In the clean beauty world, gaining traction in a major magazine, stocking your product in a department store or having a celeb mention your line can be life-changing. But when your high-end, artisan line gets both cosmetics/food powerhouse Unilever and activist-actress Olivia Wilde on board with your mission, you know you’ve made it.
True Botanicals, the potent luxury skin and bodycare line based in Mill Valley, California, has done just that. The line, which uses super concentrated, bio-active formulations to create high quality products that don’t compromise on performance or ingredients, recently accepted Unilever’s bid for a minority stake in the company. True Botanicals followed up that mid-March 2017 announcement with the late May press release detailing actress Olivia Wilde’s new role as chief brand activist.
How did an artisan skincare line make the jump to major investor, the first for a nontoxic beauty line? With lots of conversations, questions and thoughtfulness.
Beauty as Wellness
Hillary Peterson, president and founder of True Botanicals, says that it’s no longer enough for the company to be an artisan beauty brand. “We are thrilled to be part of that community, but we want to be one of the top 10 beauty brands overall.”
Raising daughters herself, she says, has given her new insight into what the cultural marketing machine has taught them to want and need. “Our beauty, our self-care rituals should be part of our wellness routines,” she says. “We want to turn the beauty industry into the wellness industry. We’re not eating what we’re supposed to eat [as a culture], and that extends into our personal care products.”
That’s part of the reason why she and her TB business partner, CEO Christina Mace-Turner, decided to get the entire line MADE SAFE™ certified. “It opened up our supply chains and helped demonstrate that we’re a transparent beauty brand,” says Hillary. “We’re 100 percent committed to products that are effective, and safe for humans and the environment.”
The third-party organization is the United States’s first nontoxic seal for products we use every day, from baby to personal care to household and beyond. MADE SAFE™ certifies that products we use on our bodies, with our families and in our homes are made with safe ingredients not known or suspected to harm human health.
“We’re pushing for that education and awareness,” Hillary says. “And the Unilever investment allows us to do it well.”
Unilever Comes Knocking
For any investor to be considered, says Hillary, they have to be as committed to True Botanicals being a MADE SAFE™ brand as the company’s team is. “It’s very black and white for us,” she comments, “and that made it easier to consider Unilever.”
The cosmetics and food giant owns or produces a wide range of brands that are used worldwide by 2.5 billion people every day. From Dove to Axe, Lipton to Ben and Jerry’s, Unilever might not be the first major company you’d think of when predicting who’d want to invest in an artisan beauty brand.
But they came knocking of their own accord when they reached out to True Botanicals in late 2016. True Botanicals was getting a lot of industry recognition as a natural brand that delivers real results and Hillary says that intrigued Unilever. “I also think that they were impressed by the rigor of our MADE SAFE™ certification, ” she continues. “We were interested in what they thought of us right away and after only a few conversations, it became clear that this could be a fantastic partnership.”
“What we want is to create meaningful change in the industry,” she comments, “and we told them we wouldn’t compromise. Going into our conversations, our goal was to confirm that they’d be interested in supporting our mission AS IS. Once we established that, we were excited to focus on what we see as a very positive collaboration—and a very positive development for green beauty.”
What Unilever’s Investment Means for True Botanicals
Unilever now owns a minority stake in True Botanicals, but they won’t be directing decisions anytime soon, Hillary says. “They’re on the sidelines when it comes to decisions,” she says, “but their goal is to help us achieve our goals.”
What Unilever brings to the table is a breadth of experience in digital brands and skincare brands. “Their reach is so broad, with packaging, and research and development,” says Hillary. “They want to help us become the best brand we can be.”
All of True Botanicals’ products are already carefully formulated, involving as much research as possible, including clinical trials with another third-party organization. But working with Unilever will help TB increase the amount of research and trials they’re able to conduct. “Unilever has so much more access to ingredient and formulation research,” Hillary says. “They have so many more resources than us. It’s much easier and faster to get the data we need to continue to create safe, effective products.”
TB’s team has already been focusing on customers’ online experience with personal consults and support about picking products along the way. “We all deserve that kind of treatment!” says Hillary. “We’re tired of being marketed to, and we want to instead give advice that’s backed by estheticians and dermatologists, holistic recommendations that you can’t find anywhere else.”
And Unilever’s investment won’t change that or TB’s formulations, says Hillary. “We’re a brand built on clean products and a clear mission—the last thing they want to do is water down our authenticity.”
Olivia Wilde’s Role
The new partnership with Olivia Wilde came about as naturally as the ingredients True Botanicals uses in its products—she liked the products and the TB team was impressed with her track record as an activist and thought leader. They reached out to her after several others had shared the line with her, and, says Hillary, “When we met for the first time, it became immediately apparent that we were meant to work together. She is our dream Chief Brand Activist.”
In the past, the actress-activist has been a spokesmodel for Revlon. But her interest in safer products was ignited when she was pregnant with her first child.
“It’s a very different experience than working for Revlon,” Olivia told Women’s Wear Daily in May, “which is a massive global brand and has a legacy, [unlike] something new and trying to change the game like True Botanicals.” She plans on helping to further the brand’s mission with promotion on social media, and working on projects with the TB team.
“With Olivia’s support,” Hillary says, “we can tell the story and show that businesses can be profitable and benefit the health of everyone involved—and the environment. She really cares as much as we do about helping to change the industry, and we’ll look for innovative ways to do that together.”
Says Hillary, “We’ve been scrappy to get where we are, first and foremost focusing on creating products that people will fall in love with and be unable to live without. Products that they love so much that they want their friends to have them too. Word of mouth has also fueled our growth, and that is very efficient for a young brand… But it’s great to have support [from Unilever and Olivia]. It’s allowing us to dream bigger.”
Read more about how wellness businesses are making it happen in our Business of Wellness series.