In California, trendy, thriving brands like Youth to the People have been incorporating sustainability into their ethos from the start.
“Earth Day is every day for us,” said Joe Cloyes, cofounder and chief executive officer of the superfood skin-care company.
His cousin and co-creator, creative director Greg Gonzalez, agreed: “One world to protect has been a brand pillar.”
That applies to what’s inside and outside. The brand has used glass packaging from the beginning. (“It’s universally recycled, and it’s better for formulas,” says Cloyes. “Plastics can sometimes interact with certain plants.”) Product formulas — cleansers, toners, creams, masks and oils found at Sephora — are made by cold-pressing extracts and creating blends like kale, spinach and green tea. Generally priced between $36 and $58, they’re unisex, vegan, free of animal testing and of harsh chemicals like sulfates, phthalates and parabens.
“It’s about being as responsible as possible and as conscious as we can every step of the way,” down to thinking about the glue that’s used to bind together boxes, said Gonzalez.
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But there’s always room for improvement, they both shared. Goals for the year include replacing the plastic that they source for their caps with versions made from post-consumer waste. Other initiatives include a large-scale refill system for their cleanser and travel-size products, as well as partnering with Upcycle, an L.A-based clothing manufacturer and wholesaler, to produce Youth to the People merchandise using a blend of recycled plastic water bottles and recycled organic cotton.
“We’re also working with more manufactures directly now that we’ve grown,” said Cloyes. “We can go directly to manufacturers versus working with packaging brokers, which allows us to really home in on our carbon footprint.”
The brand, which now has about 50 employees, more than doubled its revenue from 2018 to 2019 and plans to do the same this year, though they’re unsure of the final financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been affected by Sephora’s store closures but have shifted plans quickly to adjust to the current climate. To enhance the customer experience, for example, they’re currently providing consumers with free, online one-on-one skin consultations with skin-care professionals.
“We understand we’re not perfect and neither is our brand, but we’re going to do everything we can to improve every year,” said Cloyes.
At Nécessaire, the unisex body- and sex-care line that launched last year, cofounder Randi Christiansen has been working toward that goal, as well.
A key objective is to improve the plastic the brand uses, which Christiansen calls “clean plastic.”
“It’s free of three petrochemicals that are really bad in plastic production,” she said. “However, that’s just not good enough. The idea of plastic should really be — which is what I’m currently working on — to get a post-consumer recyclability into it and/or transfer into complete biomaterials. That’s what you’ll be seeing next.”
Based in Culver City, Calif., the company produces goods that are free of known toxic chemicals and irritants like sulfates, phthalates, petrochemicals, parabens, synthetic dyes, silicones and synthetic fragrances. The products, priced between $20 and $45, include a deodorant, exfoliator, wash, lotion, serum and sex gel.
Nécessaire’s aim from the start was to “create products that are good for our health, wellness and for our business to make a positive impact,” Christiansen said. “If that’s how you start, it becomes the filter for everything you do.” Working with FSC-certified vendors, the company uses 85 percent post-consumer waste boxes and 100 percent recyclable paper for their boxes and shippers.
She and cofounder Nick Axelrod were “lucky” when they entered the space, she added, “because a lot of research was done on clean beauty. Sustainability on the other hand, we were one of the first to make this a key point in our mission.”
While it starts with the formula, a sustainable approach involves analyzing the entire process of producing, sourcing, packaging and transporting goods. It’s also about giving back to the environment with philanthropic endeavors, all to minimize the carbon footprint. Currently, Nécessaire is working to become “climate neutral” and achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions.
Despite the pandemic, Nécessaire’s growth trajectory has continued. “We planned this year to grow three times to four times above year one, and we are trending to that,” said Christiansen. “I’m humbled that we’ve seen our direct business not collapse during this time. We’ve seen consumers really coming into the self-care and wellness space. We’ve seen a nice growth.”
Rising L.A.-based brand Wildling, which specializes in the ancient Chinese practice of gua sha, has also seen growth during COVID-19.
“It has been substantial,” said herbalist and product developer Jill Munson, a cofounder alongside acupuncturist Gianna De La Torre and aesthetician Britta Plug. “We’re only a year old. We launched at the end of 2018, so we don’t have a ton of data, but we’re up almost 500 percent this quarter versus first quarter of 2019 .”
“We’ve seen incredible demand,” De La Torre added. “People are really resonating with what we have to offer.”
Wildling is a three-step ritual using a $65 Bian stone and wand that are 100 percent sustainably sourced. Along with the tools, the brand provides cruelty-free products that include a $49 tonic made with botanicals and a $79 oil to enhance the experience and help increase the skin’s circulation, plump and tone. The stone and wand, used in traditional Chinese medicine, is made from materials found along the coastline of Shandong, China.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Munson of working with China during the pandemic. “Getting our tools shipped from China and the initial challenge of them being closed for so long was difficult for our supply chain. But things are starting to pick back up. And everything else is made locally and most of our vendors are considered essential so they’ve stayed open.”
Using all recyclable, FSC-certified paper for packaging, they work with local farms to source ingredients, herbs and wild plants.
“We make our products a half-hour away from our facilities where we ship them out,” said Munson. “Our packaging people are all within 30 minutes of each other. We try to stay really close to lessen our carbon footprint.
“We try to be as sustainable as we can,” she continued. “And still be an efficient business.”