In honor of ĀTHR Beauty’s second bday, we sat down with our Founder, Tiila Abbitt to chat about her favorite products of the year, what’s coming next, inclusivity in clean beauty, and the ups and downs of the most surreal year most of us have ever seen.
P.S. to celebrate our anniversary, take 30% off the Summer Eyeshadow Solstice Palette until the end of June! Use code OCEAN at checkout.
What’s your favorite product you’ve released this year?
I’m most proud of the Supernova Crushed Diamond Highlighters because they’re unlike any other clean highlighter on the market. I wanted to create a highlighter that rivaled the most beautiful, glittering highlighters in conventional beauty – except clean, vegan, and sustainable.
Why this was tough: in conventional beauty, the best highlighters are created in a process called a ‘slurry’ – basically a wet formula that’s extracted through a machine to create a dry texture. The process removes back-filler shades and creates that ultimate blinding sparkle. The problem is, the ingredients used in a slurry are far from clean and there was no way to ‘cleanify’ the process.
But after 2 years of experimentation, we developed a clean version of a slurry that resulted in the pure sparkle factor you see in our diamond highlighters. I’m really excited and proud of what we came up with - I didn’t want to sacrifice any performance and it’s so rewarding to see that vision realized!
What about your favorite product overall?
I’m still very proud of my eyeshadow formulas – it was such a hole in the market for me which is why I launched them first. I wanted to prove that you can have long-wear, efficacy, and beautiful shade ranges without having to reapply over and over again, and I know I’ve done that!
Any hints on what’s to come?
In July, we’re launching the most stunning Limited Edition Yellow Diamond Highlighter. It’s a bright gold, diamond-infused single-pan highlighter that was specifically designed for all, but especially for deeper skin tones. Early testers are calling it ‘the clean version of Fenty Trophy Wife’ which is a comparison I love.
And the best part – these diamond highlighters are designed to be used all over – dust along the high planes of your face, down your décolletage, on your lids, and anywhere you’re craving a splash of shimmer.
And for Holiday, we’re launching mini (but magical) eyeshadow palettes! They each come with a seriously gorgeous complimentary collection of shades that are unlike anything out there in clean beauty – I can’t wait for everyone to see them! And they’re very compact for a more affordable price point than our standard sized crystal eyeshadow palettes.
Model is wearing the soon-to-be-launched Supernova Crushed Yellow Diamond Highlighter
What was your inspiration behind your latest launch, the Joshua Tree Palette?
The Joshua Tree Palette was a direct response to my clients – I’ve gotten so many requests for an all-matte palette for a couple of reasons:
- There are not many great matte formulas in the clean beauty space – most are very chalky, streaky, don’t blend well, and there’s not a huge selection of shades.
- Also, as you get older, you want to stay away from shimmers and metallic as they tend to emphasize wrinkles and fine lines. I’ve had many women asking for beautiful matte shades with our usual skin-smoothing, nourishing formula.
But rather than creating a super generic, everyday matte palette, I wanted a blend of sophisticated neutrals with exciting pops of color. The shade range really came together after a visit to Joshua Tree last year – I was so inspired by all the colors, it’s really a magical, sacred place. Then, when the government shut down all the National Parks for a period, people trashed Joshua Tree Park which was so heartbreaking to me. That’s why I partnered with the Mojave Desert Land Reserve as my charity for the palette, to help out in some way.
Were you surprised by the popularity of the Joshua Tree palette? After all, it’s definitely a first in the clean beauty world!
I was shocked (and elated) when people were so excited about it. Firstly, because I wasn’t sure if people would think it was too bold, but also because I launched it right in the middle of a pandemic! I started creating this eyeshadow palette over a year ago and as a small brand, I have to start paying my vendors as soon as I receive the goods - so I really had no choice but to continue with my launch as planned. But fortunately, the palette was so well-received and it gave people a sense of fun and creativity during the pandemic.
I feel very fortunate for the incredibly supportive clients I have – they believe in what I create and are always so excited for new launches. Sometimes people even purchase products sight-unseen which is so cool. I’m very grateful for their faith in me and my brand.
Let’s talk about inclusivity in the clean beauty industry – has it always been lacking?
When I started looking at the clean beauty space, it was pretty lackluster when it came to colors, trends, innovative formulas, and especially inclusivity. And being a Sephora girl, I love and expect super innovative beauty - products that feel exciting, ground-breaking, and insanely gorgeous. And I took for granted that there would be products for everyone. So, when I looked at clean beauty, I was let down by not only by the product variety, but by the very limited offerings for anyone other than Caucasian. POC are subjected to so many more harsh chemicals than the average Caucasian women through makeup pigments, hair treatments, and environmental hazards and they deserve to have access to clean, non-toxic beauty products. Fortunately, this is changing but there's still a long way to go as an industry.
I’ve always designed my products for everyone. That’s one of the reasons that I haven’t launched foundation yet – I don’t believe in doing it halfway. I want to have all skin tones represented right off the bat and it’s a huge cost to launch with so much inventory. As a self-funded woman, I’m just not there financially yet, but as soon as I am, I’ll unveil my foundation with a stunning shade for every single person that wants to try it out.
In the meantime, all my eyeshadows, cheek palettes, highlighters, and every single product I launch are formulated with shades for every skin tone under the rainbow.
I think it’s really upsetting that BIPOC haven’t had the representation and product selection they deserve, but I’m hopeful for the future now that everyone's eyes are opening to this reality.
You’ve featured lots of black clean beauty brand founders, MUAs, and influencers on your IG stories lately – what can you share from hearing these voices?
It’s really unfortunate that retailers haven’t brought on more brands created by and for BIPOC. And truthfully, I didn’t realize what a hole there was so I didn’t know the importance of my own voice. Knowing better now, I’m very happy to lend my platform to help amplify black-owned brands. And I’m excited to be trying their products and seeing how amazing they are!
One of the main issues for black-owned beauty brands is funding. Up until now, they haven’t been given the same opportunities from investors and venture capitalists, and it’s really difficult to bootstrap and self-fund a brand yourself (as I’m still trying to do). It’s good to see the space starting to change now - funds are looking to grow black-owned small businesses and hopefully these financial opportunities will continue to expand.
From a BIPOC makeup artist and influencer perspective, they've always been a part of
ĀTHR Beauty – everyone that I’ve invited to take over my stories are people that we’ve worked with. But being able to amplify their voice more and let people listen to their truth, their concerns, their insight is really important.
These are times when I’m grateful to be such a small brand. I don’t have to answer to some huge marketing team for approval or have my words filtered. I can speak from the heart, support what I believe in, and share freely on any issue.
Do you still get excited when you see all the looks people tag you in on Instagram?
Yes! I’m the only one that runs our social media so I get to see everything and it truly never gets old! And sometimes people will just use a hashtag and I won’t see it until months later – it’s always fun finding those hidden gems.
I get more excited when real people create looks vs say a magazine write-up because I love seeing people actually use the product and experiment with the shades. Plus, I’m not a makeup artist so people’s artistry really inspires me. I’m constantly thinking, ‘wow I wish I could do that with my own products’!
What has it been like moving into complexion products from eyeshadow?
I get asked this a lot, but after formulating color products for many years, developing any type of clean color product isn’t hard for me to do. It’s just a matter of knowing what people are looking for. That was one of my greatest learnings at Sephora – clients don’t hold back in the beauty space – they will tear a product apart if it’s lacking and that really helps you learn quickly what works and what doesn’t.
I still formulate for that Sephora client who has very high expectations, and who will not sacrifice performance or payoff for clean ingredients.
Another exciting launch this year was the Radiant Ruby Lip Crèmes! Tell us about coming up with the packaging - the first fully recycled and recyclable lipstick packaging.
It definitely took a long time! The formula was ready way before the packaging but I couldn’t launch it until every part was perfect to me. I’ll never launch something and be like ‘oh, we’ll fix the packaging later’ (which is a common philosophy). I’ve held back many products that I have up sleeve because we haven’t perfected a sustainable packaging option yet.
The Lip Crème packaging was especially exciting because it’s really hard to make a component like that out of only one material, and especially post-consumer recycled material. So, it was amazing to see it come to fruition. I’m a bit of an industrial design geek so I love discovering new sustainable packaging options and innovating as we go.
Are the lip crèmes coming to your site and back to the Sephora site soon?
Sadly, the factories are still closed from the pandemic and we don’t have any insight into when they’ll open again.
Sephora is patiently waiting for the restock - they get so many messages asking when the lip crèmes will be back. I’m happy that people have loved them so much, and I know many people have yet to try them and are waiting patiently. I’m hopeful that we can start producing them again soon!
There are still a few shades left on the Sephora site, but most are sold out for now.
How has COVID-19 impacted the brand beyond the manufacturing shutdowns?
I’ve gotten really good at adapting and reworking. And I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder than I have lately, especially being a mother of 2 little kids who are at home screaming for more snacks every other second. If you make it on the other side of this as a brand founder, you can literally do anything.
What have been the highlights of your 2nd year in business?
As such a small brand, I’m really proud to get recognition for all of my sustainability and packaging initiatives. Having people care more about the sourcing of their ingredients, how their products are packaged, and ethical child-labor-free sourcing has been very exciting for me. When I first launched, I wasn’t sure if people would care about all these facets that are so important to me, and seeing that they do truly means a lot.
And on top of that, getting 5-star review after 5-star review is what keeps me going, especially on the hard days. Knowing that people love the products and connect with my ethos is why I started this brand from the beginning.
Some of the awards ĀTHR Beauty has received that I’m super excited about:
- MindBodyGreen Beauty Awards 2018: The Rose Quartz Crystal Gemstone Palette won in the Best‘Earth First’ Beauty Products category
- 2019 Dirty Thinkers Choice Awards: The Summer Solstice Palette won for ‘Best Eye Makeup’
- Refinery 29 Beauty Innovator Awards: The Summer Solstice Palette won forSustainability
- Innocos x Beauty Heroes Blue Beauty Awards: ĀTHR Beauty won for ‘Zero Waste Beauty Innovation’
- Byrdie 2020 Eco Awards: The Rose Quartz Crystal Gemstone Palette won ‘Best Eyeshadow Palette’
- 2020 Elle Green Beauty Awards: Our Radiant Ruby Lip Crème won in the ‘Best Green Makeup’category
What are some common misconceptions about your brand?
Most people think I’m this huge brand – that because I’m in Sephora, I must be a big business with giant revenues. But the truth is, I’m still the only full-time employee and I haven’t been able to cut myself a paycheck in over 2 years. And don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to hire a team, but we’re just not there yet. It takes a massive amount of money to grow a brand, and since I have no outside funding, all the cash required to launch and run my business comes from sales and my own personal credit. So, in the meantime, when you send a message or leave a comment on IG, it’s me responding directly!
Also, people assume that since my prices are on the higher end, I must make heaps of profit, but those prices go towards supporting ethical supply chains, zero-waste packaging, and high-quality, organic, sustainably sourced ingredients. When you see those insanely low-priced beauty products, it usually means workers are making next to nothing, ingredient quality is being compromised, and products are produced/sourced using seriously sad, unethical practices.
I’ve also designed my products to last 3-4 years after opening so you get a ton of product for your money and help support truly ethical + sustainable practices. Read more about why our palettes are $58 on our blog.
What’s the hardest part of being a small brand owner right now?
Right now, the future is so unpredictable, it's a little bit nerve-racking. One day you're up and the next day you’re down. Creating and running a brand is truly the hardest thing I have ever done, including having 2 children and getting 2 master's degrees.
How can people support small brands?
Word-of-mouth is super helpful to small, independent brands like mine – unless the Founder is famous or heavily backed by investors, it can be hard to get the word out without huge amounts of ad dollars. I’m very thankful for the hugely supportive clients I do have - they’re the reason this tiny, indie brand is still swimming!
How has the brand evolved since you launched? Has your philosophy changed at all?
I’m always trying to evolve and make more sustainable choices – like adding carbon-neutral shipping and partnering up with Terracycle. I get to keep expanding the brand and our sustainability initiatives as I discover new programs and innovations.
And I’m always discovering new ingredients and learning more about the sustainability of individual ingredients. The same goes for packaging – when I was trying to create this brand from scratch, nobody had sustainable packaging. It was like pulling teeth to get packaging producers to even understand what I was looking for. Now we’re starting to see greener packaging options on the market and that growth is really inspiring to me. I love being a part of the change for more sustainable packaging and sourcing.
How do you come up with your no-no ingredient list?
I started creating my own list years ago for my own understanding of the ingredient space. When I was first started the brand, I banned about 1400 ingredients and now the list has grown to over 2500 ingredients. The number can go up pretty quickly because an ingredient will sometimes come in a cluster of 50 or more iterations.
Also, my ingredient list keeps expanding as my definition of clean, ethical, and sustainable grows. For me, it must be clean, vegan, cruelty-free, ethically sourced, and now I’m also looking at ingredients from an environmental and biodegradable perspective. I’m always learning and evolving, and my ingredient selection reflects that.
One of the things I love about my customers is their involvement and interest in the topic. I constantly get questions and comments from them on ingredients which is where lots of my research spurs from.
I’m also very grateful for Jeannie from Beauty Heroes, she is so incredibly knowledgeable and a great resource on ingredient sourcing and selection.
What’s next for beauty sustainability as a whole?
To me, what’s next is blue beauty, which means taking clean and green to the next level – making sure ingredients are safe for the environment as well as people. This is what Beauty Heroes is all about as a retailer and they’re leading the charge in the industry.
Do you get a lot of non-clean beauty buyers shopping your brand?
People usually find my brand because they’re looking for clean, but once they try it they’re so amazed at the pigmentation and blendability. At Sephora, where they’re selling both conventional and clean, you’ll see conventional beauty buyers walk by, swipe the palette, and literally stop in their tracks because they’re so astonished by the payoff. They can’t believe it’s clean.
Lots of people buy one palette and then come back to buy everything else because they’re so amazed at the pigmentation. And that’s very gratifying to me because it’s what I’m trying to prove – that you don’t have to sacrifice anything for sustainable beauty. It can be just as effective and even more fantastical than conventional beauty.
To celebrate our launch on the Summer Solstice 2 years ago, the Summer Solstice Palette is 30% off all month long! Use code OCEAN at checkout.
- ĀTHR Beauty xo