CBD is becoming widely used every day, and Undefined Beauty is a new skincare brand that harnesses the ingredient’s beautifying qualities. With an extensive background in beauty, founder Dorian Morris wants to change the narrative of the industry in a multitude of ways. First, she wants to destigmatize the previous perception of CBD as illicit, democratize the beauty industry, and also build social good into her brand. I spoke to Morris about testing and launching her company and her goals for Undefined Beauty.
How did your career path lead you to found your own brand?
I’ve been in beauty for a while, first in women’s fragrance, then in food marketing, which was a real transition. It taught me about things like P&L and growing different channels of business. After that, I joined Sephora in one of their businesses called Kendo, which was their white space group. When I joined the team, it was about 30 people, so very small and scrappy. When I left it, it had grown to about 250 people. I was one of the first brand managers that they hired and I helped build out their brand management organization. It was a great learning opportunity to really learn about the prestige landscape. About six months after I started, it spun out into its own standalone company, still within the umbrella of LVMH. We had this special relationship with Sephora being that we still were in their offices and we had access to all of their data. We had an insider perspective and could look at what was driving the trends across multiple categories. Then I joined a company called Sundial leading their initiative relaunching Madam CJ Walker. It was amazing for me to spearhead the relaunch of this iconic brand within the whole Sundial ecosystem. And then from there, I joined CoverGirl Cosmetics, which was the complete antithesis of my experiences at Sundial and Kendo because it was such a huge brand with 60,000 points of distribution, a $180 million marketing budget, and a large team. It definitely taught me how to think strategically about managing large marketing budgets and working well with agencies, which is something I didn’t have within my experience at either Kendo or Sundial. Ultimately, I realized that I preferred working on something where I would make an impact. And at that point, I had now built two different brands for two different organizations. And I felt like it was time for me to build my own. I loved clean beauty and it’s where I feel that the entire market is moving. And although Undefined is not focused on the African-American community, I can speak to the African-American experience. There are a lot of products that have historically been strategically marketed to brown and black folk that are bad for you. I thought, how do you educate consumers on why they shouldn’t be using certain ingredients like mineral oil or petrochemicals? Then as I started to think about how I was going to differentiate the brand, I tapped into my education around CBD, a year ago before we kind of reached the peak of this green rush that we’re experiencing now. It has so many amazing benefits from a skincare standpoint that haven’t really been tapped into. I wanted to create an elevated experience for CBD because a lot of the brands out at the time where these crunchy, granola brands and there wasn’t a clear leader telling a prestige, elevated story that also was accessible.
You also have a social aspect to your brand—can you tell me more about that?
I also want to infuse social good into each collection. The first collection was indigo rose, which is about elevating CBD, and the social good aspect is female incarceration because unfortunately a lot of people are in jail because of cannabis. As the regulatory landscape has shifted, I wanted to take something that was negative and bring positivity to it and help give women a bridge back to society. I’m a daughter of law enforcement, my mom was one of the only black female, CHP sergeants in California. I’ve been around the space for a long time and unfortunately, I have family members that have been incarcerated, some that are still incarcerated, so I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is to re-acclimate. I want to be part of the solution, and there’s a lot of prison reform that needs to happen. I wanted to build into my supply chain so that way there is a sustainable impact, and unlike other brands I’m not just going to donate to charity—for me, it’s really making inroads to change people’s lives. One idea I have—I haven’t figured out how I want to fully scale and commercialize it yet—but I’ve been chatting with a partner here in San Francisco about it. They run a resource for women to get them off the streets, and they provide food and housing because most of them don’t have jobs. I want to know how can I tap into that ecosystem to help give women opportunities. Maybe they can help me with packaging rework that I’m working on right now or e-commerce fulfillment. As I grow my direct-to-consumer business, they grow as well, giving them something they can put on their resume, which will then help them get a job. It’s that first step towards their future.
What stage of launch is your brand in?
I soft-launched at Indie Beauty Expo back in August in New York and I was voted as one of the super favorites coming out of the show out of 250 brands, which was a great little pat on the back. I also have a new innovation that we’re launching next month as well called Glow Gelée, which has collagen, elastin, and apple stem cells that give you an almost instant lifting, toning, and pore-refining experience. Then Glow Elixir, which is a great partner to Glow Gelée, is multitasking—you can use it on your face, your body, and your hair. But it’s primarily a face oil and it has 16 different botanicals coming together: aside from CBD it has rose hip, argan, and jojoba oil. It uses a lot of botanicals and everything is clean, there are no parabens, no silicones, and no preservatives. It’s very clean, nontoxic, and cruelty free. Basically, all the good stuff and none of the bad stuff, as well as the social benefit angle.
You’re a brand that breaks the rules of the beauty industry. In what way does your brand do that?
For me it’s not about following the norm—it’s not about having these beautiful models that are retouched. I play by a different set of rules thinking about how we each have our individual way. The beauty that we want to show is about being very undefined—there’s not only one way to beauty.
What skincare benefits does CBD have?
The primary ways are antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E. Then antioxidants stop the free-radical destruction of your skin, which causes wrinkling and age spots. It’s super anti-inflammatory. It’s also very balancing, so if you have overactive sebum, aka oily skin, it helps to regulate, and if you have underactive skin, aka dry skin, it helps reactivate those cells so it helps balance out your skin. It’s also great from a brightening standpoint—there’s a ton of data that show it’s great for psoriasis and eczema depending on how much CBD is used within the formula. I’m really focusing on the beautification benefits, not necessarily pain relief benefits of CBD, but it can be calming and help with anxiety and pain relief. However, I’m currently focused on the external benefits of CBD.
Also, there’s a performance angle with CBD. When you use a product with CBD and one without with the same exact formula, the one with CBD gets better bioavailability which means it’s going to penetrate deeper into your skin and take all of the other ingredients with it for the journey.
Why do you think CBD is experiencing so much traction in business and not just in skincare?
There’s a lot destigmatization and it’s become a lot more acceptable. Now the Midwestern mom can leverage CBD for her anxiety as opposed to going to Xanax. Also, there’s a different overall wellness revolution happening because people are realizing that what you’re putting on your body, and in your body, just has an immense impact on your health and wellness. People were trying to find more natural options both for their skincare as well as how they’re eating. CBD is a magical ingredient that has been around for a long time but, from a legal standpoint, it had barriers previously.
What are some misconceptions about CBD?
I think the biggest one, which I think people are trying to realize, it’s not going to get you high because you use the non-psychoactive part of the plant. There are over 120 cannabinoids and a lot of them haven’t been researched yet. Organizations like UCLA are doing a lot within the cannabis space. As you know, more money is being put into the space, and it’ll be interesting to see what research findings come out. Also there’s a debate within the community about using the full spectrum of the plant or CBD isolates, and we really need to still unpack the benefits and impacts through research.
Your products are all nontoxic, non-irritating, and packed with powerful botanicals. How did you source your ingredients and test if your products were effective?
I was parallel pathing development with five different labs across the US, some in California and then some in Florida, because for me it was about finding the lab that really understood skincare and how to think about CBD. I wanted high-quality skincare ingredients and wanted the products to be impactful. I got my CBD from Colorado where I had full traceability and knew where it came from. I’m really into high-quality products.
What lessons have you learned and what advice would you give entrepreneurs contemplating the launch of a beauty brand?
I think having thick skin is important. It’s always going to take a lot more time, more energy, more money, than you think. You have to kind of approach it with the mindset that as long as you have a really strong vision and you know how you want to execute, you’re not going to compromise—then you can be successful. Also tapping into thought leadership and letting people fill in gaps of your business. I am not a chemist, I had to do a lot of learnings to educate myself on ingredients. I also really leveraged the experts, which is the lab because that’s what they’re there for. It’s all about figuring out what value you bring to the table and surrounding yourself with really smart, dependable people to help you execute your vision.
What are some of the goals of Undefined Beauty?
With my launch, it’s really about building my community and creating high-quality products that are affordable. Another angle that’s super important to me is the democratization of beauty and how for me it’s about giving access to high-quality products that aren’t going to cost you your first-born child, which is a tricky proposition, especially considering CBD is a really expensive ingredient. I know it’s a powerful ingredient but I want to make sure that it’s accessible. If you look at my competition there are CBD skincare brands that are selling for upwards of $125, which is not the place I want to play. I want to play where yes, I’m compressing my margin but I can employ a disenfranchised group of women, but I’m not going to pass that burden to the consumer. It’s about making sure it’s affordable for them but still super high-quality products.
I have some other really cool formats in the pipeline such as a natural deodorant that I feel very strongly about. I’m formulating it without baking soda, what natural brands use instead of aluminum, which I feel strongly about. I’m also working on a PH-based cleanser which will be multitasking—this one you could use on your face or your nether regions. I’m also working on two serums, one for nighttime with retinol and a daytime one with niacinamide. Partnering niacinamide and CBD together is a huge home run for me. I’m admittedly a huge beauty junkie and so I’m always trying new things.