Beauty doesn’t have to come in the products we use; it’s how we think about ourselves. Don’t ever let a company make you think you need to buy their product to feel beautiful. It comes from the inside, and YOU have control over it. Not the retailers.
As a part of our series about how technology will be changing the beauty industry over the next five years, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Sharp, Founder of Upfront Cosmetics.
Alicia Sharp is the Founder of Upfront Cosmetics. Upfront Cosmetics are the makers of salon quality shampoo and conditioner bars without the plastic waste. To date, they have kept over 30K plastic shampoo bottles out of oceans and landfills. Their products are vegan, sulphate-free, paraben-free and Leaping Bunny certified. Alicia was inspired to start the company after the birth of her first son when she began looking for shampoo products that were safe to use on her baby. She couldn’t find any products that were sulphate-free, so she decided to do her research and create her own product. Today, Upfront Cosmetics ships shampoo bars to stores and customers across North America. You can learn more at www.upfrontcosmetics.ca
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My path to becoming an entrepreneur in the beauty space was unconventional. It all started when my oldest son Eli was just a baby. As a new mother, I was looking for safer alternatives to use on him. While there were many “safer” brands, none of them was doing things the plastic-free way, and many were still using harsh ingredients such as sulphates.
Before I knew it, I was doing a lot of reading and researching what cosmetic formulators were doing. I guess you could say; I was a prime example of “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” But I also knew that whatever I created, wouldn’t come in a plastic bottle. I mean, just because shampoo has always come in a plastic container, doesn’t mean that’s the only way. Not to mention, when you have a baby, everything comes in plastic bottles from the baby oil to powders.
Not long after, Upfront Cosmetics was born, and I was on a mission to keep our customers safe from harmful chemicals while protecting our environment from unnecessary plastic waste.
In short, a passion for creating something without plastic waste and something safer for my babies brought me to where I am today. And I’m proud to share that Upfront Cosmetics has kept over 30,000 shampoo bottles out of our oceans and landfills to date.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I think the most interesting moment in the story of Upfront Cosmetics is we suddenly started landing wholesale customers from cities and places we had never even heard of. When you’re beginning, it’s only normal to start selling to local stores and entrepreneurs that you know. You can usually trace every new stockist back to where the interest originated.
When orders started coming in from all over Canada and the US, that was pretty wild. Strangers were signing up to be wholesalers on our website, without any outreach or business development on our end. Growing beyond our degrees of separation was the moment where we realized we had created something much bigger than just a hobby business.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Our tipping point began when we featured in Vogue. The article was published, and of course, our local media outlets took an interest in hearing from us because it’s not very often a small business from a rural town gets featured in Vogue. After completing a few local interviews, we came into the office and overnight, we had all of these inquiries from stores wanting to carry our products. So, of course, we started fulfilling these requests, opened more wholesale accounts and just kept doing our thing.
It wasn’t until this summer that it hit me. A year ago, we were only in three stores. Today, we’re in over 140 stores across North America. We were so busy doing what we love and focused on consistent growth, we never even realized how much we had grown and how much we had to celebrate.
The lesson I learned from this experience is that as entrepreneurs, we tend always to be thinking about the next big thing, the next significant milestone. Don’t be afraid to stop and smell the roses and to celebrate the wins along the way. Trust me when I say it goes by so fast!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I definitely owe so much gratitude to the Summer Institute at the University of New Brunswick. The Summer Institute is a three-month intensive accelerator for entrepreneurs with an innovative idea and the passion needed to turn that idea into a sustainable venture. It’s also a member of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN), an invite-only community of the world’s most respected organizations that provide startups with the best resources to create and grow their businesses, wherever they are.
Being a part of the Summer Institute and having access to all of the mentors was invaluable. It was like being accepted into a whole community of people that just wanted to see me succeed. They saw a vision and a passion in me that I didn’t even know that I had.
A year and three months ago, I did not think I would be sitting here doing this. I knew I wanted to do big things and go big, but I could never have expected this, and I credit the Summer Institute with helping me get to this place.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The beauty industry today has access to technology that was inconceivable only a short time ago. Can you tell us about the “cutting edge” (pardon the pun) technologies that you are working with or introducing? How do you think that will help people?
For starters, we’re a little unconventional at Upfront Cosmetics in that we believe that while there is more cutting edge technology to choose from than ever before available to entrepreneurs and creators; we’re focused on taking beauty back to the basics. It’s now more than ever incredibly crucial that companies leverage technology to help them be more sustainably-minded going forward. Whether that means finding ways to create 100% biodegradable packaging or plant-based alternatives to preservatives or common ingredients. If we’re unable to embrace sustainability and make real changes for our planet, we and our businesses are not going to survive.
We chose to use technology and the internet to educate consumers on our product and how we have chosen our ingredients. We believe that consumer knowledge is power, and we want to help consumers make informed decisions about the products they buy and the businesses they support. Not enough companies are talking about the ingredients behind their products.
Here’s where things can get dangerous on the internet! It’s a little thing called greenwashing. It’s when companies claim their products are “natural” or “green” so that they look good on the internet, but in reality, their products contain hidden chemicals and harmful ingredients. As with anything on the internet, false information can travel fast and next thing you know, people are touting products as good for your health and the planet, when really, they’re not.
There is also a lot of fear-mongering going on when it comes to the proper names of ingredients. You will hear people saying “If you can’t pronounce an ingredient name, it’s not good for you.” There isn’t an ounce of fact to that statement. Take shea butter, for example. It has a long proper ingredient name, but it’s still good for you and a healthy ingredient. We need to put an end to people thinking if they can’t pronounce an ingredient, it’s not safe. It turns out; it just means you’re not proficient in Latin, and that’s OK! Not many of us are!
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the “beauty-tech” industry?
One: I love seeing people moving towards creating more eco-friendly, sustainable products. It’s reassuring to have people finally start questioning what’s in our products and choosing to be more informed in their purchasing decision.
Two: I’m very excited to see more of a push for handmade products over mass manufactured. Some people think that handmade means lesser quality but makers of handmade products have the time to provide better quality products and with more quality control over the end product. Mass manufacturing doesn’t always mean good. We are conditioned to think that.
Three: I’m very excited about what Chinova Bioworks is doing. They’re creating a mushroom-based preservative that is looking to be very promising. They were even a part of the Sephora Accelerate Program!
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
One: Most definitely greenwashing. There are too many companies now claiming to be green or eco-friendly when in reality, they’re not. Their products are still full of chemicals and harmful ingredients. A simple solution to this would be to educate consumers to be comfortable asking questions about the ingredients in the products their purchasing. To push the businesses, they support to be more forthcoming about what’s really in their products.
Two: The overuse of sulphates in beauty products. At Upfront Cosmetics, one of our key selling points is our “no sulphate” promise as studies have determined most sulphates to be cancer-causing. We use coconut and plant-based surfactants that are less likely to irritate and that provide a more gentle and skin-friendly cleanse. We believe you should never have to compromise the health of your hair for a quality shampoo!
Three: Synthetic fragrances. The problem with synthetic fragrances is that companies don’t have to disclose what’s in them, so consumers have no idea if the products they’re purchasing are harmful or not.
Overall, I think North America needs to embrace regulations more similar to the EU. All beauty products in the EU are third party tested. You can’t have products that aren’t stable, and you can’t do things the wrong way. Your product will never get approved and put on the shelves. While we’re making strides in Canada and the US, we still have a long way to go over here.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share 5 ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
One: Embrace natural, sustainable products. When you’re reducing your ecological footprint with the products you choose to buy, you’re making an impact, and I promise you, you’ll feel more beautiful in doing so.
Two: Prioritize self-care. One sure way to feel beautiful? Is to take care of yourself and recognize when you need a little self-care. Maybe that’s running yourself a hot bath. Perhaps it’s booking a massage. Whatever that might look like for you, no matter how big or little, make sure to prioritize it.
Three: Be more mindful. This goes back to embracing sustainable products, but overall, being more conscious of the companies and small businesses you choose to support.
Four: Beauty doesn’t have to come in the products we use; it’s how we think about ourselves. Don’t ever let a company make you think you need to buy their product to feel beautiful. It comes from the inside, and YOU have control over it. Not the retailers.
Five: Invest in businesses investing in people. There are so many companies that you can choose to purchase your beauty products from these days. Why not choose companies that are giving back to their communities and investing in people?
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
That one is easy. I would love to see a world-wide ban on single-use plastic waste. With research suggesting that by 2050, we’re going to have more plastic than fish in our oceans, we need to take these predictions seriously. Single-use plastic affects everyone: we as humans and our planet. It’s time to put a stop to them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Just start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s crucial that you just do it. I had absolutely no idea two years ago, where I would be today and that my product would be sold in stores across North America. I could never have guessed we would be in the pages of Vogue. We are where we are today because I was brave enough to identify a problem (lack of sulphate-free shampoo for my baby) and create a solution.
How can our readers follow you online?
Upfront Cosmetics on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UpfrontCosmetics/
Upfront Cosmetics on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/upfrontcosmetics/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.