Tracie Martyn and Marius Morariu were among the original clean beauty disruptors. They had a Dirty Dozen list in 2002 that they shared with editors, but the industry wasn’t ready. They were, however, impressed by the effectiveness of the products, services at the spa, and the star-studded clientele of the brand.
For Martyn and Morariu, formulating any other way was not an option—creating clean products was an ethical imperative. Many natural brands launched at this time didn’t make it. While completely self-funded, the Tracie Martyn business became one of the clean beauty trailblazers, cash flowing their business from a loyal following and sales growth fueled by decades of editorial coverage and word of mouth.
The industry and consumer preference has finally caught up with the concept of clean beauty, and the Tracie Martyn business is perfectly positioned to capitalize on the opportunity.Marius Morariu, Tracie Martyn co-founder and CEO, shares the genius of the brand, the path to growth, and how they’ve evolved to remain relevant in an increasingly crowded market.
Tell us a little about your career. How did you find your way into the beauty business?
I have to admit that apart from my dreams as a young boy to be a fragrance designer, a marine biologist—my passion for protecting the ocean is bigger then ever—and a Hollywood actor, not one despite classes taken at Lee Strasberg Institute but working with many, my career was heading in a medical direction. I was born to a family of physicians, my mother a neurologist, pediatrician, and psychiatrist and my father an anesthesiologist. I was accepted after rigorous tests and practical experience in various hospitals to a prestigious anthroposophical medical university in Witten, Germany. However, despite living in Berlin, I had the urge to live in a larger more cosmopolitan city. After visiting New York, a friend suggested a holistic approach to understanding the human body which led me to enroll in a course for massage therapy at the Swedish Institute in New York. I continued my education at New York College and included nutrition and oriental medicine. I also met my business partner Tracie in New York. She was working with famed photographers like Annie Leibovitz and taking care of fabulous faces like Naomi Campbell. It was our mutual vision of holistic and effective beauty and wellness that brought us together to create the Tracie Martyn concept. We were the first to pioneer services that were equally pampering and rejuvenating in an atmosphere that felt like someone’s living room instead of a sterile medi-spa environment. I never thought I would become the CEO of a beauty company, with clients like Rihanna, HM Queen Rania, Oprah Winfrey, Kate Winslet, Dakota Johnson, Cyndi Lauper, Kim Kardashian, Georgia Jagger—it is amazing how the universe works its magic.
What was your vision for the brand and the plans for the business when you launched?
When we started, our entire focus was caring for one client at the time with a service we trademarked—the Resculpting Facial. This service is based on a sophisticated beauty machine we had custom manufactured that delivered a precise amount and type of current (we call it BEYOND micro-current, as that term is used indiscriminately for different quality beauty equipment) that effectively lifts, firms, and contours faces with proprietary software. That focus on service, making every single client happy and confident by enhancing their inner and outer beauty, is still at the core of our intention. We just expanded our care to a larger community via our amazing high-performance, all-natural, safe, clean, and green skincare.
How have they evolved and what are they now?
We now see ourselves as a global skincare and wellness brand. Our products are delivered through our website and Net-A-Porter to pretty much all the corners of the world. We believe that our products fill a void in the luxury skincare market. As a brand, we have great potential in both online and brick-and-mortar retail, especially high-end boutiques, clean beauty concepts, luxury department stores, and 5-star resorts. There are many brands in the mass clean skincare segment but very few in luxury.
Both natural beauty and luxury beauty outperform the beauty market as a whole, so with this growth potential backwind, we are excited to grow the Tracie Martyn skincare sales. We feel that we are one of the very few brands that utilize a high-tech scientific lens. This is important because as a brand we need to cut through the noise of natural but not always effective methods, trends, and safety. Not ALL natural ingredients are safe. Unlike most professional brands led by aestheticians, nutritionists, or dermatologists who focus only on active ingredients in their products, we focus on the need for clean ingredients in the entire formula.
The fusion of high-tech and holistic anti-aging is the foundation of the services that made Tracie Martyn the go-to for celebrities and in-the-know New Yorkers. How did the spa inform the development of the products?
The spa is in many ways the inspiration for the skincare. Firstly, as you mentioned, it combines the same DNA as the services: Holistic yet scientific, gentle yet effective, focused on results but diligently enforcing the “safe first” filter.
Historically it evolved in a very logical manner. We started the spa without our own skincare line at first, and had to rely on third-party brands to use in our services. We also retailed some of these brands, notably two: a dermatological-strength, cosmeceutical-based line, and a farm-based, all-natural, botanical line. The feedback from our clients regarding the first was that it was too harsh at times and had some stability issues, and that the second organic/natural brand smelled good but underperformed. The only way out of this dilemma was to create our own skincare that was the perfect fusion of the right concentration and combination of natural cosmeceuticals in a 100% clean base of natural and organic botanicals and oils. The second way the services influenced the creation of the line was the desire to find ingredients that mimicked the effects of technologies used in the spa treatments.
Your approach to skincare was way ahead of its time when you launched in 1998. What compelled you at that time to develop clean formulas that merge technology and science and ensure your packaging was sustainable?
I can only say it was my background in wellness as a holistic nutritionist, reading labels in the health food stores on both foods and personal care, and having an understanding of biochemistry. I believed that any ingredient that interacts with your endocrine system IS clearly a concern, whether there were studies validating it or not. Many petrochemicals are hormonal in nature, like parabens or hormonal disruptors like phthalates. A UK study that confirmed the presence of parabens in cancerous breast tissue came 5 years after we started R&D on our skincare line.
Think of all petrochemicals as Russian roulette: you might get the bullet, you might not, who wants to take a chance? So the safety of the products we were developing was my personal ethical concern. I did not want to poison my friends and family, and what are clients and customers if not an extension of this group ultimately? So yes, going against the grain at that time was hard, but important for my peace of mind and allowed me to sleep well for the very few hours my entrepreneurial life allowed me to put my head down.
Our Purple is Green concept was another personal preference, as I am simply an idealist and not only do I consider having children one day but spiritually all children of the world are my children, so what world will they live in if we don’t make sustainability a priority?
Why do you think it has taken so long for the industry and consumers to catch up with the philosophy on beauty you’ve been preaching for two decades?
Every change in perspective takes time. We have just embraced eating healthier and avoiding processed foods and trans fats as a society. Not everybody understood that the skin as the largest organ is very susceptible to man-made chemicals, it’s not an effective barrier against them.
However, education has increased rapidly due to the digital revolution. So our trademarked Pure Revolution, the incredible wave in the clean, safe, and green beauty movement we were part of, was helped tremendously by online and social media information traveling so fast in the recent years.
I shared my Dirty Dozen list in 2002 to many editors, but their hands were tied. It was not OK to write about the subject. The industry was somewhat reluctant to accept the inevitable. It was disruptive to be clean! Many natural brands did not survive. We did because of the support by magazine editors who focused on the efficacy of our products and services, and because of our loyal clientele. I am incredibly grateful for this.
Now that there is an audience that cares about what they put in and on their body, but also demand, as a result there is also a plethora of new indie brands trying to fill the need.
How have you remained relevant and differentiated?
It is great to have a major head start! Our products are loved and endorsed by influencers and superstars, have been written up in online magazines like Allure.com, Refinery29, Well and Good, Byrdie, and Into the Gloss. We are distributed in some of the most prestigious and respected channels like Net-A-Porter, Bergdorf Goodman, Blue Mercury, and Space NK. We have a major focus on our brand website and great sales on the unstoppable Amazon. So we have the amazing excitement of a perfectly positioned start-up PLUS a major proof of concept. We’re ready to scale up fast with the right support.
Our advantages come from the careful filters I developed through my scientific approach to developing skincare. I believe in and read about dermatological science, whereas the natural community tends to treat the skin the same as the stomach. While I use the term nutrition for your skin, the Tracie Martyn skincare line is more like “nutraceuticals for your skin.” It delivers nutrients (almost as if they are pre-digested) in careful combinations and concentrations so the skin will be able to utilize and be nourished by them. If you could just throw your morning Vitamix shake on your face and fix your wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and lack of elasticity, we would not need skincare at all. In concentrating natural actives and doing studies on what concerns they address, we have data that removes the guesswork, because our promise is to give you the best version of yourself.
Anti-aging is no longer popular, but accepting everything when you can avoid so much is also not wise. Why not accept where you are but embrace your better self through the right lifestyle that harnesses the power of nature through technology/science/data analysis? Why back to nature? That is not possible! The ozone layer is not the same, we are bombarded by chemical toxins. Forward to nature via science is the new frontier! Become bionic as much as possible through supernutrients and the right mind and body training. This in my opinion prepares you for future challenges and allows for the best life possible.
What’s been the most profound change in the beauty industry in the past two decades and how has it impacted your business?
I think it is the acceptance of the Pure Revolution we started to a large extent and the Digital Revolution that allows its incredible wildfire spread. We are NOW finally benefitting from this.
What excites you about the future of the beauty industry?
Apart from its growth is the fact that it now has an impact on making people happier and healthier. Beauty = Confidence = Self Love= Ability to Love Others.
How have you funded the brand to date?
We never received any kind of funding, not even friends and family seed investment. The brand grew organically through cash spikes from amazing editorial placements in Vogue and People magazine and the Oprah Winfrey Show for example.
Why have you decided now is the time to bring in outside capital?
The market is finally ready for the full spectrum of what we have to offer and we are confident there would be an incredible win-win for us, investors, and our customers. With investment we can create better experiences through expanded inventory and distribution.
What would an ideal investor look like for you?
The ideal investor would be excited about the unique positioning we have in the industry and embrace our passion and vision. We are looking for ideally $3-6 million as our first raise, so probably angel investors and VC funds are the best match at this stage. However, there are strategic incubator funds that are fascinating. We are willing to discuss different options with partners who feel comfortable with our belief in collaboration and the highest good.
What is in store for the future of Tracie Martyn?
Ideally we would love to evolve into a lifestyle brand. We always saw beauty as more than skin deep. We truly believe that it is a privilege to thrive and be able to give back, so having a powerful socially conscious platform would be a dream.
Photo credit: Tracie Martyn