Marta Cros is a beauty entrepreneur two times over. She first launched The Ritualist in 2015, around the time when at-home beauty services like GlamSquad were starting to take off. A year in, the company that brought facials to customers' front steps started experimenting with creating its own line of products.
It was an unconventional move, and one Cros didn't exactly think was a good one at first. "I always had this idea in my head that people wouldn't want treatments performed on them with brands that they didn't know," she tells Fashionista. As it turned out, that didn't end up being an issue; people's concerns fell more along the lines of wanting quality, vegan products that were effective. And so in 2016, Apto Skincare was born, and not too long after — with some demand from Ritualist clients — was then released to the general public in 2018.
But, funny story, it didn't start out with the name by which it's known today. As Cros tells it, Apto (which means suitable in Spanish), was initially launched under the name The Ritualist. "I obviously had the trademark for the spa and the services, but like a week after, I received a letter from Rituals' lawyer saying 'Hi, uh, we think you cannot do that,'" she says. It was an innocent mishap and what she calls a rookie mistake, but it also ended up being a blessing in disguise. z'Then it was like, well, if we need to create another brand, let's think more about what we want to accomplish, how we want to approach the brand and position it."
This also happened to be around the time when Cros was pregnant with her first child and undergoing a frustrating search for non-toxic beauty products. "I realized I could either chip in $50 for an amazing cleanser, or visit the corner natural grocery store for some sort of organic almond oil variation," she says. "None of these options appealed to me: I wanted good for you, but also good looking and effective products without the hefty price tag." She soon realized she wasn't the only one thirsty for both clean and accessible beauty products.
What qualifies as "clean" beauty these days is a convoluted, mixed bag. As a result, different brands have different definitions. For Apto, that label means: "Toxic-free, made with ethically sourced ingredients, always vegan, always cruelty-free." But the path to get there isn't as straightforward as some might think. "Finding good suppliers and good sources of quality, raw materials is more complicated than other brands who are less precious about what they use and what they put in their products," says Cros.
One thing customers might notice about Apto is that it doesn't have an organic certification. This was a conscious decision Cros and her team made in order to preserve the quality of their products; the brand has been sourcing ingredients from India for many years, which Cros explains doesn't subscribe to the same rules as the U.S. "We had two options: Either continue getting the ingredients from the best sources that we knew of, or find a local, U.S.-based supplier that would charge us much more, and in some cases, the quality wasn't as good." So Cros and her team went with the former option. "We thought, for us and our mission, it was more important to keep the accessibility and the integrity in the way we source ingredients rather than the stamp," she explains.
Making an accessibly priced product is also a complicated process. Part of the reason why Cros is able to keep the cost of Apto products down (nothing retails for more than $25) is that, a couple of years ago, she merged businesses with a local factory owned by her partner's husband. This allowed her to cut out the middleman fee that other brands typically accrue and, in turn, pass on those savings to the customers.
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Just because you have a clean, affordable, effective, product on the market, doesn’t always mean customers will come running. There's something of an oversaturation happening within the beauty industry at the moment, particularly when it comes to the "clean" space. One thing Cros says has helped in terms of marketing has been partnerships with subscription boxes like Ipsy. "You can get your product in the hands of hundreds of thousands of people, literally, and that generates a buzz on social media and also generates a lot of reviews and feedback," she says.
Speaking of social media, it's where I first caught wind of the brand, via fashion-editor-turned-influencer Alyssa Coscarelli, aka @alyssainthecity. Cros mentions that they've never paid her to post, and that the partnership is completely organic, and that the whole influencer game is something of a "fine line that we're still trying to figure out."
For now, the company relies on these platforms mainly for community building and customer feedback, which it takes to heart and, in some cases, also puts into action. "Since we have the factory, when we see a comment that we might get often, be it positive or negative, we're able to make changes really fast," Cros says. "They might say 'hey, I really like this mask but the texture was a bit too creamy for me.' If we see this happening very often, we really consider making changes to adjust the formula."
One such customer-influenced change that will probably come with applause from fans: The brand is doubling the size of its products. Cros explains that the brand initially launched with a travel-sized lineup because "we wanted something that customers would actually finish." She continues: "Think about the amount of products you have in your bathroom cabinet just used halfway. We were also worried about how the products would perform long-term, considering that we do not use any chemical preservatives." But once Apto realized both customers and retailers wanted bigger items, the brand got to work on figuring out the right formulations. The transition will start later this year and, no, the prices won't increase, so the products will become even more of a steal.
This isn't an easy feat, and Cros says it will impact her company financially, but she believes it's an important step. Plus, as she explains, just because you increases the size of a product doesn't necessarily mean the cost increases as well. "The packaging is not going to cost double just because it's double the size, the same happens with the product inside," she says. "You increase a bit the cost of the raw materials, of course, but a big part of the products of beauty products is the labor. Making a batch of 100 kilos to 200 kilos, it's not doubling the labor."
Another major factor of real success is getting product into the hands of customers, and a lot of that comes down to where it's stocked. Apto sells directly to consumers via e-commerce on its site, and also landed at Urban Outfitters last year, but for Cros, the ultimate goal is to go mass. "That's part of who we are, we want to make clean beauty accessible to everybody, so that means that we need to make sure that we reach more and more people," she says. With that mission at the forefront, she made the recent decision to launch with Walmart. "We debated a lot about this decision because, obviously, working with Walmart has a lot of connotations, good and bad, but at the end of the day, they are really working hard to build a clean category in their business and we felt that we wanted to support those efforts," Cros says. "For us it was like, well, our goal is to democratize the access to clean beauty, so what better partner than Walmart to do that? That's the retailer for America."
Apto will also be adding new products and ingredients to its lineup in the coming months: Cros says a pomegranate moisturizer and AHA mask are on the way, as well as a charcoal peel-off mask, cleansers and lip balms. "One of my goals, when I was working on the branding and everything about the product was, I wanted people to pay $15 to receive the product at home and be like 'Wow, I can't believe that this looks way more expensive than it is,' then try the formula and be like 'Wow again, this actually feels more expensive than it is,'" Cross reflects. "I think we achieved that."
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