Herbivore co-founder Alex Kummerow on conscious companies

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Starting out on Etsy and made by hand in the kitchen of co-founders Alex Kummerow and Julia Wills, skin-care brand Herbivore is now a rainbow-colored powerhouse with $15 million in Series A funding and distribution at Sephora.

The brand’s Instagram-friendly aesthetic, emphasis on plant-based ingredients and glass-heavy packaging have attracted a loyal following. It has recently been rolling out a range of new products focused on active ingredients, including its latest vitamin C launch, as well as its bakuchiol Moon Fruit Serum, which launched this week.

For this Glossy Beauty Podcast, Kummerow joined us from his home base in Hawaii to talk about Herbivore’s founding story, growth and next steps. He shared details on how Herbivore went from a homemade brand to being stocked in top national retailers, how it’s approached sustainability, and where he predicts beauty is headed.

The brand’s aesthetic evolution
“We want to really elevate naturals [ingredients]. When we hit the scene, it’s not that we created natural products. We weren’t the first to do this, but we were the first that made it look beautiful. And that’s something that was totally lacking. A lot of it was just packaged brown bottles with craft paper labels. There’s this connotation, if you’re natural, you have to look a certain way and feel a certain way. And we were like, ‘No, that doesn’t have to be that way; naturals are beautiful.’

We’re actually kind of moving away from our pastels that were our identity for almost a whole decade. So you saw Nova—we had the neon yellow. You’re going to see a lot of innovation around our aesthetic, as well. We’ve got an amazing design team behind us and an amazing product team.”

Sustainability goals
“It all started with glass packaging — something we could access. We were a tiny indie brand, right? We couldn’t do custom packaging, and we were doing runs of 50-100 products at a time. So we knew glass would be our best option.

At this point, we’re 50% PCR. We’ve eliminated half the virgin plastic, and by the end of the year, we’re going to eliminate 100% of virgin plastics. We would do it today if the technology was there. It’s just that, now, we’re on the dawn of eliminating plastics, from a manufacturing point of view. I always take this opportunity to empower the consumers out there in the community to push on brands. I think the power is in the people’s hands. And it’s amazing how far one voice can go.”

On the future of beauty
“Herbivore’s the direction we’re moving in. We pushed the clean envelope. And we’re cleaner than clean, as we like to say, because we do not use any synthetics. There are a lot of safe synthetics in the industry. We just don’t know if we trust those. Testing is always done in such short timelines. We can look at the way we think an ingredient’s going to act within our bodies over a lifetime, but we’re only testing a year or two. After prolonged exposure of synthetic ingredients, we really don’t know what that’s going to look like after 50, 60 or 70 years of usage. So we like to play it safe with our all-natural materials or ingredients and just be sustainably focused, always pushing the envelope. We’re not done. We’re always going to be pushing. Brands just have to continuously innovate and continuously look to solve problems the industry is currently facing. It’s definitely going to be conscious companies — conscious companies are the future. And transparency is the future.”

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