Like many people who rerouted their career path in the last three years, Cynthia Sakai made a mid-pandemic leap from the fashion industry to personal care.
“I had been in the fashion space for a really long time, and there was something missing. I felt I wasn’t doing enough; I wasn’t doing something that was making a difference,” Sakai said on the latest episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast. “The beauty space and the wellness space was something that, as a consumer, I always loved — but I never wanted to create a brand just to create another brand.”
A CFDA designer who founded the Vita Fede jewelry brand, Sakai switched gears in 2020 by introducing EvolveTogether with a line of medical-grade face masks. After proving popular among celebs including Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, the masks’ sales funded the brand’s expansion to a range of gender-neutral personal care products, each with innovative sustainable packaging. Among them: a powder face wash with dissolvable packaging, refillable hand sanitizer in glass bottles and biodegradable storage bags. Its best-sellers are a lip balm, a hand cream and a deodorant.
“Consumers today want high-performing products that feature beautiful design, and are good for people and the planet,” she said.
She added that sustainability alone has never been enough to clinch the sale. “You can’t expect to change consumer behavior,” she said. “So we want to create a brand [where] people love the product first. They love the performance of it. And even if it wasn’t sustainable, they would come back to us to purchase it.”
In the year ahead, EvolveTogether plans to roll out new products, including candles and body care. It will also be fundraising, Sakai said.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Sustainability meets luxury retail
“We started off as a DTC brand because it was during the lockdown. We just started wholesaling last year. And being from the luxury fashion space, we always felt that we wanted to be thoughtful about our distribution and where we would be [sold]. And I also thought it was really interesting that, going into these luxury beauty stores or ready-to-wear stores or hospitality [locations], there wasn’t anything that was that sustainable. So that’s something we’ve challenged ourselves [with] and said, ‘How do we get into these luxury accounts and these A doors, and have them approve us, as well?’ … So we are working with Aman Resorts, for the hospitality side, plus we just started working with Joanna Czech in the beauty space. We will be going into Neiman Marcus at the end of the month, and we are in Maxfield and many other retailers across the country that we find to be beautiful and elevated. ‘We want to lead the way as an elevated sustainable brand.”
Beyond celeb and influencer marketing
“Our business has always been about word of mouth. You could never do paid media on masks, which [was our first category]; the [rules] are really strict about it, so we never were able to use that channel. And so, when we grew our business, we didn’t give [paid media] that much consideration. And in the personal care space, the paid media side is so expensive that, for a startup personal care brand, it didn’t work anyway. From a personal care side, we really have to change or pivot from the mentality [we had when promoting] jewelry and masks — because you’re not going to have a celebrity that’s going to turn up a lip balm and then paparazzi are going to take an image. But we’ve had a lot of celebrities and influencers that have organically loved the products. So they’ve been posting about it and they love the mission. … I strongly feel that if we make products that people love and if we’re authentic to who we are, then people are going to find us.”
“At the end of the day, if we can truly create product that leaves zero footprint, that is the goal. Second, … the portion of people who are really spending their time recycling or composting is obviously a lot less than the people who are not. And so, when we think about creating sustainable products, I think, ‘How do we create product for people who are not thinking about sustainability, top of mind? What does it look like — and this is an exaggeration — if somebody throws one of our products out of their car? … Will it be here for thousands of years? And what are the materials we can use so that doesn’t happen?’ That’s our first thought process. And then our second process is really, ‘How does somebody use [the product] till the very end so that it’s not wasteful?’ And then the third process is, ‘How can they dispose of this? And are we doing everything we can to properly explain to the consumers how to dispose of it?'”