After more than a decade of brands touting themselves as the most natural/organic/non-toxic/green line on the market (but with only a handful of them really living up to the self-promoted hype), it's no wonder that consumers have gotten both fatigued and cynical. An alarming lack of regulation in the beauty industry has led to greenwashing galore, something that can trip up even the best intentions of anyone trying to enter the now-crowded space.
In spite of those hurdles, former marketing executive Hillary Peterson decided to dive headfirst into clean beauty with the launch of her "safe" beauty line True Botanicals in 2014. Since then, the brand has built up a deveoted fan base that can't stop gushing about its luxe face oils. This following includes clean-living celebrities like Olivia Wilde, who now serves as True Botanicals' "chief brand activist" — a "more authentic" version of a spokesperson, according to Peterson.
The brand was born of Peterson's personal commitment to nontoxic beauty products, an area with which she first became concerned after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She vowed to create skin care that was both effective and safe for humans and the planet; then spent eight years studying botanicals, wellness, sustainability and consulting with green chemists to create products that met her standards of clean beauty. It was a labor of love — emphasis on the labor.
The brand just raised $8 million in a Series A round of funding with new investor Sonoma Brands, alongside original backers Unilever and Cue Ball Capital. Fashionista chatted with Peterson on the phone to learn about the specifics of the line, what she sees as the new standard in green beauty and what plans she has for the brand after this last round of funding. Read on to learn what makes this brand tick.
Your diagnosis of thyroid cancer clearly changed your outlook on your beauty routine. Why did you decide to create your own line rather than seek out natural products already on the shelves?
Looking at all the things I could do to live the healthiest possible lifestyle, I discovered for the first time that there were a lot of hidden endocrine disrupting chemicals in my skin-care products. And then I heard a report on NPR about a study that conclusively showed that some of what you put on your skin goes into your body — these chemicals found in personal care products were showing up in baby's cord blood. That was a moment where I really felt that there had to be a better way. We all deserve better than to be sold these products and told this is what we need to use to look and feel beautiful. From there the vision sprang to develop a brand that could help turn the beauty industry into a wellness industry.
Is that how you would sum up the mission of True Botanicals?
The core mission is to give our customers the results they are looking for without toxins. And to help educate consumers so they understand that we don't need toxins to deliver results. It's very exciting to be doing that and we are really feeling that the industry is shifting. That is incredibly rewarding.
The natural space is so crowded it can be overwhelming for consumers — how do you make your brand stand out?
We put results first and we know we don't need the toxins to deliver the results. I think it's important to give results that consider people's skin types. So we've been very thoughtful about building out the line to meet the very specific needs of different skin types. What's been very powerful [for us] is — whether its customers, influencers, or celebrities — that people are sharing their real stories and that really resonates for consumers. I think that's been one of the ways for us to really break through the clutter. People's passion for the brand inspires them to share their stories, and seeing all of these very authentic success stories has inspired people to take the leap [to purchase True Botanicals products].
After years of greenwashing, consumers have become skeptical about anything that claims to be natural. What's your solution to overcoming that?
Unfortunately 'natural' was over-used and over-promised. I like 'green' and 'clean.' They are more authentic words to use. One of our solutions is [our decision] to get the line certified as non-toxic by Made Safe. We get our products evaluated and Made Safe either likes the ingredients or they don't — there is absolutely no gray zone there. I think that is very meaningful in a time where most certifications are based on self-reporting. Unfortunately that's not taking it far enough in terms of really knowing hidden ingredients within products.
Why did you seek out Made Safe rather than the standard USDA Organic or Eco-Cert certification?
We found them through one of our advisors, Terrence Collins, the head of green chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University. He's helped us do certain things like our preservation system — he looked at what is the greenest, safest one. Through that process he was actually developing tests that Made Safe uses and he said, 'I think you should talk to these people.' When scientists like him and other top green chemists are the ones saying, 'This is the certification that is really looking at the important stuff,' that's what got us on board.
What is happening right now is that there is a huge revolution in the works: Consumers are getting very smart and are looking into everything. Our goal as a brand has been to be right at the intersection of safe and results. This is what we absolutely loved about the Made Safe and why we ultimately landed with that certification. What people really want to know is are these products safe for people, are they good for the planet, and do they work.
What is this revolution going to be about?
Green chemistry is doing incredible stuff, and I feel like there will be more and more discoveries that will allow us to do a lot around creating products that are safe for people and the planet. And that are very effective. This is where the consumer is and where brands will need to meet them — they don' care if it looks like your product is 100 percent natural. They care if your product is 100 percent natural and if there are hidden ingredients they want them on the label. To me, that's going to be one of the biggest things to change over the coming years. Every single ingredient that is in a product should be on the label so that the consumer can decide for themselves.
What does the recent funding mean for you and the brand?
It brings legitimacy to our brand and our vision. And it brings us the ability to reach more people with our message and with our products. It's really exciting because it's one more step towards achieving our big goal as a company.
To be one of the top 100 beauty brands and to show you can grow a very successful, profitable brand that meets the needs of people and the planet. If you look at the top 100 beauty brands today, not one of them would qualify for Made Safe certification. That's what's next. The growth is really exciting and we're just really enjoying this journey. It's been great.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Homepage/main photo: Courtesy of True Botanicals