Started as a hobby in their Seattle kitchen, husband-and-wife duo Julia Wills and Alex Kummerow grew an interest in soap-making into full-fledged beauty brand Herbivore Botanicals – the industry darling formulating non-toxic, totally natural, therapeutic products packed with active ingredients and free of filler. From local farmer’s markets to top-seller at Sephora, Julia and Alex refined their hobby over the years and filled a space in the market through hard work and solid formulas, all the while championing organically-sourced ingredients sealed in beautiful, Instagram-worthy packaging. No #shelifie is really complete these days without Herbivore, and the buzz is turning this powerhouse product into a global sensation as it was just released this spring in the UK.
Julia Wills’ background with natural beauty is vast: a product of her aesthetician mother who championed all-natural ingredients in her day spa, Julia says she grew up with an encyclopedic knowledge of organic ingredients. The entrepreneur took this early interest with her to Bastyr University – an alternative medicine university outside of Seattle focusing on naturopathy and natural remedies – where she rounded out her natural interest with an in-depth knowledge of aromatherapy and Chinese medicine. As the founder told Brides.com, the motivation behind Herbivore blossomed from this combination of life experience and education, determining “that plants carry … the secrets to unlock health and beauty in our bodies. We wanted to make natural skin care the new norm … to create products that not only make you look beautiful but also focus on making you feel beautiful.”
With this focus in mind, the couple took their hobby in a new direction in 2011 and started Herbivore Botanicals, offering natural soaps for retail locally and online through their Etsy store. Creating natural and skin-beneficial formulas with their own, new version of the “cold process” soap method, the husband and wife saw the possibilities in filling the void in a huge market. “So many products out there are aimed at ‘attacking the problem,’” says Julia, citing harsh chemicals and artificial scents as being more damaging then beneficial, all the while missing out on all the good that nature has to offer. “We wanted to create something that provides a natural sensorial experience and a daily ritual that feels good. We wanted to introduce natural textures, scents, and ingredients in a way that wasn’t being done. We wanted people to smell and experience how real jasmine and rose feel on their skin.”
As the Etsy store skyrocketed in popularity, Julia and Alex both left their careers to focus on Herbivore full time. By the spring of 2012, the couples’ fresh products and beautiful packaging were scouted by the likes of wholesale bigwigs like Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters, both of whom found the beauty brand through their online Etsy shop. In 2016, the brand got their big break, launching in Sephora stores nationally and quickly rising to prominence as a cult favorite and bestseller.
Transitioning the brand from small-scale to Sephora top-seller came with a range of changes, but Herbivore took the challenge in stride. Julia and Alex now employ about 70 full time employees, from R&D to production and shipping, even Julia’s dad gets in on the action, staying true to the founders’ vow to make every product from scratch. Taking over production in soap-making, Julia told Cosmopolitan this year that her dad is ” planning on producing one hundred thousand bars of soap all by himself, with no team. He is so good at it!”
In the years since Herbivore’s “kitchen experiments,” the brand has become a household name among the skin-obsessed masses and beauty editors alike, touted for its natural fragrance and ingredient list along with noticeable results and trendy, minimal packaging. Expanding their product offering from soaps to oils, skincare and masks, fan favorites include the best-selling Blue Tansy Resurfacing Mask, a “truly natural mask” said to gently clarify acne-prone skin using organic ingredients like fruit enzymes, white willow bark, aloe, and essential oil from blue tansy to soothe and eliminate redness. These ingredients (natural versions of beta- and alpha-hydroxy acids) combine to gently exfoliate and smooth any complexion. The mask has a perfect 5-star rating on the Herbivore site out of 129 reviews, and a glowing 4.5-star rating out of nearly 1,000 reviews on Sephora.com; users touting benefits ranging from clearer, smoother, more glowing skin, to loss of milia and reduced pores as “the best mask [they’ve] ever used.”
Other Herbivore must-haves in its growing arsenal of fan faves are the Lapis Oil Balancing Facial Oil – a hydrating face oil used to balance the skin and improve redness and blemishes using 100 percent natural and pure plant oils and no fillers; and the gorgeous Pink Cloud Rosewater Moisture Crème – a lightweight, natural rosewater moisture cream that replenishes skin to a “bouncy, hydrated, dewy, and smooth canvas.” Arguably the best part of the Herbivore offerings at Sephora: the “Clean at Sephora” stamp of approval. A clean-skincare seal that assures buyers that all the products stamped are “free of sulfates, SLS and SLES, parabens, formaldehyde, phthalates, mineral oils, and more.”
Even as Julia and Alex continue to make headway in the “all-natural” revolution and their products continue to delight – and more importantly, work – Herbivore still considers themselves and indie, mom-and-pop brand at heart: “I think we are as indie as it gets,” Julia told NewBeauty. “We’ve really done everything ourselves and paved our own path in the industry. Alex and I still do a lot of the design and formulation of our products. We are very hands-on. We still make everything in-house from our headquarters in Seattle.” Herbivore hit $10 million in sales in 2017, and the team has big plans to expand globally. In continuing to nourish relationships with major distributors like Sephora and focusing on direct-to-consumer business on their site, this mom-and-pop success story keeps looking up, reaching for that all-natural allure that can only be found in the sweet, rosewater pink clouds.