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Pioneers in Clean Beauty See a Paradigm Shift

Clean beauty is becoming the new norm, but there is much more education needed, according to a panel of three industry leaders.

Clean beauty has moved from a niche to a thriving segment as consumers learn more about ingredients in their products.

“From 2007 through 2017, the global value of naturals expanded from $7 billion to $15 billion,” said Kirsten Kjaer Weis, chief executive and founder of natural makeup brand Kjaer Weis.

Weis joined other pioneers of natural beauty, Follain founder and ceo Tara Foley and James Walker, president and cofounder of W3ll People, who discussed the booming business while also tackling the challenges.

“The struggle is real,” Walker said, referring to the ongoing issues facing the industry such as the “murky” definition of what constitutes a clean brand. Beauty, especially in the U.S., remains one of the least regulated industries, the group said.

To take the guesswork out of the industry, all 80 brands sold online and in six physical stores at Follain go through a strict process to ensure there are no endocrine disruptors, allergens, carcinogens and a full list of other ingredients listed on its web site. Foley also insists on high performance because natural is held to a higher standard.

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“When a woman tries a conventional product and it doesn’t work, she’ll move on to another conventional brand. But when a woman tries a natural product and she’s not happy, she’s going to say of all-natural beauty doesn’t work,” said Foley.

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Weis was working as a makeup artist when frustration with tossing products causing skin sensitivities to her clients pushed her to find a better option. She sought to merge two worlds — clean ingredients that performed with a luxury positioning. “Organic is more complex. It takes longer for our raw materials — they change from year to year and are not made in the lab but grown in the ground. We feel we are the closest you can get to a handmade piece.” Weis also vowed to make her packaging as sustainable as possible, too, devising a refill system. “When we launched in 2010, we were a new category and we had to explain the positioning that natural could be luxury.”

Fast-forward to today and Weis said green specialty retailers along with innovative luxury department stores have put clean on the front burner. “It isn’t a niche business anymore. Green beauty has pushed beyond a trend. It is great to be part of a paradigm shift to sustainable and natural ingredients.”

Weis said her company will devote 10 percent to 15 percent of its revenue into digital marketing initiatives including displays and social advertising along with an influencer marketing program with local ambassadors to build awareness for the brand. She also plans to leverage the brand’s strength in makeup in skin care.

W3ll People’s roots date back 15 years ago when its founders created the line of premium-quality, plant-based products that were toxin- and cruelty-free. W3ll people launched with one store where customers shared views on what they wanted in products. “We started with luxury, which is what makes sense,” Walker said, noting the line got the nod from the likes of Fred Segal, Henri Bendel and Sephora. The launch of the nontoxic, plant-based mascara called Expressionist Pro Mascara really put W3ll People on the map. “It was a game changer and the gateway sku for W3ll People. It became our bestseller within the month we launched it.”

Walker was exposed to a blogger who lamented the brand was not accessible — both in price and geography. At the same time, Target inquired about stocking the line. “It wasn’t part of our business plan, but we decided to shift to masstige to provide the work we do to women across the country. Target wants to be at the table, if not a leader, in natural beauty,” said Walker, noting the move has paid off.

Walker echoed the message that natural is here to stay. “People are never going to say they want to go back to carcinogens in their products.”