With the recent global explosion in skincare and wellness products, there are all kinds of stories of how various entrepreneurs wound their way into the market. Some found themselves on foreign shores and unable to find the products they wanted, and so resolved to bring them along. Others focused on groups that were normally left out when designing and formulating products, with men being a particularly favored group.
And then there are those like Alex Kummerow and Julia Wills – a husband-and-wife team that more or less entered the business by accident when they mutually discovered they really, really liked making soap. Kummerow had purchased a small soap-making kit for Wills as a gift, with no real intention of selling the product they came up with.
However, that is more or less exactly what happened eight years ago, when the couple pivoted from a soap-making hobby to a soap-making business that saw them brewing up batches in their home kitchen and selling them on Etsy to artisanal cosmetics enthusiasts. The brand they created was called Herbivore Botanicals.
Today, the brand is very different than the soap-making operation that was formerly run out of its founders’ kitchen. Herbivore identifies as a prestige skincare brand that sells a lot more than just soap. All in, the company sells over 35 SKUs of skincare and bath and body products that are “formulated with pure, active, highly concentrated vitamins, minerals and botanicals.”
The goods run the gamut of typical direct-to-consumer (DTC) skincare offerings, including various retinol serums, body scrubs, moisturizers and eye creams. However, Herbivore does get some points for originality in its ingredients list. There are many body scrubs in the world, but few contain amethyst power – and if the reviews are to be believed, a little gemstone dust goes a long way toward improving a skincare product.
Herbivore has also sought to expand and evolve its skincare line with the times: The site’s Emerald Shop allows consumers to browse CBD-infused products.
“Skincare was the initial category to embrace clean beauty, and Herbivore was one of the original brands helping to pioneer that movement,” said Co-CEO Kummerow, noting that until very recently, Herbivore was a pioneer that had built its entire skincare line from the ground up (or from the kitchen sink, to be exact), bootstrapped entirely when it comes to funding.
The brand’s popularity has not come from marketing – Herbivore spends very little on that – and instead has come from the word of mouth generated by their sizable and enthusiastic social media following. Instagram has been particularly crucial to building its loyal following among millennial and Gen Z shoppers, with a follower count of 450,000 and growing.
The brand’s “big break” moment occurred after they had been in business for about four years, when in 2015 it secured a spot on the shelves at Sephora. It’s still there today, and the number of stores carrying Herbivore goods has increased remarkably, though they are still mainly a DTC brand. Nordstrom, Credo, Space NK, Carbon Beauty and Follain all carry Herbivore goods. Currently, the clean skincare brand’s products are on the shelves of 500 stores worldwide.
And as Herbivore is growing up, it is changing. The company’s bootstrapping days came to an end earlier this month, as it has raised its very first round of outside capital in a $15 million Series A investment led by Silas Capital.
Co-CEO Wills called it a “tremendously exciting time for Herbivore,” noting that the company is “well-positioned for strategic and meaningful growth as we continue to solidify our standing as a category leader in clean skincare.”
With those new funds in hand, the brand’s goal is growth – particularly when it comes to its product offerings and addressable audience.
“Having bootstrapped the business to date, we are eager to leverage this capital infusion to expand our manufacturing capabilities and increase brand awareness through digital and in-store marketing,” Kummerow noted.
It is a crowded field – much more so than when the pair started making soap in their kitchen eight years ago, with many more brands looking to capture the customer’s wellness spend. But Herbivore went from a hobby soap business to having nearly half a million enthusiasts following them on social media. It will be interesting to see what they do when they have the funds to take on the wider market.