Jamika Martin knows the anguish and hopelessness of struggling with chronic acne, because like so many young people, she spent years dealing with it herself.
Having tried plenty of derm-prescribed topical and oral treatments throughout her youth, including Accutane, but never finding a satisfactory long-term solution, she decided to up and create her own. While studying as an undergraduate at UCLA, Martin began exploring the idea of launching her own skin-care brand, one that would offer accessibly priced acne treatments that came from a place of care rather than attacking breakouts with harsh, stripping actives.
In 2017, Martin founded Rosen Skincare, a direct-to-consumer acne care brand that wants to overhaul the old-school approach to treating breakouts mass brands have clung to for decades. It emphasizes natural ingredients and gentle formulas, omitting many of the harsh standbys of traditional acne products. But Martin's motivation to help those dealing with acne extends beyond Rosen's product formulas and into the way the brand approaches its marketing and branding as well.
As an acne care consumer, Martin had taken note of the negative language often used in marketing the products, the stigma surrounding them and the toll such an aggressive approach to skin care can take. "I know what it's like to feel super shameful of having to shop in that complexion care aisle and feel like all the brands are telling me how terrible my skin is, and we are aiming to be the opposite of that," she says.
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In the years since she first introduced Rosen to the world, Martin has continued to hone this message and build out the brand into a comprehensive range of cleansers, serums, toners and moisturizers that have found resonance with millennial and Gen-Z consumers. And she's also begun to expand the brand's retail footprint: This summer, Rosen was featured in Nordstrom's Pop-In, being sold in select stores and on its website, as well as partnering with Urban Outfitters as part of its ever-expanding beauty portfolio.
"I'm excited to hopefully inspire some founders who think you need to have all the connections in the world or resources to get going," she says. "If you just dedicate yourself to learning, tweaking and pushing growth, anyone can build a brand from a solid idea."
As she looks toward the future of the company, Martin took some time to speak with Fashionista about going up against mass acne care, what it was like working toward the launch of a skin-care brand as an undergraduate student and what other brands inspire her. Read on for the highlights of our conversation.
Tell me about your personal background and how you got into the skin-care space.
I've always had a pretty close tie with skin care and makeup due to my skin. I started breaking out around 5th or 6th grade, so I generally began thinking about skin care and acne much earlier than a lot of my other friends. Because of my skin journey, I'd say I was much more in tune with different terminologies, ingredients and especially medications when it came to the acne space.
But when I really began diving into formulating I was in college and toying with the idea of Rosen. I went from making products at home for myself to more commercially viable formulas, and ever since launching the brand I really have become so much more connected with beauty, trends and formulas as a whole.
At what point did you decide to create your own brand, and what inspired it? What gap did and do you see Rosen filling in the market?
I was playing around with Rosen as a business idea throughout the last year of being in undergrad, but it wasn't until winter quarter that I thought of it as a full time opportunity once I graduated. At the time, I was about a year off of my second round of Accutane and seeing my skin break out pretty severely again. I went back to that acne care aisle I was shopping in 6th grade and noticed nothing had changed — same brands, same formulas and same overly drying and stripping routines. This, combined with my want for cleaner acne care products, sparked the idea to pursue Rosen full-time and really bring something new to the market.
Tell me a bit about the philosophy behind Rosen, what you hope to provide with your products, what messaging you hope to deliver through your branding and what type of community you hope to build surrounding the company.
Our goal at Rosen is to create the next generation of acne care. I want to truly innovate the mass breakout market with all of the millennial and Gen-Z elements that we see being brought into beauty as a whole. Branding, transparency and thoughtful formulas are all core to what we do and how we break apart from that mass acne space. However, as an acne care brand, I'd say our strongest focus when it comes to messaging is skin positivity and how normal breakouts are.
You came up with the idea for Rosen as a student at UCLA and launched shortly after graduating — so impressive. What was that like and how did you go about pulling that off?
I dove into Rosen right when I finished up undergrad — just a 21-year-old with zero connections or experience in the beauty industry, determined to make this idea work and bring change to the breakout space. I've been super fortunate to participate in different accelerators, like Startup UCLA and Target Takeoff Beauty Accelerator, to truly gain a ton of knowledge and connections, but most of my education has come from Google and trial and error.
What was it like getting into the industry at such a young age, and what challenges or advantages did that bring with it for you?
My last year at UCLA became my last year during winter quarter. That's when I realized I could finish early if I dropped my minor. I became so consumed with the idea of Rosen that the thought of classes or midterms was too much for me. Fortunately, everything was lined up to finish early and dive into Rosen as soon as I graduated, with the help of Startup UCLA's Summer Accelerator.
I was so new to the industry, and I think it definitely took a bit for me to get recognized. I didn't raise money. I didn't have industry connections. We weren't launching with some big retailer. And I wasn't great at selling myself or the company. I just quietly pushed through and was ready for opportunities when they came my way. I always took — and still do [take] — the advice of people who know more than me. I figured if I just kept pushing and growing, it would get to a point where my brand would be undeniable.
How did you go about creating the company, securing funding, figuring out distribution and developing the products themselves?
Honestly, it sounds pretty scrappy, but I just started spending the extra $50 or $100 I had a month on ingredients or packaging. I've never raised any money for Rosen, and we've grown off of our profits or other revenue-share lending sources like Clearbanc.
I decided to keep production in-house and sell direct-to-consumer because that was the lowest barrier to entry. I didn't know any cosmetic chemists — or that that was even a thing — and I definitely couldn't pay for a manufacturer minimum. I also didn't know any retailers. Almost all of the local mom-and-pop shops from my hometown shut me down for my entire first year. I remember literally trying to talk to the manager at the Urban Outfitters in Westwood to see if they'd carry my products, not knowing I had to talk to corporate and they'd decide my fate there. Everything was just what I could afford to do and I grew into a more developed strategy from there.
How many products did you first launch with? What was your initial launch like, in terms of building a consumer base and customer response to the formulas?
We started with four SKUs, and I actually ended up scrapping one of them because it didn't perform that well. My initial launch, much like my path to distribution or funding, was super anti-climatic. I remember making some products for my friend's shop that I would sell on consignment, and a few months in she was like, 'Do you have a Facebook or Instagram?' and I didn't even have that.
When I finally made it and the website, people I knew would come up to me like a year later and ask if it was me. I was so scared it was going to fail or not be a good idea, I did it super low-key for a long time. But when we first started making money online, it was all gifted influencers. I'd send people products to review, get them a coupon code. There were some solid girls who just genuinely loved us and our products and really fueled our growth for the first year.
How has the brand evolved, grown or changed since you first launched?
I launched June of 2017 and we've just continued to find our niche within the acne space. Our brand has shifted from being a clean brand that works for breakouts to the next generation of acne care. We focus on nothing but acne-prone skin and that has allowed us to continue to grow and build deeper with our customers. Currently, my team is about 15 folks, but we have a lot of temporary people in our warehouse. Once we make some transitions there, I'll be back to five employees and about five contractors.
Do you have a personal favorite product?
Our cleansers. I always tell folks, while I love our formulas and routines and what every single product we have brings to the market, I think our cleansers are truly the most innovative. I could try to find another mask or vitamin C serum somewhere. It may not work as well or have ingredients I like, but I could find it. Currently, there are no substitutes for either of our cleansers anywhere on the market.
What other brands — not necessarily just in beauty — inspire you or do you identify with?
Neon Cowboys is such a dope brand, and I just found out they are Black-owned, which is even cooler. I love the formulas that Youth to the People come up with, and their branding is always so great as well. Topicals and Bread Beauty Supply are friends of mine and I just love what they've done with their branding and community development prior to their launches — always so inspired by them.
What brands do you see as Rosen's competitors? Who is Rosen's target consumer?
I think our biggest competition is mass acne care. They have such a stronghold on being the first thought of many young customers when it comes to options for their breakouts and they most closely align with our pricing and ideal distribution. Our core customer at Rosen is a 16 to 24 year-old female who deals with breakouts and is looking for something she can purchase month over month without spending too much.
How did you come up with the name Rosen Skincare? Does it have any sort of special significance?
When I had the idea for Rosen, pre-launch, I actually called it Rose Gold Cosmetics. I wanted to change it for so many reasons, and after doing a customer survey in a class of mine, Rosen won. Mine, my dad's and my grandfather's middle name is Rose, so I knew I wanted that in there.
How has the pandemic impacted the company?
From a business perspective, growth has been huge for us in Q2, which is a super fortunate thing to say. From a supply chain perspective, we had to be flexible, for sure. Packaging was out of stock everywhere and ingredients had super long lead times, but it allowed us to start forecasting a bit more and really find some wiggle room on packaging options, which only better sets us up for the future, as we're more prepared than ever.
What goals do you have for Rosen Skincare in the immediate future and in the long-term?
Immediate goal is to get our supply chain super tight, with the exception of supplier issues from Covid. I want to project out much further, have more stock on hand and transition into a contract manufacturer. Long-term, just continue to push DTC and retail growth and begin taking over that mass acne care aisle.
We also have some plans on the retail front that I can't talk about yet, but I'm super excited for.
How important has social media been in terms of marketing and growing the brand, building community and translating to sales?
It's everything. For like almost two full years of growth, we were 100% Instagram — that was it. No paid ads, no other social channels, nothing. I think social media is the best place to build a community, learn and market today. For a while, our Instagram following was almost one for one with our monthly sales before we started pulling the trigger in some other areas.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Homepage/main photo: Courtesy of Rosen Skincare