Beauty Brands Join Health-Conscious Women On Retreats

Last December, Shilpi Chhotray left the go, go, go pace of her day job as a senior communications officer at a non-profit and her urban San Francisco existence behind for a week of sun salutations and sea at a Todos Santos area studio in Mexico that Google Maps has trouble finding.

“It was so far removed from the pollution, noise and hustle of everyday life,” she says. “Not only are you doing yoga with the ocean right below you, but you are tent living, and that’s so amazing because you go to bed when the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises. It sets the clock in a healthy way. I loved it.”

Chhotray’s away-from-it-all sojourn was thanks to Renew + Restore, surf and yoga retreats led by teachers Anna Douglas and Linnea Jensen that’s part of a swelling retreats market responding to people’s yearning to escape from the unparalleled stresses of normal tech-riddled routines. She was there for the chance to relax and to understand how her green beauty brand Samudra Skin & Sea fit into the getaway.

Free People

“The beauty of Anna’s retreat is that it’s not in a touristy place at all,” says Chhotray. “I don’t think retreats that are at the resort-y types of places would necessarily be right for us to get involved in, but people that are getting back to basics want ingredients that are good for their body and for the planet, and that makes sense for us.”

Brands and retailers from small to big and natural to conventional are heightening their participation in retreats to enhance their wellness positioning and develop relationships with affluent health-oriented consumers. Some like Davines, Free People and Lotus Wei are leading retreats themselves, and others like Credo, Kari Gran, LilFox, Marie Veronique, H. Gillerman Organics and African Botanics, which are joining wellness expert Sophia Uliano’s upcoming Hello Gorgeous Retreat, are inserting themselves into ongoing operations.

“There are a few reasons retailers are getting involved. First, retreats are incredibly high-touch experiences for your clients or perspective clients. Second, everybody is looking for unique experiences that take products outside of traditional storefronts and bring new life to them,” says Lydia Harter, director of marketing at Credo. “Finally, it can be covered with social media, and they’re a lot of fun.”

“Everybody is looking for unique experiences that take products outside of traditional storefronts and bring new life to them,” says Harter of Credo.

At the Hello Gorgeous Retreat, Harter outlines Uliano dedicates an afternoon seminar to skincare and shares her personal product favorites with the 25 retreat guests. In addition, Credo is bringing two makeup artists to the jaunt from Oct. 22 to 26 at the Miramonte Resort & Spa in Palm Springs to give people clean beauty tutorials demonstrating tips and tricks.

The Hello Gorgeous Retreat will be H. Gillerman Organics founder Hope Gillerman’s introduction to the retreat phenomenon. She views it as an ideal springboard for educating consumers that essential oils’ power is not limited to single symptoms and can address the whole body. Gillerman will speak at the retreat about holistic health therapies and offer attendees the ability to book private consultation sessions with her.

“When you buy an essential oil remedy in a beauty boutique, you may not realize the full healing potential because the salespeople are primarily makeup artists not holistic practitioners,” she says, elaborating, “In a retreat setting, a natural beauty program can incorporate beauty from the inside much more effectively by giving each attendee a personalized, but global approach that makes up a complete program.”

Hello Gorgeous Retreat

Abby Morgan, director of brand marketing at Free People, believes beauty brand tie-ins don’t seem forced at retreats. Stowaway Cosmetics and Coola have journeyed with FP Escapes, Free People’s retreat arm that’s already touched down in Palm Springs, Ojai, Glacier National Park, San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, Sardinia and Corsica this year, and has Austin on deck. During the trips, brands are presented to 25-to-35-year-old jet-setting women who practice yoga, largely eat vegetarian or pescetarian diets and have money to plunk down on beauty products. Almost half of the FP Escapes customers earn at least $91,000 annually.

“Beauty no longer refers to just makeup and is really about optimizing your health from within. Customers are looking to enhance every aspect of their life while attending these trips, so incorporating healthy and clean beauty items felt natural,” says Morgan. “It’s also a great opportunity for brands to fully connect with our retreat guests as it’s such a natural and inspiring environment for our guests to experience their brand.”

Brands donate merchandise that’s interwoven into the FP Escapes expeditions. Morgan details products such as sunscreens, cleansing washes, moisturizers and bug bite remedies integrate seamlessly because they satisfy the needs of the six to 24 guests on the retreats. “When it comes to the best brands for retreats, functionality and protection from the elements is first and foremost,” she says. “Our customers are living out active adventures – hiking mountains, surfing in the ocean, horseback riding, sailing – and we make sure that they have the essentials.”

“Beauty no longer refers to just makeup and is really about optimizing your health from within. Customers are looking to enhance every aspect of their life while attending these trips, so incorporating healthy and clean beauty items felt natural,” says Morgan of Free People.

Samudra produced complimentary samples for one Renew + Restore retreat to test demand, and Chhotray realized the brand didn’t have to provide products for free on future retreats. She figures teachers or guests can handle product costs. “We are small, so we can’t give a whole lot of stuff away for free. We realized people will pay. The thing about these retreats is that they are kind of expensive, and people who do these retreats have the money,” says Chhotray. “It can be built into the cost – let’s say it’s an extra $20 – and it works really well if the place doesn’t offer personal care.”

Retreat operators aren’t toting along a brand simply to tote along a brand. There must be decent synergy with their trips or the operators risk annoying guests. At Restore + Renew, Douglas emphasizes, “It is important that we really believe in the products we are backing.” She adds, “Samudra meets us where we are in terms of being eco-friendly, community-driven and local… In a world where we are constantly being bombarded by advertisements and being hit from every direction with opportunities to buy, it is refreshing to find a brand that is real and actually has the buyer in mind. Samudra is a brand that has not only a mission, but a heartbeat.”

For brands creating their own retreats, the events can broaden perceptions of their businesses. Davines North America creative director Jorge Blanco says Wellscape, Davines’ wellness retreat on Oct. 21 at The Standard in New York, is rooted in efforts to push brand awareness beyond solely haircare. Before the retreat, Davines released a cookbook called 31 Days of Local Food and partnered with Seattle coffee company Caffe Vita on a custom blended coffee. “Although Davines is not a wellness brand per se, we are still a haircare brand, for us, it’s more about being a cultural or lifestyle brand, and that’s the direction we are evolving into,” says Blanco.

Free People FP Escapes

Although Wellscape was inspired by Renewing products from the brand’s Naturaltech line, Blanco comments retreat guests won’t be hammered over the head by product pitches. “We will talk about what the connection is to Naturaltech, but it’s not a Naturaltech day,” he says. Wellness experts, including dietician Shauna Keeler, neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre, sound medication and mindfulness practitioner Joro de Boro, and herbalist Eagle Clanton, occupy much of the schedule. Davines educators Katie McClusky and Michael John will, however, discuss the importance of scalp and hair healthy, and how to create an individualized haircare regimen.

Davines isn’t looking to profit off of Wellscape. In fact, Blanco divulges ticket sales won’t come close to matching the expenses of the event. Attendance is being capped at 15 people, and tickets are priced at $100. Instead of a moneymaking pursuit, Davines considers Wellscape a conversation-raising enterprise. “It’s not like when you launch a product and are anticipating a sales goal by region of the world or by a certain time period. It’s a very different thing,” says Blanco.

Social media exposure plays a critical role in brands’ and retailers’ evaluations of retreats. Free People touts that brands venturing on FP Escapes can leverage its followings on various social media networks and subscribers to its email lists, and FP Escapes fashions custom branded and sponsored editorial content. “Let Free People be your full-service media agency,” the retailer proclaims in its overview of FP Escapes. At the Hello Gorgeous Retreat, Uliano, a skilled wielder of social media, will likely be videoing and snapping photos throughout the proceedings to spread the word outside of Palm Springs about what’s happening.

“It’s not like when you launch a product and are anticipating a sales goal by region of the world or by a certain time period. It’s a very different thing,” says Blanco of Davines.

In deciding whether to climb on board a retreat, Harter posits brands should consider the social media and sales impact. “If it is a 500-person event, and everybody is using Ursa Major wipes, for example, that could lead to a huge conversion for them. That’s why they would want to be involved. We will see how this goes [at the Hello Gorgeous Retreat]. I don’t know what the results are yet.” In general, she says, “Retreats keep getting bigger and bigger every year. I don’t think they’re going away.” Credo is assessing retreat prospects going forward.

If brands see social media and sales jumps from them, they’ll eagerly continue to trek alongside retreat guests. Chhotray suggests Samudra’s participation in Restore + Renew retreats has netted product purchases. She says, “We usually provide postcards with a discount code. We get a lot of new customers that way and have a good retention rate, which is great.” Unfortunately, Chhotray doesn’t have spare time now to set out to Todos Santos to unplug again. She sighs, “I wish I could go all the time.”

retreats wellness


  • Retreat businesses are ballooning, and brands are increasingly participating in trips to reach affluent, health-conscious consumers.
  • Beauty brands largely provide products to retreat guests for free. Products that work well for retreats link directly to trip activities and travel needs.
  • Brands look to retreats for social media exposure, but sales can result from them, too. Retreats are also opportunities to broaden brand perceptions.