Josh Rosebrook On The Power Of Staying Independent In A Beauty Market That Valorizes Big Exits

Josh Rosebrook, a celebrity hairdresser turned product developer, began his namesake clean beauty brand in 2009 within a year or two of the launches of fellow clean beauty brands Tara Harper, Ilia, RMS Beauty and W3ll People. All those brands have been acquired, and Josh Rosebrook remains among a select group of pioneering clean beauty brands (May Lindstrom, Kahina Giving Beauty, One Love Organics, Marie Veronique and Innersense are others) that have stuck it out as independents.

It hasn’t always been easy to stick it out, though. The beauty industry Rosebrook was a part of when he established his brand isn’t the same as it is today—and he doesn’t view every change as being for the best, including the onslaught of new brands churning out product after product. Rosebrook has a lot to get off his chest about its current state, and because he’s an independent thinker and entrepreneur, he doesn’t hesitate to do so.

Below, he gets plenty off his chest about the power of staying independent, his hatred of social media, the decisions to turn down Sephora and leave Ulta, and whether he has a shred of hope for the future of the beauty industry.

Staying Independent Enables Sales Growth At Your Own Pace 

Rosebrook’s brand generated 30% to 50% annual sales growth for a decade. Since 2022, sales growth has slowed, but Rosebrook’s not worried about the slower growth. “The industry got really diluted, so our growth wasn’t as sharp and consistent,” he says. “It’s just slower now because we’re not funded. You see what happens to the brands, they get investment money, they’re pushed to launch stupid products that don’t make sense in the line and confuse their customer and really just scream we need money. That’s what we don’t want to be in. We don’t want to be told what to do.

There’s this idea that, if you don’t keep doing [considerable yearly sales growth], then the investors won’t see you as valuable, and I don’t care what investors see us as. Look at what we’ve done for the past 15 years. We’re a valuable brand, and we don’t have to prove it to anybody. We’re also not trying to make our numbers look a certain way in order to get capital, and that’s what I love about us. 

At the same time, we are putting our money into marketing and continuing to innovate. It may not be growing at 50% a year like we did, but we’re still growing, and you have to celebrate that or else, what are you in this for? Are you just in this for money, or are you in this for growth, experience, challenge and to create something of value and worth?”

Josh Rosebrook founder Josh Rosebrook

Staying Independent Enables Messaging The Way You Want 

Josh Rosebrook’s messaging has shifted from concentrating on plant-based ingredients to concentrating on effectiveness. Rosebrook explains, “As I started formulating, it was this celebration of natural ingredients. The question became, do I want to give my customers a totally natural product, or do I want to give them the most effective product? And, obviously, I want to give them the most effective product, and that’s where I had to pivot.

For a founder that’s established, you do fear that you will lose people with slightly different messaging or ingredients that they might not understand, and you can’t spend all day trying to convince everybody. You just have to trust that they believe in what you’re doing and trust you as a brand. I believe, for everybody in my position, it’s best to take risks. I look at my brand today, and I’ve never been more proud of what it is. It’s an anomaly, and I’m so proud of that.”

Staying Independent enables Deliberate Product Pipelines 

“We haven’t been launching new products because it doesn’t make sense to continue launching more products,” says Rosebrook. “Our brand is very understandable on the shelf in terms of the categories, from hydration to exfoliation to protection and SPF, and when those are covered, you just want to make sure your customers know how to use them and get new eyeballs on them.

We’re launching one product this year this fall, which is really exciting because it’s a groundbreaking ingredient. I believe it’s going to be on par with the level of industry fascination and popularity as vitamin C, retinoids and peptides. I’ve been working on this for five years hoping that some big skincare brand doesn’t just come out with it before and swoop in. We’re going to be one of the first to market, if not the first to market, with this really innovative bioidentical collagen.”

Staying Independent enables Leaving Retailers That Aren’t A Good Fit

Josh Rosebrook’s top retailer is Credo. The brand is also in Heyday and other facial establishments, premium skincare boutiques and naturopathic doctors’ offices across the country. It was previously in about 100 Ulta Beauty locations, but has exited the retailer.

“We chose to pull out because all they wanted to do was discount, discount, discount,” says Rosebrook. “Then, as a small brand, they make you pay the discount, and that doesn’t work for us. Our product should be discounted once in a while on Black Friday or once a year for a retailer to do it, but not every month—and we stand by that. So, we pulled out of Ulta. It just wasn’t a good fit.

My brand is worth more than who I’m partnering with, and when they respect what your brand is for all that it is, then we respect them for all that they are because they give us space to be shared with their customer. It’s a mutual, reciprocal sharing of education and worth. And if you don’t have that, then you’re not with a good partner. If you’re not with a good partner, it’s not going to be good for your brand. That’s also why we turned down Sephora in 2018 because we knew that that probably wasn’t going to be the best partnership, and I don’t regret that for a minute.”

Staying Independent Enables Picking Financial Partners That Get You 

Self-funded Josh Rosebrook crossed into profitability in 2015 and bought its 15,000-square-foot Los Angeles area headquarters in 2019. “Our sales pay for our marketing and our team,” says Rosebrook. “We are absolutely open to the right kind of investment in the right way, but I’ve talked to 30 people over the last 10 years, and nothing’s just really felt like a match. And that’s fine, but we’re totally open to the right kind of partnership, people that want to protect, support and expand on what we are, not change, cheapen, dilute and unethically market what we are.”

Josh Rosebrook is carried by Credo, Heyday and other facial establishments, premium skincare boutiques and naturopathic doctors’ offices across the country. It used to be in Ulta Beauty, but exited the retailer, and it turned down an opportunity to be in Sephora.

Staying Independent Enables Not Being Beholden To Algorithms 

On social media, Rosebrook focuses on his brand’s biggest fans. “I am passionate about marketing it ethically and continuing with the people who are our loyal deep fan base and staying focused on that versus getting pulled into TikTok misinformation and trends,” he says. “Everybody’s looking for their viral moment which, of course, who doesn’t want a viral moment? But have some integrity and do it the right way.

Don’t just grift what’s already been done to give yourself some publicity. This isn’t me giving a lecture on ethical marketing, but that’s what I struggle with. I don’t struggle with my own ethical marketing, I struggle watching other people unabashedly have no qualms.” 

I write a lot of the copy or edit the copy because it really has to come from a specific scientific, experiential, holistic brand perspective. I think social media teams take over, and they’re just social media experts, they’re not skincare and beauty experts, so brand pages become very boring and homogenized.

We have 70,000 followers on Instagram, but our posts get shown to 3,000. It’s really unfortunate because we built that for a decade, and now it’s worth nothing except for a number on the top of the page, but it’s the way it is for everybody. People who have a million followers get 5,000 likes, and that’s not very much comparatively. It’s frustrating, but you just have to forge ahead and keep true to yourself.

I think social media has done more harm to our planet than it has good. I hate social media. I can’t stand the way people talk about skincare online, and they do it for all the wrong reasons, and it’s misinformation. I deleted my X account, but I love Threads. There’s still an unsaid respect on there, and I know that’ll go away eventually, but, for now, it’s good. We have a nice following there.”

Staying Independent Enables Finding A Niche Where You’re Appreciated 

Asked about the future of clean beauty, Rosebrook predicts, “It will start branching off into subsets that celebrate brands that are doing the right thing for the right reasons. It’s challenging, but I’m grateful for what we do and how we do it, but the larger industry, it’s not as fun anymore, and I fear for it.

I’m never going to give up hope, but I’m not optimistic about the beauty industry because I’m not optimistic about AI, and I’m not optimistic about social media. Social media is what’s driving the beauty industry. It’s not science-based, and it’s being taken as fact. It’s ridiculous. How can you create something of value off of that? It’s sad that it’s become as unhealthy as it has. So, I don’t have hope until that’s not the driving force of the industry. I can have hope for my brand and know what we are.”

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.