December 9, 2021


Only The Finest Women

Clean Beauty Entrepreneurs Honored By Cosmetic Executive Women

Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW), in partnership with The Sage Group, celebrated “clean” beauty entrepreneurs earlier this month during the CEW Female Founder Awards. The even honored eight trailblazing women who shifted the perception of clean beauty from a niche to mainstream. Presenters provided insight into the growing demand for clean products, sustainability and environmental health.

Carlotta Jacobson, president, CEW, welcomed the honorees, saying, “The women we honor today are extraordinary.” She described the event as an opportunity to learn from the experts and brand founders.

Clean continues to be a baseline benefit, says Marissa Lepor.

“Clean will continue to be a baseline benefit required for many consumers; and robust production, customization, and increased focus on developing sustainable and eco-friendly products will see continued growth,” said Marissa Lepor, VP, The Sage Group. She noted continued growth of the men’s grooming and skin care markets, as well as the acceleration of digital-first sampling, and an increase in direct-to-consumer marketing, with brands pivoting to multi-channel retail. She explained that this will give brands more contact with customers, and is complemented by experimentation with Amazon Beauty and further experimentation with social media.

The Sage Group works with clients to understand each company’s business model and enable businesses to grow in the beauty space by maximizing value and building growth plans. Lepor holds a key role in the firm’s beauty and personal care and e-commerce practices, and her past transactions include the sales of Oribe and BH Cosmetics. Citing opportunities in the clean beauty space, Lepor said, “Female-founded brands are a big focus for Sage,” noting an increase in investment in clean beauty brands. She noted increased demand for color cosmetics and further expansion of the haircare category, which she referred to as the “skinification of hair.”


Lucie Greene, founder, Light Years, is the worldwide director of The Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson. She leads the group’s research into emerging global consumer behaviors, cultural changes, and sector innovation. Her focus on clean beauty revealed a significant shift in beauty searches online, notably a 40{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} increase in searches for ‘”clean beauty,” since 2017. A global survey from 2020 showed that women are also seeking greater transparency from beauty brands, and 61{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} thought that brands didn’t do enough to explain “clean” or “green” labeling on product packaging (Source: Influenster/Bazaarvoice). She said 2020 global clean beauty sales topped $5.4 billion, but will more than double to nearly $11.6 billion by 2027.

Greene discussed the role of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and its clean ingredient certification, including a category called EWG Verified: For Your Health Ingredients. She noted the drive for clean, conscious consumption overall and highlighted Sephora’s launch of a program called “Clean Plus,” which bans petroleum-based ingredients and focuses on sustainability. According to Greene, “Clean products will be free of phthalates, sulphates, silicones, parabens, pesticides, petroleum derivatives, artificial coloring and synthetic fragrances. While the brands offering these free-from profiles are most likely cruelty-free, they may not be vegan, since they can still use honey or beeswax.”

As part of the general trend to conscious consumption, Greene said 82{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} of individuals surveyed said they value nature more now than before the pandemic, according to Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. Furthermore, 79{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} of US consumers say it is right for businesses and brands to focus on positive impact on the planet; 86{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} expect businesses to play their part in solving big challenges like climate change or social justice; and 75{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} say business responses to COVID-19 have raised their expectations of businesses.

Gen Z is increasing its clean beauty spend, according to Lucie Greene.

“These purposes are not at odds with gaining profits,” Greene insisted.

She noted a rise of mission-based brands and social responsibility, saying 63{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} of consumers prefer to buy goods and services from companies that stand for a shared purpose that reflects their personal values and beliefs. She noted Unilever’s 2019 announcement that its purpose-led, Sustainable Living Brands were growing 69{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} of the company’s growth. Greene acknowledged the impact of Gen Z brands, as well, as they take on causes like mental health and wellness, and are making efforts to evolve into good health for the planet, nature and the consumer. 

Citing a rise in the evolution of “green,” via the Nature/Science blur, Greene said that L’Oréal is expanding its green science programs—by 2030, 95{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} of its ingredients will come from renewable plant sources, minerals or circular processes. She quoted Barbara Lavernos, L’Oréal chief research, innovation and technology officer, who described a “new chapter in research with green sciences,” using natural sciences, agronomy, biotechnology, eco-extraction, green chemistry or physical chemistry; and noted the creation of a renewable, sugarcane-derived version of squalene by Biossance scientists.

Greene discussed the rise of biodiversity, saying that Italian beauty company, Davines partnered with Rodale Institute, to create a new regenerative farm and research center. She explained that unfettered nature is increasingly becoming a message in clean beauty brands. The idea extends to soil and organic farming, as well as the use of organic dyes and textiles made using regenerative agriculture.

In explaining sustainability nutrition, which looks at brands that reduce environmental impact, Greene cited January 2021 findings by Forrester that 61{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} of individuals surveyed seek out energy-efficient labels when making purchases. Unilever, L’Oréal, LVMH and other major cosmetic beauty brands announced an industry-wide scoring system to measure a product’s environmental impact. More growth is expected in the bio-contributive segment, which is packaging that actually aids the environment. For example, British wellness brand Haeckels launched packages crafted from mycelium. A material that forms the root system of mushrooms, combined with sawdust, flax and hemp husks, which when returned to the soil helps form a healthy root system.

Greene concluded with kudos to Gen Z’s clean aesthetic, saying that the Gen Z consumer has increased its clean beauty spend by 25.78{3a94529b2b68d99beac25dca5c1678936e723415472492fb18744b4f77d809a2} compared to its pre-pandemic spend, and this demographic is driving the clean aesthetic.

“Sustainability has shifted to a new wave with a different visual language, and new representation,” said Greene, citing Pharrell William’s Humanrace line, packaged in emerald green post-consumer waste recycled and refillable packaging, and Ariana Grande, with her clean new fragrance, God is a Woman.



Honoree, Michelle Pfeiffer, actress and founder of Henry Rose, in conversation with Yves Cassar, vice president/senior perfumer, fine fragrance, IFF, and moderator Jenny B. Fine, executive editor, beauty, WWD and Beauty Inc., explored the genesis of Henry Rose fragrance. Pfeiffer had searched for a fragrance that would provide a safe, toxin-free, premium scent option, and decided to create her own after she had stopped wearing fragrance due to safety and sensitivity concerns. She joined the Board of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which certifies the safety of the ingredients, and proceeded to incorporate the ethos of safe and toxin-free ingredients in her own fragrances.

Clockwise top left: Jenny B. Fine, Yves Cassar and Michelle Pfeiffer.

“I really missed wearing perfume and I realized I would have to create it myself if I was going to wear it,” said Pfeiffer. In creating a fragrance that worked for her, she gravitated to a floral profile that reflected her childhood remembrances. After a failed attempt with one fragrance house, Pfeiffer went to IFF, saying, “When I went to IFF I knew I was home.”

She described the challenge of whittling down 3,000 ingredients to fewer than 300, saying, “The experience was amazing, they didn’t quit on me.”

Cassar remembered discussing the Cradle to Cradle concept of ingredient certification with Pfeiffer in creating her collection, and the challenge of working with a restrictive palette comprised of safe and sustainable ingredients that aligned with Pfeiffer’s concept. “We smelled sweet notes, spices, vanilla, vetiver and patchouli,” said Cassar, noting how Pfeiffer’s comments led to fine tuning the result.

Pfeiffer said, “I always felt this line and brand would smell premium and be able to compete in the marketplace, while meeting the safety standards. If I gave up any of those standards, I wouldn’t be meeting my criteria. It was through the process of understanding fragrance that I learned how to tell where a fragrance took me and then see where it took us. I knew I was going back to Night Blooming Jasmine and roses in the garden, scent memories are so strong.” Her recollections of her grandparent’s house were the inspiration for Jake’s House, by Henry Rose, a clean, watery fresh neroli, paraben-free and cruelty-free, which embodies her memory. The process of creating clean fragrances, with premium positioning, encouraged Pfeiffer in her journey. “It gave me a feeling of possibility,” she said.

Cassar and Pfeiffer traveled to Haiti, where IFF grows and harvests vetiver. Pfeiffer described the moving harvest ceremony she witnessed in the vetiver fields, and learned how only the roots are used for the fragrance.

“We distill the vetiver roots in Haiti and then send the crude oil to our factory in Grasse,” explained Cassar. Pfeiffer said, “People are becoming more aware of what is in their fragrances and are really curious about what is contained inside them, while there are those who just want to love the smell.” 

Pfeiffer said Henry Rose is expanding into body creams, hand sanitizers and home fragrance; and along with Cassar, noted the challenge of developing a complex floral. Her newest floral, Flora Carnivora, is a blend of vetiver notes, soft jasmine, tuberose and bright orange flowers.



Jill Scalamandre, president, bareMinerals, Buxom, and CEW chairwoman, introduced the panel of honorees, including Julian Addo, founder and CEO, Adwoa Beauty; Karen Behnke, founder, Juice Beauty; Melissa Butler, founder and CEO, The Lip Bar; Christine Chang and Sarah Lee, co-founders and co-CEOs, Glow Recipe; April Gargiulo, founder and CEO, Vintner’s Daughter; and Sasha Plavsic, founder and CEO, Ilia. Scalamandre asked each honoree how she entered the clean beauty arena.

Addo shared that Adwoa Beauty came out of the hair relaxer movement, saying its message was to work with the natural community, and “eliminate toxicity and bring textured hair to the prestige world.” Behnke, founder of Juice Beauty, emphasized the need for efficacy and wellness, saying she wanted to put healthy ingredients on the skin, “never harm the planet or people,” she said. Gargiulo, Vintner’s Daughter, wanted to create a clean, high performance skin care line based on whole botanicals. Chang and Lee, Co-Founders, Glow Recipe, sought to combine their passion for clinically-effective skin care with their Korean beauty heritage; and Butler, founder and CEO, The Lip Bar, wanted to create non-toxic beauty for women who realized they didn’t have to compromise health for beauty, deciding to start with lipstick, which gave women confidence. She said she was determined to change beauty from a health perspective, offering pigmented color without lead and toxins. Plavsic, Ilia, spoke of the environmental toxins that had made her brother and mother ill, and decided to create a more transparent way to healthy beauty. “We sit between skin care and makeup,” explained Plavsic.

The founders provided background to their company’s namesake and genesis, with Ilia coming from Plavsic’s grandfather’s name, as a shoemaker in Belgrade; a feminine-sounding name, but a masculine name in Slavic, said Plavsic. Addo’s company name, Adwoa, means female born on a Monday, in Africa, tying healthy beauty for all Black women together. Juice Beauty, said Behnke, acknowledges the company’s natural power, from its solar-powered farm and micro-balanced pond, offering sustainability inside and out. Chang and Lee said Glow Recipe bucked the trends by using clean ingredients that are non-animal-derived, sustainability in packaging and beyond, and alignment with their value system.

Gargiulo, who came from the wine space and had no previous beauty experience, said she had to “push forward with clean ingredient formulations,” as she navigated her way through various labs; and Butler encountered a “steep learning curve,” as she had started out formulating her vegan and cruelty-free lip products in her kitchen.


Addo said, “I couldn’t understand why clean beauty didn’t extend to hair care.” She noted that interest in prestige hair care products for textured hair continued to grow, and in 2017 Sephora contacted her. “It wasn’t a hard concept to sell in 2017, as Sephora came to me. If you create it, they’ll come,” she said.

Karen Behnke gave a shout out to Pharmaca, a wellness apothecary, as the first to carry her products, and also to Ulta, which she said, “took a huge step to welcome Juice Beauty as a conscious beauty brand.” Butler noted that retailers were risk-averse, and that in the years 2014-2015, the conversation about diversity and inclusion wasn’t taking place. “So, the relationship and why vegan beauty mattered really grew at the intersection of wanting to do what’s right and consumers wanting vegan, cruelty-free, non-toxic products,” said Butler.

Ilia received a call from Sephora in 2012, after the Ilia brand’s debut at Colette in Europe. “For clean makeup, we came to the party last and waited in the go-cart lane, but now we are the number one foundation and the second fastest growing brand at Sephora,” said Plavsic. “All tides rise,” she said, “and it’s great to be part of the clean beauty movement.”

Chang and Lee described an “aha moment,” when they realized that the former trend toward a 15-step Korean beauty routine was too complicated and the sheer number of steps needed to be condensed. The result was a sensorial, textured, condensed beauty routine that evolved into the Glow Recipe brand in partnership with Sephora. “Sephora is very much in the kitchen,” said Chang. 

While some of the founders had investors, others built their businesses without outside investment, each maintaining that their original missions remain central to their evolving product concepts. When asked where they wanted to be in five years, Gargiulo said, “I want to maintain that north star around craftsmanship, and I hope what we’re doing becomes table stakes for everyone.” Chang said, “We want to continue to bring clinically effective products forward and expand our thoughtful language and unretouched visuals.” Addo shared, “I want to continue innovating in hair care, definitely be a global beauty brand, explore sustainable options, and hopefully go into other categories.”

“I would like to be everywhere,” said Plavsic. “Forty-one percent of people have awareness of the brand in the clean space. I am looking at thoughtfully entering different markets and expanding the brand,” she said. Behnke planned to continue working on the science, while Butler hoped to continue to enable customers to see themselves in a positive light, instill and mirror confidence, while driving entrepreneurship.

The panel concluded with takeaways for those seeking to build a clean beauty brand. Addo said, “Have a business plan and don’t stray away. Have a clear, concise view of your value proposition and stay on mission.” Behnke added, “Find your passion and that will see you through. Ask yourself, do you have a passion to inspire you and make you tougher in a good way?” Plavsic noted the ability to solve problems; while Gargiulo said, “Really be intentional about your culture and your team.” Chang said, “Stay in your lane and do not get distracted. Staying focused is super important.” Butler concluded, saying, “Get mentors. Don’t be afraid to get help and don’t think that because you have the title of CEO that you can’t make mistakes.”


Clean Beauty Advocates


Tara Foley, founder, Follain, a clean beauty advocate and entrepreneur, gave the closing presentation. Follain means “healthy and wholesome” in Gaelic. Foley said she created a brand dedicated to selling the safest and most luxurious non-toxic beauty and personal care products. “Follain was the first beauty store in the US to have a public facing Restricted Substance List,” she said, describing an ingredient policy created to protect human and environmental health.

In 2009, she started the Natural Alchemist blog, which evolved into a retail business addressing the core clean beauty customer. The company evolved “to help customers stay balanced in their life, skin, and overall environmental health.” The retail venue offers a range of EWG-verified clean beauty brands, as well as Follain’s skin care line, which launched in 2020, and its Follain Brightening Serum. She said, “The Follain in-store experience offers a fresh aesthetic for customers to take a deep breath and take a moment for themselves.”

The idea of ‘clean’ isn’t limited to ingredients. More companies are rethinking product packaging, too.

Although some of their shops had to close during the pandemic, they have grown their online community and social audience, and continue to advocate for what they believe in. Foley is a founding board member of the trade association, NOHBA (Natural and Organic Health & Beauty Alliance), and works with advocacy for education, access, and regulation in the beauty industry.

“There is a lot of shared momentum among the clean beauty brands and the movement is powered by these clean beauty founders,” said Foley. “Now that clean ingredients are part of the regular discourse, it gives these brands a time to share their activist passion to grow and evolve,” she said. She cited Follain as a resource for building a clean beauty brand and shared that brands need to know what they stand for at the start. 

Foley said the ingredient list she relied on, with some cues taken from the E.U. list, was actually derived from the Environmental Health Group at Harvard, which provided expertise. She noted a wide range of resources that help with criteria for clean, including EWG, NOVI, NOHBA, Beauty United, Terracycle, which is their clean sustainable packaging partner, and PETA, however, she emphasized the importance of thinking about what your brand really stands for as you go forward. “I believe clean is going to be taken outside the U.S. While it is now a US-driven trend, I believe that having this conversion in other parts of the world is something we’re going to see growing,” said Foley

Sponsors included The Sage Group, IFF, 24/Seven, Glow Recipe, The Goodkind Co., New World Natural Brands, Moss, Fairchild Media Group, Beauty Inc. and Kaplow Communications.