For Mara founder Allison McNamara, slow and steady wins the face.
McNamara parlayed her beauty expertise from her time as a show host with PopSugar into founding the skin care brand, which launched in 2018. A pioneer in “blue” beauty, or marine-based formulas, the line is based on a proprietary blend of algae collected in France and Ireland, and has slowly gained a global retail presence — and celebrity devotees like Chrissy Teigen and Hailey Bieber — since its founding.
Currently, Mara is available in nearly 200 doors worldwide; key markets include Australia and the U.K., and domestically in California, New York and Florida. The brand expanded into Goop this month, using buzzy marketing collaborations like its branded coffee cart to drive awareness and sales.
McNamara declined to comment on sales, but industry sources estimate the brand will reach $10 million in 2022. Here, the founder talks about her approach to distribution and why she’s looking beyond the digital realm to raise brand awareness.
What was your first job and what did you learn?
Allison McNamara: My first true job that I ever got paid for was in high school, and I worked for a store called Girl Mania. It was like a Limited Too, where you could go in and shop, but we would throw birthday parties. I would curl girls’ hair and put on their makeup. It was so fun because I got to have my hands in beauty and fashion and it taught me a lot of responsibility.
What was the impetus to start Mara?
I had been hosting my show for about a decade, and after years of being on-camera and interviewing hairstylists, makeup artists and fashion designers, I had always had this itch that I wanted to create my own line. Sadly, in 2015, my show was canceled. I took a look at what I really love to do, and knew I didn’t want to be creating YouTube videos forever.
Beauty had always been at the forefront of everything I’d loved to do, even my first job. I really took it as a side hustle at first, consulting for websites and businesses.
The brand launched direct-to-consumer in 2018, and you recently went into Goop. What is your distribution strategy, and how has it evolved?
The plan was always to go into retail. This was 2018, and the clean beauty space was still new and super buzzy. As a journalist, I love things that have definitions, so while we never use the word “clean beauty” in our jargon, I wanted to launch with a retail partner that has very strong ingredient standards that live up to mine, and really let them tell that part of the story for us. So, Credo Beauty was our first retail partner.
I have also always felt very strongly about international distribution. We chose Cult Beauty as our second retail partner. We always space partners out. With retail, you get so excited, and you see brands expanding and you want to be everywhere all at once. As a growing brand, it’s important to have a much smaller pool of retailers that’s very deep, meaning you’re a top-selling brand with top selling skus, and you’re really giving them the support to do well.
You seldom describe the brand as “clean.” What’s your philosophy on ingredients?
For everything I do, whether it’s food that I’m consuming or stuff that I’m putting on my face or body, even the things in my home, I want to seek out ingredients that aren’t going to harm me in the long run.
For Mara, we put this 360-degree approach on starting with the raw materials, what goes inside the formula, where we’re sourcing those materials from, and then how we’re shipping our products and carbon emissions, how we’re producing products, and paying everyone fair trade.
Because we launched in 2018, and have launched one product at a time and I own all my own formulas, I know everything down to which raw material suppliers supply which percentages of ingredients. Our glass bottles are recycled and recyclable, and we use minimal plastic. We’re certified plastic neutral, but that almost doesn’t say enough, because plastic is less than 2 percent of our product packaging.
In such an early stage of growth, what has worked best to raise Mara’s brand awareness?
Chrissy Teigen shared our products in 2020, and Hailey Bieber shared our other products in 2021, and we had this amazing surge of new customers. To keep our numbers up each year, we have a huge focus on d-to-c strength, and we haven’t spent much on digital marketing.
I want to get into physical advertising and billboards, to raise that brand recognition. Last year, we did partner with Erewhon on a smoothie, and TikTok is the Wild, Wild West. You’ll continue to see more digital marketing, and more traditional, linear marketing.
What opportunities are you focusing on in the year ahead?
Our next launch, which is our lip balm, is the lowest price point and our lowest entry-level product to date. TikTok is going to be a really exciting opportunity to get it in more hands, especially in the Gen Z space.
I really love new formats, and trying to reinvent new ways of something that’s been used for years. Our SPF Oil is a great example of that. We have sold out of that product so many times. Our oil cleanser is our most sold product, and by dollar amount, it’s our Universal Face Oil, but that is very closely tied with our SPF serum.
We did a coffee pop-up this past February with Moringa lattes in partnership with Credo, and had a really beautiful coffee stand. It was fun to see all the people that came, but since we’re such an L.A.-based brand, I would love to try these opportunities outside of Los Angeles. We are focusing on doing small influencer events in Chicago and Boston, and to bring this to other parts of the country.
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