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Credo Beauty Aims for More Shades in Clean Makeup With Private Label Launch

"There was a real friction point in not having something that could serve everyone."

Credo Beauty is looking to fill what it sees as a “literal white space” in the fast-growing clean makeup category with the launch of its private label, Exa.

The San Francisco-based retailer, which sells only products it has deemed safe and nontoxic, is debuting this week its new brand’s hero products, a foundation that comes in 43 shades and a universal primer said to be compatible with all skin tones.

While prestige makeup sales have suffered due to the coronavirus — the category was down 52 percent in the second quarter, according to NPD — clean makeup was considered a bright spot before the pandemic, a small but growing segment that served as the category’s main source of innovation. In March, Sephora announced an expansion to its Clean at Sephora platform, highlighting several color cosmetics brands, including Kosas and Tower 28.

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But the existing brands on the market were missing a key element — an inclusive shade range, said Credo cofounder and chief operating officer Annie Jackson.

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“We recognized very early on that there is a real lack of diversity in shades,” Jackson said. “None of these brands at Credo are owned by a big company. They’re usually self-funded or with a small capital investment. It’s expensive and hard work to get the shades right and the diversity you need, so they go in without it — and it’s unacceptable.

Credo, too, has bolstered its clean makeup category in recent months, bringing in brands like Westman Atelier, celebrity makeup artist Gucci Westman’s line. Westman Atelier’s Vital Skin Foundation Stick, $68, comes in 14 different shades. Another popular line, RMS Beauty, offers its “Un” Coverup Cream Foundation, $52, in 16 shades.

“Credo is in a financial position to go there, to make a real difference in the clean beauty market,” said Dawn Dobras, chief executive officer at Credo. “Forty shades is a considerable financial investment, but we have an opportunity to serve the market in a different way.”

Businesses that market clean beauty have garnered criticism for being perceived as pandering expensive products and content exclusively to wealthy white women. Public health expert Dr. Kristian Edwards started her own business, BLK + GRN, to promote Black-owned clean beauty and wellness brands.

Credo’s leaders feel that criticism is warranted.

“We’re in cities where there’s huge diversity of populations, and to have someone walk in-store and not be able to to be color-matched is the worst possible outcome,” Dobras said. Credo’s nine retail stores are located in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago and Texas. “There was a real friction point there in not having something that could serve everyone.”

Exa’s High Fidelity Semi-Satin Foundation, $38, comes in 43 shades, and is said to have been tested using a focus group of 56 models with varying skin tones. The formula is true to Credo’s nontoxic standards and is said to be 95 percent composed of natural ingredients, including a microalgae said to protect against free radical damage. The Jump-Start Smoothing Primer, marketed to work universally on any skin tone, retails for $36.

The plan is for Credo to continue launching products under the Exa label, though the details of those plans are still under wraps. The brand has partnered with Women’s Voices for the Earth, an organization that advocates against potentially harmful chemicals, to donate a portion of its sales.

Credo has not experienced the sharp decline in sales the rest of the industry has faced during the pandemic, Dobras said. “Clean beauty is having a moment and Credo is having a moment,” she said. “There is innovation in clean color cosmetics that is outpacing skin care, and there’s a [renewed] focus on wellness and health and nontoxic ingredients that is really swelling and driving this business.” 

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