The story of Innersense Organic Beauty begins with a quest to live a life free of toxins and artificial ingredients. After their daughter was born with a rare genetic disorder, husband and wife Greg and Joanne Starkman committed to an organic lifestyle in an effort to raise her in a healthy and mindful environment. As both had a background in haircare, that mindset soon permeated their attitude towards haircare products. Sensing something missing from the marketplace, Innersense was founded. The company prides itself on using sustainably sourced and meticulously processed pure ingredients that are truly clean, always selecting the highest quality even when that means a higher price point to manufacture. Find out how the brand gets the highest efficacy out of their clean ingredients and their plans to expand into the European market this year.
What life events prompted you to want to create a clean beauty line?
Joanne and I have deep roots in the beauty industry as we both started off as stylists. It was Joanne’s desire always to live a healthier, cleaner lifestyle. Then it was really the birth of our daughter Morgan, that further fueled us to take action steps especially in the areas of cosmetics. Through that experience Joanne became a devout label reader. It was really her intention at that point that put me into action mode as a product developer to really begin to understand green chemistry and toxins in the environment. It became a passion that turned into an obsession, then into developing our products.
How did you go about testing and launching your brand?
We actually spent about four years in product development, and it wasn’t only about formulating but also about the quality and the purity of ingredients that we’d be using. We really wanted to manage and develop our supply chain to ensure that we were bringing products into the formulas that were efficacious and had really great performance values. That was really our biggest challenge. So we did that over a period of about three years and did a lot of in-salon testing throughout that period of time.
How is your brand funded?
We are self-funded. We are not funded through VC although we do have shareholders (friends and family).
You went from working in Big Beauty to launching a brand. What are some learnings you took with you and some things you categorically did not want to do with your brand?
I work on the manufacturing side, so I worked for companies like Goldwell, Joico, Nioxin, and Revlon, and learned a lot working in big beauty. When it comes to product and product innovation especially in the green area, costs always come into play. Through that experience I learned that many products get diluted in quality based on needing to hit financial targets. I saw some really great products that were developed throughout the years, just get diluted down to the point where they were just menial performers and ultimately failed.
It was through that experience that I was so passionate about the product and product performance. Today I don’t allow price to really be a determining factor in the quality of the types of ingredients we use. I want to ensure that we’re utilizing ingredients that meet our brand promise, our mission, and our commitment to purity. And sometimes those come at a much higher cost.
Your brand frequently speaks about how it’s truly clean. Is the term “clean” overused and what is your unique value proposition when you say you’re truly clean?
The bottom line is that we’re removing all commonly used manmade synthetic compounds in our formulations such as resins, silicones, plasticizers, as well as synthetic-based surfactants. I think the safe and clean beauty consumers are becoming more empowered just based on the information that’s available via the Internet. They’re really working to hold brands to a much higher standard. The term clean has really become a new age way of differentiating between what is naturally organic. It really is a value commitment and a promise that a company is willing to make towards the purity and safety of the products that they’re creating. I think that the value of beauty without compromise is critical because consumers are demanding it. Unfortunately, like everything in beauty, marketing and wordsmithing are something that creates a lot of frustration and confusion amongst consumers. You have organizations, especially retailers like Credo, that are really working to create very stringent standards that fit within this verbiage of what is clean beauty with others following suit.
It’s my job on a daily basis to really make sure that we’re upholding our promise and meeting our mission, which is creating products that are efficacious and have great performance, and at the same time are safe and clean. Most general consumers would think if it says paraben, silicone, or sulfate-free, that it’s a clean product, but it can be the furthest thing from it. There are brands out there that lay claim to be natural, safe, or clean but then they have artificial colors or fragrances. That kind of gives a false impression and consumers are becoming much better at curating or unpacking ingredients and demanding quality or transparency of information.
Which ingredients give your products their efficacy, and what were the difficulties you had when creating formulas with clean ingredients?
It’s about managing the supply chain from earth to bottle that’s absolutely critical. You can buy multiple grades of ingredients, so it’s really in the manner that you curate and ensure there’s purity to ensure that the ingredients are efficacious. The emollients and benefits ultimately lead to performance values of the products we create. A lot of our ingredients go through a cold press distillation and we actually utilize ingredients in their raw state, like shea butter. We’re really focused on the quality, purity, and efficacious value that each of our products has.
What are some of your most popular SKUs? Why do you think they resonate most with customers?
We have 16 SKUs and they are sold within between two to three percent of each other because we really aren’t about any one specific hair type and/or ethnicity. Our products work for multi-textural, multi-generational consumers, as well as multiple ethnicities. The reason for that is because of the beautiful emolliences in the ingredients we use. Of course, our hair baths and conditioners are very popular. Then the leave-in conditioners and styling products also because of how they are formulated. We’ve eliminated commonly used cosmetic-based ingredients and we’re really relying on rich efficacies—ingredients that really work from the inside out and don’t layer up or leave any type of a residue on top of it.
You have a self-care approach to haircare. How does this concept manifest in your marketing and branding?
Self-care is a big part of an individual’s beauty routine and we take it for granted, especially with haircare. We’ve really promoted ceremony over service within the salon so that a hairdresser has a deeper, richer connection. Actually, we don’t say hairdressers—we call our community beauty and wellness professionals, because that’s what they do. We really speak in terms of wellness and self-care for hair—it’s learning to be more present with how you care for yourself on a day-in and day-out basis.
How has your brand grown and evolved over the years?
We’ve just seen exponential growth. Our trajectory has been driven by the increased consumer demand for products that meet ingredient standards and performance efficacies. We’re growing in all three channels of our primary points of distribution, which are salons, spas, and the clean beauty space, retailers like Credo, Detox Market, and Take Care. There are just a plethora of independent green beauty retailers that are really stepping up their game and curating better products. They’re really embracing us and global demand for our business is rapidly growing as well. We’re finally at a point where we’re making very deep strategic investments in growing our business in the EU, as well as in the US, marketing and investing in public relations, and investing in consumer sampling, which is one of our biggest drivers for us.
Tell me about launching in the UK—why there and why in 2019?
We are at the doorstep of formally launching in the EU this March. We opened up our subsidiary there who will be managing all of our business growth and we’ve got commitments with major retailers in Europe. We’ll be introducing our brand with Cult Beauty in March and we’re already sold in the UK at specialty green retailers. We are also in GOOP stores. We’re just now in negotiations with other independent as well as regional partners. The EU has always been safety conscious with haircare and cosmetics, so the demand for our product in the UK has been really impressive and organic both on the retail side and on the consumer side.
What’s your partnership with Cult Beauty?
They’re our premiere e-commerce retailer in the EU. What better way to launch or present Innersense? We met them last year at Cosmoprof and developed a fast relationship. They were very excited by our products very early on and I think that they probably would have rolled out our products sooner, but we were in the midst of our EU assessment process. Now that that’s passed, March is their major haircare month and that’s why we’ve kind of strategized to launch through that program.
What other countries would you like to expand into and why?
We really see that our product has a global base and we’re getting a lot of demand in Germany, Denmark, and have some limited distribution in Sweden. We’re going to continue to develop relationships in those core areas and we also have distribution in Australia. We’ll be attending Cosmoprof in Bologna this month where we hope to establish relationships with both distributors and retailers during that period of time.
Photo: via Innersense