Green beauty means something different for everyone, it seems (anti-pollution, sustainably sourced and/or locally grown, to name a few definitions), but the interest in the space as a whole has grown steadily over the last few years. In fact, a recent report from Grand View Research predicts that the organic personal care market will be worth $15.98 billion by 2020, fueled largely by a shift in consumer values that has them increasingly preferring chemical-free, ethically-made products.
As such, a slew of all-natural beauty retailers have popped up in recent years, in an effort to satisfy those consumers less reliant on the Sephoras and Ultas of the world. Four of them — The Detox Market, Follain, Credo, and CAP Beauty — are leading the charge with their larger offerings, customer loyalty and subsequent name recognition. But whether one or more of them has what it takes to eventually fill a Sephora-sized hole for natural beauty on the market is less clear.
It’s a huge commitment.
“I think we still have a long way to go for [a natural beauty store of that size],” said Karen Grant, the global beauty industry analyst for NPD. “But that doesn’t mean the natural trend is not important or not still growing.” While the space is broadly appealing right now, she said — with people, say, choosing natural products over others when they’re available — there may not be enough deeply-invested consumers to warrant or sustain a chain the size of a more mainstream beauty store.
“Many consumers are, as I say, more light green than they are dark green,” she explained. “It takes a certain level of dedication and commitment to make sure that everything you do really is truly organic.”
That goes for retailers, too. Though the vetting process for products at every store contacted for this story was more complicated than most, some companies seem more compelled to go the extra mile.
Follain — which has stores in Boston, Nantucket, Washington D.C. and New York — is known to spend months looking into a new product’s ingredients and production, after which they rely on an employee-based system to further test out their efficacy. This is in line with the long-term self-training that founder Tara Foley took upon herself when she decided to launch the company in 2013: She pursued extensive research on safe and sustainable skincare, working on a lavender farm in France to learn more about the harvesting of natural ingredients, before apprenticing with a private label skincare company in Maine.
The Detox Market, which launched in 2010 and is arguably the most well-known of the natural beauty retailers out there, evaluates their products along similarly intense lines: Each product is run by a team of green make-up artists, facialists, nutritionists and naturopathic doctors before it makes it onto the shelves of the Los Angeles-based store.
Such scrupulousness may be a lot to expect from one company, even their peers in the natural beauty space.
Inside Follain’s Boston location
Kerilynn Pamer and Cindy DiPrima, two fashion-world veterans who founded CAP Beauty in 2015, have taken a less intensive approach to their business, though they insist their screening process is equally strict. “We literally don’t sell anything in the store that’s not 100 percent natural,” said DiPrima. “If it’s at CAP Beauty, there are no synthetics in it.” However, they have had the occasional slip-up, which DiPrima attributes to vendors changing their recipes without any notice. “It’s a constant policing we have to go through,” she said.
It isn’t financially sustainable.
And while that may reassure consumers, NPD’s Grant believes that the tighter a company’s guidelines are about what they sell, the harder it will be for them to grow. Put simply, it’s expensive, and retailers must ask themselves if they “have a large enough following to make it work.” She cited Whole Foods, which has cut corners in the organic and all-natural market to stay afloat, as an example.
It’s not just about the retailers’ bottom-line, but that of their natural product vendors, too. “Even if we got a huge influx of cash in the next three years, most of the brands we sell are small, so it’s a matter of whether or not they can keep up, production-wise, with what we’d need them to do,” said DiPrima. “I would say there are probably some that will and some that won’t, whether that’s by choice or due to other restrictions.”
One way around that, she says, could be taking a less-exact approach to each store — offering a different sampling of local products at each location, in lieu of holding all the same inventory. But, of course, that chain would then lack the always-convenient reliability that customers have come to expect of big-brand beauty stores. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you walk into a Sephora.
The demand isn’t high enough.
What’s more, the consumerism inherent in those larger stores seems to go against the very foundation of a brand claiming to be better for our health and environment. “If you start to become a machine, you have to ask: What challenge will this have on our natural resources, if we’re churning out products like this?” she said. “When you start using so much of nature in a large, commoditized way, it’s contradictory.” This could lead some companies to opt out of the race entirely — or for their customers to desert them, if they don’t.
But as a recent Euromonitor report found, one of the biggest challenges facing green beauty could be consumers’ willingness to pay more for it — which is often the case, due to higher production costs. While they acknowledge that consumers’ interest in the natural sector is growing, their findings also indicate that buyers are privileging product efficacy above all else — ingredients, be damned.
“It’s a higher level of service, it’s a higher level offering, and I think it’s a wonderful thing,” said Grant, who prefers to use natural beauty products. “What I find is that there’s [still] this mentality of, ‘Eh, I’m not a tree hugger.’ Not everyone sees a need for it until, perhaps, there’s a health scare.”
The retailers themselves may prefer to stay small, anyway — or may simply be ambivalent about reaching juggernaut heights. “We’ve always envisioned CAP as a brick-and-mortar business, and we always wanted to have a bulk of locations,” said DiPrima. “Whether that will be the size of a Sephora or more like a Steven Alan type of retailer, [we don’t know]. We just want to serve as many people as we can.”