When celebrity aesthetician Jillian Wright launched her skin care line four years ago, she thought for sure it’d be a hit. After all, she’d been caring for the (flawless) complexions of people like Tea Leoni, Kristen Wiig, Alicia Silverstone and Kim Kardashion in her Manhattan spa for the past 17 years.
“I thought if I built it, they would come,” she says. “I was very humbled because it didn’t happen.” So she decided to bring her line to a trade show to try to get some traction, but she couldn’t find the right fit. “I didn’t feel welcomed or nurtured,” says Wright. “[The trade shows] were either too big and intimidating or too small, like why am I wasting my time.”
Fast forward a few years to a cool day in May, where the Indie Beauty Expo is in full swing at Los Angeles’ Shrine Expo Hall. Awash in a flattering pink light, the historic hall was transformed into a beauty lover’s dream, with a step-and-repeat wall made entirely of fresh flowers, beautifully decorated booths (the Gavée Gold “lounge” featured a silken tent and dazzling chandelier), workshops and panels on everything from brow tutorials to pitching the press, and people so passionate about their product, one couldn’t help but be swept up in the enthusiasm.
It was only the Indie Beauty Expo’s second show (the first was in New York last August), but for Wright, who co-founded the show for beauty brands that are 50 percent owned and operated by the owner, it was the fulfillment of not just a void in the market (after all, indie brands are among the fastest growing product categories) but a much-needed community.
“Indie beauty is more than just a brand,” says Wright. “It’s about the community that is being built by people — not only the brands but the press, the buyers, the people who love indie beauty.”
And what a community. In August, 89 percent of the brands at the show were owned by women, and from the looks of the room, that number may have been higher in L.A. Most, if not all, of the booths were manned by the owners or founders themselves, so you got a firsthand explanation of not just the brand but the backstory.
Like INUF, which was founded by Hong Kong-based, SoCal-educated Olive Wong and her esthetician mother. (INUF stands for I Never Use Foundation, clearly the motto of Wong, whose translucent skin was only overshadowed by her runway-worthy dress, designed by a Thai designer, she said.) Tiffany Andersen uses organically purified 24k liquid gold in her high-end, chemical-free skin care line, Gavée Gold, packaged in drool-worthy, crystal-embellished tubs (even the samples came in the most darling, jewel-encrusted jars). And it’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of Linda Treska, Vincent Longo’s CEO, who started her own color line, Pinch of Colour, which is entirely waterless — she’s even researching a way to make her packaging waterless as well, using dust residue from marble and granite.
“When I look at what’s happening around the world, one third of the world has access to water, and the rest of the world is in completely terrible condition — no sanitation, not even clean bathrooms, let alone drinking water,” says Treska. “Growing up as a child, we did not have access to water in Albania. We live in a beautiful country full of water resources, but it was controlled by the government. We were not privileged to have water the way we do here in the States.”
And it wasn’t just eco-consciousness or noble intentions that drove Treska to remove the water from her lip color formulations. “Water breeds bacteria, so that’s why you must use preservatives like parabens in cosmetics,” she explains. “So we don’t use preservatives because there’s no water [in the formula]. Also, water dilutes the formula, so instead of diluting our precious ingredients, we add rose extract or honey extract at concentrated levels. It allows the formulas to be efficacious and to work at its full capacity without being diluted.”
The result is a line of lip colors (and a heavenly-scented honey balm) that is on-trend matte, long-wear and super pigmented, with its pigments sourced out of Korea “Not only [is Korea] 15 years ahead of everyone in technology,” says Treska, “but they are really able to invest a lot of time and money to resource the right textures and finishes and maneuver technology in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
Indeed, it isn’t a beauty show if K-beauty didn’t make its influence known, whether in a Korean-inspired sheet mask made of 100% eco-friendly coconut bio-cellulose (Florapy) or the B2B company Landing International, which is working to connect indie Korean brands like Whamisa, Thank You Farmer and SkinRx Lab with U.S. retailers.
And while there were plenty of green or “clean beauty” brands on the show floor, that no longer means crunchy or granola. Packaging is sleek, the science behind the ingredients front and center. Odacité Skincare was impressive, with its colorful “periodic table” of oil-based “boosters” to add to your serums or moisturizers for a highly personalized take on skin care. The Rare Indigo Balm by Mahalo Skin Care uses the plant normally associated with selvedge denim as an anti-inflammatory skin treatment. And don’t think you have to compromise just because Susan Wong’s Han Skin Care Cosmetics extracts its lip, eye and cheek pigments from fruits and plants — the cheek and lip tints, lip glosses and eye shadows offer some serious color payoff. (Read my interview with Susan here.) Even brands that aren’t technically “green” are cognizant of their environmental impact, like Lift Lab, which ethically harvests their patented cell protective protein from the fish leftover by Arctic fishermen.
“There are so many stories,” says Wright, about the more than 100 brands at the show. “We want to make sure that everyone who comes is inspired, educated and has the ability to network. It’s like weaving everybody together that believes in women, that believes in empowerment, that believes in entrepreneurship, that believes in the story. When we forge these relationships, we become stronger as a community and support each other.”
Photos by me, unless otherwise noted. Originally published in Composuremagazine.com.