whole face of makeup, some days I want lipgloss and mascara. Whatever I want I get to do on my terms — I feel beautiful, I’m more open and I just flow.”

Translating that ethos into a brand identity was Marchisotto’s job. “What we realized is if we picked up what Alicia was putting down and internalized it, and read ourselves powerful affirmations and created space for ourselves, we were becoming better people. We wanted to translate this bigger vision of beauty into the brand,” the executive said.

There were four guiding lights in creating Soulcare, she shared.

1) Inspiration vs. Aspiration. “Most beauty brands create a vision we want you to reach up to. With Soulcare, what we want to do is say you don’t have to aspire to be anyone other than who you are. We are here to inspire you to be the highest version of yourself,” Marchisotto explained.

2) Intention vs. Imposition. “Alicia saw this on her journey, an industry that was creating standards that for most people are unrealistic and unattainable. I like to call Alicia the antidote. For her it’s all about setting an intention to make you you, powerful in your own strength. The only beauty standard is the one you hold,” Marchisotto said.

3) Ritual vs. Routine. “This one was about turning a routine into a moment of personal therapy. She lights a candle, sets an intention, creates a space where you can enjoy the simple act of washing your face,” said Marchisotto.

4) Holistic care vs. Topical care. “Alicia pointed out early on we have all these cares — skin care, hair care, nail care — and it shows what we prioritize as a culture, the external. Keys is about going deeper..we give you the tools to care for your soul, and content creation to carry you along on your journey.”

When it comes to brand expansion, both Keys and Marchisotto said the possibilities are limitless.

“It’s transcendent…This is the practice of making sure you’re well and cared for…That’s skin care, body care, all the cares we already mentioned, that’s things and categories we haven’t gotten to yet that we’re going to create. There is no limit to how we can access this offering of taking care of yourself,” said Keys, likening the development process to songwriting. “You start with the feeling, the emotion, the need…writing a song is a need to express what’s happening or going on in the world….You use these offerings and it all goes together to create one beautiful song.”

The pandemic’s resetting of priorities is likely to have an indelible impact on the future of beauty, they said.

“I feel the pandemic changed people’s connection with truth and what’s real. It gets hard to see what’s real but in this time we understand time is the biggest of all, love is the biggest of all, family — there is nothing more important than recognizing we have a short time on this Earth and we have to make the most of it. We all came face-to-face with our mortality, recognizing how important it is to truly live, not because we all want to get rich and famous, but what are the real things we actually need when it’s all said and done. We thought we knew it, but we didn’t really know it until we came face-to-face with it. And now I hope we never forget it. Keys Soulcare is the tool to remember and to help you not forget even as things go back to normal,” said the star.