Clean Beauty Brand Founders on the Industry Today (& their next steps)

At Organic Beauty Lover I’ve been covering green and clean beauty for a decade. For the first time ever, I decided to bring several amazing brand founders on the blog to discuss one pressing topic: How do they feel about the current landscape of the clean beauty scene with so many OG brands closing down recently, and how are they moving forward?

I’ve witnessed too many beloved brands in this space close shop in just the last few years alone, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s been weighing heavily on my heart for a while. It felt like many of these brands held my hand as I waded through their waters for the first time, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way!

So, I’m going back to what I love most about green beauty, which isn’t just about skincare. I love that it’s also a community, a connection to nature, a connection to self, a healing method, and whatever else you need it to be in that moment. The fact that I’m able to share this discussion article with you all is a testament to the aforementioned.

I’m beyond honored to have May Lindstrom, Lina Hanson and many other amazing brand founders and influencers on the blog today sharing their intimate thoughts. I hope you find their conversation and insight as helpful, inspiring and comforting as I did!

may lindstrom

May Lindstrom | May Lindstrom Skin Founder

I’ve been formulating natural skincare for more than two decades, and it’s been so special to watch the entire beauty landscape change over these years. When I started developing the first formulas for May Lindstrom Skin back in 2007 (we officially launched in 2011), there were very, very few doing anything like what we do today. Organic skincare was strictly limited to farmer’s markets and a few early pioneers at natural health food stores.

It’s been incredibly inspiring over the last decade or so to see attention to ingredients become standard and to watch the rise of countless new brands that offer plant-based, gorgeously packaged, and truly effective skincare. I can’t even keep up with who’s who or what’s on offer. What began as something very “niche”, and largely ignored by press and retail, has become a movement that has taken over the shelves of both “clean” retailers and everywhere else – from iconic luxury shops to your local CVS.

As a whole, zoomed out, I call this a win.

But zoom in, and there’s challenge, too.

I’ve watched terminology go from “green” to “non-toxic” to “clean” over this chapter, none of which are formally defined by anybody but each brand. And we’ve all seen the movement towards more conscious, body-resonant skincare get hijacked by big beauty and turned into something else altogether than the plant-powered foundation brands like mine were built on.

Small, independent makers like us pioneered this corner of our industry and did the heavy lifting of building awareness, education, and true excitement around natural ingredients, paving the way for all that’s risen up. We directly contributed to the very competition that ultimately squashed so many indie businesses that simply cannot compete head to head against the many millions of dollars traditional players pour into advertising to the customers we share.

It’s been heartbreaking to watch brands who came up beside us go under. This is not an easy industry, wherever you sit within it, and to me, it’s a constant reminder to put my head down and just give my whole self to what we do best.

From day one, we are uncompromising in our quality and care promise. Our commitment and obsessive attention to the impeccable sourcing of our raw ingredients and intimate, 100% in-house manufacturing has only grown over these years. When I focus entirely on what we do that is special (and oh, it really is soooo special), we shine. I feel so lucky to have been early in all of this, and to still be standing strong today. Our clientele are ridiculously loyal and that’s been deeply affirming as we navigate the realities of the skyrocketing costs of making this all happen in the intentional way we do.

Where do we go from here? Our promise from day one is “better with every batch.” Every day, I wake up, greet my team, and fulfill all the actions that lead us towards what “better” means, product by product, and make what feels like total magic happen over here. This has been the honor of my life, and my hope is that we’ll be around for generations, carrying on what so many of us dreamed of together.

lina hanson

Lina Hanson | Lina Hanson Global Beauty Founder

Watching the green and clean beauty world evolve has truly been quite the ride. In the beginning, it was all about indie brands and founders bursting with passion to create something genuinely special and effective for the skin. We were a close-knit community, with innovation and authenticity at the heart of everything we did. Fast forward to today, and it’s both amazing and a bit overwhelming to see how crowded the clean beauty bandwagon has become.

In witnessing this change, one of the hardest parts has been seeing many indie beauty brands close their doors. Each of these brands was born from a dream, a passion and a desire to make a difference. Their closure is not just a loss of products but a loss of unique voices and visions within our community. It’s a reminder of the challenges we face in a saturated market where authenticity and innovation are often overshadowed by commercial pressures.

With this boom, it feels like we’ve drifted a bit from that original spark. The market is super saturated, and at times, it seems the focus has shifted more towards profit than the passion that ignited this movement. It’s as if the conventional beauty industry has simply donned a ‘clean’ disguise, but the underlying game remains unchanged, centered around the bottom line.

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Indie beauty founders like us continue to be the real trailblazers, constantly innovating and truly pushing the boundaries. However, I’ve noticed a growing fatigue with the overwhelming choices in beauty and skincare. It seems we’re on the brink of a shift back towards yearning for more meaningful and authentic products. It might take some time, but I believe we’re heading there.

This entire shift has certainly impacted our business, particularly in retail. Yet, the continued support of our loyal customers has been an incredible pillar of strength for us. Having been in the game for 13 years now really says something.

My move to Southeast Asia is all about diving into new projects and sparking fresh innovation. The beauty of being an indie brand is our ability to adapt and evolve in ways that larger companies simply can’t match. So, for me, it’s about keeping that innovative spirit alive while staying true to our core beliefs and mission.

Supadra Geronimo | Siam Seas Founder

For me, clean beauty goes beyond being just a trend; it’s a guiding principle in our lives. The deep passion infused into each product on a clean beauty shelf is palpable. The immense dedication embedded in each product on a clean beauty shelf is evident. This sector was initially led by niche brands, each with unique stories and fervor behind them. I am convinced that this passionate base is what spurred our rapid growth. However, as the market expands, there’s a shift in focus where clean beauty increasingly centers on profit rather than maintaining its original, authentic mission. This shift has led to a more crowded space. The products available today mirror this transformation. 

It’s financially challenging for smaller companies to source materials sustainably and organically, ensure fair wages, and produce everything from the ground up. Investing in the essentials to craft incredible products means we often lack the resources to compete in marketing against celebrity brands and larger companies who have recently entered the space, leveraging their fame and investments to dominate the market.

This shift has posed difficulties for smaller companies to survive and prosper. We have personally navigated this change and are grateful to remain resilient. Our gratitude extends to our customers and all who recognize our impact on the community.

I believe that government regulations on clean ingredient standards could significantly aid both brands and consumers by providing a clear path to ingredient safety and marketing regulation. Moreover, increasing awareness and educating people about ingredients and transparency can help consumers grasp how products are crafted and why they are vital for skin health.

 

ericka rodriguez axiology

Ericka Rodriguez | Axiology Founder

I feel very saddened about the closure of so many small indie brands. A handful of these brands I considered friends and colleagues and I know from personal experience how much goes into building a brand. Not only that, small indie brands like the ones that have closed are the ones that lead us in the right direction (imo) by using the best ingredients, valuing transparency and honesty and leaning sustainably.

To me, it is so much better to shop from a small indie brand than a big beauty conglomerate. A few of those reasons are: the money you spend on small businesses directly impacts your community, supports a real person fulfilling their dreams, and you can support what you care about (supporting BIPOC, LGBTQI, vet-owned, etc etc). Not only that but small businesses are more likely to donate to causes that are important. 

It has affected me a lot. As a small business myself, I understand why so many brands have closed. It’s hard out there and it just keeps getting harder. The competition for meta ads and exposure is high. As a small brand, you are up against celebrity-backed brands and beauty conglomerates with real money to advertise.

I am personally just trying to stay consistent in my differentiator which is our plastic-free mission. My hope is that all the studies showing that people care about sustainability are actually true and if that is the case, our brand will continue to grow as people discover us. 

ally draizin heart of gold

Ally DraizinHeart of Gold Founder

It’s heartbreaking. I know from personal experience that if you’re closing your business, it’s very much like the death of a beloved friend. It also means that they’ve probably been struggling with the decision for a while. It’s such a tough decision to make, and it’s never made lightly.

I also think that the beauty industry has historically had pretty rigid expectations of indie brands (e.g. instant shipment, always having every product in stock) that aren’t realistic for a tiny business or solo entrepreneur. It can be really hard to conform to those expectations, while avoiding burnout. 

Last summer I was gearing up to start offering facial treatments again, and on a whim I decided to offer a small capsule collection of seasonally-themed skin care. It was shockingly successful. The entire collection sold out twice. I felt so inspired by the success of the summer collection that I decided to continue offering these seasonal capsule collections. So far I’ve had wonderfully successful autumn & winter collections, and I’ll be launching the spring collection soon. 

I’ve also curated a really gorgeous lineup of skin care lines that I sell on my website, in addition to my Heart of Gold seasonal collections. It’s really fulfilling to work with some of my favorite brands, and it takes some of the pressure off. I love that I don’t need to have a constant permanent collection of my own, and I can introduce Heart of Gold lovers to other great product lines.

Back when I was running HG full time, I had 35+ products constantly in stock and available on my website, as well as wholesale accounts. Now I get to take some time off to travel and get inspired between collections, and I don’t need to keep such a huge inventory of ingredients. Making tiny batches allows me to focus on sourcing with deeper care and integrity. 

The new structure allows me a lot more work/life balance, and I get to really follow my creative rhythm. The seasonality is mirrored in my work- I cycle through inspiration, formulation, production, and order fulfillment. 

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lin chen pink moon skincare

Lin Chen | Pink Moon Founder

As someone who entered the “green beauty” space professionally in 2011 (I started using green products in 2002!), I have witnessed how the space has grown significantly over the past few years.

Green beauty is in a phase of rapid growth and transformation. Celeb-led brands, big corps like L’Oréal launching / buying green beauty brands, brands being backed by millions of venture funding, etc. As much as we would all love to celebrate this and while It’s amazing to see so many people demanding healthy beauty products, I feel like the movement is straying too far away from its starting place.⁣ In which some companies have taken this movement and used it as a marketing ploy. ⁣

The foundation of green beauty was laid by independent makers who were passionate about helping others connect to nature and improve their holistic health. These individuals were adamant about making their products as ethical as possible. To achieve this, formulators were involved in everything from growing ingredients or meticulously sourcing from ethical ingredient suppliers, to product creation, sustainable packaging design, and even packaging + shipping products.⁣

This space was once so welcoming and vibrant. Now it has moments of feeling exclusionary and judgmental. As we see green beauty brands being launched by famous individuals, large companies, and venture studios, this movement is being diluted. As this once tiny corner of the beauty space is being capitalized, this once indie movement has begun to dilute into a corporate marketing tool.⁣

And more recently, I have seen my friends’ brands close – brands that I personally purchased from and loved (such as Earthwise Beauty, La Bella Figura, and moss skincare). This was one of my inspirations behind the relaunch of my indie beauty consultancy. This time, I am partnering with Cynthia Besteman, founder of Violets Are Blue Skincare. Cynthia and I often talk about green beauty brands closing, how we can support, and what we can do to help other founders build a stable and flourishing business. She launched her brand in 2015, and she was my first consultancy client. We’ve supported each other in many ways throughout the past decade and even till this day. I have her on speed dial, and we call each other often to just support each other as founders and friends, sharing advice and resources. We truly aim to build up this small indie green beauty community up again and be a resource for other founders!

connie lo three ships beauty

Connie Lo | Three Ships Beauty Founder 

Running a business is hard enough, let alone trying to survive and grow a small business in the current business landscape. My heart goes out to all brand owners that have faced adversity or have had to close their doors during these economically challenging times.

Luckily at Three Ships we haven’t been too affected as we’ve been ruthlessly focused on profitability and efficacy, and our products are accessibly-priced (therefore more resilient in a recessionary market), however I do have some recommendations for other founders who may be struggling.

Around 5-8 years ago, there was a surge in new indie beauty brands driven by the growing demand for high-quality natural products. The increased accessibility to skincare and beauty education online led consumers to seek more clean beauty options. However, the initial boom from (relatively) low barriers to entry has given way to a sobering reality – the closure of several indie brands, primarily attributed to cash flow constraints.

Upon closer examination, I see brands struggling with cash flow because of the escalating costs associated with capturing consumers’ attention in today’s market filled with brands. It’s not enough to just have a great product (like it was maybe 10 years ago); you actually need to be differentiated with a clearly unique message. Brand founders are spending more nowadays to get fewer sales.

Further, unfortunately many indie brands don’t have their fundamental unit economics worked out yet. In my opinion, this is a partially a consequence of the industry’s historical focus on aggressive top-line growth at the expense of profitability. Many brands are now struggling to raise external capital or get bank loans because of the riskier recessionary times and higher interest rates, leaving them with no cash to continue running their unprofitable businesses.

In response to these challenges, my advice to fellow indie beauty founders is threefold: First, prioritize profitability by scrutinizing expenditures and watching where every dollar is being spent, and foster a team commitment to profitability as a North Star. Second, lean into what makes your brand/products unique to cut through the noise. Finally, double down on the products in your assortment that are your best-performers, regularly review your unit sales, and ruthlessly cull products that aren’t moving the needle. My hope is that this approach can help other indie beauty founders survive these turbulent times and make it out the other end!

Katya Slepak | Malaya Organics

The clean/green beauty landscape has changed drastically in the last decade. It’s no longer a sea of mom and pop brands. Every major brand is jumping on the clean/green band wagon and claiming that space, essentially giving smaller brands less opportunities to break into retail spaces.  

I try to have a very positive attitude about it all because I truly believe there is space for everyone in the giant beauty industry, but it has just become so much harder now that the current trend is being “green”, rather than it being a niche as it was when I launched my brand.

That said, the expectation of sustainability from the consumers now is also an advantage. So being niche also came with its negative aspects back in the day – less retailers wanted to take a chance on green brands because green was too niche. So you have to see the popularity for sustainability as an advantage too. Yes, maybe it’s harder to compete with the established brands, but more retailers are open to and are looking for eco brands now, so this competition works in the favor of smaller, eco brands as well.

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Many small indie brands are closing not only because of the fierce competition, but also because the retail terrain drastically changed after covid. Our business model had to change completely due to the world shuttering. We had to pivot multiple times, and are still struggling to fully reinvent ourselves and keep it all going. But we are resilient and don’t give up so easily. This past year, we have finally found our footing again and are on the right path towards growth and profitability.

For me closing was not an option, even though I considered it, not once. But I have a vision and a dream, and I couldn’t just give up and walk away. I had to find a solution, and I managed to turn this ship in a new direction. We have very exciting new developments at MO, new product launches coming up, expansion into Spas, and a new management team in place.

My advice to small brands, don’t try to compete with the brands that you think “made it.” Figure out what your client niche is. How can YOU grow sales and create a sustainable business? Set yourself attainable goals, meet them and then re-evaluate your goals, and set new parameters for where you want to be next. Baby step your scaling with consistent growth rather than trying to jump. This way you will have a much easier time figuring out what makes your company tick and move closer to success and profitability.

Focus on what you know how to do and do it well. Figure out how to get a team that is affordable and can help you get the right strategy in place to execute your plan for growth. Figure out what your brand needs to set it apart and make it desirable to retailers and consumers. You don’t need a huge budget for that, you just need the right strategy. Once you start to grow, expand your team to help you scale. If you’re breaking even and maintaining the growth you’re already on the right path towards profitability.

Now you can start thinking about possibly pitching to investors, and potentially exciting. It all depends on what your goal is. If you want to just sit in your studio and tinker, making micro batches with little growth, or if you want to have a healthy business that remains small but profitable, or if you want to jump in and swim with the big sharks. Decide where you see your business going and work backwards to start taking the right steps towards that goal. Be strategic, be resourceful, don’t overspend, don’t hire unnecessary contractors, know your own strengths and what you’re capable of, find the right people to build your team and go for the goal to get what you need in order to turn your vision into reality. It’s possible, you have to decide if this is your calling and if this is what you really want, then be unstoppable to get there.

Renata Vosyliene | Blogger, Green Life In Dublin

In my last ten+ years of blogging about all things natural and organic, I couldn’t help but notice how clean beauty scene is changing fast for the last few years. Sadly we witness more and more brands selling out to conglomerates or closing it’s doors. While I understand the challenges small businesses face, it is hard to witness. Especially if it is a brand that You love. More often than not, small clean brands are started at the kitchen tables, with the best intentions to provide people with cleanest products to solve a variety of problems. With rising prices and shortages of everything, it is much harder to keep things afloat and keep the prices down. But here is the point – I wish struggling businesses asked for help. Wouldn’t You buy from Your favourite brand if You knew Your order is making a big difference in them being able to continue the business vs not? I would stock up and refer my friends and followers to them. Please don’t try to “save face” and then announce business closure out of the blue? Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a weakness.  

I almost don’t want to talk about businesses selling out as it upsets me. I understand we all have price point and while there is nothing wrong with selling Your business per se, here is the thing. If You started clean/ natural/ organic products business, chances are You had the best intentions at the start (hopefully).  Everyone knows that after acquisition formulations are changed for the worse 99% of the time. Ingredients are swapped for cheaper alternatives, products are diluted and/or filled with cheap fillers and so on. So if You sell Your business knowing that, this is the moment You lose my respect. Sell-outs  no longer have my support or money. I wish more people would start looking into parent companies of the brands they buy from and seeing what their ethos are to see if they align with Yours. If we all started voting with our dollars, things would change. 

For all new and existing clean and natural brands – I salute You! Keep up the good work, the best of luck with it!

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