Pride & Prejudice: Homegrown Beauty in the Age of Globalization

Trade determines many of our international relationships, so it comes as no surprise that I reach an Indian woman on the graveyard shift for tech support, support cheap labor in China when I shop at popular chains, and purchase skin care products that are made in France and Germany, without thinking twice. I won’t delve into the globalization or labor debates, but I will say there are plenty of American companies who manage to manufacture the bulk of their products within the United States of reality television, designer denim and fast food salads. Here are a few favorites.

I look at Benefit cosmetic products as the healthy alternative to make up and skin care – of course they exist to improve your appearance, but it’s not by piling on color or stripping your skin – it’s by masking impurities with products that create a natural look.

Founders Jean and Jane Ford

Founded by twin sisters, Jean and Jane Ford, two farm girls from Indiana with opposite interests and a common goal. After years of playing with mud and dreaming up a cosmetic brand, this model/actress team launched The Face Place. Jean, the artist, took on creative side, while Jane, the practical sister, handled the business side. A startup business, their first boutique was in the Mission District of San Francisco, far from an upscale environment. After about 15 years and an inspiring trip to Italy, they renamed their company, Benefit, after ‘bene,’ the Italian word for good. 29 years later, they have a contract with LVMH and 600 counters around the world. So, what’s so great about Benefit?

Benefit combines science with passion; the packaging embodies their girly, retro image that makes caring for ones body and skin fun. Because of my nearly translucent skin, I’ve been addicted to Lemon Aid for years. Lemon Aid does for the eyelids what concealer does for the under eyes – it covers pigmentation and in my case, veins, to create a natural, healthy look, without gobs of makeup. To that collection, they add the new High Brow, a chubby pink nude pencil meant for the brow bone, which by lightening the area creates the illusion of lifting, and lasts longer than eyeshadow. Soon they’ll add a concealer line, Bluff, to balance redness. But their latest line, Wonderbod, is the only summer line I’ve encountered that makes facing cellulite and pasty skin a bit less overwhelming. They don’t claim to eliminate fat deposits – they simply acknowledge that scrubbing one’s derriere makes skin smoother, applying an anti-oxidant based gel temporarily tightens skin and that tanned skin looks slimmer.

This same vision of promoting natural beauty and healthy lifestyle also fuels Leslie Ross Lentz’s line, The Thymes. Until a few months ago, I’d never heard of The Thymes. I laughed at the monstrous bag of goodies the press agent sent over, but one by one, as I plucked them out – lemon, garden and ginger infused products, I realized The Thymes is unique.

How often do you find a skin care company that is independently owned, manufactures nearly all their products in the U.S., and really is natural? Based in Minnesota, The Thymes begins each line with a natural ingredient and adds botanicals, vegetable oils, and nonirritating preservatives. The result is a line that resembles the UK’s Body Shop was before mass marketing. Amid the vast selection, the ginger milk, basil, olive leaf, fig leaf & cassis, and blossom lines stand out.

But there are tons of amazing skin care lines on the market now; maybe they haven’t all been around since 1982, but they each have at least one amazing product. What’s most appealing is the story behind The Thymes – two single mothers on limited budgets created a company whose recent sales were estimated at about $40 million.

Founder Leslie E. Ross Lentz

In 1982, a newly divorced Leslie E. Ross Lentz was forced to put her career as an artist on hold and choose a more lucrative profession to support her children. After selling her art collection and testing recipes, she came up with the idea for a skin care line. However, she didn’t give up her art entirely – after experimenting with herbs and flowers from her garden and local nurseries, she transformed her gallery into a store and launched The Thymes.

Stephanie Shopa – CEO of Thymes

However it was her partner, Stephanie Shopa, a former nonprofit marketing manager, who pushed The Thymes to the next level by getting them into a trade show in NYC. Together, they created a line where Leslie’s art background and Stephanie’s social action skills could be utilized. The result is a company of 100 employees, still based in Minnesota, where onsite yoga classes are free and Leslie’s paintings inspire the packaging.

In keeping with the beauty inside-out theme, a local company to watch is Nubian Heritage. Just as it sounds, this Harlem-based company’s skin care line is inspired by the natural elements utilized in Africa. They make a pure shea butter balm that should be reserved for scaly, ashy skin when the weather dips below freezing. They also carry milk-infused lines and have a vast selection of perfume oils that are housed in large glass vats. Perfumes range from designer knockoffs to strong, original scents, and creative names to match the vibe and the purveyor – a few of my favorites are One Night Stand and Nefertiti.

We’ve all seen small banks disappear to the likes of Fleet and Chase; independent telecommunications companies get swallowed up by giants like Time Warner; and indie clothing designers acquiesce to major deals that turn a red bottom line black. My goal here is to prevent the current skin care market from turning a slew of creative, well-intentioned lines into the toys of a few large companies that could potentially comprise a cosmetic oligopoly. So keep your eyes and mind open to the newbies and don’t be a slave to Sephora; one of the best benefits about shopping in NYC is all the apothecaries and boutiques that bring little lines to the front shelves. Take a chance on the newbies, after all, one day someone took a chance on you.

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