Beauty with a Purpose: Thrive Causemetics

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“The women we are helping every day are my role models…Whether it’s a woman who left an abusive husband or a daughter who saved her mother’s life from an abusive husband, or a cancer survivor, they’re my inspiration, and they’re why I do what I do.”— Karissa Bodnar, Founder and CEO, Thrive Causemetics

Thrive Causemetics is a vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free and sulfate-free Los Angeles-based cosmetics company with 35 employees, 90 SKUs and a mission to give back. For every product purchased, one is donated to organizations like Dress for Success and the American Cancer Society. Twenty-nine-year-old Karissa Bodnar, founder and CEO of Thrive Causemetics, recently spoke to SheReports about empowering women through beauty, trusting your gut and her must-have mascara.

What and who inspired Thrive Causemetics?

My amazing, beautiful, magnetic friend Kristy passed away from cancer unfortunately at 24 years old. The ways she really thrived in those 24 years are what inspired me to start the company. It really had nothing to do with her diagnosis; it was all about the way that she had this incredible giving heart. Instead of climbing the corporate ladder like I was doing at L’Oréal, she was teaching English to orphans and traveling the world to do that. I wanted to have a greater impact on the world like she had, but I loved beauty. I knew that I needed to create something because there was nothing like Thrive that existed, where a beauty brand was giving back to the scale that we do.

How did you start the company?

I started Thrive Causemetics a little over three years ago with the intention of creating a brand that was empowering women. We know lipstick is so powerful, and when we are wearing a lipstick that is bold and beautiful, we feel confident. And when we feel confident, we are unstoppable. I made that connection really early on in my life. I’ve always loved the way that makeup made me feel and how it makes all women feel. I started in the industry as a makeup artist, and I loved seeing the transformation of a woman’s self-esteem. Then I went on to create beauty products; I worked for L’Oréal in their luxury division. I really wanted to create a brand that told customers, “Wait, you’re beautiful the way you are. These products are just to enhance who you already are.” Then I wanted to take it a step further by donating products because again, makeup is so powerful.

How does Thrive Causemetics give back?

For every product purchased, one is donated to help a woman thrive. We donate to organizations like Dress for Success and the American Cancer Society, and we work with women’s shelters. We help women who are reentering the workforce. We’re very focused on empowering women through beauty, and it starts with our amazing customers who make our cause possible. We just donated $2 million worth of products to iGoPink/Breast Cancer Charities of America. They’re a wonderful giving partner, and they educate women on how to use the products. One of the things that I really love about what we do is we’re not just donating the products; we also partner with our giving partners to teach the women how to use the makeup. That comes together in a fun, party-like atmosphere where these women are able to connect with each other beyond makeup.

We know lipstick is so powerful, and when we are wearing a lipstick that is bold and beautiful, we feel confident. And when we feel confident, we are unstoppable.

Our mission is about so much more than makeup. It’s really about creating connections for women and creating a community, no matter what they’re going through.

What is the biggest advantage of being a woman at work?

The cosmetics industry is actually still very male-dominated, which I find to be really interesting. In consumer businesses, women are the decision makers around what is being purchased most often, and if you’re a woman creating a product, you’re often more intuitive. You are more detail-oriented, and you are going to know the product inside and out. There’s a lot of buzz out there about “your staff must be 50 percent women” or “your board must be 50 percent women,” and I am very supportive of that movement. However, what I will say is that I hire women because they’re the best for the job, not because they’re women. During my career, I have often been told, “Oh, you’re so good at that for a girl.” Even though I grew up in a really small town and I don’t come from much, I never thought of myself as less than because I was a woman until I got into business, until I became an entrepreneur.

We are probably 95 percent women across the entire company, whether it’s finance, whether it’s operations, product development or sales. We are led by women, but it’s because they are the most skilled for the job. It has nothing to do with their gender. I think once people start to see women in that way and it becomes less of a checking-the-box — “Okay, I’ve got 50 percent women, I’m doing okay” — things will change. We are just human beings, and we are so powerful. That’s really how I think about women in the workplace.

Our mission is about so much more than makeup. It’s really about creating connections for women and creating a community, no matter what they’re going through.

How do you represent women in your marketing?

We are showing women as they authentically are. When you look at Thrive advertising, a lot of the images or the videos were shot on an iPhone. We’re not throwing a bunch of filters on women; we want to show them as they are because we think that’s beautiful.

Our advertising that really does perform is always very raw, authentic content. That’s really what resonates with our customers, and it’s what we believe in as a company.

Who is your role model?

The women we are helping every day are my role models. I get choked up every time I talk about them because they have become a part of our family at Thrive. We call it the “Thrive Tribe.” At this point, we’ve donated millions of products, and I’ve met thousands of the women we’ve helped. Whether it’s a woman who left an abusive husband, a daughter who saved her mother’s life from an abusive husband or a cancer survivor, they’re my inspiration, and they’re why I do what I do.

During my career I have often been told, “Oh, you’re so good at that for a girl.”

What advice would you give to women just starting out?

No matter what you’re doing in your career — whether you want to start a business or you want to be in marketing — it’s so important to know why you’re doing that. Knowing your “why” is incredibly important, especially in entrepreneurship. You’re going to be up at 2 a.m. with nobody else there, especially in the beginning. If you know why you’ve started what you’re doing and you know why you started your company or why you’re working so hard at your job, then you will be able to break through any of those challenges.

Your “why” can’t be money. It has to be something bigger than that. For example, my “why” is our cause, first and foremost. My “why” is also that I love making makeup, and I’m so proud to be creating an organization of strong, young women who are leading the charge into this next generation of leaders. We invest very heavily in our female leaders (and our male leaders), but I’m very focused on continuing to build up women in the workplace.

What have you learned from failure?

I’ve failed so many times that it’s hard to count. There have been times where I have not trusted my gut, and every failure in my career can be tied back to those moments. Your gut is powerful, and your heart will tell you where you need to go. There’s also an element of pattern recognition that comes with your gut feeling. Any time I haven’t trusted my gut, I see that as failure.

Knowing your “why” is incredibly important, especially in entrepreneurship.

What’s next for Thrive?

On the social impact side of the company, in 2019, we are launching a scholarship fund, something I’ve always dreamed of. The first recipient, an incredible person, will be receiving a full ride. We’re going to be giving out lots of scholarships.

We’re vegan and cruelty-free, and we’re very passionate about is creating products that are kind to the earth, animals, and to the women that are using them. We donate our mascara wands to the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge’s Wands for Wildlife. They use mascara wands to remove oil from oil spills and other harmful substances from the fur of wild animals.

On the product side, we just launched a CC cream. I’m so proud of the shade range that we are offering. Most CC creams have like 8 to 12 shades, max. [Thrive has 18.] We worked with thousands of women of all different skin tones and textures, specifically women who were unable to find complexion shades that matched their skin. We worked with them in the lab to create perfect matches for them and other women. Beta testers included actress Priyanka Chopra, Endeavor CMO Bozoma Saint John and New York Times best-selling author and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi.

The testimonials we are getting from women of color — they are so moved by the shade range that we’ve created. It sold out in 48 hours. We’re making more as soon as we can. It’s our first complexion product, and it’s filled with a ton of skin-loving ingredients. I’m really excited about that.

What is your favorite beauty product in the line?

I’m so proud of our Liquid Lash Extensions Mascara. Fiber mascaras are amazing because they give you really great length and volume, but the complaint is that they often flake. We worked with our team of chemists, ophthalmologists and dermatologists to create the first-ever liquid fiber. It’s actually our best seller. We sell one every nine seconds, so I think about the impact that we’re having on women’s lives through the donations. It’s incredible. We’re going to donate about 3.5 million mascaras this year alone.