There are plenty of things that make Brooklyn-based wellness and beauty startup Golde unique. First of all, unlike the many indie brands in the space that are bringing on massive investment capital to grow at a breakneck pace, it remains entirely self-funded two years in. Golde launched in January of 2017 with a single product — a powdered turmeric-and-coconut tonic meant to be mixed with water and ingested as a sort of wellness latte — and has since developed only four additional SKUs for a tightly curated lineup of three ingestibles and two topical face masks. Despite operating as a direct-to-consumer business, Golde has built a following organically, without putting many resources toward marketing or social media. But easily the most refreshing aspect of the company is its founder.
Trinity Mouzon Wofford launched her business at the age of 23 with a clear mission: to make wellness accessible. "We wanted to strip away a lot of the concepts around wellness that tend to involve guilt," she tells Fashionista. Beyond that, she wanted to make it fun, inclusive and simple — descriptors not usually ascribed to the homogenous industry that has spent decades catering mainly to thin, rich, white women.
While everything Mouzon Wofford's created — Golde's ethos, aesthetic, messaging and formulations — is done with intention and care, she's also much less precious about it than many beauty and wellness founders. Often brands are fixated on building an aura of exclusivity by restricting the retailers they work with, but Golde sees that as counterproductive to its mission. Therefore, as the founder puts it, "wherever [our consumer] is, we're going to meet her there." That has led to an impressive retail footprint across more than 100 stockists of varying scales, including Goop, Urban Outfitters, Chillhouse, Madewell and, as of this month, Sephora.
I sat down with Mouzon Wofford to discuss what inspired her to create Golde, how she hopes to bring change to the wellness and beauty market and how she stood her ground to grow her company without taking relying on outside investment. Read on for the highlights.
Tell me about your background and what inspired you to create Golde.
It came from my own interest in looking at the wellness space and wanting to make it a little bit more fresh and approachable and inclusive and all that good stuff. I grew up in upstate New York and was raised by a single parent that had an autoimmune disease — my mom has rheumatoid arthritis. She eventually started taking a more holistically minded approach to treatment and noticed a massive improvement.
I was pre-med at NYU, but holistic health became a huge passion of mine; I was constantly saying, 'Do you have a cold? Maybe you should have some more garlic.' I always wanted to combine holistic health, wellness and beauty. This was before [the industry] was where it is now.
I've always been interested in finding natural remedies to help with my skin or my health, especially with the experience my mom had. After graduating, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do and just sort of fell into a career in marketing. I was working at a tech startup — totally unsexy marketing. But it was there that the idea for Golde was born.
How did the brand start to take shape?
I decided to launch it with my longtime boyfriend, [Issey Kobori], who is now our creative director. His parents own a candle company upstate, so we were able to have that window into entrepreneurship. There's that whole world of incorporating and figuring out what your taxes are going to be, that was so overwhelming, and I think totally would've stopped us — we were really young at the time, we were 23.
So neither of you had experience as entrepreneurs.
No. He had a lot of visibility into it because he grew up in that business. It's a small, family-run company, so he knew a lot of the operation stuff. I had the background on the marketing side, but more so in the B2B tech world. It was very much a labor of love and learning. We knew that wanted to build a brand that was going to take this world of wellness and make it a little bit more accessible and inclusive. From there, it was figuring out how that was going to translate into a brand, voice and vision that was engaging for consumers.
Did you always know you wanted to focus on ingestibles?
We knew that we wanted to do an ingestible product, and we decided to launch with turmeric products specifically because I'd gotten into it through my mom, who had been using it because it's anti-inflammatory. It was so helpful for her joints. I started playing around and putting the whole root in smoothies and found that it was great for my skin and my digestion, so that's where we decided this could be our first product to put out into the market.
We didn't know how to design packaging, so we downloaded Adobe Illustrator and figured it out. The name Golde was inspired by the original product, which makes a golden drink, but it was also about this larger concept of taking wellness and making it feel golden and really good. We wanted to strip away a lot of the concepts around wellness that tend to involve guilt.
How did you go about building up the business?
It was a lot of learn-as-you-go. We started small, hand-blending the product in our kitchen. We put it into these ugly little foil packets, and I wrote on them with a Sharpie marker and passed them out to people that I knew and was like, 'Do you like this?'
We launched on our website, which we designed ourselves on Squarespace. At the time, I was helping out Chillhouse with their opening. When I first interviewed with [Chillhouse founder] Cyndi [Ramirez-Fulton], the product wasn't even live yet, but I had a bag to give her, and she loved it. She also got us into our first stockist, which was The Elk in the West Village. We started off with The Elk, Chillhouse and our website and started posting stuff to social media because that was all we knew how to do [laughs], and sales started to roll in.
I don't mean to imply that suddenly our business was massive and we couldn't even keep up [with the demand], but we came out with an authentic mission and story and it resonated, so quickly we had a lot of retailers reaching out to us.
Was everything self-funded?
Yes, and still is today.
What challenges did you encounter as you grew the business?
We had to transition from shipping out every order ourselves to working with a warehouse and with a manufacturer — we've been through four co-packers already. Those relationships are tough, it's like dating. It's taken a while to get those things set up. That first year was interesting because by the end of that year we had inquiries coming in from Urban Outfitters, Goop and Sephora.
At that point we were literally two people working out of our apartment and so it was thrilling. It was pretty much our dream, but there also was a moment of: What does that even mean? Are we suddenly going to be in every Sephora store? How are we going to manage that? But with that relationship, we've been grateful that they're able to understand what we're capable of doing for them right now and where the opportunity lies over the coming years.
How did you build out from a single product to a full company?
It was a little bit of reverse-engineering. Now, I have a strong network of founders that I've made a point to connect with. It's so valuable, but I didn't even realize the importance of that [at first]. It was hard to understand that we were on the same level as some of these brands that were a lot more established. It wasn't until our second year when we started to get outreach from investors and I started to have to think about that conversation.
How did you approach that process was once they started coming to you?
We had people start to come in via email and our DMs. We started talking to them and quickly ... I allowed myself to be convinced that we had to raise money as soon as possible, that if we didn't, someone else was going to jump in and take our market share and our business would be over.
For most of 2018, I was aggressively having conversations with investors, trying to figure out how much I should raise. It took a long time to understand what I wanted out of the business. These investors started reaching out, talking about $100-million-plus acquisitions, suddenly I was wondering whoa, maybe that's what I should be after.
It was during that time that I was able to connect with a lot of other founders, which was the most valuable thing that I did in that year. I told everyone how much money we were making, I didn't care. I put it all out there and got all the feedback I could.
When I'd tell investors or other founders that our company was running on 80% wholesale revenue rather than mostly direct-to-consumer [sales] and that we weren't spending money on Facebook yet, they were completely blown away. I didn't think that was special. I was telling them our revenue numbers which weren't massive and they were like, 'Whoa, you're doing that without spending any money?'
After taking so many meetings with people in the industry, what were your takeaways?
I came to the conclusion that if we could do it the way we were, not taking on money and growing sustainably, that's what we should do. There's nothing wrong with taking on money, but you don't have to.
Right now, it seems like so many beauty brands are trying to scale as quickly as possible and get acquired. Is a sale your ultimate goal?
We're two years old — in startup terms, you're already a dinosaur, but to me, we're babies. I'm mostly focused on where we're going end up over the next two years. I don't think that in the next two years we're going to see an acquisition — I mean, that could be cool I guess, if things moved ahead quickly.
We're open to anything. I'm open to taking on investors, I'm open to partnering with a larger brand. It's going to depend on how the business evolves, but right now the only thing that I'm laser-focused on is growing the brand in a way that's sustainable.
Talk me through the development of subsequent products.
In terms of branching into topical skin-care, I was at a point when my skin was was worse than it had ever been. I tried everything: an herbalist, P50, I tried Retin-A, everything natural and unnatural. And nothing worked. Then I decided to start slathering superfoods on my face and started to realize it was working. As we continued to formulate the masks, I continued to be the guinea pig for testing and found that these were truly the only things that cleared my skin up.
The brand feels personal, and you are really the face of it. How important was that for Golde?
At first I was hesitant to put myself out there as the founder. I thought that the product should speak for itself, which now I think is almost never true. People want to know the story behind brands, and often you don't realize how much value that story has, because you've been living it. I remember a point when, on social media, we posted the first photo of me with the product and we had such a strong response. So many people were saying, 'Oh my gosh. I didn't know that you were Black-owned. I didn't know that this was a small business.' We were able to create such an honest, authentic relationship with retailers and with consumers who wanted to try out wellness products, but were all the more excited to support a small brand.
Wellness is not a category that's historically been very inclusive. What are some of the ways that you're seeing that change, and how do you see yourself as a part of that?
I would love to see more approachable solutions in general — more things priced under $50, more founders of color. I'm excited that we're starting to see a little bit of that, more brands that are popping up in this category with a lower price point. I hope that being there will encourage more people to engage with wellness and understand that it doesn't have to be about working out too hard and only drinking smoothies; it's about finding a way to feel good. Anything that we can do to spread that message and amplify it is in our own best interest.
My goal is not to be the only brand that offers superfoods at a reasonable price point. My goal is to inspire everyone to start to do it.
It's interesting that Goop was one of your early retailers, because when people talk about that narrow perception of what wellness can look like, Goop is often cited as a prime example.
People will say to us, 'You feel like the anti-Goop. How are you partnering with them?' And I say, 'It's incredible that they're partnering with us. It shows that they're thinking about [inclusivity] ... they're introducing their audience to our mission, which is wonderful.' They're a great team and we love working with them.
Given that you started this company at a young age, that you're a woman and more specifically a woman of color, what were some of your challenges that you experienced in that regard?
I would say that my biggest challenge was not having any experience. I had no funding, no connections, no idea of how to start. But in some ways that that naivety was a blessing because it allowed me to keep pushing forward, put my head down and keep my eyes on the prize. I didn't even know the extent of the challenges that would be facing us to get to where we are now as a self-funded brand.
What does the future of Golde look like?
I'm interested to see where the market goes. Sephora is almost unexpectedly enthusiastic about wellness. They understand the value there and they want to capture that market. They don't want be the sort of big, bulky brand that couldn't innovate. I think there's a great opportunity, but we're going to continue to look at the main goal, which is making wellness inclusive and accessible for our customers.
What advice would you have for other young entrepreneurs that see you as a role model?
I've been doing what I call 'office hours' every Sunday night on Instagram Stories, where I work through some challenge that I've faced as a founder and give people tips on how to handle it.
The number-one thing that I would advise anyone who's thinking about starting a business or has a business already is to connect with as many founders and investors as possible. Don't necessarily take their advice, but listen to it, and then form your own opinion — no one knows your brand as well as you do.
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