Recently, our co-founder Alex Kummerow sat down with the Beautylish staff to chat about natural skincare, sustainability in the beauty industry, + his can’t-live-without Herbivore products. An expert in formulation + ingredients, Alex shares his point of view on where Herbivore started + how the brand has evolved.
BEAUTYLISH: HOW DID HERBIVORE GET ITS START?
ALEX KUMMEROW: Herbivore began with a simple idea: to make sustainably packaged, vegan, and natural skincare products the new normal. We started the brand with an initial fifty-dollar investment—we did not have much money at the time—and hauled our first batch of soap off to the farmer’s market. Within a few months we had a full range of soaps but wanted to take the brand further.
With a passion for research, plants, and making things with our hands, we quickly began to expand the range of products into facial skincare, bath, and body. We took a very DIY approach to the brand. My fellow co-founder Julia and I pretty much did it all ourselves for the first 2 years; we formulated the products, designed the packaging, took the photographs, ran the website, and communicated with customers. Once we started working with a few national retailers it was time to expand our team, which allowed us to move the company out of the kitchen!
B: HERBIVORE HAS GROWN FROM A SMALL ETSY SHOP TO A POPULAR, INTERNATIONAL BRAND. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ALONG THE WAY? WHAT WERE YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES?
AK: So many lessons have been learned but I think my biggest takeaway is: you can accomplish great things if you just keep working at it one day at a time. It is easy to get focused on the end goal, but you need to take time to celebrate the little victories along the way. Break down the steps that you need to take to get to your end goal and give yourself realistic to-do lists along the way.
We grew Herbivore in a truly unique way, we did not partner with any professionals in the industry, and we really took our own rogue approach. Our goal was to shift the industry, so we felt that bringing in talent from other spaces would allow us to stay unique and truly differentiate ourselves.
This also came with challenges because we often found ourselves reinventing the wheel. Herbivore was growing at such a rapid pace at times it was a struggle to keep up. We did our own manufacturing and I remember working late with the team filling BLUE TANSY BHA Mask with pastry bags thinking to myself, “I think it’s time to start buying machines.” It was always the moments like this, looking around and thinking “there has to be a better way.” Then I’d spend the next few days or weeks learning about machines or whatever else I needed to upgrade or implement. Every day was and is truly a learning experience.
B: WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO FORMULATING YOUR PRODUCTS?
AK: Our approach to formulating products generally comes from an infatuation with an ingredient. When we developed LAPIS Face Oil back in 2014, for example, we had just gotten our hands on blue tansy oil—a form of chamomile from Morocco. It hadn’t been used in any products on the market yet.
We dropped one drop of blue tansy oil into fractionated coconut oil—which is clear–and saw what a beautiful inky blue color it was. Knowing that chamomile is an amazing anti-inflammatory and great for reducing redness we built the product around these functions. This is our approach to almost every product in the line.
We also take a sensorial approach and want to make sure every aspect of the product is enjoyable–from the scent to the color to the skincare benefits.
Another way we like to get creative is to avoid unnecessary fillers. Take our ROSE HIBISCUS Mist for example. Instead of using plain water as a filler, we use botanical hydrosols in place of our water. The base to this mist is coconut, rose and aloe water which all deliver healthy hydration. It really helps to boost the effect of the hyaluronic acid in the formula.
Each formula is made with love and a lot of thought. And when I say love, I mean love. I formulated over 130 versions of EMERALD Face Oil until I felt like it was ready for market. These are my babies and they need to be perfect!
B: WHY IS THE SENSORIAL EXPERIENCE OF YOUR PRODUCTS SO IMPORTANT?
AK: Skincare is about caring for yourself and loving yourself. This should be a positive experience all around. A smell can transport you to so many worlds within yourself. It can trigger nostalgia, relaxation, or creativity, or invigorate you. We think of these aromatherapeutic experiences when formulating.
Color, like scent, can evoke different moods and we take this into consideration, too. It’s actually quite interesting how colors work in skincare. Many cool-tone ingredients are calming to the skin and warm-toned ingredients are better for stimulating and invigorating the skin! It’s very similar to how these colors affect the mind.
FOR MANY BEAUTY BRANDS, SUSTAINABILITY IS AN ONGOING JOURNEY. HOW IS HERBIVORE STRIVING TO BE A MORE SUSTAINABLE BRAND?
Sustainability has been important to us from the very beginning. For example:
- We have always used glass jars and bottles to house our products.
- We use 100% natural ingredients to ensure biocompatibility with the earth and that they will break down in nature when rinsed down the sink.
- We use post-consumer materials to make our caps.
- We screenprint with sustainable inks and avoid paper labels.
Most recently, we have been partnering with other brands to discuss ways that we can push the beauty industry to be more sustainable. When we come together, we have power in numbers that allow us to lobby for climate change initiatives and to push harder for suppliers to come up with more sustainable packaging options. We realize that we are in a space that involves consumption, so we are driven to minimize our footprint as much as possible!
B: WHAT HERBIVORE PRODUCTS WOULD YOU NEVER LIVE WITHOUT?
AK: I can’t live without our facial oils! I rotate depending on my skin’s mood but lately I’ve been using PHOENIX and my skin has been so happy.