The natural beauty industry has been experiencing something of a boom these past few years, with prestige brands and mass retailers all clamoring to cash in on their own version of the hype. But for Kerrilynn Pamer and Cindy DiPrima, the co-founders of natural beauty retailer CAP Beauty, it's all part of a greater wellness awakening and lifestyle shift. The business spans a cozy shop in New York City's West Village, a growing online retail presence and, as of September, a West Coast outpost in Fred Segal's new, experiential Los Angeles store. In the last six months alone, CAP also created a Montauk pop-up shop, redesigned its website, spiffed up its original location with a small remodel and announced a book deal. "We're not doing this to be one small store in the West Village," says DiPrima in a recent phone interview. "We really want to enact a shift in how people take care of themselves. Our mission is to grow and open more doors and affect more change and affect more peoples' lives."
So far in its mere two-year existence, CAP Beauty has been doing just that, drawing a devoted clientele into its combination store-slash-spa with a fashion-minded aesthetic — yes, it's Insta-bait galore — and an impressive product range that's very much at the forefront of natural beauty innovation. While its clientele is full of influencers, models and editors — DiPrima notes that most of the store's customers say they stumbled upon it via Instagram — CAP Beauty doesn't aim to be alienating. The goal, says DiPrima, is to make natural beauty both accessible and luxurious. "As much as we want to make sure that we keep it really chic, it can't be exclusive," she says. "It would be wrong. This is like a health product and a movement that should welcome everyone."
In our conversation, DiPrima caught me up on the many projects CAP Beauty has in the works, what it was like launching the business and how to "vibe" if a product is authentic. Read on for the highlights.
Can you tell me about your backgrounds, and how CAP Beauty came to be?
Kerrilynn and I are old friends; we've known each other probably 20 years. We met working together at Martha Stewart Living. We noticed each other because in a sea of very like-minded, tasteful people, we were the ones whose interests diverged a little bit into fashion and self-help and wellness and alternative practices. We were both really deeply interested in lifestyle and beauty in the bigger sense of the word, like, what's beautiful? What is living beautifully?
We both left that company and embarked on our own businesses. I was a freelance [prop] stylist and Kerrilynn opened a clothing store called Castor & Pollux, which is actually the root of [the name] "CAP". She sold clothing and housewares and then it morphed into clothing and accessories.
Our friendship was deepening and growing, and I encouraged her to move the store to Manhattan, mostly because I wanted to shop there. [Laughs] And she did. That led us to meeting another friend who also was running her own business. The three of us started a mastermind group, three sole-proprietor women who met every week and shared resources and advised each other. This was around 2011-2012. It was getting harder to sell clothes at that time. She was killing it [previously], and then when the crash happened in 2008, when the new norm became, like, everything is 70 percent off at Barneys, it became really tough to run an independent clothing store. At the same time [Pamer] was diagnosed with Celiac, I was trying to get pregnant and she was going deeper into wellness practices and natural skin care, as was I. She came into the meeting one day and said she wanted to open a store that was just natural beauty. I thought it was the most brilliant thing.
Tell me more about why you two decided to start CAP Beauty together.
I thought of it as such a more appealing business than fashion. She will, to this day, talk about how it's so much more fun to sell beauty products because they're things that make people feel better. She would sit in her clothing store all day and listen to women beat themselves up. For every one person who left with a dress that made them feel like a million bucks, you had 12 people being upset.
When she started selling natural [beauty products] — she had Tata Harper and May Lindstrom and a few others like that, Kjaer Weis — she was selling those at Castor & Pollux. It was the clothing store's little section of beauty. I kept asking her about the natural beauty idea, I just kept at her. She knew that she wanted to do this on a much bigger level than what her previous business was. As she says, we're not doing this to be one small store in the West Village. We really want to enact a shift in how people take care of themselves. Our mission is to grow and open more doors and affect more change and affect more peoples' lives, so unlike with her first business, we did it in a grander way and raised money and really built it as something that could hopefully be replicated.
The turning point was the late fall of 2013, when she decided not to buy a spring collection for Castor & Pollux; that was her way of saying, 'I'm not going to have the store anymore.' We started working on [CAP] full-time in January of 2014. We launched our website in May of that year. Then we opened our doors in Feb. 2015.
You were already doing e-commerce before brick-and-mortar was open?
Yes, but we always wanted to be a retail store. There was no shortage of places to buy these [natural] products online, but the idea was about being a place where you could learn and where we could build a community. It just took longer to open because of construction and permits. We were hoping to be open by holiday 2014, but construction was still happening, so we told our contractor that he had to take two weeks off in December so we could set up a pop-up inside the construction site, which we did. It was literally a construction site, like construction lamps clipped on everywhere, a huge drop cloth over a makeshift table going over a big hole that would eventually be a staircase. We called on our Martha Stewart roots and filled giant glass apothecary jars with seaweed baths.
People were into it. We had already pulled together a little bit of a community on Instagram and with our website, and it was cool.
How did you go about pulling together the initial funding?
We did it through what I would describe as close friends and family. Neither of us are wealthy. You don't work as a prop stylist if you're married to a super wealthy man. [Laughs] But we had customers of hers from Castor & Pollux, close relatives who do well, who honestly would not have invested if they didn't believe in the idea, but they did. People connected to this idea and understood the timeliness of it and the potential of it.
Almost everyone we knew was deeply committed to a wellness practice on some level, whether it was yoga, buying organic groceries, fitness... But these same people were then going into the bathroom and using products that weren't good for them. Someone who would never buy a head of lettuce that wasn't organic was then going to the bathroom and putting phenoxyethanol or methylparaben on their skin. We just thought that it would be an inevitable shift as soon as people understood that it's not just a compromise to use clean products, but it's going to yield better skin, because it's not junky.
The funding was pretty simple to round up. We did mostly sold equity, but there's also a very friendly loan in there. We have started a second round and honestly, the hardest thing for us is figuring out how much to raise. It's not straightforward. One day it feels like we don't need that extra money; let's keep our equity. But then it's like, where is it going to come from if we don't do that? We have good advisors and we know what we know and what we need advice for. It's been a learning curve, but an important one.
More on the product side, how did you go about curating the products and brands you were carrying initially?
The first decision we had to make was what are the standards as a natural beauty store. We wanted to keep it simple. I think we looked at some of the other people in the space and a lot of them had these elaborate, long lists of all the ingredients they don't allow. For us, it felt much more appealing and inspiring for people to focus on what is in the products. We decided that our standard would be 100-percent natural, which means no synthetic ingredients in any products that we sell.
But it's not quite as straightforward as that. Unfortunately, there isn't one giant reference book that tells you what's synthetic and what's natural. Vendors would sometimes argue with us like, 'Well, I know that ingredient is sometimes synthetic, but it's derived from grapefruit!' But everything at one point is derived from something that's naturally existing on the planet, right? It's not like there's like an alien cache of synthetic things. Everything is made in a lab and the question is: How far do you push it from its natural state?
One reference point is, does it still have its DNA? Another is, are synthetics used in the process of how it's been shifted? We can't be in every lab across the country and world monitoring how things are made, but we do have to trust our vendors and ask the right questions. There are certain ingredients that can go either way; hyaluronic acid can be natural or synthetic. You just have to be sure you're getting the right version of it. We are not scientists and we are not technicians, but we have learned a whole lot in the last few years. We have had instances where the ingredient decks have changed and no one has told us and we just have to constantly be reading and checking in with those and making sure that nothing is getting in there that shouldn't be in the store.
How did you find those brands that you trusted?
It's very instinctual. When you use a product, you can almost vibe its authenticity. We have products that sometimes, we'll smell them and be like, this could not be 100-percent natural; there's some fragrance in there; there's something going on. With the initial inventory, we had the time to test things really, really well. Product lines would come in and we would call things in, and a lot of them were brands we were already familiar with. Then there are all these brands that we would read about on the natural beauty blogs, on Instagram, in magazines. A lot of them were things that, as we got to know the founders, became either more or less interesting to us.
CAP Beauty's whole aesthetic is so beautiful. The Instagram is beautiful, the website is beautiful, the store is beautiful. How did that all come together, and how important was it to have a cohesiveness with the visuals?
Kerrilynn has amazing taste. She has amazing sensibility. And my boss at Martha Stewart Living used to say, my role was to create the visual content of the magazine, which was the pictures and words. Of course that's Instagram, that's marketing, that's a website, that's a newsletter, that's a blog. But Kerrilynn is really instrumental in shaping the look and vibe of the company.
The mission is to inspire people to use these natural products, but we can inspire more people if we make it look like a really beautiful space to be in. If we didn't put such a premium on how we looked and swaying people in this really tactical, come-join-the-party-of-beautiful kind of way, it wouldn't reach as many people. We also really believe that style and beauty do not have to be exclusive. We go out of our way to source brands that aren't a million dollars, to offer free lectures and have content on the blog and really welcome everyone into the community. As much as we want to make sure that we keep it really chic, it can't be exclusive. It would be wrong. This is a health product and a movement that should welcome everyone.
Was the spa initially a part of the business?
We were much more comfortable in the retail space because of Kerrilynn's background, but the spa was always something we felt was important. It opened a little after the store. There were things about our experiences with spas we thought were broken. Like, why do we have to stuff money in a little envelope? That didn't feel very elegant to us. We have a no-tipping policy. We tried to make it really modern, and at the same time draw on old techniques.
We were introduced through a friend to the jeweler Lizzie Fortunato, and he recommended that we reach out to her friend, Kristina Holey, and she's a genius. Her approach is very much about the ecosystem of the skin. She's a scientist, an engineer and a formulator, and then she also studied aesthetics with Joelle Chiocho in Paris, who is a famous facialist. We loved the idea of working with Kristina and having her develop our treatment protocol and train our staff, and that's exactly what we did. The facial she created for CAP Beauty is slightly different from what she personally does, but it draws very heavily on her understanding of the skin as this living organ that's connected to the rest of our bodies. The thing that's cool about our services is that we can use a lot of different products in the treatments. We're able to address a lot of different skin types and needs because we have so many products in the store.
I'm also curious about CAP's own line of products — there's a small selection of items under the CAP Beauty label. How did that come about?
Our very first product was something that we did with Katie Hess of Lotus Wei. She created this mist for us and we told her what we wanted it to do: Of course we wanted it to make us love ourselves more and create magnetism and libido — it was all of our fantasies for every New Yorker. There's also an aromatherapeutic aspect of it; it has sandalwood and rose and black pepper. It's really beautiful and pretty unisex.
As we kept growing, a lot of the products that we started with were just ingestible things that were really about sourcing, not formulating. Matcha, coconut butter — they're all these things where we see they sort of fill a void. We are working on a much larger product range. We're not even coming close to thinking about launching it until it's really perfect, so we hesitate to put a time frame on that.
Our most recent runaway product is called The Daily Hit. We did that with Apothecanna. We have their topical CBD products, which are incredibly effective, and they are such a wealth of knowledge on the power of this ingredient. Our concept was that we wanted it to contain some of the adaptogens that we've come to love, especially the ones for beauty and the basic stress modulators and immune-boosting ones. We also wanted it to taste good, so it didn't feel like a supplement, more like a food product. It's designed to go sweet or savory, so you can put it on a salad, you can put it on avocado toast; you can put it in a smoothie; you can drizzle it on your soup; you can just take a spoonful. It's pretty versatile and it's been impossible to keep in stock. It's great that people are embracing it.
How are you growing the business? I know you did a Montauk pop-up and recently opened in Fred Segal.
We are the beauty department at the new Fred Segal store. It's a massive, really ambitious space, and we're super excited to be there. It's a beautiful space; it looks just like our store in New York, except I like to say it's the Hollywood version. It's a different model: In New York, we have this space that people come to because they want to come to CAP Beauty, and when they walk in the door, they know where they are and they know why they're there. At Fred Segal, we have this amazing opportunity to introduce ourselves to a lot of people who have never heard of us, but we also have the aspect that a lot of people walking through might or might not be interested. We hope that they all will be someday. But it gives us this opportunity to spread the word and draw in new customers and give people a taste of what we do. It's really fun to be in LA, where we have so many like-minded people. A lot of our vendors are there.
Are there any other plans for expansion?
The plan is many more doors, many more cities, a wellness center. Fred Segal doesn't have a spa — we would love to open a wellness center in Los Angeles, and probably a bigger one in New York where we can offer more services and treatments. The other sort of major project that we've been working on is our website, which got a complete overhaul. The Fred Segal launch has been more newsworthy and exciting and it's so physical, but the website relaunch has maybe been more work. It's a major change. When we first launched our website, we wanted it to look a certain way — we wanted it to have a certain vibe — and it's certainly been something people have complimented us on, but the truth is, from a purely strategic digital strategy standpoint, it was kind of a mess. So we fixed a lot of that. We made it easier to use and more engaging and just a little bit more grown up.
Then the other thing that we literally finished and handed in yesterday is: We wrote a book. It's basically a book about the lifestyle of natural beauty and all of the practices and rituals and the way food plays in and all of that. That will be out the beginning of next year, in spring.
This interview has been edited for clarity.