Herbivore Botanicals Wants to Give You Your Best Skin—Naturally

Herbivore Botanicals Wants to Give You Your Best Skin—Naturally

From a kitchen to Sephora, Herbivore Botanicals are a natural beauty success story.

From a kitchen to Sephora, Herbivore Botanicals are a natural beauty success story.

Text: Carolyn Hanson

Herbivore Botanicals has an almost comically classic origin story. In 2010, relatively early on in the relationship of Julia Wills and Alex Kummerow, the (now) married couple who now own the company we know as Herbivore, the couple was living together in a small apartment in Seattle, and Alex found it was difficult to find skincare products that didn't irritate his skin further. Even products that were supposedly all-natural would cause his skin to break out. So Julia decided that she wanted to try her hand at making him some soap that wouldn't cause him to break out. Alex bought her a soap kit off Etsy, and she got to work making soap with that purpose in mind. Lo and behold–it worked. Julia started taking these soaps to her friends, who all encouraged her, and then began to make other products as well. In 2011, after enough encouragement and growth in her line, Julia launched officially on Etsy as 12th Avenue Soaps. Later that year, after success on Etsy, Julia and Alex rolled out the website for Herbivore Botanicals. Both quit their jobs, and Herbivore became a full-time business, with the couple making everything in individual batches in their kitchen, and shipping it themselves. Eventually, they realized they could start making large batches, and that's where everything picked up. Soon, Urban Outfitters picked up their brand, and they began the process of re-branding into the Herbivore we know today, with its minimalist, less-is-more aesthetic. This turned out to be a crucial moment for the brand, because in 2014 after the rebranding, Herbivore Botanicals was picked up by major cosmetics retailer Sephora.

"She says that she started crying...like she was in tears," Willie Freitas, one of the six administrative employees–and long-time friend of Julia–tells me over the phone of the moment Sephora called her. By Fall of 2015, the brand was launched on Sephora online, and they launched in stores in September 2016. Around that time, department store Nordstrom started stocking Herbivore products online, and they launched physically along with a few other beauty brands for a new naturals section in select Nordstrom stores in January of this year.

Freitas notes that Herbivore's now-stratospheric success is not due to just one aspect of the brand. "Julia and Alex really wanted the products themselves to be memorable, not the packaging. And ironically, with that as their goal, the packaging became so iconic and memorable. But it stemmed from them wanting the packaging to not distract from the colors, the scents, and the natural beauty of the products themselves...It's all very clear and simple, and makes it so you can just shop. It's all very clear, and you know what it is just by looking at it for a second...And then I think that they just happened to be at the right time in the right place. It just by accident hit the millennial vibe, and that was kind of a lucky break." Although, he does note Alex being slightly younger than Julia and having a graphic design background might have something to do with it as well. "The other thing that makes Herbivore stand out is that a lot of natural products don't really focus on smelling good or looking good," Freitas continues on to say. "Julia was like 'Heck no, natural products do not have to smell like patchouli, wet dog, or dirt. And they don't all have to be brown and beige-green.'...Julia and Alex really wanted to elevate natural skincare to look and smell amazing, and not be something that you have to plug your nose to put on your face. Their focus on the products being appealing to all your senses was totally different. It was not being done." Inspired by the minimalist packaging of luxury brands like Rodin, the makers of Herbivore wanted to create effective, beautiful products that could fit on anyone's shelf.

Herbivore ascribes to the idea that the cures for most ills can be found in nature, and in terms of development of new cosmetics, Julia and Alex actively seek out ingredients before seeking out problems. "They definitely look to the ingredients to drive the product development," Freitas tells me, so when they come across a natural oil or other curative substance, they try to create a product that will bring out the best in it. Still, he makes a mention of the fact the brand and its owners are receptive to what their customers want, reading Facebook and Instagram comments and feedback.

Regardless of the success they've achieved, however, an ethical code has always been at the core of Herbivore's strategy. They like to stock their products in stores with what Freitas describes as "a commitment to a sustainable planet," which includes following along baseline ideals of not stripping the earth of its resources and avoiding child labor. "Vendors that have the same proactive responsibility to ensuring that our impact on the world is positive and not negative," he explains. Although they stock in national stores, Herbivore is also a frequent collaborator with mom and pop businesses, and they're able to use their success to be discerning about which stores they do choose to stock in. But their ethics are internal as well, and the brand has a deep commitment to ethical sourcing of their ingredients, to the point that they won't make a product if its sourcing requires compromising what they think is right. "I think that there should be a whole branch of the company where that's their job," Freitas jokes, "We all kind of share that job, and it's a lot of work." But if you want to see the amount of love the company has for natural, ethically produced products, you need to look no further than their social media. Unlike many brands, who only post and repost pictures that feature exclusively the products from their brand, Herbivore reposts pictures that feature other brands along with theirs as well. "We're not going to make shampoo," he says about this, "So let's support someone who makes shampoo [that's] natural and amazing."

Now, of course, Herbivore products aren't made in a kitchen. They're made in a few labs in the same refurbished building that houses their corporate headquarters and shipping center in Downtown Seattle, although they like to joke that it's just a bigger kitchen. There are a few machines, but most products are filled and capped by hand in order to ensure quality control. "Corporate is 6 people, there's a lot of plants, there's one office for all of us," Freitas tells me. No matter its scope, Herbivore Botanicals is still at its heart an indie brand.

Check out some of our favorite products from Herbivore Botanicals below, and keep a look out for their new Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner, releasing in July for $39.

Sea Mist Texturizing Salt Spray in Coconut-$20

Lapis Facial Oil-$72

Coco Rose Body Polish-$36

Moon Fruit Superfruit Night Treatment in Lavender+Sweet Orange-$36

Rose Hibiscus Hydrating Face Mist-$32

UP NEXT

Watch Drew Barrymore Guest Star in SZA’s New Music Video