Silas Capital has invested in clean makeup brand Ilia Beauty.
For Ilia, which has built out both its product assortment and its retail distribution over the past several years, the Silas investment should help grow the company’s direct-to-consumer business. Ilia was founded by Sasha Plavsic and her brother, Zachary, who developed a line of clean makeup products. At first, they skewed heavily toward the lip category, but over the past years, Ilia has built out other core product lines, including True Skin Serum Foundation, $54, and Limitless Lash Mascara, $28.
The mascara has turned out to be a surprise hit, Plavsic said. “That’s something that in the clean category, in the natural category, has always suffered,” she said. “Where I think we have a point of difference is going after certain categories that are more challenging.”
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The company’s “motto for clean” includes using organic and natural bases, but sometimes including synthetics in formulations, she said. “It takes a combination of both to get a product that truly performs,” Plavsic said. “We look at each product individually because each product needs its own set of ingredients to get to a level where people would say, ‘This is the same as my mainstream brand.'”
Terms of the Silas investment were not disclosed, but industry sources said Ilia’s sales have doubled year-over-year for the past three years and the brand is expected to reach $20 million in retail sales for 2019.
Plavsic will remain on board with the business, as will chief executive officer Lynda Berkowitz, who joined the business in 2016 after working at brands like Bobbi Brown, Too Faced and Perricone. According to Plavsic, she has been instrumental in turning the business into a skin care-makeup hybrid offering.
“The client that’s buying clean color is well informed and comes from natural skin care, and what’s more important to a skin care client than their skin? I saw this brand…as a complexion brand, and then she took it from there,” Berkowitz said.
“Linda was like, ‘I see you guys more as complexion’ and I was like, ‘No, no, no, we’re lip’ and she was like, ‘I don’t think so,’ and that was the kickoff where she was like, ‘We need new foundation,’ and I was like, ‘OK,'” Plavsic said.
That conversation prompted the birth of Ilia’s Serum Foundation, now one of its bestsellers, and a product that took dozens of formulations to get right, Plavsic said. The brand has just expanded the shade range to 18 shades.
That thesis is that these products are the “bridge to Sephora,” Berkowitz said. Right now, Ilia is in about 40 Sephora doors, and is also sold at the Detox Market, Follain, Credo, Buemercury, Space NK and Mecca.
Bringing the brand into more mainstream beauty retailers should allow the brand increased consumer insights, Berkowitz noted.
“We’re curious about the customer’s response to clean beauty and learning about her and finding out what questions she has,” Berkowitz said. “We increased our distribution by about 25 percent last year.”
Next spring, Ilia will launch a True Skin Radiant Priming Serum, a silicone-free priming serum that aims to tighten, fill pores and brighten. The brand is also debuting a True Skin Serum Concealer, echoing its foundation launch a year-prior, next year. The concealer will come in nine shades and provide medium coverage. Later in the year, Ilia plans to break out from its cream-based naturals that are so common and delve into gel-based formulations, and in the fall, plans to launch more eye products.
By the end of 2019, Ilia will be distributed in about 500 doors globally. Now that the physical footprint is set up, Ilia is planning to shift its focus to digital, which is where Silas comes in, Plavsic said.
“[Silas has] had extreme success in direct-to-consumer,” Plavsic said. “With Lynda on board, product, distribution, figuring out how to do this side of the business, I feel really confident and like we have good resources — as far as the direct-to-consumer side…it’s very attractive to see what Silas has done.” The firm is invested in Boll & Branch, Casper and Dos Toros.
“We’ve never really done any marketing, nor have we done advertising and apparently we’ve come pretty far without [that],” Plavsic said. “The digital front for us is really exciting and we don’t know much about it in the sense that we haven’t explored it, so that’s something I’m really excited to go after as well.”
Ilia sits in the fast-growing clean beauty category.
“Part of me thinks [the growth] is the improvement in how labs are able to formulate clean beauty, and part of me thinks it’s the timing,” Plavsic said. “In  it’s not where it was today — clean beauty is now clear. Even though this brand is six or seven years old, and it was truly grassroots in the beginning, the timing is truly now for clean beauty to actually take off. We’re in the right time and the right place.”
Keeping the message clear is something Plavsic takes seriously — soon, she’s planning to roll out a “more rigorous” ingredient black list, she said, as well as a “white list” — which will explain the ingredients that brand chooses to include in its formulations.
“It’ll highlight all of the ingredients we do use and why — everyone’s always talking about what to avoid, but I think it’s important to talk about what’s being used.”