Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Cassandra McClure & Clean Beauty Con Decided To Change Our World
Empower everyone. As struggling entrepreneurs, we tend to be insecure that others might ‘steal’ our clients and ideas. Creating an environment where everyone on your team can accomplish their goals will attract the right kind of people and keep both client and team happy.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cassandra McClure.
Cassandra McClure is a celebrity makeup artist, founder of the brand Lash Binder, and host of the podcast Clean Beauty. She works with the goal of educating and spreading awareness about the importance of ingredient safety in products. With her ongoing online weekly event, Clean Beauty Con, she strives to make every opportunity available to those who need it during COVID-19. Each week her event features industry experts who come online with advice and guidance for struggling entrepreneurs. The speakers have covered everything from mental health to taking your business online. The event also offers brand partnerships, marketing for businesses, and one-on-one consulting with Cassandra herself.
Cassandra is also using the event to raise awareness for cancer and COVID-19. Past speakers have included medical professionals with answers to the many questions related to this novel virus.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in a small town in Washington, with four generations of family all within a few miles of each other. We saw each other every day, worked together, and even had lunch together.
As a kid, I was bullied a lot for being skinny. Not having many friends meant I had a lot of time alone at home and I filled it up with makeup. I’d go through magazines and find women I looked up to, like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, and try to copy their makeup looks exactly. When I look back at it now (I took pictures), I was replicating the looks from women who had confidence and personality. At the time, I lacked both.
Each recreation might have been a mask for my insecurities, but it built my confidence in a skill set I use to this day.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Summed up in one sentence, it would be ‘Until All Beauty is Clean Beauty’. What clean beauty means is simple. It means a non-toxic product with an ingredient list that isn’t linked to harmful health effects. Shockingly, the personal care industry is effectively unregulated. Anyone can put anything in the products we use daily. This includes known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
Products can be marketed as being green, natural, and organic, but when you turn over the bottle, the ingredients don’t need to match those claims.
With Clean Beauty Con and all other ventures, we are working to raise awareness and educate everyone about what they put on and in their bodies. We hope to see changes in how the industry is regulated and see legislation being passed to ban all those ingredients that do more harm than good.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I have been in the beauty industry for over ten years as a model, celebrity makeup artist, and entrepreneur. It would be safe to say that I’ve probably been exposed to more beauty products than the average woman. In 2018, I was diagnosed with psoriasis, severe allergies, and vision loss–but no one knew why.
One month later, at a Beautycounter pop-up event, a breast cancer survivor came over to talk to me. She started explaining how her doctor had advised her to use ‘clean products’, with no fragrance or toxic chemicals in them. Even with a decade in the industry, I’d never come across the term ‘clean’ in relation to our daily products. A quick Google search fixed that. I purged 90% of the contents of my bathroom cabinets and vanity.
The difference was night and day. I could breathe and sleep better. My vision had become less foggy. Within three days, my skin was bump-free, my head had stopped itching, and my headaches and mood swings had started to disappear.
Everything solidified further with the documentary I watched the next year: Toxic Beauty. Those powerful 90 minutes strengthened my resolve to realign my life’s goal. If you’d like a synopsis for it, I’d repeat the words of a chemist for one of the biggest designer cosmetic brands in the world:
“The cosmetic industry is destroying women’s cells.”
When the most trusted brand worldwide, meant for babies, gets a class action lawsuit against it for its talc-based products possibly causing ovarian cancer in women across the country, you start looking at every product differently.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
There have been many moments for each of the projects I’ve started, but the most recent was actually because of COVID-19. We had a Clean Beauty Conference planned for this year, an event I’d been working towards for two years. Many of the women who wanted to attend could not. Their health issues meant that they couldn’t travel. Even though this would be a huge milestone for us, I was stuck in this feeling of unease that many of the women who were most affected by what I was doing, would not make it. Then COVID-19 happened and everything changed.
The pandemic allowed me to look at our event and think: “How can we reach more people?”
It was simple, really. We took it online. Social distancing allowed us to connect with more people virtually than we could have through our original event.
After our first virtual event went live we got asked: “So, when is the next one?”
We’ve been doing weekly events since.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
This isn’t actually the first project I’ve worked on. I’ve led 300 women in a Rising Tide community, where we came together to strategize on starting our own businesses. I was the Beauty Director of SustainableProject.org. I started my podcast on clean beauty. I organized a Clean Beauty Business Retreat for brands in the clean industry. Each step I’ve taken has had its lessons.
With each new project, I pull from my previous experience and add to the list of skills I already have. For the Clean Beauty Con virtual summits, I took a course on taking an event online. The most important thing for me is to have mentors that can guide me through places I haven’t fully explored yet. It makes the process a little less stressful and allows me to enjoy it along with the outcome.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
When I started out, I was essentially doing it all myself. I’d handle everything from contacting brands to posting graphics I’d made on social media. As one could imagine, it quickly became overwhelming. My phone would constantly buzz with questions. The maximum number of hours I could sleep for days was four.
I think I put up one story on Instagram after I had a meltdown. And with that, I had a team. Women contacted me, offering to help. These were all women with small businesses of their own. They were, voluntarily, taking time out of their own projects and putting it into mine.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Clean Beauty Con’s Virtual Summits were meant to offer an opportunity for direct connection and conversation between consumers and brands. We wanted to emulate our original idea for an event where everyone could network and learn. Well, on our first virtual event we only had the panel of speakers turn on their video and audio. Everyone else could only communicate through the chat box. As a result, the event felt more like a live stream. We were scrambling to retrieve the questions everyone had and having to repeat them to the speakers. It wasn’t until the third summit that we realized everyone could turn on their own cameras and speak directly with the panel.
Additionally, we wanted this event to be a medium of guidance and opportunity for those struggling during COVID-19. Every week we would cover a pre-planned topic that, we thought, could best help anyone and everyone. What we didn’t realize was that the people we were trying to help had their own needs. When polled in a Facebook group on what they needed to hear from us, people had such different responses. I think the most important thing to learn is that to help someone, we need to first recognize what they actually need help in. That’s only possible when we keep our ears open.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I’ve had many and I don’t think I’d be here without them. Twila Harrison has been with me throughout my ‘clean’ beauty journey. I call her my advisor. I was looking for a publicist but found someone who offered more than that. She was so spiritual and I hadn’t tapped into that part of my life for years. Twila never really told me what to do and how to do it. She was always gently guiding me towards the answers.
Right at the end of February, this year, I had my 3-day Clean Beauty Business Retreat, and I came back home feeling ill and worried with all the news circulating. On my way back home from the hospital, I called Twila saying that we’d have to cancel the conference. In its place, we could have a virtual summit.
“Great! So what’s our next step?” she asked.
“Well, we have a lot of time to prepare for it now,” I said.
“What do you mean?! You need to do it right now!” she replied.
I went, “No, no. I can’t do it right now. There’s no way!”
All she said was, “Why not?”
Classic Twila. No answers. Just a question.
I’m glancing at my calendar now and the date I had originally marked for the first, and possibly only, virtual event was May 3rd. We were on the sixth summit by then.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
We recently teamed up with Hope and Beauty, a brand founded by a surgical oncologist and Director of the cancer center at Al Camino Hospital, Dr. Shyamali Singhal, and introduced an oncology approved Chemo Companion Box for cancer patients. It includes clean products for hair, skin, and nails, catered to the sensitivities of a patient going through chemotherapy. Although it is designed for cancer patients, anyone with sensitive skin can enjoy it.
“I wish I had that available when my body was changing and I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. The fact that it is now available for women, going through their cancer journey, brings me peace.” Bridgett Vaughn, a cancer survivor and author, said when she saw what we had put together.
Bridgett has been a long-time supporter of the clean beauty movement and has repeatedly shown her appreciation for the inclusivity of African-American women.
Products aimed at minority women or women of color — skin-lightening creams, hair-straightening treatments — have higher levels of carcinogens and toxicants. Bridgett’s gratitude opened our eyes to another perspective of the choice between health and beauty that women are having to make.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Everyone is their own advocate. The easiest way is to help spread awareness and education about ingredient safety in products. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s a post on social media. It’s telling a loved one who needs to know. It’s recommending a clean brand.
- Vote with your dollars. Support ingredient safety by buying from brands that practice it. By supporting them you support transparency, female-owned brands, mindful sourcing, and environmental consciousness.
- Become a label-reader. No matter what the label says, we have to practice a habit of turning our products over before each purchase. The first step is knowing what to avoid and what is safe.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s okay to start before you’re ready. When Twila asked me about doing it right then, I wasn’t ready. A week later when I hosted the first event, I still wasn’t fully ready. We knew that to best serve the community, it would have had to be then. You can always go back and edit, refresh, and revise. You might never get started if you wait for everything to be perfect.
- You can’t do everything. If you try, you’ll end up doing less. When I pivoted to the virtual event, I couldn’t concentrate on clean beauty alone. There was something much more pressing and prevalent in everyone’s life right then. I had to think of how I could help them in this situation rather than pushing my cause when no one wanted to hear about it. That meant having to drop a few of my projects to make room for something far more important.
- Forget the rigid mindset of ‘stick to what you know.’ It’s outdated and, frankly, too confining. By opening myself up to helping others from what I knew, I was able to expand my scope and reach.
- Empower everyone. As struggling entrepreneurs, we tend to be insecure that others might ‘steal’ our clients and ideas. Creating an environment where everyone on your team can accomplish their goals will attract the right kind of people and keep both client and team happy.
- Learn fast and adapt. I had no idea how to go about organizing an online event. I had no idea what to do with all the preparation I had done for the original event. I am not what you would call technologically adept. But with the one week I had, I learned what I could and jumped right in.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
You actually do influence the people in your life whether you believe it or not. My favorite thing is to watch as people around me change their habits because of something I said or did. My fiance stopped buying plastic bottles just by noticing that I didn’t. My mother let me clean out her products and replace them.
To convince someone, lead with your actions. Start with the simplest ones.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Oprah and Ellen; women who don’t need surnames to be recognized. I’m sorry I can’t pick between the two. They’re women who came out of nothing. Through hard work, intelligence, perseverance, a grounded sense of faith, and an open mind and heart, they have both become blessings for all of us. I’d love an intimate brunch between the three of us. And it doesn’t hurt that they both probably have the Obamas on speed dial.
How can our readers follow you online?
For anyone interested in Clean Beauty Con: @cleanbeautycon on all platforms.
To follow everything else I do, @cassandramcclure on all platforms.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!