Introduce yourself! Who are you?
Hi! I’m Tiila, I’m the founder of Āether Beauty, a sustainable clean cosmetics brand that’s infused with crystals. I founded the brand after being the Head of Product Development for Sephora for over 7 years. I started to have a disconnect with formulating conventional cosmetics and living an organic lifestyle. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 26 years, worked as an organic cook in college and even had an organic couch made that’s free of fire retardants. So I took this passion to the clean beauty space and found that there wasn’t a makeup brand that could truly compete with the efficacy of conventional beauty, and I knew I could do better. So I left my job in April 2018 and launched the brand on the Summer Solstice in June 2018.
What is one thing no one really knows about you?
That I actually am the only employee! I run, operate and fund Aether Beauty all as the only employee- not a small feat considering the brand has been alive for about 15 months, and I am already in over 85 retailers and over 600 doors, including 10 internationally.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I almost did not take the job at Sephora. My background was in fashion design and I worked in the fashion design world for over 5 years before I went into beauty. When I was offered the job at Sephora, I almost didn’t take it because at the time I barely wore tinted moisturizer and I had zero experience in the beauty industry. I just didn’t think I could do the job. But an old boss talked me into it. Her advice was simple: How do you know you can’t do this? You never know until you try. What’s the worst that could happen? You aren’t good at it? Then you can quit and find something else, but you never know until you try. So I took the job and it became my most favorite job ever- until now.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
The hardest part has been trying to get funding. There is real truth to only 2% of businesses that receive funding are women-owned businesses. I had VC’s reach out to me once I started the company, and it was way too soon, but I had no idea. You think, someone wants to invest so of course you want to talk to them! But I wasted months talking to investors when I was still too small. Basically the smaller you are, the bigger the ‘risk’ it is for them, so they either take a much larger piece of your business or they will pass and wait for the next round. I’ve also learned that being a CEO means you are constantly talking to investors for the rest of the time that you own a business. It’s definitely the hardest thing about running the business- especially as one employee- since it takes time away from actually growing my business. Not to mention it’s incredibly hard to talk to male investors who do not wear makeup. I can talk all I want about the product, but the proof in in the pudding- how well the eyeshadows perform. And if your investor doesn’t even use the product, it’s a much harder story to get across.
What motivates you most?
All the new products I am working on. I set out to change the beauty industry. 1/3 of the landfill waste comes from the beauty industry. That is not ok in my book. I launched the first fully recyclable eyeshadow palette in the beauty industry, while making sure all my products are vegan, cruelty-free, and clean: I ban over 1500 ingredients. Plus I source organic, fair trade and child labor free ingredients- with glowing 5 star reviews. I wanted to launch a brand where the product performed even better than conventional cosmetics, since clients should not have to ever give up product performance for safe products. Being a product developer, I already have product I have been working on for the next 2 years in development to create an entire 45 sku collection. That’s what motivates me on a daily basis.
How do you manage your work-life balance?
It’s been a real struggle this year. I was at one point traveling for 6 weeks straight, coming home in-between for a night or two at the time. I have 2 small kids- a 3 year old son and a 6 year old daughter, and it was just too hard. So I started cutting back travel and saying no to opportunities for my own and my family’s sanity. I have never felt better in choosing the right opportunities now, versus saying yes to all of them.
Do you have a mentor? If so, what did they teach you?
Yes, I have a few. But one in particular used to be the head of merchandising at Sephora. She has been there from the ideation through the thick and thin. If anything is bothering me, I just call and talk with her about it. She has been an amazing support system. I don’t think I would be where I am without her.
Were you scared to start your business?
I probably should have been, but I wasn’t. I am scared now that I’m in it, but mostly of balancing the growth. But in the beginning, I saw the hole for clean beauty that brought formula innovation and trends and could truly compete with conventional beauty. It was enough to convince me to leave and develop Aether Beauty. And I never regretted a day of leaving my most favorite job ever.
What is something on your bucket list?
With sourcing child labor free ingredients for makeup: the majority of child labor comes from India. 25% of the world’s mica comes from child labor. Any powder cosmetic uses either mica or talc as a base. Business are moving away from talc because of how easily it can be contaminated with asbestos, but that actually means more of an uptick in purchasing mica. I want to be to help change this mindset, whether it’s more education to clients to get them to ask the brands they purchase if their products are child labor free to helping the actual movement in India itself to create other trades for these villages to pursue that doesn’t involve child labor.
Where do you find inspiration?
I absolutely love color. My house is teal and navy and that couch I had made is a hot magenta. I find color inspiration everywhere. I mostly find new Pantones to work with and new combinations to create in formulas. Most people in the industry just knock off other people’s shades left and right. That’s not how you get innovation. I’ll have labs match color swatches I find and create new textures with them. It’s incredibly exciting when the samples come in!
What are your biggest passions?
Cooking, traveling, art + design, and sustainability. Teaching my kids how to be ethical humans.
Tiila is the founder of Āether Beauty, a sustainable clean cosmetics brand that’s infused with crystals. After spending 7 years at Sephora in charge of product development, she took her passion to the clean beauty space and found that there wasn’t a makeup brand that could truly compete with the efficacy of conventional beauty, and she knew she could do better.