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The Godmother of Clean Beauty with Brook Harvey-Taylor, Founder and President of Pacifica Beauty

It's a Matter Of...Compassion

July 7, 2022 BeautyMatter
July 7, 2022
Pacifica

Visionary leaders see the world differently. They have a clear idea of how the future should look, and embrace the unknown as a blank canvas for innovation and opportunities. This week, Kelly Kovack is joined by one such visionary, Brooke Harvey- Taylor, the Founder and President of Pacifica Beauty. In 1996, before clean beauty was even a thing, Brooke had started a movement focusing on putting the planet first and protecting animals. She sits down with Kelly to discuss her career, and how she continues to pioneer a space where beauty brands do better.

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Brook Harvey-Taylor:

Hi, my name is Brook Harvey-Taylor. I am the President of Pacifica Beauty, and to me, It’s A Matter Of Compassion.

Kelly: Visionary leaders see the world differently, often seeing what no one else sees. I’m Kelly Kovack, Founder of BeautyMatter. They have a clear idea of how the future should look and embrace the unknown as a blank canvas for innovation and opportunities. Before clean beauty was a thing, beauty activist Brook Harvey-Taylor, Founder and President of Pacifica Beauty, started a movement in 1996, putting the planet first, protecting animals, and never compromising for people. Ahead of her time, Brook continues to pioneer space where beauty brands do better.

So Brook, thank you so much for joining us today.

Brook: Thanks for having me. I’m super honored to be here, I really appreciate it.

Kelly: Yeah. You were so ahead of your time when you launched Pacifica. You describe the brand as beauty activists since 1996. Can you take us back to the very beginning and share the impetus and the vision for the brand and maybe some of the non-negotiables?

Brook: Yeah, so I feel like I was preparing for this brand my whole life. I grew up on a little cattle ranch in Montana and my mom was an early adopter of natural products. When we were little, she was diagnosed with MS, which is an autoimmune disorder, and so she really focused on eliminating chemicals from our diet and from our environment. She was just really militant about how we thought about food and even makeup. I remember going into K-Mart with her when I was little, and she would read the ingredients on everything that I was interested in buying. And she was also a member of our local food co-op in Boseman, so she had my sister and I work in the food co-op to get a family discount so that we could buy the food and vitamins that she was really into buying, and that actually really helped her. And so I gravitated to stocking the shelves in the health and beauty department and I used to imagine what my own brand would look like. I even remember Dr. Bronner’s, stocking Dr. Bronner’s, and Rachel Perry, and all of these older brands, and thinking, oh my gosh, my brand would look like this. And I feel like that was something that I always thought about as a younger person. 

And I wound up going to school at the University of Oregon, which was a very activist university, and I was exposed to environmentalism and exposed to just a new way of thinking about animals and the planet. And that really sort of set the stage for the way that I thought about having a brand in the world and showing up in the world. It was really important for me for Pacifica to always be vegan, to always be cruelty free, to always really be thinking about what our footprint was like on the planet from an early, early—actually from day one when we started Pacifica. 

I will go back to the fact that I grew up on a cattle ranch. One thing I learned from raising animals is that animals are sentient beings, and how important it was—that was a really important part of my position on animal rights and thinking about our brand being vegan.

Kelly: So what was the moment—maybe you manifested the brand as you were stocking shelves at the co-op, but what was the actual impetus for launching it? Or did you always know that you wanted to launch a beauty brand?

Brook: I think I might have always known I wanted to launch a beauty brand, but I got really into perfumes and aromatherapy. I apprenticed with an aromatherapist when I lived in Eugene and I was really excited about the way that fragrance, essential oils specifically, made you feel, how they affected your skin. And so that led me to start to create and formulate things in my kitchen. And then I met my husband, Billy, and I was actually waiting tables, and he’s like, you have so many great ideas, why not start a brand? Start your own thing. Do your own thing. And he had always been an entrepreneur, so he was really my inspiration for starting something on my own. It was just a moment where he really pushed me to put my ideas into something and to create a business out of it.

Kelly: I also started my beauty career on the brand side in 1996, and thinking back to the industry then is sort of mind-boggling. Like, how much the beauty industry has changed in the last 25 years. I mean, 25 years ago, e-commerce didn’t really exist. Pacifica launched during the first rise of indie beauty brands like Bliss and Kiehl’s, NARS, and Bobbi Brown were all indie beauty brands of that era. Staying relevant as an indie brand for 25 years is no small accomplishment, and especially, you were carving out kind of a category that didn’t really exist, and then the industry kind of caught up, but yet you’ve remained relevant. How did you manage that?

Brook: That’s such a great question. And thank you for that. I mean, I feel so lucky that we’re still around today. Because yeah, I feel like I saw brands come and go, big brands changed. And the way that we managed it, for us, product has always been king, and I say that because product is how we serve our customers. So quality, accessibility, and staying true to our core values. So for us at Pacifica. our core value is compassion for the planet, animals, and people. And this has been a constant for us. We’ve never really been about marketing. Marketing is something that we’ve really had to learn as a brand, more traditional marketing. We’ve just really always been in business to serve the customer. And I think that this has been part of our success; it was really grassroots. And we didn’t start Pacifica to sell it; we started Pacifica because we felt that we were starting a movement as much as a brand. And it was something that we were just super passionate about what we were doing. And I think that there’s an authenticity to—I see a lot of brands, and even back then, you probably remember this too, there were brands that started to sell. Brands that started and their position was, we’re going to sell this brand, versus just being a brand and just really working to create products that people loved. That’s been something we’ve held onto this whole time.

Kelly: I think one of the biggest differences, if I think back to kind of that indie landscape of 1996, if we’re just going to put sort of a date to it, is that there was the possibility of launching a brand and scaling it, like the idea of scale was wildly smaller than it is today. But you could do it and you could self-fund it. And you could get into Barneys, and you didn’t have to go raise a bunch of venture capital. But I think that, to me, is sort of the biggest shift in the industry. And you’re right, there were so many brands that just launched at a passion and to serve the customer, or out of an idea. And the exits didn’t—I mean, they started happening sort of around ’99 and then I think that really sort of shifted why people started launching brands. But if you think back to what the industry was in, say, 1996 when you started, is there anything you miss from that period?

Brook: Great question. I kind of miss the music. 

Kelly: I kind of miss there being no social media myself, but…

Brook: No, I agree. It was simpler. A couple of things, it was harder to go to market. You point out, there was Barneys, but there weren’t that many options, other than just smaller independent stores. But you could break into those smaller stores, and you could go tell your story. It was a lot more localized; I think. And I think also because of social media it was a lot more localized. 

And I feel like in 1996 it was easier to start this little grassroots movement and to create a brand that was, for us, for me, it was about how do we create a brand that actually just affords us the lifestyle we can live? We weren’t seeing those multiples. I didn’t even know about investors. I didn’t even know that you could sell your brand. It wasn’t a part of the way that we thought in 1996. So I think then it just felt a lot more about creating your own job and creating a lifestyle that you wanted to live. So it meant that you could start work at 10 in the morning and leave at eight, and you didn’t have to be bound to this certain style of work. 

So that’s really how I was thinking about it. Like, I just wanted to live a different life and then I was really passionate about our mission. So together, those two things created a way of making money versus a way of creating this big thing that was going to have a big exit and a big sale. So it was just a different time. Again, I think it was just a lot more innocent. It was just simpler.

Kelly: I still think that what you just described is a form of success that doesn’t get talked about very often in sort of today’s beauty landscape. It’s all about how much money did you raise, valuations, exits. But there are still brands that I think success also can be what you just described. If you can pay your mortgage, put your kids through college, save a little for retirement, that’s success too, and it doesn’t get talked about because everyone is chasing that billion-dollar check from a strategic.

Brook: I totally agree. I think that we forget often in the beauty industry what success looks like. Imagine, like if I sat back in 1996 and imagined I would be employing 55 people with healthcare, with a 401(k) plan, working at a brand they love, making sure they had great vacations and that they would also—you know, we had a maternity policy, all of the things that felt really important to me back then. If my past self looked at my future self, it would be like, okay, that’s success. It doesn’t have to be about just this big exit. It really should be about taking care of the planet. Taking care of people. Creating something that’s really meaningful that people love. I mean, Pacifica didn’t blow up; Pacifica has been this slow burn. 

And I think that that’s one thing that’s important for us, this authenticity. I think that’s how you create a lasting brand. You create a brand that has soul and a heart. It’s a living thing. So I think you’re right, success can look like a lot of things. It can look really different than what we’re reading about and a lot of this frenzy around being this big, giant unicorn. You know, success for us, it’s about taking care of people. It’s about making sure that you’re true to your vision and your mission and your values. It’s a different way of defining things and I think looking at a brand. You know, I think about the big brand houses of old that have been owned by families for years. And they’re there to create product but also to be this place where the family lived and made money and that was the job. So I think that was the core of how we thought about success. And like I said, if past self looked at future self me, she’d be like, yeah, good job.

Kelly: Speaking of that, the way – not you intended, but the way you built Pacifica is so in line with, I think, how at least from an intention people are trying to build brands now. Some of them are just paying lip service but I have to believe that it’s coming from the right place. So many of the early clean brands that really pushed the envelope on formulation and educating consumers, kind of this new category, they never really scaled. And a lot of them came from the spa industry because I think the spa industry was always talking about beauty from the inside out and how to focus on aromatherapy and botanicals. But a lot of those early innovators, some of them are still around, but they never really scaled the business. How did you manage to not only pioneer sort of this clean beauty category? Because naturals back in 1996 were really clunky formulations. The advances that have happened even just in the last decade are pretty amazing. But you also scaled the business. So once that kind of tipping point occurred, what was that tipping point? When did that happen?

Brook: I feel like Pacifica has had, like, nine lives at this point. There have been many tipping points. I always liken it to we hit a wall, we have to break it down, and we have to rebuild it. And I think for us, there have been points where, you know, you get to $5 million, that’s a tipping point. You get to $10 million and that’s a tipping point. It’s almost like everything falls apart and you have to rebuild it. And it’s been really important, I think, to have the right team. To have people who believe in our mission, and that’s been key. And then knowing what you don’t know, not going into it with an ego, I think it’s been for me, as a brand founder, it’s been really important to not just think I know everything. I know people say this a lot, and this is nothing earth-shattering and new, but I think it’s really, truly meaningful to listen to others around you, hold your core values intact, but hear other people. And then I think being innovative has been really important for us. And that doesn’t mean trend, it doesn’t mean being on trend, it means really seeing around corners, being an early adopter, thinking about pushing boundaries, and that’s what we’ve always done. And I also just think tapping into what’s happening in culture and keeping an eye on it is really meaningful. But as far as scaling there’s no, I would say, magic formula to that outside of our team. Our team has been the most important part of making sure we could grow and scale the business.

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Clean beauty, on one hand, its become table stakes, but at the same time, what it means is rather nebulous and open to interpretation. And recently, the concept of clean beauty has come under a microscope with consumers and journalists sort of challenging claims that some brands are making. How have you handled sort of this latest incarnation of clean? And what do you think the next phase of this category is going to look like?

Brook: Yeah, so first of all, I think it’s really important. We started out as a “natural” beauty brand, and the term clean, and I’m sure you know this, but started sort of in the back lab and it was a term that chemists used to describe ingredients that were not naturally derived but still weren’t on Whole Foods’ no list or some retailers’ no list, and then the term was appropriated by beauty brands who wanted to move past this need to formulate with just naturally derived ingredients. And so defining clean out into the world was a really important shift. And I think similar to clean, but far less complicated, the natural movement had its own set of issues, and so this was a way to move away from that sort of what does natural mean, etc., very similar to clean today, what’s happening in the industry with clean. But the term migrated into the consumer space. 

And we, as a brand, fall into clean and we use the term because it does help consumers understand that we’re a brand that’s guided by a set of self-imposed regulations. And then to your point, the problem is that there’s no consistency for these regulations, so it’s easy to push up against and challenge, and I understand that. But also being a rebel and an activist, I think it’s good to question things. And I think that people haven’t been well-cared for when it comes to health regulations. Animals haven’t been well-cared for. And the planet, specifically, as well. 

As brands push up against clean and/or brands or journalists, I guess I wonder why not just do better and why not work to be better? And really, for Pacifica, if we could define Pacifica with one word, it would be compassionate. We are more of a compassionate brand. We’re pushing for ingredients that are more sustainable, for better packaging, for more accountability, and that feels like the more noble path. And it may not be the path for everyone, and that’s okay. We never attack other brands because, at the end of the day, it’s the consumer that’s going to decide in the end what’s meaningful to them. And I think that leads us to where we may be going today and may be going in the future, but it feels like transparency, being able to have these conversations, being able to talk about your claims, being able to talk about sustainability – and I think that’s another word that gets pushed back a lot. But if we simply define it, sustainability means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

And sustainability is not just about environmentalism, it’s also economic, it’s also social, and that’s what we should all be working towards as brands. And I guess my wish would be let’s not attack each other as we define who we are, how our brand is positioned. And instead, I think we should really work together and think about radical collaboration as brands. And we can’t make real changes without teaming up. And sustainability, at the end of the day, isn’t about a brand position or marketing, it’s really about doing the work. So that’s where Pacifica sits as a brand, and I think that’s where the future of clean will be going. It will be much more about open communication and talking about these issues versus just using them as marketing positions.

Kelly: I agree. And there’s also a bit of technology that has enabled transparency through the supply chain, and then the rise of things like B Corp Certification that brands like yours that are doing the hard work can take credit for, because there will be a way to validate these claims that some people have just been checking boxes. I think making unsubstantiated claims is not going to be so easy in the future.

Brook: Agreed. And I think that it’s going to be also about whether or not you have a third party behind you, but just being able to talk about what you’re doing openly. For Pacifica, we’re doing a lot around our carbon footprint and what that means, learning a lot about our plastic usage, glass usage, shipments, how it all is interconnected. There’s no right answer, there’s no one answer. And I think being able to have an open dialogue, not only with other brands, but with your consumer around how you’re making these choices as a brand, so the consumers know how to make choices for themselves as they move forward. 

Kelly: It’s such an important point because so many conversations around sustainability, a lot of people try to make it simple, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not. When you ask a question, there’s a but, or there isn’t a right or a wrong, it’s what’s right or wrong for that brand in that moment and what’s possible, and it’s also constantly changing. So I agree, I think having those conversations, it has to be an ongoing narrative because we’re never going to reach sustainability, it’s kind of a journey and not a destination.

Brook: Yeah, it’s a journey, and to your point, it changes and the goalpost changes. And we have to be able to be flexible and learn, and it’s a puzzle. It’s not just you do one thing and you’re good. It’s much more—right now, we’re in a triage phase, so I think we need to start doing things faster. But it’s also building that plan to get to where you feel like you’re going to have a bigger impact in the future. And taking steps to mitigate your footprint. To think about, what are you going to be as a brand in five years? That’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been doing the work to say, okay, in five years, this is where we want to be. What are the steps to get there? 

And one of the things we’re doing this year is we’re working with a group called Plastic Collective that has essentially helped us take responsibility for our plastic, the plastic we put into the planet, and move to eliminate plastic waste and find other resources for packaging. But we’re also, through the Plastic Collective, buying plastic credits, and then we track our plastic use, calculate every ounce of plastic we put into the world, even when it’s PCR, because that’s our big movement, to only use PCR and not virgin plastic as we move forward. But the premise is, every piece of plastic we put into the world, we’ll pay to have the same amount of plastic harvested and put back into the system. And Plastic Collective helps empower remote, vulnerable communities to create and operate their own plastic recycling micro-enterprises. For us, it’s not a way of making it all go away and making it all better. It’s triage. This is something we can do in this moment, with some money, to help make some changes and to help affect what’s going on on the planet today. It’s not a long-term strategy. It’s not this is excusing Pacifica; this is excusing brands for continuing to use that virgin plastic. We’re in this place of triage. But what does that look like? How do we continue to look at, what are more steps moving forward? 

Kelly: I want to talk a little bit about the fact that there’s no real body regulating what clean means and retailers have sort of filled the void, creating their own standards. Pacifica is an Ulta Conscious Beauty brand and you’re on the advisory board there. Can you share a little bit about the role that retailers have played in sort of framing this category? And I think it’s not only clean, it has extended into sustainability as well.

Brook: Yeah. I think that, honestly, the consumer has played the most important and instrumental role in this category. I don’t think retailers would be trying to define what clean means or carving out the space for the position if the consumer wasn’t demanding it. And I feel super honored to be on the Ulta Conscious Beauty Advisory Council. I have really appreciated the way Ulta has listened to brands and advisors and really think about how they move their strategy into the future. But most of all, they listen to their consumers, and that’s what matters to them the most and that’s what matters to us the most. So I do think that that’s where the biggest shift is going to talk place, is in how the consumer thinks about these categories moving forward. 

Kelly: I want to talk about kind of where you are as a brand now because it feels like you’ve entered yet another phase. In 2016, Alliance Consumer Growth made an investment in the brand, and then earlier this year, you reached another milestone, taking a minority investment from private equity firm Brentwood, and you hired a CEO, Nathalie Kristo, the former President and CEO for Huda Beauty. So that feels like a big sort of—that’s a milestone, especially the decision for you to step back as CEO. Was that a hard decision to make?

Brook: It was and it wasn’t. I loved being Pacifica’s CEO and I loved having that lens and really that role of guiding the company. But as I pointed out, there’s times when we’ve hit walls and we really were at a point where I could tell now, in our journey, years later, I can see it coming. And I feel that we hit another wall as a brand, or we were about to hit another wall as a brand, and I knew that I needed a partner to help us lead into this next phase of growth. So for us, we’re closing in on $100 million. It really was a moment where we and myself knew that we needed someone who knows more than we know, who’s done this before, who’s led a big team, who knows how to get a team inspired. I mean, I also wanted to make sure that we brought someone in before we actually hit that wall and before we had to rebuild things, which we’ve had to in the past, where we were just like, ugh, I wish we could have done this. If we could look backwards, I wish we would have brought in this person or this role. And this time, I just felt like this was just really clear that this was a path that we needed. 

I met Nathalie and could not have imagined a more kindred spirit and a better person to join our brand. It was just like the universe delivered it. And so I feel so lucky and so inspired by her. You know, I’ve never worked for another brand besides Pacifica. This is it. This is all I know. And it’s been a really great time to bring people in who have this other experience, who’ve seen other brands, who’ve been on the inside elsewhere, who’ve seen the problems that we either have or are going to have, who know how to solve things. It just felt like the right time to bring in someone that had Nathalie’s experience and also just styled leadership. She is also a super compassionate person and she’s really aligned with where we are going as a brand and our values. And so it just felt like the right time.

Again, yes, hard decision, big change, big shifts, but also bringing in a partner like Brentwood, who is a really hands-on partner, which has been awesome, they are incredible, has helped us see, okay, these are the things that we need to do as a brand. This is our, again, five-year plan, this is where we’re going. It’s been amazing.

Kelly: And so what does your role look like moving forward? You get to do more of this, right?

Brook: I do, I get to do what I love. I mean, I’ve taken the role of brand president. I’m really involved in product development; I always have been. That’s really my strength at Pacifica—I love formulas, I love thinking about ingredients, I love working with chemists. And I love design and I love, obviously, color and art and wild packaging. And so those are the things that I get to step back and get back to work on. And to me, that feels like the core of the brand and what got me really excited to start this brand. And so I get to kind of do all the fun stuff and help Pacifica tell our story. I mean, I think that’s one thing that Nathalie also brings to the table that we haven’t been very good at. We haven’t been good at telling our brand’s story. I’m lucky enough to be able to do interviews like this. This is a moment where we get to tell our story. Outside of that, we just really don’t. We don’t do a great job on our website. There’s things that we can do better. And these are things that Nathalie knows how to accomplish. So that’s going to be really one of the next things we focus on, is telling our story, telling our brand history, and being able to really own the position that we’ve carved out.

Kelly: Aside from the branding work you’re talking about, what is the next phase for Pacifica?

Brook: I think the next phase for Pacifica, I mean, I laid it out a little bit, it’s becoming our future self. It’s in five years, what do we want to look like? How do we want to serve our customer? And how do we want to serve animals and the planet and make sure that we are working toward our goals of having a net neutral impact on the planet; that’s one of our key goals. So for us, it is that five-year plan. And, again, thinking about being our future self. That’s the work we have to do.

Kelly: Thank you so much for sharing your story. There’s this idea that beauty brands scale fast. You know, you raise a bunch of money, you get some distribution, and you exit. And the reality is that it takes a long time to build a brand. I would say fast is ten years. And I think something that has kind of happened during the pandemic is I think there’s a new level of respect for what I’ll call heritage brands. If you’ve been around 25 years, I think you’ve kind of earned that title. And I think a lot of times, I think pre-pandemic, a lot of investors looked at brands and they’re like, yeah, been around 25 years, the growth isn’t really what we like to see. And now, all of a sudden, these heritage brands have become very sexy, right? Because you’ve weathered storms, the growth rate is there, it’s consistent, there’s profitability. So I think brands like yours are kind of an important touchstone in the industry. That’s what it takes to build a brand that lasts. So congratulations for everything that you’ve built. The fact that you got the business to $100 million sort of as CEO, that’s no small task. Clearly, it’s something that you’re good at, but I’m really looking forward to sort of this next phase because I remember when the brand launched and it kind of feels like you’re, on some level, kind of coming into your own 25 years later.

Brook: Kelly, don’t make me cry, that’s so sweet. 

Kelly: I mean it.

Brook: Well, thank you, that was really—that was so sweet and touching. I totally agree with you. I think one of the things I see a lot is people come up to me and ask me, how did you guys get an investor? And I just want to look at them and say, by being a brand. Go be a brand. And then in ten years, get an investor. It took us—we launched in 1996. We didn’t take our first investor on until 2016. I think that that’s the key, is go be a brand and go figure it out and that’s how you’re going to have longevity. And, you know, the other thing I think for us, at Pacifica, as we’re headed into the shift in the economy and what’s happening, we’ve been here before. We’ve seen it before. We’re like, okay, time to do this and this and this. And we’re not scared. We’re not like, oh my gosh, the world is ending. It’s much more like okay, this is how we’re going to continue serving our consumers, this is what we’re going to do. We remember 2009 to 2013. It’s just, to your point, being a brand for a long time, we’ve proven that we’re going to be around. We’re going to be around for another 25 years. That’s always been my goal, to be a forever brand, and to really help drive significant, meaningful change, and just be compassionate and do better. So thank you for recognizing that. I really, really appreciate it. And it means a lot to me to be able to tell my story.

Kelly: Yeah, no, thank you for sharing it. It’s hard to believe that we’ve never met, but hopefully we can change that now that the world is opening up.

Brook: I know, I totally agree, we have to meet in person.

Kelly: Yeah, that would be fantastic.

Brook: Hi, I’m Brook, and for me, It’s A Matter Of Compassion. Compassion for animals, the planet, and for people. And how we live in this world as a brand.

Kelly: For Brook, It’s A Matter Of Compassion. Pacifica was in the clean beauty business before the category existed, promoting accessible, 100% vegan, cruelty-free, and plant-powered ingredients as a self-funded indie brand. Pioneering a new category is hard enough, but scaling an indie brand to north of $100 million in revenue and staying relevant for two-and-a-half decades is a testament to Brook’s commitment. Also knowing it was time to step aside as a CEO for the brand to reach its next phase of growth is the sign of a true leader with innate confidence and steadfast determination in her vision. So in the end, It’s A Matter Of Compassion. I’m Kelly Kovack, see you next time. If you like what you’ve heard, don’t forget: rate, review, and subscribe to our podcast. It’s A Matter Of is a production of BeautyMatter. You can find more content and insights on BeautyMatter.com and follow us on social media.