For the past several years, as beauty consumers increasingly make more informed choices about their purchasing power, clean beauty has rapidly taken the forefront of beauty movements with a number of non-toxic makeup and skincare labels propelling into popularity. With terms like “clean” and “natural” appearing more frequently on products—accompanied by steep prices and fear-mongering—it can oftentimes be quite confusing to navigate the sectors. However, Isla Beauty takes a “no BS” approach to skincare, putting forward transparency as it relates to formulas, materials, and even pricing.
Aiming to pull the curtains back on the beauty industry, founders Charlie and Tracy set out to build the brand with the belief that the secrets to making a good product shouldn’t be a mystery to those consuming them. Thus, using three generations of product developers and unwavering curiosity, the pair began working on an accessibly priced skincare brand that honors integrity, quality ingredients, and top-notch quality. “For us, we’re cutting all of that excess stuff out because we can go straight to the source,” Charlie tells us.
Isla Beauty’s product lineup derives from over forty years of experience making beauty products for other labels, delivering a number of luxury-like skincare essentials at an affordable price point. The brand’s specially formulated routine consists of five stunning products: Snow Scrub Exfoliator, Tone Balance Exlier, Storm Serum, Face Base Priming Moisturizer, and the newly added Whipped Dream. The routine promotes hydrated and healthy skin, fortifying the skin barrier through liquid treatments, lightweight serums, and lotions that seal nutrients.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Charlie to learn more about Isla Beauty, skinalism, welcoming Alana O’Herlihy as Creative Director of the brand, and much more. Read on for our conversation.
Charlie, you come from a household with several decades of experience in skincare and cosmetics. What was your definition of skincare growing up and how have they changed since developing the brand?
When I was growing up, there were always products in the house and I had really rough skin on my arms. I remember being embarrassed about it in school and mom introduced me to exfoliators. From there, it gradually unfolded. I was always curious about products and that world. When you go into factories, it’s really eye-opening because you see these products sold for $300 being made at the same place as products sold at the CVS drug store.
That world of product-making and discovery, I just loved it. That was part of the reason why I always wanted to leave the family company and start a consumer-facing brand because I was always been drawn to things that look really different. It was a pairing of the two.
How did you land on the brand’s name?
It was definitely an interesting process. For us, we’ve always wanted to feel like a person rather than a brand. We spoke of the personality traits that we really wanted the brand to be. It felt like Isla was the person at the party that can fit in anywhere but you also remember what they say. They have a mix of international touch about them. You put all of these things in a blender, then we came up with a few names.
Really, how that started to look, especially when we began working on the packaging and designs, it felt right. It’s two syllables, it’s short, you remember it. It sounds a bit different and you like it. I think for us, it also felt like we could’ve gone down the path of men in lab coats and being really science-y, which would’ve made more sense to people from start. Like I said before, Isla is not really that sterile type of brand.
What sets Isla Beauty apart from other indie skincare brands?
Specifically around the product, we have this one-of-a-kind product-making infrastructure and we really want to push the narrative of transparency. Being in this industry for a long time, there was obviously a push of clean beauty and that started to get a bit convoluted and misconstrued. It was almost like the marketing messages weren’t actually accurate and based on fear-mongering rather than science. We’re not trying to oversell you or overhype anything, we want to educate you at the same time and give you really great product.
If we can stick to that as we try to grow and build a really unique relationship with our customers, that’s what’s going to separate us I feel like. A lot of people who are making the product don’t actually understand what they’re selling you because what happens is they don’t have any correlation to where the product is made. So you get a lot of things that get lost because how the lab and scientists talk about it versus how the brand talks about it is completely different. That’s also a really big part of our Isla Beauty story.
Beauty is obviously a huge business and there are so many brands out there. You really only need to have a bit of money and go to someone and ask, “hey, can you make this product?” and it’s easier to turn around like that. We’re definitely trying to be very transparent around our message and even in the price transparency which we recently unfolded. Typically, beauty products are sold for six to ten times what you pay. For us, we’re cutting all of that excess stuff out because we can go straight to the source. Ultimately, we’re not operating off of the same margin so they’re getting what might be a $200 product for a fraction of the price.
I’m curious, does that create any problems for the label given that you all aren’t operating under a higher markup?
It actually does at times. When we’re talking about wholesalers now, they work off typical markups that are in their costing models and for us, it can be difficult at times. It’s almost like we’re taking a big hit now but we’re backing into the long-term plan of that with the hopes of building customer trust. We’re working with it, we’re pushing forward.
The world of skincare is saturated with products—having nearly overtaken makeup and cosmetics in terms of demand. What do you think is missing, if anything is at all?
I really think there’s a big thing about sustainability which is always growing, but the packaging and innovation that can be done. There’s obviously been refillables, but what happens right now in the industry is if you want to do a refillable product, the quality of the formula or the fill going in there is a lower grade because the actual machinery isn’t yet set up to fill in these refillable things. We’re working with our supply chain right now to see if we can make some really fun packaging without sacrificing product quality. There’s some room there.
I also think going further down the line of personalized products. Everyone’s skin is different, but there’s bits of technology where products are becoming more personalized to someone’s routine or skin type. There’s always room for innovation and I feel like we have the infrastructure to be at the forefront of that.
The topic of “skinimalism” has been quite popular amongst Gen Z audiences for the past several years, which I believe is perfectly embodied in the four-step solution routine. Where does Isla Beauty aim to fit in this topic of discussion, if at all?
Our standpoint on it as a brand and me personally is less is more, less is easier. The one thing with beauty brands and how they’re set up, they have to launch new products to run their business. Us at Isla, we’re skinamlism. We try to make a product that’ll do everything for you. Even for my routine, I’ll use the toner, serum, and Whipped Dream. That’s really it and sometimes during the day it might be toner and Whipped Dream. You don’t need all the extra stuff because at times it can cause more irritation.
From a holistic approach, less is more, but obviously, there are certain times when seasons change and your skin might need those specialty products.
Alana O’Herlihy, one of Gen Z’s most beloved multimedia artists and creatives, was announced as the Creative Director of the brand earlier this year. How did you all initially connect and what’s it been like having her a part of the Isla Beauty family?
She’s great! We have a few people that are in the same circles, especially with that creative world that we were working from the start. For us, we knew that community and online influence was a huge thing for beauty and that we’d need an extra string to our bow. We love her creative approach. It was almost so different to ours that it was two opposites brought together that create something amazing. She was a fan of the products and we synced up.
It’s obviously still early on, but it’s all looking great and everyone seems to love it. Hopefully, it’s only going to get better from here.
Talk to me about the new product launch, what made you decide to go in this direction with Whipped Dream?
From the start, we’ve always had a lot of people reaching out for a moisturizer. We worked with a Switzerland partner who also worked on the Storm Serum, and basically wanted to create a moisturizer that would not only really hydrate your skin but brighten and repair it as well. We had about three samples that were pretty strong, and then it took us twelve months to get the ingredient mix right. It’s not too heavy, it’s not too like, we say it’s like the goldy locks zone. It just perfect, it seeps in.
Whether you’re a die-hard or a novice, everyone know’s a moisturizer. Jumping into that category and making something that we think would rise to the top was a no-brainer. The rollout of it all, the campaign with Alana, we love to just build out a world around it.
Elsewhere, Isla has pledged $1 to nonprofits focused on environmental causes and sustainability. Why is this important for you all not only as a brand but as individuals as well?
From the launch is Isla, we partner with this group here in New York called The Lower Eastside Girls Club and donated a portion of the proceeds upon launch. Tracy and I try to give back and do as much as we can for everyone. We felt like there were so many issues going on that have maybe always been there, but are now getting a lot of exposure online, but we wanted to have something to stand on. We were super inspired by brands like Patagonia and their 1% portion of sales goes towards a fund. We did a lot of meetings with charities and Clear Air Task Force really informed us and we loved what they do.
That’s who we’re working with right now, but we’re obviously going to change it up. We always want to work with community-based initiatives to give back.
What are some of the pieces of advice you often share with other aspiring founders?
I’d say you really have to know your product first and foremost. At the end of the day, the marketing and glitz can get you a bit of hype but it always comes down to what people are buying. How are you making the customer’s life easier and better? Why should your products belong in the world? Also, as I mentioned before, it’s about the persistence of the idea. The customer is so smart and I don’t think brands give them enough credit. There’s so much information out there and if they want to get educated and informed on something they can. So we speak to our customers like their on our level, we don’t talk down on them.
How do you hope Isla Beauty makes an impact in the skincare industry?
We really want to be seen as one of the most transparent and honest brands in beauty. It doesn’t matter if someone is getting information from us over the journey of the brand, they can apply it to their purchase decisions with other brands. That’s a win for us. You don’t have to buy our products to make us feel like we’re making an impact. Also, with IslaWorld Initiative, hopefully, where we want to go from a sales standpoint, there’s going to be more resources that we can give back and build something bigger than Tracy and I.