The Business of Beauty

Vegan Is the New Black

dana_veganWhat’s more mainstream-American-beauty than Christie Brinkley? Christie Brinkley selling her upcoming face and body de-agers on HSN, that’s what. And for an extra dose of apple-pie wholesome, how about a Christie Brinkley beauty counter at Kohl’s?

But here’s what isn’t so by-the-book about Christie Brinkley Authentic Skincare: just like the 60-year-old stunner herself, it’s 100 percent anti-animal cruelty. In fact, it’s vegan. As a decades-long vegetarian and staunch wildlife advocate who spearheads anti-poaching missions in Africa, Brinkley made damn sure her eight-SKU range doesn’t contain a trace of animal anything.

If this were 10 – even five – years ago, Brinkley’s product positioning might have been deemed a gamble. Yes, the line’s core raison d’être is anti-aging; vegan is only one chapter of the story she’s telling. But the fact that Brinkley will be able to riff about why eschewing animal ingredients and testing is important to her — on the massive platform that is HSN – speaks volumes about where the beauty industry is headed these days.

In short, consumers care today like they’ve never cared before. Not every consumer, of course. And not to the same degree in every category of product, which we’ll get to in a moment. But evidence that there’s a growing sector not just open to the idea of vegan goods (along with fair trade and sustainable, two other emergent categories), but actively seeking them out, is irrefutable.

All of which makes Joshua Katcher, a vocal proponent of animal rights and a vegan mogul-in-the-making, very happy. An expert, consultant and frequent lecturer on the topic of ethical fashion and personal care, Katcher markets luxe, sustainable men’s clothing and non-leather shoes under the Brave GentleMan moniker. And with the recent launch of a vegan “Beard & Body Brick” in three scents, he’s dipping a toe in grooming, too.

The growing herd of animal-free offering.

“There’s a huge rise in the offerings of products across the board that meet a specific set of criteria to be labeled ‘vegan,’” Katcher says. “We’re seeing huge rises in numbers within the cuisine, fashion and personal care realms, and more business owners are realizing what a huge financial advantage it is to aspire to meeting these criteria. Simply viewing the analytics of people Googling the word ‘vegan’ over the last several years is very eye-opening.”

The proof is in the dairy-free pudding; punch “vegan” into the search function of Sephora.com, and 145 products immediately pop-up, including several from brands one wouldn’t necessarily think of as vegan-leaning, such as Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare and Cover Fx. And there are more and more tiny vegan indies, from Gnarly Whale and Drunk Elephant to OLO Fragrance, cropping up every day.

While he agrees that vegan is gaining ground and is not just the fad du jour, Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and founder of Beautystat.com, also believes that plenty of beauty consumers will likely pick their battles.

“I think vegan will stick,” Robinson says. “As more consumers — from a full-blown health, wellness and nutritional perspective — are moving toward vegan, that will trickle into their uses of other consumer product categories, such as beauty. I see it as a lasting trend.”

The elephant in the room: product performance.

With one massive caveat, however: performance. When a product really needs to work, and not just look pretty on the eyes, cheeks or lips, vegan can become less of a priority. “It’s easier to formulate a good-performing vegan makeup product versus anti-aging skincare,” Robinson notes. “When you’re expecting it to deliver benefits against improving the skin or treating the hair, that’s when you’ll see less pressure and concern about whether a product is vegan. To go 100 percent vegan – or chemical-free by cutting out ingredients like parabens – a brand might be sacrificing performance.”

But it’s a sacrifice, and risk, that an ever-greater number of new brands are beginning to take. Case in point, the upcoming “BIY” (Blend It Yourself) beauty line by entrepreneur Tina Hedges, which will deploy vegan ingredients whenever possible. Dubbed LOLI – an acronym for Living Organic Loving Ingredients – it also seeks to be fair-trade, sustainable and “transparent” as to where it sources its raw materials.

This isn’t the first time at the vegan rodeo for Hedges; when she co-created the hair care range Jonathan Product with LA coif king Jonathan Antin way back in 2004, Hedges and her then-business partner were ahead of the curve.

“When we first pursued the vegan certification, many of our raw ingredient vendors and sub-contractors were puzzled,” says Hedges. “And a few were adamant that it was a ridiculous claim for beauty, that it was pertinent only to ingestibles or the food category.”

Hedges and company stuck to its guns, working with ingredient vendors to document that the products were not just cruelty-free (i.e., not tested on animals), but devoid of any dairy derivatives. Wheat, too, which means Jonathan Product was also gluten-free – a possible industry first. “Both wheat- and milk-derived proteins are often used for hair strengthening and repair,” says Hedges. “So we had to find new raws and develop our own proprietary actives.”

Why go to all that trouble? “It began as a general conversation with Jonathan around cruelty-free,” says Hedges. “But then we challenged our thinking, and we all felt the next frontier was to push that claim even further, to another level of ingredient purity.”

Once the frontier, now front and center at a cosmetics counter near you.

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