Making Beauty Better: Gregg Renfrew

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Gregg Renfrew: Founder and CEO, Beautycounter

After ridding her home of harmful household chemicals such as those found in cleaning products, plastic and cookware, Gregg Renfrew wanted to similarly rout her makeup bag. When finding skin care, beauty and personal care products free from questionable chemicals proved close to impossible, the founder of online bridal registry The Wedding List decided to create her own.

Launched in 2013, privately held Beautycounter’s mission is two-fold: raise awareness of the currently under-regulated U.S. beauty business and offer products made without suspect ingredients. The company, with sales estimated at $150 million, banned the inclusion of more than 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals through its “Never List” in its products including skin care and hair care, cosmetics and baby care products.

Advocacy and activism are key ingredients in the brand’s movement for “better beauty”: Its goal is to get safer products into everyone’s hands through consultants, partnerships, pop-up shops and limited-time offers.

Beautycounter utilizes multiple sales and distribution channels including more than 25,000 consultants and partnerships with brands including Target, J.Crew and Goop.

Beautycounter is also a founding member of the Environmental Working Group’s verification program, a nonprofit that supports making consumer products without toxic ingredients easily identifiable by the consuming public.
In September, Renfrew and other female entrepreneurs will be featured on the keynote stage at Shop.org, held in Los Angeles.

Tell us about Beautycounter’s beginnings. What did you see as the opportunity for growth in a crowded field?

Having learned that we were being exposed to harmful or questionable chemicals through beauty products, I set out to create a new industry within the industry, which was to create products that were high-performing and significantly safer for health. We hoped to lead and build the clean beauty movement which is a new opportunity growing at a rapid pace.

Can you give us a snapshot of the business organization and sales?

Beautycounter is a direct retail brand. Our products are available to our clients through our network of independent consultants, online at Beautycounter.com, through strategic partnerships and wholly owned pop-up shops. Our belief is that today’s customer shops single brands through multiple channels and we want to meet them where they would like to shop with us.

Business is growing at a very rapid pace. The growth we’ve enjoyed has been explosive and we hope to continue leading the movement for better beauty.

What can you tell us about your target customer?

The Beautycounter customer is seeking products that perform well, but is also very focused on safety and not compromising her health. Our customer is someone who is ageless. She can be young. She can be old. She is passionate about moving a market in the right direction using great products and being part of significant change.

How is Beautycounter structured for product development?

The Beautycounter product development team is comprised of leading chemists, a chief scientific officer and beauty industry veterans from both the creative and business side. We marry that team of people with the intel we gain from both our clients and consultants who tell us what they are looking for, what they need and what they’ll buy, in advance of bringing these products to market.

Tell us about the “Never List.”

Beautycounter’s “Never List” is made up of approximately 1,500 harmful or questionable ingredients we prohibit from our product formulation — these are ingredients that have been known to be, or could potentially be, harmful to human health. We focus on the areas of cancer, reproductive toxicity and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, trying as best we can to navigate the murky waters since there are still numerous data gaps regarding chemicals used in the cosmetics and skin industry.

What are some of the unique differentiators driving customers to your brand?

First and foremost, I think there is a need for safer ingredients and ingredient integrity, and I think Beautycounter is known for being the leader in both high-performing and significantly safer products.

Secondly, people are drawn to us because of our advocacy work. They know that not only are we trying to build a business that is a strong consumer-facing brand, but that we are walking the walk in Washington, D.C., trying to advocate for more health protective laws.

I think people have enjoyed products that perform extremely well that are packaged in a commercially viable way, while simultaneously being safer for health and for the environment — that is something that’s unique to us and something that has allowed us to lead this movement.

You mentioned advocacy work. Can you give us more detail about Beautycounter’s educational and awareness campaigns?

In less than four years, Beautycounter has had a significant impact in Washington, D.C. We believe that in order to fully deliver on our mission to get safer products into the hands of everyone, we must use our business voice to advocate for more health-protective laws. During this time, we had a meaningful role in several state legislative initiatives in the states of California, New York and Oregon. Our team testified in support of the Toxic Free Kids Act, mobilizing our consultants around the passage of this important children’s health bill.

In May 2016, we made our mark in Washington, D.C., by bringing 100 of our consultants from all 50 states to lobby on Capitol Hill. We held a congressional briefing and 100 meetings with key members of Congress and the executive branch, including Vice President Joe Biden.

In March 2017, our consultants held more than 100 meetings with members of Congress and the Canadian Parliament, asking for better beauty laws. The meetings spanned across 41 states and eight Canadian provinces, with more than 450 participating.

Since we began our advocacy efforts, we have held more than 500 meetings, made more than 3,500 calls and sent approximately 80,000 emails urging members of Congress and Parliament to pass laws to better regulate the industry. Reforming our outdated laws will take time and thousands of voices. We will continue to mobilize our clients and consultants to advocate for new laws that protect the consumer and help to get safer products into the market.

Over time we’ve created more than 30,000 jobs for women and men across this country, and leveraging their social networks to share this message has been an incredibly important part of the proposition.

Janet Groeber has covered all aspects of the retail industry for more than 20 years. Her reporting has appeared in AdWeek and DDI Magazine, among others.

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