In 2011, Ms. Gregg Renfrew founded beautycounter (one word), manufacturer of cosmetics and personal care products. But instead of creating just another makeup brand, Ms. Renfrew made several unconventional decisions.
First, she made a list of more than 1500 potentially harmful ingredients that she vowed never to use in her products. Next, she turned the conventional business model on its head, shunning department stores in favor of a network of independent consultants. Finally, she embarked on a campaign to introduce new regulations to the personal care industry, noting that the last law governing it was passed in 1938.
How did Beautycounter get going?
I watched “An Inconvenient Truth” and had become impassioned with the environmental health movement. I was washing my children with a natural foaming oatmeal body wash by a name brand, but when I went on the Environmental Working Group’s database, it rated it an eight out of nine for toxicity. I thought I was using natural oatmeal body wash, and in fact I was putting toxins on my babies. I was just outraged. And I became truly obsessed with this.
At the same time, I was looking at where direct to consumer was going, and where I saw the biggest white space was in beauty. No one had pioneered meaningful change in that industry. It took me a couple of years to concept the idea, the selling model, create the products from scratch. I went in thinking that we could just use white-label products and change a few ingredients. That was not the case.
You’re very focused on bringing more regulation to your own industry. That’s unusual.
Most people still believe that the Food and Drug Administration is protecting them in terms of personal care products. And most people believe that the products on the market are safe. But the F.D.A. is not necessarily screening ingredients for safety, which is very different from the food industry. The F.D.A. can be protective of the consumer in certain industries, but in our industry, we are woefully under regulated, and they don’t have the power to recall products. And this is one area where you have bipartisan support. Everyone agrees that we need to update the laws. It’s been 80 years now.
So what ingredients do you use and not use?
There are mostly natural ingredients that are safer, but some natural ingredients are not safe. There are heavy metals in the ground that are not safe for your health, and there are perfectly benign man-made ingredients. We have something called the Never List, which is a list of ingredients we chose not to formulate with.
To get safer products into the hands of everyone. Learn More
Taken partly from an interview with Ms. Renfrew by David Gelles at the New York Times. Gelles is the Corner Office columnist and business reporter. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter. @dgelles
It’s always Christmas in this camp!