Hello Beautiful People!
Today’s a special day for us – ĀTHR Beauty’s 1st anniversary! To celebrate, we sat down with our Founder, Tiila to chat about how it all started, the highs, the lows, and what’s coming next! Plus, keep reading for all the details on our site-wide anniversary sale!
How did you decide to start ĀTHR Beauty?
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 14 and was always living this organic lifestyle – cooking organic food and working in organic restaurants. Eventually, I started to have a disconnect with formulating conventional cosmetics. It was then that I started to seriously look at the clean beauty space.
As a Sephora girl, I was looking for clean beauty products that were just as high-performing and fantastical as the cool, innovative brands I loved, like Urban Decay and Kat Von D and Pat McGrath. That just wasn’t available though – the clean beauty formulas just weren’t measuring up. And for me, the hole was obvious. I thought for sure someone was going to fill it, I just didn’t know it would be me.
Wanting to move to the clean beauty side, I started searching for VP Product Development positions at existing clean beauty brands. I got an interview with one I was really excited about and I formulated an entire line of color cosmetics for the interview. It was a beautiful, complete collection that was ready to be launched.
My husband saw all my work and couldn’t believe I was going to give this whole line over to someone else. He thought it was too good and completely over the top and that I should just launch it all myself! I hadn’t even considered that option – I mean we live in San Francisco, we have a mortgage and 2 very expensive kids – how could we afford it?! But he ran the numbers and it seemed to be doable.
So, I left my well-paying, corporate dream job at Sephora and set off on my own. A lot of people probably thought I was crazy to leave this amazing job that so many people would kill for. But it was just time – I had learned everything I could learn and I was so passionate about sustainable beauty – I needed to bring it to life. So, I took a leap of faith, maybe a little irrationally, but I had full trust in my intuition and in what I knew I could create.
I left Sephora in April 2018 and I launched ĀTHR Beauty on the Summer Solstice – June 21, 2018. I launched with one palette – the Rose Quartz Crystal Gemstone palette. I chose eyeshadow first because, to me, clean eyeshadows (and especially palettes) were such a hole in the market. I wanted to create the eyeshadow palette I had been searching for – something clean and sustainable but also magical, transformative, and always, always vegan & cruelty-free.
I also knew if I could only afford to launch one product at a time, it needed it to be eye-catching, memorable, and iconic. And I think I’ve done that – from the outer packaging to the triangle & diamond-shaped pans to the unique colors, you can recognize ĀTHR Beauty anywhere.
Is there a deeper meaning behind the name 'ĀTHR'?
In medieval times, the word ‘ĀTHR’ was considered to be the 5th element to earth, air, fire, and water. It was how the Greeks described the cosmos, or the “upper air that the gods breathed.” I love that – the mystery and the magic—I wanted to bring that energy to my brand.
Also, my father had a real affinity for the stars – one of my first memories is him showing me the constellations. I love that the name reminds me of him.
Why did you decide to launch on the Summer Solstice?
The Summer Solstice is all about new beginnings, and this was such a meaningful beginning for me. Also, my brand has this whole cosmic element to it - I wanted to do something almost ritualistic. And summer is euphoric and happy and really celebrational so I thought it was the perfect timing.
How did you choose which retailers to partner with?
In the beginning, I naively thought I would just be direct-to-consumer. I thought if I just partnered which a bunch of amazing influencers, the brand would be instantly viral. It’s kind of funny looking back now, but at least I had all the belief in my brand!
What I discovered is that without millions of dollars in marketing spend, it’s very hard to make a lot of noise in this space. I realized I was going to have to work with retailers. My first retail partner was Credo Beauty – they have been so great to work with and they’re local in San Francisco too.
Even before Credo though, retailers were reaching out to me. My first day in business, Neiman Marcus contacted me. At this point, I was still committed to selling straight to consumers only so I passed. Despite my protests, they kept reaching out monthly and I kept holding tight to my direct-to-consumer idea. I also didn’t think my brand would survive at Neiman Marcus as an indie, clean brand.
Eventually, we had a call and I learned about their partnership with Indie Beauty Expo + the area they’ve created in their stores to showcase innovative indie brands. So needless to say, I did end up partnering with them – I’m in 42 Neiman Marcus locations now and the brand is doing really well!
A year later, I’m in over 160 different retailers that truly relate to my ethos and believe in my brand.
How did the Sephora Launch happen?
It was a month before I launched – I only had a landing page and an Instagram. I didn’t have any products on the market yet. Suddenly my phone blew up with a million calls and texts from Sephora people.
Turns out that day, NPD had been presenting their annual trend presentation to the Sephora team. NPD is a company that takes data from 20,000+ companies in beauty and fashion to predict trends, identify new opportunities, and help businesses grow. Sephora and other brands share their data with NPD, and pay to access the full spectrum of data available.
So, long story short, in this huge annual presentation, NPD presented ĀTHR Beauty to Sephora as a “California wellness brand to watch” – an opportunity for Sephora to pursue.
This was so surreal to hear – to have my brand presented back to Sephora! When they presented ĀTHR Beauty, all my former colleagues in the audience were cheering and clapping and getting really excited.
Before I left Sephora, I actually talked to the Sephora clean beauty buyer and I was like “Just so you know, I won’t be able to afford Sephora.” Basically, I said, “We can talk in a few years, love you guys, but there’s no way”.
After that trend presentation, she texted me asking if I was sure about not doing Sephora yet and could we have a conversation. I of course said yes, but having been on the other side negotiating those contracts, I understood how much capital it takes to create a brand that does well in Sephora. It took me 3 months to negotiate that contract but in the end, they gave me pretty favorable terms.
What’s it like now that you’re in Sephora?
Well, life has truly come full circle; launching my brand at the company I started my beauty career at! I never thought I would be in Sephora after just a few months, it’s surreal but very gratifying.
Launching at Sephora before people know my brand is a bit of a risk. What I do know for sure though, is that once people touch, see, and feel ĀTHR Beauty products, they fall in love. Not just with the formula, but with everything the brand stands for. And I’ve seen that with so many Sephora customers already.
How did you want ĀTHR beauty to be perceived as a brand?
I want it to just be a cool brand on its own. And then p.s. it’s vegan, cruelty-free, sustainable, and clean. There are so many layers to learn about the brand, and personally, I love that as a consumer. The more you learn about the brand, the more you fall in love. Every new discovery is a beautiful surprise.
What has surprised you the most so far?
It’s a lot harder than I naively thought when I started. At Sephora, I worked my butt off. I started without a team and then I built a group out around me. I launched over 25 skus a season. But now, just doing one sku at a time, I’m seeing that Product Development isn’t the hard part for me – it’s all the other aspects of the brand.
I also didn’t realize how much money it would take to launch. This article came out in Vogue that said it takes $1.5 million to launch a beauty brand. That is definitely true. Except I don’t have $1.5 million so I’ve had to get really creative and strategic in my decisions.
As of now, I am the sole employee – the product development, creative direction, sales, order fulfillment is all me. It’s a lot to balance, and especially with my life as a wife and mother. But I’m learning every day and the love that people have for the brand makes it all worth it.
What were your most exciting moments so far?
I won an Earth First award from Mind Body Green for the industry’s first zero-waste makeup palette last year – that was very exciting. It put the issue of sustainable packaging in the open for people to talk about, and I’m so happy to lead this change in the industry.
Also, I’ve gotten so much organic press - over 150 press pieces since I started, which is just amazing. Publications that I love like Allure, Refinery 29, Teen Vogue, Brydie, US Magazine, Pop Sugar Beauty, Bustle, BuzzFeed, The Zoe Report, Beauty Independent, Makeup.com, New Beauty, Oprah Magazine, Nasdaq Biz Rockstars and That's So Retrograde have celebrated ĀTHR Beauty's zero-waste packaging, sustainable sourcing, clean, vegan & cruelty-free formula, and of course the eyeshadows themselves. I'm so grateful for them sharing my brand, my knowledge in this space, and for bringing these topics into the conversation.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge 1 year in is being able to scale the company being self-funded. Right now, all the money goes back into the business and I don’t draw a paycheck. I need all my dollars to go either to product development or marketing.
My never-ending flow of ideas is a blessing and a curse. It’s so great to have all these beautiful, innovative products ready to go, but the financial side means I have to wait – I can’t launch everything right now like I would love to! So, I’ve learned a lot of patience; to allow things to unfold and products to be released over time.
I have so many exciting products just waiting to be produced, so stay tuned!
Where did think you would be now vs where you actually are?
I didn’t have many expectations for my first year because everything was so new. I had no idea how big it would be or what the response would be.
Things I never expected: that I would be in all doors at Sephora a year after I launched, that I would be in their store windows, that I would launch with 162+ different retailers, that the brand would be international already, that I would’ve won an award in the industry, or that all these magazines and press would write about and be so excited for ĀTHR Beauty.
It has been an exciting, surprising, and unexpected year all around!
What have you learned about yourself along the way?
I’m a total go-getter. I was a straight A student, I graduated magnum cum laude, I won employee of the year within 6 months of working at Sephora – I’m definitely an overachiever. But that singular focus can sometimes take its toll on other things. After going so headfirst with the brand for a while, I needed to rethink the balance in my household. I had to learn (and I’m still learning) to balance my family life with my business to have both sides thriving and positive.
Do you have a favorite product or shade that you’ve created for ĀTHR Beauty?
For me, all my creations are my babies. But I’m always most in love with whatever I’m working on next, so right now it’s the palette I'm working on for 2020. Those are the shades I’m wearing constantly.
Of the products I’ve launched, I love the Summer Solstice palette – I’m obsessed with all the shades in there. Also, the new Solar Eclipse shade (the single shade from the Summer Solstice palette) is one of my favorite shades and I feel like the photo online does not do it justice. It’s a really gorgeous peach metallic with gold undertones and it’s super wearable on all skin tones. It’s just so summery and bright – you can even use it as a highlighter. I can literally just wear that shade and nothing else and my whole lid is aglow with warmth and gorgeousness.
What product will you never create?
Basically, I won’t create any product that can’t be produced and packaged sustainably. A good example is makeup brushes. You would think with my history of creating some of the most widely-used makeup brushes in the industry that I would create brushes for ĀTHR Beauty. The problem is that no makeup brush is recyclable. They’re made of virgin plastic and will only end up in a landfill. I won’t create anything that adds to the 260 million tonnes of plastic that are already produced every year.
Other than makeup brushes, I’m hoping there won’t be a lot of products I can’t create. Accessories in general might be the only difficult category – I haven’t explored the sustainable possibilities of other accessories too much though.
I’m working on a lot of innovations for this space and I already have sustainable solutions for every other makeup category. Can’t for you all to see what’s coming up!
Have you seen a shift in consciousness about zero-waste packaging and sustainable sourcing since you launched?
Definitely! When I first thought about creating ĀTHR Beauty, zero-waste packaging was just something I wanted to do to make it sustainable. I didn’t think it would be a marketing lever or a trend. I did it because, being a mother of 2 kids, I didn’t want my products to end up in a landfill.
And sustainable ingredients – that wasn’t even a layer in clean beauty when I launched. Some brands were working with organic ingredients but it ended there. Thinking about ethical sourcing and fair-trade ingredients was not on the radar. I only use sustainable ingredients because I never want to make something that takes away from another person’s life.
When I was launching, PR people kept saying “you couldn’t have hit all the trends on the head any better”. But this is not a trend for me – this is just what beauty companies should be doing. It’s been such a hush-hush topic for years; how bad the packaging is in beauty, and it’s high-time people do something about it.
Sephora actually uses ĀTHR Beauty as an example when it comes to packaging and teaching other brands about sustainability. And that makes me so happy – that these conversations are being had and change is beginning.
Are there any myths you want to clear up about clean, vegan beauty?
‘Vegan’ or ‘cruelty-free’ does not mean safe. Nor does it mean sustainable. A vegan product can still be full of toxic chemicals and be made under unethical conditions like child labor.
We need to consider the person that’s wearing these products along with the animals. It needs to be cruelty-free for humans too! And we need to think about how these products are sourced. When a beauty product costs you $3, that means the people who made that product are getting next to nothing for their labor.
What it comes down to is that you shouldn’t have to choose. It’s honestly so easy to make a product vegan and cruelty-free – there is no excuse to use animal products nowadays. It is such an easy fix. And there’s also no excuse for toxic, unsafe chemicals or unethical sourcing – everyone knows the truth now, we have great alternatives and we can do better.
What is your big dream for the brand?
I’d love to be the leader in prestige, clean beauty, which is no small feat. I’d love to have a full-blown color brand that shows you don’t have to give up anything for safe, non-toxic beauty.
What products are you launching in the next year?
I cannot wait for you all to see what’s coming in the next 12 months!
Early testers have called these diamond highlighters the “clean version of Fenty Beauty” which I’m super excited about. The three shades will be:
Crystal-Charged Cheek Palettes
A brand new, holiday-inspired eyeshadow palette
You will #sleighalltheway with this magical, festive palette! Watch our Instagram for sneak peeks as the year goes on <3
Everything you’ve ever wished for in a silky, sultry, luxurious liquid lip color. Just in time for colder weather and cozy knit sweaters.
Is there anyone that you want to thank for their help along the way?
Margarita Arriagada, the former Chief Merchant Officer at Sephora has been a godsend to me. She is always there to push me and tell me that I need to do what I’m doing, but also to be my ear for the terrible days and the amazing days. It’s a roller coaster ride being an entrepreneur – I’ve never had my emotions swing so high and so low in my life.
She has literally been like an angel sent to help.
I also want to thank all of my clientele and everyone who has found ĀTHR Beauty on social, in stores, and from their friends. You all are the reason why I get up in the morning to do what I’m doing. I love reading your messages on Instagram about how excited you are to have found my brand.
To celebrate and thank you all for supporting ĀTHR Beauty, we’re offering 30% off sitewide! The sale starts today, June 20th and runs until June 27th!
Use code SUMMERLOVE at checkout to redeem this offer.
Can’t wait to see what you pick up! Tag us on Instagram with your eye looks and ĀTHR Beauty hauls!
-ĀTHR Beauty xo