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Going Slow to Grow Fast with Francisco Costa, Founder, Costa Brazil

It's a Matter Of...Magic

October 28, 2020
October 28, 2020

Brands built by creative minds with a clear vision informed by a personal journey are always the most interesting. Peeling back the layers reveals a brand that represents the sum of its parts that lays the foundation for nuanced storytelling and dimensions of discovery is hard to replicate. Kelly Kovack talks with Francisco Costa, founder of Costa Brazil, who has built such a brand. From the name to the packaging and from the formulations to the supply chain, the vision is uniquely tied to Francisco’s personal story. 

Francisco Costa [00:00:26]:
Hi everyone, I’m Francisco Costa. I’m the founder and creator of Costa Brazil, and to me, it’s a matter of magic.

Kelly Kovack [00:00:39]:
Building a career is rarely a straight path, rather it’s an amalgam of choices, both intended and fortuitous. I’m Kelly Kovack, founder of Beauty Matter, and I love digging into these stories. Brands built by creative minds with a clear vision informed by their personal journey are always the most interesting. Peeling back the layers reveals a brand that represents the sum of its parts; it lays the foundation for nuanced storytelling and dimensions of discovery. These brands have become increasingly rare. The blanding aesthetic and the innovative approach of the past few years has created a landscape of brands with made-up names, Sans Serif type, clever language, who all think they’re disrupting the status quo. In reality, they all look the same, talk the same, and act the same. Brands built the older fashioned way, however, are hard to replicate. Francisco Costa, founder of Costa Brazil, has built such a brand. From the name, to the packaging, and from the formulations to the supply chain, the vision is uniquely tied to Francisco’s personal story. 

So Francisco, thank you so much for making the time to do the podcast. We got to know each other a little bit over a webinar we did on building luxury brands. I’m really excited to sort of talk more about your story, and especially the background, you know, because you’ve spent years in fashion and I’m a firm believer that our history usually informs, consciously or subconsciously, everything we do, and while most people, I guess especially in beauty, associate you with your time at Calvin Klein, perhaps because it was your last position and you made such an imprint on that brand and had a tremendous amount of success there, but I know there was a path that got you to that place. I mean, your imprint was really profound there. I think I read somewhere that the company was valued at $700 million when you started, and 13 years later, it was $8 billion, so that’s – I mean, that’s success in so many ways, but also I think…

Francisco Costa [00:03:02]:
I just wish I had a little bit of that. 

Kelly Kovack [00:03:05]:
Well, that’s a whole other story, right? But, I do, like I remember your time at Calvin Klein, and it was – you sort of brought your own sort of iconic vision to an iconic brand, but you had sort of all these other amazing positions at brands that are sort of just as big. You know, what got you to that point as the Creative Director at Calvin Klein? And, you know, I guess it was a pretty seminal moment in your career, but what was the path that led you to New York and led you, ultimately, to Calvin Klein?

Francisco Costa [00:03:46]:
It’s so funny, because I was debating what mattered to me the most, and it just made me think what really brought me here: passion, belief, passion. I think in life, everything is really about making…you know, just making those decisions that bring you forward, right? So, I was 18 years old when I left Brazil, and I could not speak a word of English. I think I’m doing a little better now.

Kelly Kovack [00:04:21]:
Your English is fantastic.

Francisco Costa [00:04:23]:
Well, I just had this drive, and my mom had just passed away at the time. She used to own a children’s wear manufacturer, so just to give a little feedback here on the history and why then I arrived in beauty, which is really a timeline that’s so incredible when I look back. Of course, nothing was planned. So, my mom was really entrepreneurial, she has very little formal education, we all come from a very small town in the mountains in Brazil, [unclear 00:04:58], and she decided to build this company, and the reason she built this company was really with a social purpose behind. Again, I did not know that then; today I look back and I realize that. So, she opened a – obviously it was all women because she was making clothes for children’s wear, for children. So, she created a little school where she taught local women how to embroider, how to sew, and what have you. Next thing, she creates this home for the kids of the women who actually go to work. Next thing, she’s like distributing all this leftover fabric to all the rural areas within this town so they can learn how to quilt. So, then, you know, she was a member of our Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, which if you’re Catholic, you probably understand what that means; it’s a community that really serves the poor and the ones in need. So, she was very involved in the community in that sense. It was so forward-thinking, now I think, my god, 50 years ago – 30 years ago, she was just so ahead of her time, and again, just with pure drive, pure passion, of doing, of changing people’s lives, of making the community special, special to her and special to the people that she lived with. Of course, it was a town that growing up was 3,000 people, it was really a small community. By the time I left and came back to visit, of course I go every year, the town today is 10,000 people; it’s still very tiny. But, I think the impact that she created really had a tremendous effect on it, and again, I didn’t realize that until now, right? So, this is a woman who was tremendously influential on my career and the way I see things and the way I want to communicate my legacy, and that’s what it is. I came to the U.S. in 1985, ’86, I went back to Brazil, came back again, enrolled myself at FIT taking classes at night because I couldn’t speak really English, so I would take continuing education courses so I could actually get things going. In the mornings, I was to go to Hunter College. The smartest thing that I did, all of the money that I had, I enlisted myself in Hunter College to take courses in English as a second language, which of course granted me a visa to be in the U.S. legally. So, that’s a very initial story. So, I think, again, back to your question, every single step in my career has been driven by passion; has been driven by a goal; it’s been driven by a vision of where I could actually relay my own story, be consequently in my own path. And, it hasn’t been very easy, obviously, but it has been really wonderful. It’s the most wonderful journey, I think, a human being can have, living in a small town in the middle of Brazil, coming to New York, being absolutely mesmerized by everything, not even knowing the opportunities, you know, but really feeling that I had this space. A lot of people asked me then, right, when I was in college and what have you, have you ever felt ostracized by being an immigrant or by being in the west or what have you, and for me, it was exactly the opposite. New York just embraced me in so many ways, but again, based upon this idea of this passion and this drive made me, or led me, to be in the right places and making the right decisions, and really do my job in the best way I possibly could.

Kelly Kovack [00:09:19]:
Yeah, I mean I think I came to New York a little bit later, in the early ‘90s, and you know, I often think that – and I came here not really knowing anyone, not really having an idea of what I wanted to do, but I really think that there isn’t another city that…I would have been a completely different person. In New York, you can recreate yourself a million times, and it’s just like anything is possible here. It’s not easy, but anything is possible.

Francisco Costa [00:09:52]:
Yeah, it’s really incredible. I remember one of the things that was really remarkable, I obviously – I was looking for this freedom as well. As a very young kid, the freedom of being in New York, just on my own, was just unbelievable. My mom had just passed away when I made that decision to come over, because I was basically, you know, growing up, I was working at a company the whole time, all of us, the whole family. But, on another note, it was very interesting because I remember I arrived in June or something, middle of June, or late May, and the first thing I encountered was Gay Pride, which was like “Whoa!”

Kelly Kovack [00:10:35]:
That’s amazing.

Francisco Costa [00:10:36]:
Oh my god, am I gay? Or am I? I never questioned myself about being one thing or the other, and sincerely, it was really humbling to feel that oh my god, I can exercise the freedom of being whatever I want to be. So, I remember that. It wasn’t just for the Gay Pride, but I mean, that was such a shock, right, it was culture shock; it was like, “Wow, what’s happening here?” But then, I became very much aware – it was in 1986, AIDS was such an important thing for all of us. The Reagan administration, I mean, all that was happening, all that was not happening at the time, people were dying, and I had two friends here, one was 27, one was 28, who just passed in two years and it was really traumatic to me, I thought, “I’m going to be the next person,” because of the way I lived and the way they lived and vice versa, it was like, “What’s going on here?” So, that really led me to be slightly more vocal, you know, so I became sort not very evolved, but I would be engaging with Act Up at the time, which was an amazing organization that really spoke up about the cause. I don’t know if you remember that, but it was such an incredible moment in my life, which also gave me a lot more strength even to think that in America, such a great country, you could speak up; you could act up; you could just be yourself. Again, completely away from sexuality, it was really the freedom of exploring whatever it is that you wanted. So, I think this is a very poignant moment for me, understanding what America meant to me, what New York meant to me. It somewhat really opened the doors. The feeling of freedom that one could have here is really, really important, and I don’t think in Brazil one could have had that experience, of course not. So, very important.

Kelly Kovack [00:12:58]:
Yeah. Well, you know, I mean, I started my career very early on. My first job in New York, I was in kind of retail. When I was supposed to be going to college, I was running Benneton stores.

Francisco Costa [00:13:13]:
Oh my god, I loved Benneton!

Kelly Kovack [00:13:15]:
My parents didn’t know that, they thought I was going to college, and I did show up once in a while to school. But, when I came to New York, my first job was in Bergdorf Goodman and sort of in the men’s store selling advanced designers like Steven Sprouse, Issey Miyake, Dolce & Gabbana, you know, and I thought I wanted to be a buyer, but I was a pretty good sales person, so within a year, I was making more money than any assistant buyer was ever going to make, but I found my way to the wholesale side of the fashion business working for a leather supplier, and then ultimately ended up in beauty, but I read, and I’ve read about, and I see, just sort of the amount of kind of creative energy that has been required of designers and creative directors in the fashion industry, and you know, obviously, the burnout has been very public in many ways. I mean, in so many ways, it’s just…the business is unsustainable on so many levels. Did that have anything to do with you making a decision to step away from fashion? I think my other question was, creatively, how did you keep up that momentum of having to create that many collections?

Francisco Costa [00:14:42]:
Well, I mean, a lot of questions.

Kelly Kovack [00:14:45]:
I know, I know.

Francisco Costa [00:14:47]:
Going back to that experience that you lived, oh my god, I remember, I used to live on the Upper East Side and Charivari, it was such an amazing store. Well, actually, Marc Jacobs started at Charivari and what have you. So, just going through, you know, it was just a very valuable experience, everything – it was a school. New York to me was a school. When it comes to how do you keep going, how we kept going, I made no decision to leave fashion. I think it really was…the decision was no decision, but it was really just an intuitive feeling, let’s put it that way, of wanting to do something else that I could express finally who I really was, fully. The essence, fully, in something. So, I think working at the start of my career, making $125 a week sketching at this company called Chris Yunning, and I remember every single one of them, you know? And then, my second job was this company called Susan Bennett. It was based on Broadway, and all I did was sketch dresses. Then, I got my first break, which was New Blast Dresses, which was a licensing of this one larger group called The Hero Group, and The Hero Group was, I mean, the CEO, was incredibly feared on Seventh Avenue, Mr. Rounick, Herbert Rounick, and I don’t know. I got this job there as an assistant of the assistant of the assistant. For some reason, after like a year, this guy calls me up in his office, the CEO, and he’s like a whole garmanto, right, the whole style, and I’m terrified that what have I done wrong? I’m here until like eight o’clock every night, folding all the assembly, leaving the room absolutely perfect, sketching, doing everything I’m not supposed to do, really, to make the environment perfect. What am I doing wrong? I can’t be fired, oh my god. So, I get to his office, and he says, “You know, I just signed with Oscar de Lorenzo, and I think you’re a perfect match to help with that business.” So, again, he just signed the licensing to create Oscar de Lorenzo’s studo. So, I’m like, “What?” I mean, freaking out, basically. I’m still the assistant of the assistant of the assistant, you know what I mean, but of course, a lot of my sketches were being put to work, people were seeing results from what they were seeing, and what have you. So, just to illustrate that I was, I think because maybe one thing of somebody not being from his own country, I know my drive, and again, my goals were so strong, I always worked very hard, always. So, with that being said, I joined Oscar de Lorenzo, and then later on, to join Oscar with Oscar and his own company, not just the license, which was great. So, and Rounick once said to me – he sent me a letter saying something like that, actually I have the letter somewhere, and it says that once a shoes salesman became the president of the United States. Don’t be afraid, you’re going to be great.

Kelly Kovack [00:18:44]:
Oh, that’s amazing.

Francisco Costa [00:18:45]:
Harry Truman, right, Harry Truman. So, it was really things throughout all my career that I always remember, people were so kind. I always had those moments of kindness, of guidance, even on moments that I thought I was just dying. So, with that being said, yes, I always worked very hard, and as I started engaging, Oscar, it was very civilized, I never felt the pressure. You know, working with Oscar was always like a family. I left Oscar to go to Tom Ford and Gucci. I got a call one day from a head hunter, which I didn’t know what a head hunter was. Somebody calling me, they have a French accent, and says to me, you know, I’m such and such, and you know, the conversation is, “What do you do?” She wasn’t like going directly to the chase, and I didn’t know what this woman was talking about. I said, “What exactly do you do?” She said, “I’m a recruiter. I’m a head hunter.” I said, “What?” Anyway, she had set up meetings for me with Tom Ford. I remember it was January, I was in the middle of a collection, showing fabric, and I ran into the Gucci offices on Fifth Avenue above the store, I met with Tom, and you know, I basically did a couple sketches, and I didn’t have a portfolio or anything. Luckily enough, I think all my jobs have really been word of mouth; I’ve never really had to present anything, but I did like 12 sketches based on a glamor card. So, here you go. He says to me, “Well, find a lawyer, because I’d like you to join me at Gucci at the end of June.” I mean, this is so out of place, because here I’m doing flower dresses, you know.

Kelly Kovack [00:20:43]:
Right, it’s totally different.

Francisco Costa [00:20:45]:
And I’m going to Gucci with Tom Ford, the king of sleekness? I was so the opposite, you know what I mean? So, I did accept the job, and here we go, I moved to Europe and I had a fantastic four years with Tom, and I didn’t feel any pressure, okay, I’m just telling the story because it goes back, obviously, to your question. I did not feel any pressure. The pressure was to be creative, and I was. The first collection, for instance, that I did for Gucci with Tom, under his direction of course, the inspiration was Cher, and it was bold for Tom to do Cher that it was to my advantage, because coming from a house, I understood color, I understood embroideries, I understood this and that. So, we did a collection, it was extremely successful. It was a breakthrough of his career in Gucci, when Gucci was going slightly down off its peak, it was flower pants, you know, flower prints, everything was printed, you know, pleather jeans. That season they had hobo bags, they were all colors of the rainbow, and it was like a $30,000 hobo bag we sold. It was insane. You know what I mean? So, with that being said, it was a great step, a great career step, and then I get a call, Donna Karen wants to see me. I interviewed with her in London and nothing really happened, although I really love Donna. And then, I get a call from Calvin as well, and I said, “What’s going on here? Calvin, oh my god, no, I can’t do Calvin. That’s crazy. Calvin is the most perfect brand in the world,” you know what I mean? Because, really, he exuded to me – I always looked at Calvin as perfection, because it was perfection. The man knew exactly what he wanted, and he created this incredible brand who was so seminal with fashion in the world because he spoke of lifestyle, right? His portfolio is about lifestyle. It’s the sensuality, what you eat and what you dress, how you look, how you act; everything was meticulously explained through his campaigns, the way he acted, the way he lived, perfection. Me? Calvin? There’s no way I could do this. I like color, I like embroidery, I like maximalism, you know what I mean, and that’s that. So, I said no, and then I said yes to a job that Oscar de Lorenzo had just left [unclear 00:23:31], he was doing the couture, which I had worked on the couture with him. He called me up and says, “I’m leaving, and I want to lead you there because it’s going to be great for you.” So, I got this amazing lawyer, I was still very immature, I get this lawyer to organize the contract, and she was very straightforward: “Francisco, you know, it would be very hard for you to make that company successful, because the infrastructure is not there, and the financials, I checked, are not there.” So, I was super upset because by that time, I was halfway through this contract and I had quit Gucci. Oh my god, what am I going to do now? So, I came back to New York, really like, completely not knowing what to do next, and it just so happens that Barry Short, who is a very dear friend of mine, and John, my partner, they’re in the same business. They both entered the horse business. I mean, Barry, of course, ran and founded Calvin with Calvin, but he also had a love and passion for horse racing. So, John and Barry were at the very start, they knew each other there, and for some reason, you know, my name came about, and John said to Barry, “Well, Francisco is back in New York,” so Calvin called me back and got me to decide upon that basically. And, I was [unclear 00:25:04] every step of the way. So, now, now it’s a very interesting story, because what nobody knows, at the moment I accepted the job and I was working with him for eight months, the company gets sold.

Kelly Kovack [00:25:21]:
So, it changes everything.

Francisco Costa [00:25:23]:
And, I mean, excuse was my language, “Shite, what am I going to do now?” You know, here I’m working for this guy, you know, the whole studio - I was the creative director – the whole studio left voluntarily. Nobody believed that by Calvin leaving, that could continue. These are people that were very, very believers of the Calvin world and structure and what have you. Not just the studio left, but a whole team that was Calvin, per se, the seamstresses, the patternmakers, the rooms, everybody gets fired. And I’m like, “What? Am I here by myself?” Basically. So, immediately, I had somebody at the store on Madison Avenue, his name was Josh, and I said, “Josh,” Josh was a salesperson, a young kid, very, very connected. I said, “Josh, can you please help me? Come and help me here?” because you know, because you start building this thing again, we probably were. In the meantime, the company gets licensed, so the collection was no longer, you know, collection. It was licensed. Here was a company in Italy to fabricate collections, to manufacture collections, and I was to be a believer of it all. Of course, it was a disaster. Disaster, because you know, what Calvin stood for and the way he operated was very intimate, it was a community of people, it was a sample room, it was a seamstress, the language was there, all the patterns were there, they did things certain ways, the culture of the company that was there, completely disappeared. I didn’t have patterns left. Everything was completely washed. So, it was really terrifying, but I took the task. I said, “You know what? This is an amazing opportunity; I’m going to just do it.” So, I started working with Josh and I, slowly building this team. I remember the first time; my first collection was the resort collection. There was nobody in the company, it was like one or two people in a very senior level. I designed a collection, I sent the sketches to Italy, they shipped the collection back, you know, we’re talking about 300 pieces, and there was nobody to ship it fucking back. Not even a box or anything. So, I had to go to – you know the store, I think it’s Kmart or one of those, right behind the Grand Station…

Kelly Kovack [00:28:06]:
Madison Square Garden.

Francisco Costa [00:28:07]:
Madison Square Garden.

Kelly Kovack [00:28:08]:
Yeah, it’s a Kmart I think.

Francisco Costa [00:28:10]:
Kmart. In a very rainy, crazy evening, it was like six o’clock, rushing to that space to get suitcases for me to ship the collection myself. So, this was my beginning at Calvin.

Kelly Kovack [00:28:22]:
It wasn’t exactly what you signed up for.

Francisco Costa [00:28:24]:
No, and people don’t believe – people don’t know, and they think that I walked in that structure that was no longer there, gone with the wind. But, again, my passion, my drive, I started getting that slowly back. I said, “Guys…” making them understand that being a license wasn’t really what Calvin needed, neither was it the way to go about a collection of a great American designer, you know what I mean? So, I kept the standards really high. I kept doing things over and over and over. I managed to hire one seamstress, hire another seamstress, hire another one, next thing I have a full studio which grew up with my culture, grew up with what I did. So, with that being said, the level of stress that was there, it was tremendous. And, I never really got the…I’m not complaining, I mean, it’s just a matter of fact, and it’s documented, that the support that was once there never existed, it never came back. So, again, it was really hardcore, and that really, at times, burned you out, you know what I mean? So, I saw myself in the same situations, and many designers out there, you know, you work, work, work, work, you prove yourself, you prove yourself, prove yourself, prove yourself, and it’s never enough.

Kelly Kovack [00:29:54]:
You’re only as good as your last collection.

Francisco Costa [00:29:56]:
It was never enough, and the most wonderful thing about where we’re living today is I think we’re on a clock to set up something that’s really good, which it really goes back to the planet, right? It was totally unsustainable. All of this super, super out there manufacturing of goods, we don’t need that much goods, we don’t need that much stuff. We have this countdown; we have to buy less, we have to buy better. We have to be considerate, we have to be 360 the way we look at things today, you know what I mean? And, most importantly, the total proof of how that wasn’t sustainable is just to see today how retail has gone bonkers. So, you know, I think the state of fashion today is really a reflection of greed, of retail, and super power of magazines, because you’re never good enough for retail. I mean, you had to ship so early all the time because you had to be very competitive, right? So, you accelerated the process of making the tech style, making a collection, the numbers of collections that were never sold in folders, you know, having to compete with prices because it’s your collection, but other people offer the same thing, especially when the big companies came in like Zara and pop shops, they were starting to knock things off; that created a huge mess in the industry, huge. So, I think what we’re living now is a bit of a reflection of the acceleration without thinking, without being considerate to the designs, to the industry itself, because it was just not sustainable. So, I think the clock is being reset in a very…I feel like nothing is…I mean, of course, it’s tragic, what we’re living today, it’s very challenging, but I think again, the world is sucking us for something that will be a lot better, and after, you know, 13 years at Calvin, and just doing and doing and doing and being blinded in doing with no rhyme or reason, just doing because we had to do it over and over made me really exhausted – real exhausted, and I said, “You know what? This is not it. It’s not happening.” So, I obviously, architecture, for me, is a very close thing, art, is a very inspiring thing, people are very inspiring to me. So, there must be something there. And, I came across this book that I really, really love, which it was almost my bible. Every collection, I’m opening a Manzoni book. Manzoni was an artist, an Italian artist, from the Arte Povera Movement in Italy, 1950s, ‘60s, and what have you. He was one of the leaders of the movement, which dealt with art in a very Italian chic way, in a very organic, but at times not organic, if I can say that, but somewhat humorous. So, he had…the anthology of this guy’s work is really beautiful, because it’s also a lot about text, a lot about communication done in highs and lows. For instance, he created this series of cans, of you know, cans, basically, in which he used to call the pieces “Merda d’artista,” he would basically create this idea of packing shit, you know what I mean? So, it was really like an Italian chic concept, and the whole thing looks so beautiful, if you ever have a chance, take a look, because it’s beautiful cans, everything is packaged really stunningly, everything is just amazing, and I can be looking at that, although every time I open his book was to see the textile, was to see his canvasses, it was to see the lineage of how he developed things, and one time I opened this book and I see this other brand with him. It was like, “What is this? This is amazing. This is either food or beauty.”

Kelly Kovack [00:34:41]:
And now, here is our Trend Minute, brought to you by big thinkers that aren’t afraid to make predictions.

I’m Shayne Hart, Founder and CEO of creative and branding studio BLKBOX. Here’s what’s trending this minute. I’m going to state the obvious here: we’re living in a world where a social media landscape and virtual networking tools are more in our lives than ever, and it’s driving a vernacular filled with acronyms, emojis, and memes. I love to use my words, I really do, but even I catch myself lapsing into abbreviations instead of forming full thoughts these days. And, we’re doing this in a cultural marketplace that is grappling with serious things, tough issues, both complexing and decidedly gray. This has created a performative activism and thinly thought through solutions way too often. But, here’s some hope bubbling up: The Deep Life has attracted the attention of over 20,000 Instagram followers in less than a year. How? By flipping the shallow nature of social media on its head and engaging users in deep and meaningful conversation. They ask open-ended questions, encourage people to think, ask more pointed questions and to rethink the perceptions and assumptions again, and their engagement is through the roof and active. In a time of upheaval, they’re finding people embracing uncertainty. They’ve shown that lots of people actually want to have deep, meaningful conversations right now, but have too few places that really welcome them. Our brand should be engaging in deeper discourses and throw out the welcome mat for thoughtfulness every time, not just likes. It’s the right time to invite people in to have conversations with us about the things we all care about. If we want consumers to care about us, we’re going to have to care enough to carefully listen. I’m Shayne Hart, you go can get into The Deep Life in the link for this podcast.

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 Is that sort of where the first ideas started percolating for Costa Brazil?

Francisco Costa [00:37:25]:
100%. So, you know, I knew that that was the essence of my packaging, and I said, “Okay, if I want to do something with this, what would that be?” Again, it’d either be food, amazing packaged food, however, or beauty. It had to be beauty, of course, what do I know about food? Except for eating it and loving to garden. But, I started developing this…conceptually, this packaging, and I said, “What am I going to name this?”

Kelly Kovack [00:38:00]:
So, it started with the packaging first.

Francisco Costa [00:38:03]:
It started with the packaging. It started with the concept of high-end design with maximum use. Everything was very conceived for eternity, let’s put it that way, right? So, every object was so beautifully conceived that it had to be perfect. It’s like when you bought something in the 1930s, the design was really high. When you look at a Chrysler, right, everything is very iconic. So, the idea of my packaging was to be iconic, beautiful, iconic, not throw away, not fast food, you know what I mean, not fast beauty; beauty that stays, somewhat. And, what is the name? Francisco Costa? No, it’s not Francisco Costa. I feel like it needs to be bigger. I think it needs to have a life of its own. I think maybe Costa, Costa, Costa, Costa Mark, Costa this, Costa Brazil. It just totally happened that way. So, yeah, I have a name, and I have this beautiful package. Now, I am, you know, I finish this amazing grand book, extremely gorgeous.

Kelly Kovack [00:39:25]:
I have no doubt.

Francisco Costa [00:39:26]:
Really about the skin, really about the textures of the skin, delicious, beautiful, but it was like, “Okay, what is in it? This is great, but there’s nothing here. How am I going to do this?” So, I started meeting with people. I met with the Lauders one time, I met with this one and that. People were filling me in a little bit, but at the same time, I was still at Calvin, so nobody gave me the time I needed. This guy leaving Calvin, now this book under his arm, and what have you, it’s a very, very intricate kind of business beauty is, and it’s very niche as well. I think it’s very much its own, right? So, I basically kept visiting labs on my own. Somebody told me about the lab in California, I went to see them, and labs all over New Jersey. I visited labs in Switzerland and what have you, and I started educating myself without making any commitments, but the greatest thing about all this anxiousness was that I saw nothing that really meant anything to me, because I knew that the beauty that I wanted wasn’t there because people – I don’t know if because they didn’t give me the time of day and I didn’t question that, but none of the places that I visited I was compelled to say, “Okay, I want to use this ingredient with this formulation, I want to do this this way.” The opposite. I said, “No guys, there has to be something else. There has to be something else and it has to be done in a beautiful way.” I was so shocked some of the places that I visited, I mean, shocked, “Guys, this cannot be beauty. People cannot be putting this on their faces, the way this is manufactured, the way this is being acted and the way also that people are dealing with it in this environment.” That was very shocking.

Kelly Kovack [00:41:27]:
It is surprising, sort of like, the perception of what beauty businesses are and what it really takes to build them, it’s very different.

Francisco Costa [00:41:37]:
I mean really, I mean, it’s crazy. I wish everybody who…I mean, stories have to told about some of those locations. So, I said, okay, I got laid off from Calvin. The last year there, I was very much working on my own brand. I knew that something was happening. The CEO came in, and the CEO had this magic wand, he was creating a new world, he had his 20/20 vision, you know what I mean, that put us all through a major nightmare because he put all of the creative directors against each other, and we all had to prove ourselves once again. It was a nightmare. I mean, the 20/20 vision of Calvin that I imagined is very different from today, unfortunately. So, it’s very sad, I’m actually very sad about it. With that being said, I said, it’s Costa Brazil, what am I doing looking at labs here? Go to Brazil. I had been invited to work on the opening ceremony for the Special Olympics, so I was already in Brazil, friends of mine were organizing this trip to the Amazon region, the east coast of the Amazon right after the Olympics, and the whole trip got canceled and I was like, “I have to go no matter what.” I called somebody and they organized this trip, which I ended up in the west coast of the Amazon in this state called Acre. You know, the Amazon region is divided in seven states, and Acre is one of the states, it borders with Peru and what have you, very, very far, and I ended up going. I made this ginormous backpack, I bought like six liters of water thinking it’s enough and what have you, and I was ready to go. It was very hard; it was a really tough trip. I didn’t know – I was so exhausted, it rained, the whole six months of my life, and I thought, “I’m going to the Amazon, it’s going to be like,” you know…no, it was just the opposite. I was really tired; I was so exhausted, I was like, “Oh my god, what am I doing here?” So, in the fifth day, sixth day, you know, the most amazing thing is that this tribe where I was, they are very skillful. So, there are 11 tribes of the same ethnicity along this river called the Gregarious River, and, you know, one thing that embraced me, it was how at times, you know, you run into – I mean, there’s this person an indigenous person, meet him there, and they’ll be talking to you. All of the sudden – this is a spiritual leader, you know what I mean, somebody who talks to you and engages you in a very soft way, in a very beautiful way, and you learn something. Then, the next thing, somebody else. It’s almost like living with cats – I shouldn’t repeat this, maybe edit this out, it doesn’t sound so good, but you know what I mean? There’s that kind of dance. So, I left there on my seventh day, eighth day, my trip was organized for ten days; I insisted to leave two days before, which made me really hitchhike in the Amazon. I was so lucky. This is a subject for another day, but it’s unbelievable how I managed to get out of that region by hitchhiking. But, anyway, I experienced this amazing scent that I thought was just from burning wood, and the scent was from Breu, this resin that is the foundation of Costa Brazil when it comes to the ingredients. It’s antibacterial, anti-mosquito repellent, it’s antimicrobial, it’s a little magic of an ingredient, which I did not know. I did not know, and I found out later about its performance and its qualities when I had it analyzed.

Kelly Kovack [00:45:32]:
So, how did…Francisco, how did you, you know, you conceptualized this very – the packaging itself is very simple, but it’s very detailed and complicated because it’s sort of – it requires customization. You have this sustainability story. You’re this guy who used to run Calvin Klein. How did you take your idea and the concept and bring it to life, from sort of an operational and funding perspective?

Francisco Costa [00:46:05]:
Well, I mean, it’s been really, really hardcore; it hasn’t been easy. I mean, I started by funding it myself, and we have angels – let’s say we have a couple of investments from friends and family. We raised $1.5, and here we are. This is the beginning of a fundraised situation, which of course, you know, we had a major investment set, of course, COVID hit, and things changed, changed for everyone, time, it was good for us to re-evaluate, but I was very lucky, because I found great adaptors. I found people that really believed in the story, believed in everything I was proposing. So, I have a fantastic team of people. They’re just committed. We also are working in a very different manner, which everybody is almost like a partner, you know what I mean? So, I think I have, from the get-go, sort of opened that up a little bit to everyone, so to have the engagement and to have opportunity for participation, so that’s to me, actually very good about it. When it comes to – go ahead.

Kelly Kovack [00:47:26]:
No, I was going to say, I mean, you launched the business in 2018, so you know, you really…it’s a very young company, and now sort of the world came to kind of a standstill five months ago. You said you were close to closing a round of fundraising. What have you done in this time? Have you sort of…I mean, it’s been an amazing time to sort of slow down. I think we didn’t have a choice.

Francisco Costa [00:47:53]:
Slow down? Where? When? No, the opposite.

Kelly Kovack [00:47:57]:
But, it also gave – I think gave businesses the ability to kind of reflect instead of going kind of on the treadmill. Are you changing anything?

Francisco Costa [00:48:07]:
There was no reflection here. This was a fantastic time for us, and I really mean it. Crazy, exhausting, but really amazing. Ourselves, you know, in the second month, the second or third month, was 250% up online. We managed to open with Blue Mercury, we managed to open with Niemen’s, we saw Niemen’s collapse and they’re starting to come back, and we have a great business with them. We opened in Niche Beauty in Germany, who is doing phenomenal, and we opened in Cult Beauty in England, doing amazing. We are about to open in two weeks with Harrods’, and we are about to open with MAC Beauty. So, we have seven, and an eighth company that we’re opening with is Joyce in Hong Kong. So, I think this is like been the most incredible time in our lifetime as a company. We are a year and six months old. We are very small, you know, we are – hopefully we’re going to reach a million and one on sales this year, which takes us to another level, but again, all organic. We have very, very little budget for anything. We have very little budget for any, any, any, anything. So, most of our efforts have been organic and have paid off tremendously, and I think the best thing, which I’m really proud of, is that besides our factory being very beautiful, of course it’s really expensive, and I have to reinvent that somewhat and make it a lot more responsible, you know what I mean? I think when we started, things that we imagined, I think we have evolved to a better world when it comes to packaging, but the beauty of the ingredients and the beauty of the product, I can promise you there’s nothing like that on the market, there’s nothing. And, it’s almost like, you know, it’s beauty that’s responsible, clean, but it works, you know what I mean? It really works. I mean, three days with our face oil, the third day, you skin is like velvet, it’s amazing. Our body oil is so transformative, it’s so full of incredible butters, it’s really high quality, it’s amazing, it’s firming. I mean, I’ll give an example, but a friend of mine here from Belfort, you know, I gave her a bottle a while ago, she’s about 78, and she’s very authentic and funny, and she started using it on her leg, on the inside of her leg, so she’s like, so compelled to tell me, “Oh my gosh, my legs are so firm now, touch it!” It’s hysterical. So, I think what we have going for us really is…it’s a brand that’s very unique. It’s a designer brand, number one. It’s a brand that touches really in the most authentic way, all wonderful things, as quality, all body types, all color types, happiness. Brazilians are happy, even in the worst conditions, there is this happiness about living, about exalting what’s really important in life, so I think that’s what we believe to be, and we are growing this brand sort of in an unorthodox way, right, because it’s really what belongs to that moment that is relevant. I think we have a ways to go, we have to improve ourselves, because we have to grow, of course, but what we stand for is pure magic.

Kelly Kovack [00:52:05]:
Francisco, I could talk to you all afternoon, we may have to do like a part two.

Francisco Costa [00:52:10]:
Oh my god, you’ll be sick of me, but I thank you so much.

Kelly Kovack [00:52:15]:
No, not at all, not at all, not at all. But, thank you so much for telling your story. You know, I think that there is…I always like to hear sort of the backstory of how people have gotten to where they are, because of course when you launched Costa Brazil, everyone wanted to know what you were doing, and so sort of the story of the brand is so well-documented, but I loved hearing your story of New York and Calvin Klein, and it really gives a lot of context to what you’re doing now, because this really does feel like this is your legacy, like you’re building your legacy right now, and that’s exciting.

Francisco Costa [00:52:52]:
Exactly, exactly, and I think one thing I learned from being at Calvin is really this – and Manzoni, I think that’s why the book was like my bible – it’s the highs and lows. This is a brand that’s very bold, so you’re going to have your open price point, you’re going to have a super high price point, you’re going to cater to so many different things, and as we grow, as we build our categories, as we build our pillars.

Kelly Kovack [00:53:24]:
Well, I can’t wait to see and watch how you evolve the brand, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time we speak.

Francisco Costa [00:53:32]:
I hope not.

Kelly Kovack [00:53:33]:
Thank you, Francisco.

Francisco Costa [00:53:35]:
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Kelly Kovack [00:53:43]:
For Francisco, it’s a matter of magic. The beauty industry is lucky that Francisco decided to take a break from fashion and join the ranks of beauty founders. Costa Brazil is a breath of fresh air in the beauty landscape, cluttered with too many me too, cookie cutter brands focused on speed-to-market and obsessed with quick growth. Going slow to grow fast by building a brand in a very traditional way while leveraging digital and social tools will be the formula for building the next crop of legacy brands. These businesses will withstand the test of time; that’s the thing with creative visionaries, they have an innate ability to give consumers what they want before they even know they want it. They’re not disruptors; they quietly shift paradigms developing a new status quo, not through focus groups, but rather through their finally-honed intuition. Through the lens of Costa Brazil, Francisco has re-tapped into his heritage to redefine the vision of sustainability. In his world, beauty is first and foremost, beautiful. It’s also responsible, health-giving, and inclusive. What’s not to like about Francisco’s vision? So, in the end, it’s a matter of magic. I’m Kelly Kovack, see you next time.

Francisco Costa [00:55:02]:
Hi everyone, I’m Francisco Costa, and what matters to me is magic. Magic is the light, the goal, and the drive that you want to achieve. Magic to me is really this magic, this light, it’s this guidance of something quite…it’s a force of nature, magic, taking you wherever you want to go.

Kelly Kovack [00:55:28]:
It’s A Matter Of is a production of Beauty Matter LLC, copyright 2020. You can find more content and insights on, and follow us on social media @BeautyMatterOfficial.