Welcome to Sustainability Week! While Fashionista covers sustainability news and eco-friendly brands all year round, we wanted to use this time around Earth Day and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse as a reminder to focus on the impact that the fashion industry has on people and the planet.
Natural beauty products are increasingly abundant — and increasingly murky and confusing. Since the beauty industry is largely unregulated in terms of what claims can be made about organic or natural ingredients, it's up to the brands themselves to maintain transparency and clarity. One brand aiming to take that on is Gaffer & Child, a Los Angeles-based vegan and organic beauty company founded by Grigore Madikians, a produce-industry veteran who wanted to apply the "farm-to-table" idea gaining steam in the food industry to beauty. With a company mantra of "Give a Damn," Gaffer & Child's aim is to make sustainable, cruelty-free, environmentally friendly beauty products with "farm-to-face" ingredients.
The streamlined collection of only six items (four skin products, a hair pomade and a recycled comb) — ranges in price between $10 to $34 and is sold on Amazon, as well as on the brand's own website. Madikians took some time to explain how Gaffer & Child came to be — and how it's championing the ideas of farm-to-table beauty and giving a damn.
Can you tell me about your background and how Gaffer & Child came to be?
During my college years I worked [full-time] retail for large companies like Gap, Hollister, Abercrombie and Quiksilver. As soon as school was done, I found myself looking for more. I've spent the last 12 years in import/export and distribution, and during that time I completed my master's in international business administration.
I was trying to find a way make a difference, and I was also influenced by my sister, who happens to be very conscious about skin care. I've always taken care of my health and fitness; skin care was the next logical step. I wanted more than what was offered in the market, even more than the 'organic' lines were putting out. Even if they were organic, they didn't have the best ingredients. [I was also bothered by] brands that 'greenwash' their products, saying they're organic, but when you read the label, there're full of all sorts of other questionable ingredients.
I was also inspired to develop a product people use daily, like skin-care products.
How would you describe the guiding philosophy behind the company?
The short answer is that we represent a lifestyle and philosophy of caring about our well-being as well as our environment. We put our money where our mouth is and encourage our customers to do the same. We are involved with PETA, so we're not only vegan but actively behind the cause. We talk about sustainability a lot, and we make a point of working with local farmers.
How is it different from other beauty brands — and specifically, other natural beauty brands — out there?
Foremost, in quality. Every step of our process is about delivering the best product, both for the customer and the earth. We buy ingredients from local farmers, process raw ingredients on-site and handcraft every unit in America. But we also strive to engage our audience without being pretentious. I make a conscious effort to steer clear of a luxury-brand persona because making good choices about our health and the health of our planet shouldn't be a luxury, making good choices should be available to everyone.
What goes into the formulations, and what are the main priorities when you're formulating new products for the line?
I work in collaboration with a family that has been handcrafting skin care for decades. We prioritize the freshness of our ingredients and the sources they come from. We do everything we can to preserve the integrity of the ingredients, and give our customers the essence of the plant based ingredients we're using, harnessing their true, raw powers.
We also care about the user experience, though. There are aspects of a personal care routine that many of us have stopped paying attention to: What do your cosmetics smell like? How does that shaving cream feel on the skin? Because we use such high-quality, natural ingredients, there is a tangible difference in using our products.
Can you tell me about the sourcing and ingredients? How does that work? What are the standards like?
Our standards are high. All of our products are 96 percent locally sourced and every ingredient is non-GMO, organic, fair trade, vegan, cruelty-free, free of synthetics, petroleum and artificial dyes. When we need an ingredient that isn't available locally, like argan oil, we visit the farms we'll be working with to ensure ingredients are never chemically treated and are harvested by workers earning fair wages in good conditions. We guarantee the purity of every ingredient, so we can guarantee the safety of our products.
What do you think are some misconceptions people have about natural products?
I think people still believe that natural products are not as powerful as products with chemicals. We have found that to be untrue. Plants can be incredibly powerful, but for some reason we only remember that when the outcome is bad — just think about the power of poison ivy. But plants have been used for thousands of years for cleaning, healing and soothing all parts of the body.
Can you tell me more about what "farm-to-face" really means and why it should be important for consumers?
Farm-to-face is just like farm-to-table, but applied to skin care. Using the freshest possible ingredients and sources from local, sustainable growers is what we're all about. Your skin is your largest organ and absorbs everything you put on it, so it's important to use products that are good for you. We often get caught up in finding a miracle product for one problem, but lose sight of the way everything works together. Your skin needs a balance between moisturizing and cleansing. And the way we treat our environment — adding pollution by shipping ingredients long distances — in turn changes air quality and impacts our skin. It can be overwhelming to think about how far our choices extend, but thinking about it, and doing something about it, is what we love.
What future plans for the brand do you have?
We started selling Gaffer & Child at our local farmer's markets, events with Artists&Fleas and the Melrose Trading Post, to name a few. We recently launched with Erewhon Markets in the beginning of the year and have seen exponential growth since with the addition of a number of other wholesale clients. We look to expand slowly and steadily and hope to partner with wholesale clients who share our same values, focusing on LA and growing outwards.
We are constantly playing with new products, and will launch new products with the feedback of our clients. Some of the products we have in the works include hair styling products, lip treatments and face masks. It will continue to be a balance of maintaining our high standards with our classic line of essential personal care products and adding new products that help complete the customers' routine.
How has the consumer response been so far?
It's been a humbling experience, and we are thrilled to see how people have reacted to our brand. We put the same attention and love and intention into preparing our products as you might in preparing a meal for someone you care about, and our customers feel that. People are attracted to our authenticity, both our customers and staff. Just like working retail at Gap, I don't sell anyone on anything. When a new member joins the team I always tell them I don't want sales reps; I want to raise awareness and I want to make an impact. This is who we are and hopefully they'll see that we're giving them something good. Most people appreciate our no-bullshit approach.
Can you tell me about the packaging and its design? Was there a thought to sustainability with designing that aspect of the products?
All of our packaging is recyclable, and our products are all packaged in glass to preserve the integrity of our ingredients. A fringe benefit is that the products look beautiful, and the containers can be reused or recycled. We are currently in the process of organizing a system where we could take containers back and offer our clients discounts towards future purchases, so we can ensure those containers are recycled properly.
Anything else you want people to know?
I want people to know that we're just normal people who are very excited about our company, there's no outside funding, no crazy influx of capital; we're just doing what we love and trying to make a difference. I really hope we can lead in a way that will inspire future generations to do the same. Skin care is one small piece of that puzzle, and we hope we'll inspire others to make the world a better place by sharing the things they care about. This journey hasn't been easy, but it is the true love for what we do that keeps us going.
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.