There's not exactly a shortage of brands looking to overhaul — and cash in on — the natural beauty category right now. A particularly booming sector of the ever-growing beauty market, it's brimming with opportunity for new up-and-comers to carve out a space and make a name for themselves. In the U.S., in particular, though, it's also brimming with ambiguity and confusion. Descriptors like "natural," "organic," "clean" and "green" get thrown around and stamped on product labels with little to no regard for the specific qualifications behind them. With the beauty industry woefully unregulated, these terms are more often (effective) marketing shtick than science-backed, substantiated facts. What's more, even if products do contain naturally sourced or organically farmed ingredients, those philosophies don't always extend to supporting agricultural infrastructure, ethical manufacturing practices or uniform standards for entire supply chain systems.
Enter Charlie Denton, a 27-year-old Australian entrepreneur who is on a mission to change all that with his fledgling company, Crop Natural. Drawing on his family's 35-plus-year history of private label beauty manufacturing in his native country, Denton set out to build a cool, accessible beauty brand that would resonate with millennial shoppers — while also demystifying natural ingredient standards and delivering on performance.
After launching in Australia, Crop Natural officially debuted in the U.S. last spring with a tight edit of skin-care products and expanded into color cosmetics in July. It positions its formulas against those made by luxury brands — in some cases, they're even manufactured in the same facilities — but Crop Natural's also meet the standards for COSMOS certification, a set of strict requirements put in place by a cooperative of five major European organic and natural cosmetics standard-setting organizations. The COSMOS mandates focus on organic agriculture, respecting biodiversity and resources, as well as clean manufacturing practices.
On the marketing side of things, Denton tapped Rebecca Hearn, a creative producer who has also worked with Ssense, & Other Stories and Galore magazine, to dream up the aesthetic of the branding and campaign imagery. "It's not just this green brand where we're posting about leaves all the time," he said in a recent phone interview with Fashionista. "Sustainability and beauty and natural, that's all embodied in this brand, yes, but the actual aesthetic of it is modern, it's cool." The brand is currently direct-to-consumer, but Denton says he might look into select retail partnerships later in the year.
Denton let us in on his vision for Crop Natural, what makes the brand different from so many others in the category and what we can expect from the buzzy new brand in the future. Read on for the highlights from our interview.
Can you give me a bit of background about how Crop came to be?
Over 35 years ago, my parents started a business developing products for other [companies]. They gradually built it up to be Australia's [main] private-label supplier of cosmetics and skin care. Growing up, I was always exposed to that; I guess for me a natural progression was that I went into the family business. I [worked there] with two of my three brothers, pretty much since I was 16. After I graduated from uni, I was working at the family business for five or six years.
But I was always really keen to do a brand. I love the idea of being able to build something that's really relevant to people today. I worked with my mom and our team — I reckon we've got the best product development team in the world — to get some products together, and that's Crop. For me it's about building something that's truly special.
How you would summarize the philosophy of the brand?
The philosophy of the brand is to bring out the best, most innovative, natural formulations in the world. Performance is the number-one thing for us: We use the best suppliers and partners in the world. The home of cosmetics in the world is Milan, so about 65 percent of the world's premium-level cosmetics come out of there. Then obviously, K-beauty is a massive, massive thing; their specialty is sheet masks. I'm working with our teams [there], going to the best people in the world to put the best product together.
How did you decide to launch with skin care first?
The thing with natural at the moment is that it's advancing every day; every year it gets better. We're evolving as the technology evolves. We started with some skin-care SKUs because the cosmetics weren't at the level yet for us to be happy with; the performance was quite chalky and the payoff wasn't great. We don't just compare ourselves to natural counterparts, we compare ourselves to the entire beauty category, we want to be up there with the best.
For skin care, the technology was there at the start, and we've evolved in those formulations and built out the line. Then the cosmetics have taken 20 months of work, and we just launched that.
Tell me a bit more about the COSMOS certification — why that was so important to the brand?
[For the COSMOS certification], every single step in the supply chain, right from where the raw ingredients are sourced, to where the product is manufactured, to us as a business, everyone has to be independently audited and vetted by a regulatory body. For the raw ingredient supply, for example, they're going to have to check the soil, see that the ingredients are ethically sourced, monitor that everything's up to standard. Then, when it gets to the manufacturing process [it accounts for things like], water wastage, byproducts — the actual methods of production have to be the most sustainable standard. Then we've got to submit our labels to the regulatory body so they can verify every claim.
On top of that, we get every product dermatologically tested. That's why I'm so confident with it because I just know the rigid standards that we've set for the brand.
Tell me about more about the brand side of it: How did you come up with what you wanted the aesthetic and the overall vibe to be like?
I wanted to have the brand not just be a granola, crunchy, green brand. Natural is the expectation, performance is the expectation — they're in the same sentence together for this brand. So the thinking was, now let's build something really cool. I'm 27 years old, I want it to be relatable to me and to the brands that I'm in touch with. It's not just this green brand where we're posting about leaves all the time. Sustainability and beauty and natural, that's all embodied in this brand, yes, but the actual aesthetic of it is modern, it's cool.
What are some of the other brands you admire and look to for inspiration?
All the brands I look up to are brands led by females, so I take great influence from that. Emily Weiss, she's the OG, and then there's like Yael Aflalo, who's done Reformation and then there's even like Ty Haney with Outdoor Voices. I look at those brands and I really love the community feel that they've cultivated. I want to try and build that for Crop, with my own sort of spin on it.
Do you see the brand as gender-neutral?
Definitely. I come from a family with three brothers, I've got all these mates back home who are all using the products. They'll send me photos of them masking.
Coming from a positive standpoint, that's what Crop is and that's who I am as a person, so that's something which we're definitely going to address down the line as a brand, to really show men that it's okay to care about [beauty products].
Why was the U.S. the first place you wanted to expand outside of Australia?
I'd always wanted to live in New York. I don't know, I just had an affinity for it growing up. Then I also saw that the confusion around the natural product space here was crazy, so I figured if we could try and get the program up and running here and get people to really understand our product, we could get them to understand natural. Also, the U.S. is an influential market; it's a taste-making market.
What other brands do you see as Crop's main competitors?
I understand what's going on around me in the industry, because I have to, and I'm in it every day, but I don't look at anyone as competition. I really see that no one is out there that's got this certification that we have, there's no one that's out here that's got my family's history in beauty.
What does the future of the company look like?
We've got some great activations and content things coming up, which I'm super excited about. We're getting product out there, focusing on the direct-to-consumer thing, so it's really honing in on that. The website, I've seen that as our shop front, so that's going to be really updating.
We're always advancing our formulas, so we're always developing products. From a retail standpoint or a sales standpoint, yes, I think by the end of this year you'll see us in some stores, but I can't say who yet. I see pop-up shops as a really, really big thing for us and I want to cultivate a good feel about the brand.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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