What motivated you to start your own line?
Back in 2002, as my daughter was moving into her teens and just after I lost my mother to breast cancer, I began looking for a cosmetic line that was as pure as the natural skincare I had been using. Some of the ‘health food store’ makeup brands were pretty clean, but the colors lacked the sophistication and variety of more conventional cosmetics lines. I thought women should be able to have both clean products and great color selection. ‘Beauty without compromise’ was my ideal.
How long did it take? When was your product line ready for the general public?
Our foundation formula took about 18 months to develop – when the ingredients are so simple, percentages are super important. A bit too much of one ingredient can quickly cause a powder formula to become drying, cakey, or too slippery. Colors are tricky as well, because we work with just red, yellow and black iron oxides to create a huge range of skin tones. With natural minerals we don’t use the range of colorants and dyes used in conventional cosmetics. I have a background in art, so color development was especially fun for me.
What obstacles did you face along the way?
As a woman-owned independent cosmetics company we don’t have easy access to mainstream beauty publications to get the word out about Alima. We’ve grown via word-of-mouth thanks to our wonderful customers and retailers. It has enabled us to maintain strong steady growth, which is healthy for a small company.
Being in Portland has been interesting as well. When we’re in New York at shows and conferences people are surprised to see an outlier from the ‘left’ coast. Portland is small but filled with interesting creative initiative and a passion for eco-consciousness. We love being out of the mainstream and inventing our own rules.
Who did you draw your inspiration from?
My beloved grandmother, who married a Montana farmer after earning a degree in Latin from Pomona. She lived in a tiny town but took good care of her skin and wore a bit of makeup even while cooking for harvesters and running errands. She had an easy, comfortable elegance.
What is unique, different or special about your brand?
We’re absolutely neurotic about choosing the purest ingredients we can find. It’s non-negotiable. With those ingredients we’ve formulated a huge range of colors designed to work with every skin tone. We love having colors for all women. It’s a little more complicated to find your best match when there are 61 foundation options, but when you do you’ve a great match!
Have you or your products ever won any awards?
We’ve won a number of awards for our foundation, blush, bronzer, and eyeshadows. Most recently Elle named our Luminous Shimmer Eyeshadows a 2012 Green Star Award. We have also received awards from Natural Solutions magazine and Gorgeously Green, Fig + Sage and Organic Beauty Talk blogs for our foundations, bronzers, blushes, eyeshadows and cruelty-free brushes.
What, if anything, would you do differently if you could do it over?
I often wish that I had started with a partner – someone who could help shoulder some of the responsibility and augment my business experience. A small company is like a little community, with clients, employees, vendors and suppliers counting on everything to go well. It can be tricky to keep everything well balanced so that it all works for the greater good of all stakeholders.
How do you feel about changes in the organic beauty movement?
I’m thrilled. It is interesting to watch the behemoth cosmetics lines sit up and take notice of their clients seeking cleaner lines. The organic beauty movement, greenwashers aside, is filled with passionate visionaries who know that excellent natural products are not only possible but functionally superior to most conventional products. There have been some bumps along the way, but the organic beauty movement is changing the industry.
Do you think it is more difficult for women when it comes to business?
Maybe in banking or tech, but not necessarily in retail. If you have a great connection with your customers, imagination and great support you can accomplish a lot. Women know how to network, we ‘get’ social media, and we know what we need. When we find something we love, we tell our friends. The power of the network of women is stunning!