Natural and sustainable practices are putting some Eastside cosmetics companies on the international map

Gabriel De Santino founded Gabriel Cosmetics in 1992. His company specializes in gluten-free and organic beauty products. Photos by Rachel Coward

Gabriel De Santino founded Gabriel Cosmetics in 1992. His company specializes in gluten-free and organic beauty products. Photos by Rachel Coward

In 2014, the U.S. cosmetics industry generated $56 billion, with skincare products accounting for approximately $19.7 billion of that total. The bulk of the nation’s beauty industry may be firmly rooted in New York City and Los Angeles, but Seattle-area companies, particularly those on the Eastside, are poised to take a bite out of the skincare industry’s massive sales figures.

That the Eastside has a foot in the beauty industry might surprise some, but it shouldn’t. Gabriel De Santino, CEO and president of Gabriel Cosmetics, for example, has been operating his skincare and cosmetics lines out of Redmond since 1992.

“We’ve been here since the (company’s) inception; it’s such a great place to be. It’s always so nice for me coming back home, seeing all of the trees and water and the mountains. It’s very inspiring,” said De Santino, who frequently travels to New York City and Los Angeles.

Clarisonic, purchased by L’Oreal in 2011, also is headquartered in Redmond, and Beauty.com is selling beauty products across the globe from its headquarters in Bellevue. Just across the water in Seattle, both Julep and Butter London are well on their way to securing positions in the high-end beauty market.

20150828_Teadora-CEO_024In the past five years, there has been a shift in cosmetics-purchasing habits. An improved economy means consumers can afford to buy values-based products as opposed to budget-oriented goods. Values-based buyers demand information about a product’s country of origin, its impact on ecosystems, and the effects of its chemicals and synthetic ingredients on the skin.

Some companies have been accused of “greenwashing,” or putting an unchanged product in a green bottle or an image of a leaf on the packaging to appeal to the environmentally minded customer. In their marketing campaigns, local companies have made it a priority to help customers decipher what has been greenwashed and what truly is natural. Companies also are educating consumers about the impact of harvesting ingredients.

“People didn’t know that you could be allergic to gluten or have any type of side effect. Little did they know that makeup put on our skin was absorbed into it. You just didn’t think like that 15 years ago,” De Santino said. “Now, people are more aware of healthy alternatives and what to look for in cosmetics or any type of skincare product.”

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Millennials are notorious for purchasing products coupled with social-good campaigns, such as the buy-one-give-one programs used by Toms Shoes and Warby Parker. And while this demographic might not be interested quite yet in anti-aging products, securing brand awareness and loyalty will pay off in later years for cosmetics companies that have emphasized their social impact.

“If we’re taking something (from the Amazon rain forest), we need to be conscientious that it’s being done the right way,” said Teadora CEO Valeria Cole, whose Bellevue-based company sources organic ingredients from the Amazon basin and donates a portion of sales to Brazilian schools. “We definitely don’t want to destroy it. In fact, we’re contributing to it.”

Teadora founder Valeria Cole and her husband, Tom Moran.

Teadora founder Valeria Cole and her husband, Tom Moran.

One challenge Gabriel Cosmetics and Teadora face is building consumer awareness. Furthermore, both companies also are focused on growing distribution. Customers want to be able to purchase products wherever they are shopping, whether it’s in Whole Foods, PCC, Sephora, or online.

In 2013, De Santino opened his first brick-and-mortar store in Redmond Town Center, and he’s working to open more stores where the company can allow customers to test products and educate them in the process. Cole is developing plans for a brick-and-mortar store that combines shopping and spa experiences.

“The most innovation there has been in beauty shopping is the delivery of beauty boxes at home,” Cole said. “There’s not an experience that’s more like a Starbucks of beauty, where you sit and learn about things and have a great time. And that’s what I would love to see.”

Part of creating that full sensory experience is paying attention to the details. Cole’s previous experience at Apple has ingrained a “What Would Steve Do?” philosophy into her mind. It’s something she said helps keep her focused on the original plan, the end goal, and making sure all the details are in line, from the smell of the product to icon design and feel of the paper used in packaging.

De Santino is very hands-on when it comes to new products and interacting with customers. He has started doing segments on KING 5’s “New Day,” and afterward spends the weekend at his flagship store in Redmond. He uses that time to learn what customers are looking for.

“For me, it’s about trends, or how we interpret and do something better,” De Santino said. “Just because you’re green or organic or vegan or natural doesn’t mean that you can’t have style.”