How Pretty Well Beauty’s Jazmin Alvarez Is Changing Clean Beauty Shopping For The Better
Leading production and casting for Fenty Beauty’s digital launch in 2017, Jazmin Alvarez was integral in the brand’s efforts to place diversity at the center of the conversation in the makeup category. In the clean beauty segment, however, the diversity conversation was barely a murmur at the time. Alvarez didn’t see herself represented in it and walked away from experiences at clean beauty stores not feeling like she belonged. “The lack of representation in a space dominated by non-POC who are benefitting from the very people they have appropriated and excluded didn’t sit well with me,” she says.
Alvarez set out to improve representation in the space by introducing clean beauty e-commerce destination Pretty Well Beauty two years ago as an inclusive enclave for luxury, ingredient transparency and sustainability. Now, she’s beginning to think bigger than e-tail, and brewing plans to develop a clean haircare line for textured hair and technology to assist with clean beauty shopping. “I don’t see Pretty Well Beauty being a small business. The e-commerce site is really just the jumping off point,” says Alvarez. “It was never intended to be just an e-commerce site.” Beauty Independent spoke with her about Pretty Well Beauty’s beginning, the site’s bestsellers, main challenges, long-term goals and her chat with Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price.
How did you get into beauty?
My mother was a hairstylist, so I’ve been around beauty my while life. I basically grew up in a hair salon. It’s no surprise I ended up in beauty, but there were a lot of twists to get there. I was a pre-med major and wanted to go to medical school, but I was terrible at chemistry and realized I never was going to go to medical school. I pivoted completely to fashion. When I graduated, I decided I wanted to become a model agent in New York. I came to New York literally five days after my classes ended with $300, a couple of suitcases and a dream. I didn’t even stay for my graduation ceremony. I didn’t have a job lined up. My very first full-time job out of school was as a model agent for Ford Models. I worked as a model agent for three years before shifting for 10 years to casting and production, working for brands like Seven For All Mankind, David Yurman, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Then, I was an editor at Condé Nast, and freelanced for Hearst.
I loved fashion, but, when I was on set at shoots, I always found myself gravitating to the beauty teams because I was obsessed with beauty. I was that person who was always in the know about the new products and trends, but I had never really considered working in beauty until I started looking for things with natural ingredients and doing a ton of research. I even started making things in my own kitchen. Although fashion and beauty are interconnected in so many ways—they are like cousins—it was challenging for me to move from fashion to beauty.
How did you start Pretty Well Beauty?
In the beginning of 2018, I started with an Instagram account. It was a place for me to share my ideas and philosophies, and the brands I liked. It wasn’t intended to be a business. Usually, when I’m leaving a company, I put feelers out there, but I didn’t want to do that when I left Ralph Lauren. I had a very strong instinct that told me, “Jazmin, you need to do your own business. You need to do something in beauty because it’s what you love and are passionate about. If it doesn’t work, you can go back to fashion.” It was a now or never moment for me. Entrepreneurship had been interesting to me for a long time, but I was never brave enough to do it. I was going through a lot of transition that year. I got divorced, and I felt I might as well keep growing and start a business I have no idea how to start.
What was the concept?
The concept has evolved and will continuously evolve, but it was to curate beauty brands that have the highest clean and sustainability standards, and help remove a lot of the guesswork and obstacles I had experienced as a consumer. It really started with me being a frustrated consumer and wanting a place I could trust. There were barriers to entry at the places I was going to before. They were too expensive for me. I felt I could get one product and that’s it. I knew I wasn’t the only one frustrated by that. I also wanted to reach a demographic that wasn’t spoken to, and I felt I was the right person to do that because I looked like them.
How did you build the assortment?
I made a wish list. I took out a piece of paper and wrote down all the brands I was interested in. I emailed each of them cold. I got a response from pretty much everybody, and 95% of them were on board. They were supportive of what I was building. For the ones that didn’t come on right away, it wasn’t because they didn’t like the idea. It was because they had certain policies where you had to be in business for a minimum of six months before they would do a partnership, which is understandable. I wanted to launch with 15 brands, and I ended up launching with 12. Many of the brands I launched with are still with me today like Honey Girl Organics, Odièle, Butter Elixir and Sun Potion.
What are bestsellers for Pretty Well Beauty?
The bestselling category is skincare. People love serums and face masks. Also, there’s a scalp and hair mask that does really well from a brand called MFlorens. That’s my No. 2 bestseller. It’s something I personally use, and I talk about all over social media and with my friends. I chopped off my hair in the beginning of 2018. My hair now goes all the way down to my tailbone when it’s wet. My hair grew really fast because of the MFlorens mask. It’s not a cheap product. It’s over $100 for a 2-oz. bottle, but it works, and people buy it. The No. 1 seller is a race between the Face & Eye Crème from Honey Girl Organics and the Rose Serum by Odièle. Of course, when we were at the height of COVID, the wellness category was doing really well. People were buying more teas, adaptogens and immunity products, including Immunity Now from Wooden Spoon Herbs, Goldenrod Tea from Earthwise Beauty, and Ashwagandha and Reishi from Sun Potion.
Who’s your typical customer?
They are conscious consumers. They care about the planet and having options, but not too many options where they can’t decide. I try to keep things curated for them. I have people who buy the same thing over and over again, but I also have customers who are into discovery. They email me to find what’s new. I’m also finding a lot of men are becoming more vocal about what they want with skincare. I think they are looking to actively looking to create their own routines and not just using whatever their significant other was buying from them.
How has business been?
Despite COVID, sales this year have more than doubled. It’s mostly because of people shopping online more. I also think it’s because, with the economy, they want to support small businesses now more than ever, which I’m really grateful for. I was nervous because, last year, more than half my revenue came from pop-up sales, and I didn’t know if I had enough traction or people to be able to do this solely online. So, it forced me to really get an understanding of how to connect and communicate when I can’t have an in-person experience. I make sure my emails are very personalized, and my social media posts are very much me. I put personalized notes in every package that goes out. One thing I do understand about marketing is that people don’t buy from a place because of what is there, they buy because of why you are selling it. The personal touch goes a long way for me, especially because I’m still so new in this space.
What advice do you have for brands working with you?
I would say have a mission and a real reason for why the product that you have needs to exist in this space first and foremost, and really have a very good grasp of the supply chain and ingredients that you are using. I’ve spoken to brand founders, and I will ask them, “Where do you source your ingredients from?” They don’t know. They don’t have a relationship with the growers. For me, that’s a concern, especially when we are talking about sustainability. That’s something that I think they really need to have a much more hands-on approach with.
Not only should packaging be aesthetically pleasing to be able to stand out amongst other brands, but it also shouldn’t harm the environment any further. A single-use plastic product is something I’m not going to be interested in carrying even if the product is great. I’m phasing out the ones I’m currently carrying. Brands should take into consideration the full lifecycle of ingredients and product packaging—and convey the importance of that. It’s exciting to me when they have done that work. That’s what customers demand and expect. There are so many options out there, nobody needs to compromise any more.
You did a crowdfunding campaign with iFund Women. How did that go?
When I first started, it was with all my own money. I learned about crowdfunding through a friend of mine, and I heard about a few of the different platforms. I loved that iFund Women had a flexible platform. For example, if you don’t hit your goal by the date you set, you can extend it. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to raise money because I don’t have a lot of friends and family who have super deep pockets, and I knew I was going to need more time. I initially wanted to raise $75,000, but, in the first few weeks, I wasn’t seeing enough traction to be confident I would hit that. I adjusted the number down to $10,000. I knew it was going to be more realistic considering the start I got. I reached the goal a couple of months ago.
It was an interesting experience. I knew it was going to require time and energy, but I didn’t know how much until I was in it. It’s really a full-time job if you want to run a crowdfunding campaign successfully and hit big numbers. You have to have a very large network and marketing support. I didn’t have any of those things, but I’m happy I reached my new goal. I would do it again in the future, but I would do it differently. I would do much more preparation. The most successful crowdfunding campaigns do a lot of marketing before the campaign launches to build momentum. I didn’t have that strategy. I took tips and tricks from one of the coaches at iFund Women. Some of them worked and some didn’t. There is no exact science to it, but your net worth is your network, and it takes a village to build a successful crowdfunding campaign.
How large do you want to grow Pretty Well Beauty’s assortment?
There are about 33 brands now. I believe I’m going to cap it at 50, and I will make adjustments depending upon performance. I’m always looking to expand the makeup category. It’s a very challenging category for me because I want to be able to carry a brand that has a lot of shades available for everybody, and that’s very expensive. You can’t just buy one shade of each SKU. I’m bootstrapping, and that’s very hard. Some brands will do a smaller minimum opening order for me, but, if I still can’t get everything, it doesn’t add value in the way I need it to for my customer. It’s not going to be inclusive enough.
Also, the haircare category is a bit of challenge too because there are products that are very clean, there are still performance issues. Hair is very tricky. There are so many nuances when it comes to hair types. Being the daughter of a hairstylist, I know way too much about hair. When they say made for all hair types, that’s just not true. I’m constantly on the hunt for really good clean, high-performing hair products. I actually want to develop my own.
Tell us more about the products you want to develop.
People send me messages a lot asking me about what I use in my hair, and I never want to tell them because it’s not clean. The products on the market that are very clean don’t perform for my hair type. I have tried so many of them. The products that do work have ingredients I don’t love. I want to develop a product line for very textured hair like mine. I have the concept and the name, and I have spoken to different green chemists to figure out how it’s possible to do. I even had a conservation with Lisa Price from Carol’s Daughter, and she said, “That’s going to be very difficult, but, if you can figure it out, you have to do it.” She was very encouraging, which was really nice. I think it would be a full-circle moment considering my back story with my mom being a hairstylist and me growing up in the salon. My mother always instilled in me the concept that all hair is good hair. If you take care of your hair and it’s healthy, it will look great, no matter the style or texture. It’s true. If you take care of your hair, it’s not going to take much to make it look great.
What’s a brand that you think isn’t loved as much as it should be?
I would say this brand called Wild Lather. They have these really amazing bar soaps that are made in an old-fashioned way. They are so beautiful, and they are really accessible. They make great gifts. The people who do buy them buy several at a time. I’m surprised the brand isn’t doing as well as I thought it would. When I was doing pop-ups, it was easier because people could smell them. That’s the challenge of having an online store. Hopefully, once I get bigger, I will be able to have a [looser] return policy. So far, I haven’t been able to do it. You can return things only if they have been unopened and unused. I can’t afford to do it any other way right now. Thankfully, though, I’ve only have one return in two years since I’ve launched.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Access to capital. We live in a pay-to-play type of world. In order to compete, you have to buy ads. It’s the whole cart before the horse thing. Also, capital could be used to hire team members who can help with marketing, operations and development. I know how to do a lot of things, but I don’t do everything super well, and I can only do so much as one person. Having very limited capital and limited human capital are my two biggest challenges. Everything doesn’t go as fast as I need it to go.
What are some of your short- and long-term goals?
Raising capital is going to be my next short-term goal so I can invest in a team and advertise. Long term, outside of the hair products, I want to introduce a beauty technology. I’m still in the ideation phase of that, thinking about all the ways that a user would find the most benefit from it. So, I am doing a lot of researching, surveying and talking to people in the tech space about how to make this happen. I think it could be innovative and disruptive in this space, and would make it easier for people to shop for clean beauty.
If we were to talk to you five years from today, what would Pretty Well beauty be like then?
I would say that it would be a wildly profitable business with a really loyal and dedicated team of people who love the brand as much as I do. I see the hair product line driving a large portion of revenue and that expanding. Also, in five years, I would be having conversations about a prospective exit or merger.