Luxury Skincare Brand N8iV Beauty Speaks To The Wealth Of The Native American Experience

Ruth-Ann Thorn is the first to admit N8iV Beauty is about image. The founder of Payómkawichum descent has an unwavering vision for the brand: She foresees it in billboards on Los Angeles’s Sunset Boulevard represented by a diverse cast of stunning Native American women. “I already see the tagline, ‘We are Mother Earth. We are Father Sky. We are N8iV Beauty,’” she says.

Along with the billboards, Thorn imagines elevated brand displays across Sephora, where N8iV’s products packaged in luxurious matte black glass are front and center in a new category of brands from Native American founders. Her goal to place N8iV in Sephora, not Target or Walmart, has significance beyond basic distribution strategy.

“I don’t want to create a brand that’s going to be at CVS, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m creating a brand that represents the wealth that we had as Native American people on this land. We were the wealthiest people, who had every resource,” Thorn says. “As a brand, we need to be luxury because, as a people, we’ve always been luxury. So, why would I want young ladies to go see themselves in the cheap section? We need to understand where we come from.”

Thorn’s laser-sharp vision for her brand is rooted in its origin story. At age 14, her daughter, now 17 years old, began exploring makeup. When that occurred, similar to countless mother-daughter duos before them, they set off to Sephora. Thorn recalls, “We were looking around at African American brands, Korean brands, and my daughter said to me, ‘Mom, where’s the Native American section?’ And I was like, ‘Good question, there isn’t one.’”

N8iV Beauty’s hero ingredient is acorn oil, which has been used by Native Americans in California for over 23,000 years. The brand wild harvests acorns for its acorn oil on Indigenous land.

The experience got Thorn thinking about her own teenage years and the lack of Native American women in beauty. “I never had anyone to look to,” she says. “There was just no representation of who we were. As the Indigenous people from this land for all these years, to have no representation? So, I told her, ‘You know what, we need to fix this because your generation needs to have role models to look to.’”

The path to Sephora is littered with social media-driven beauty brands of all style and no substance. Thorn is adamant about not pursuing that path. Instead, at the core of N8iV is an ingredient that the Indigenous people of California have depended on for some 23,000 years, acorn oil. It’s rich in essential fatty acids for cell regeneration and soothing skin, and it contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenols and sterols and moisturizing vitamin E.

“For California natives, acorns are our main food because you can completely sustain everything that your entire body needs just by eating acorns and drinking water,” says Thorn, highlighting their skin benefits, too. “The acorn oil was traditionally used to heal skin. Our people would utilize it in salves for cuts, abrasions and burns. I would also see my aunties put acorn oil in their inexpensive skincare like Ponds.”

“I’m creating a brand that represents the wealth that we had as Native American people on this land.”

As part of a commitment to support Indigenous economies, Thorn worked with Luiseño Payómkawichum people and other tribes in Central California and the East Coast to source the organic raw ingredient for N8iV’s acorn oil. Though acorn-producing oak trees are abundant, they aren’t farmed on Indigenous land, according to Thorn.

“Native people don’t farm the land because farming is taking a seed and making it do something that isn’t natural as part of its growth cycle,” she explains. “Instead, we have an eight-season calendar by which Indigenous people lived. We would travel to where the food was and take what we needed. So, in our culture as Payómkawichum people, we go from the mountains to the desert, down to the ocean and back up every two months.” Thorn notes that the No. 8 in the brand name is a nod to this nomadic calendar.

Honoring tradition, N8iV wild harvests acorns from Indigenous land for its trifecta of products: $95 Daybreak Moisturizing Cream, $125 Starlight Regenerative Acorn Oil Serum and $95 Starlight Regenerative Cream. The brand is careful to leave enough supply intact to feed local animals. Though securing acorns through this method is trickier than sourcing crop-grown ingredients, Thorn has sufficient ingredient stocks to sustain production of N8iV’s products through the year. “The beauty of acorn oil is that, if you get it, it’ll last in storage for a really long time,” she says.

N8iV Beauty founder Ruth-Ann Thorn

Other ingredients are sourced from Indigenous land as much as possible. Lavender and orange blossom that scent N8iV products are sourced from a Pauma Indian Reservation, and blue corn is sourced from New Mexican Pueblo land for a forthcoming blue corn and pumpkin enzyme mask. Thorn will continue to turn to the eight-season calendar for inspiration. This spring, she plans to launch a collection of products inspired by sea ingredients like iodine-rich seaweed.

Although N8iV’s ingredients sourcing process was clear from the start informed by generational knowledge, manufacturing N8iV’s products wasn’t straightforward, but Thorn ultimately secured a manufacturer that believed in N8iV’s mission and was willing to produce a relatively low minimum order quantity (MOQ).

“It was really hard to find a lab that was not only willing to utilize the ingredients and develop an original, proprietary formula, but was willing to produce 500 units and just three SKUs because we didn’t have the ability or money to do 10,000 units,” she says. “I feel like the ancestors brought me to the right people. In our culture, we burn sage, smudge, and we ask the ancestors to guide us to where we’re supposed to be.” She caveats, “It’s also a lot of calling people, and nobody wanting to deal with you.”

“N8iV Beauty is not just a brand—and it’s not about me.”

On top of the lab, Thorn teamed up with a chemist in San Diego specializing in organic formulas. “It took talking to a lot of people before we found our chemist who could create something that is as organic and natural as possible, but could also sustain being on the shelf for a year,” she says, noting, “Retailers like Sephora want you to have formulas that are preserved to last on a shelf for three years. That’s wild! We brought in natural, plant-based preservatives to give it that year shelf life before opening.”

Outside of its own website, N8iV is currently sold on Amazon and at a handful of Native American casino spas. The brand is slated to expand to Nordstrom both online and in brick-and-mortar locations later this year. Thorn is mindful about managing slow and sustainable growth. To date, N8iV has sold through everything made. This year, Thorn’s goal is to ring up between $300,000 and $500,000 in sales with new launches like a cactus extract-centered sunscreen.

“I’ve already had two major brands want to buy a 51% stake of my company,” says Thorn. “They’ve been willing to give me a considerable amount of money, but they’re not Native Indigenous. Even though the money would be nice, I won’t give up control because I don’t want this to become marketed like that…I’m just hoping that at the end of the day the consumer will be patient.”

N8iV Beauty’s products are $95 Daybreak Moisturizing Cream, $125 Starlight Regenerative Acorn Oil Serum and $95 Starlight Regenerative Cream. The brand is sold on its own website and Amazon as well as Native American casino spas. Later this year, it will enter Nordstrom.

Thorn self-funded N8iV with nearly $100,000 and is judicious about how its money is allocated. She’s skipped advertising and relied on word of mouth to lift brand awareness and sales. While she’s interested in hiring a public relations firm in the future, Thorn has managed the brand’s marketing herself to date, and it’s amassed an Instagram following of 24,000. Recently, Thorn brought on someone to assist with social media posts.

Aside from the cost of attending two trade shows (Beauty Independent’s Adit Live in Los Angeles this year and Cosmoprof North America in Las Vegas last year, where Thorn says N8iV is the sole Native American-owned brand in the show’s 20-year history), the biggest marketing expenditure for N8iV has been a $20,000 photoshoot. For it, Thorn flew in eight Native women to Southern California and tapped photographer Laura Bravo Mertz, an indigenous South American, makeup artists and hairstylists for a two-day period.

“I’m also purposely choosing women that break the stereotypes. I have a blonde, haired blue-eyed model from Maine who has more native blood than I do,” says Thorn, pointing out the shoot included a woman from the New Orleans area whose features read as African American as well. “That next generation can look to these Native women and see themselves reflected and show that they are of value. No matter what you look like—big, small, Black, white, brown—we are part of a tribe. We are tribal people at our core. We were all Indigenous people at one time, not just here on this land, but globally.”

She concludes, “N8iV Beauty is not just a brand—and it’s not about me. There are all of these stories, and this brand is a way to bring Indigenous wisdom to help people understand that our philosophy as the Indigenous people here is that every single person is celebrated for their uniqueness.”