In Conversation with Tiila Abbitt of ĀETHER BEAUTY
Describe your business in a few words?
Clean. Conscious. Makeup. Inspired by the stars. Created from earth’s most precious materials. To create magic. With the stars as our muse and the earth as our palette, Aether Beauty infuses crystals in the formulations for the amalgamation of transcendent, shimmer and glow and profound wellness benefits. Aether Beauty is formulated with only the cleanest and most nourishing ingredients and bans over 2500 ingredients. . Relentlessly committed to sustainability and the most stringent of environmental practices, Aether Beauty is supercharged clean beauty, harnessing powerful ingredients to create magic.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
When I worked at Sephora, I learned how to formulate color cosmetics with a very large chemical ban list and how to substitute for cleaner alternatives. I have had a long tenure passion for the organic product realm and have been a vegetarian for over 28 years. Always bringing natural, organic alternatives into her everyday (including learning how to cook organic food at an organic restaurant while in college). I started to look at natural clean makeup formulation and just found that none of the offerings could truly compete with the efficacy + innovation of conventional beauty. I am truly a Sephora client! The clean beauty space lacked choice of color and trend, as well as truly sustainable packaging and ethically sourced ingredients.
Plastic makeup componentry is a huge source of pollution globally (the EPA reported that 1/3 of the landfill is from the beauty industry) and I really wanted to create a brand that was ethically-sustainable, beyond the formulation, but in everything that Āether Beauty creates (vegan, cruelty free, child labor free, forced labor free, ethically sourced ingredients, ect). I am very aware of the eco footprint we have in everything we create and purchase and as a founder, I wanted to bring sustainability into every decision at Āether Beauty. That’s why I won’t launch a product until there’s a better sustainable alternative.
I launched the first zero waste eyeshadow palette in the beauty industry in 2018: the Rose Quartz Crystal Gemstone Palette, not an easy feat, which won a few awards including: Mind Body Green’s Earth First Award, Refinery 29’s Innovator Award for Sustainability, Byrdie’s Eco Beauty Award just to name a few. and I recently won a few awards, including Allure’s 2020 Best of Beauty (literally the Oscars of beauty) for our Radiant Ruby Lip Creme, which is made of 100% recycled plastic (no virgin plastic used whatsoever) and is the first recyclable liquid lip component in the world!
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I have a BFA in Sculpture and an MFA in Fashion Design. I worked in the fashion industry for over 5 years before transitioning to beauty. I spent 7 years at Sephora in charge of product development for makeup collaborations and accessories. My obsession with sustainability led me to become the lead R+D for sustainable materials while also being on the sustainability leadership council for the retailer. Being a global brand, I quickly learned that in the USA, there are only 11 banned chemicals in color cosmetics.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I always made stuff and sold it. I used to make jewelry as a little girl and would sell it outside my dad’s office during the summer. I was a garage sale queen (still am!) but I did not think I would honestly ever start my own business. Every idea I had, I would always talk myself out of, until Aether Beauty. When I sat down to ideas the brand, it just flowed through me and all the doors kept opening. It’s how I knew I had to jump and try it.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Well, as the only employee that was and still is completely boot trapped and self funded, I had a very small budget- and was very naive about just being a DTC brand. I thought if I gifted a bunch of influencers, that would be all I needed and the brand would grow. Well, I quickly learned it took a lot of money- which I did not have- in order to grow a brand digitally. Luckily, I had many retailers reach out- including Sephora- to carry the brand. So now the brand is omnichannel and I’m able to create more brand awareness through my retail partnerships.
Press wise, the brand has received a lot of press, even at the launch of the brand, I have been very lucky in that regard because editors love what I am building from an efficacy and sustainability standpoint. I have the highest rated clean beauty makeup products in all of Sephora! That is not a small feat.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Not trusting my gut. I’ve had many investors reach out since day 1 of the brand and I took all the meetings, thinking that if someone wanted to invest, it was worth my time. It took me a while to learn it’s a two way conversation and I wasted a lot of time talking to investors that were not the right fit at all- precious time that I could have been using to build my business.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Building the first blue beauty makeup brand that is sold in major retailers as the only employee behind the entire brand.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
Right now, I only work with consultants. However, I really like to test someone’s passion and experience with their subject of expertise. I want to know if they are going to be as passionate about the subject and as inspired as I am for the potential of the brand. Building a brand that is bootstrapped is incredibly hard and challenging and having people around you that are positive can really help with the right energy needed.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I had a manufacturer go out of business, for my Radiant Ruby Lip Cremes that won an Allure Best of Beauty Award. And I had zero stock to sell when the product won, so a huge missed opportunity. Not to mention, I had so many clients asking for it constantly, it’s hard to disappoint them. But I am working on producing it with another supplier, it just takes time. It’s awful when any business goes out of business, but especially one that you have loved and worked with, so it was just hard all around.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Being a product developer, I have many products that I have created up my sleeves, the formulation to me is the easiest part. It’s the packaging that can hold up a product launch because I won’t launch a product until it’s the best that it can be. But I have a few new goodies coming for 2021 and beyond.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wished I had raised funds before I launched the brand. Having enough money from the start to help build brand awareness and keep up with demand would have been much less of a headache. But I’ve never built a brand on my own before, so hindsight is always 20/20!
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
Being surrounded by crystals definitely helps. Taking the time to set new intentions and help guide your own energy has been a lifesaver this year.