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Āether Beauty: A Cosmetics Unicorn

Clean cosmetics just entered another dimension, and the brand leading the way is Āether Beauty, an emerging color cosmetics line offering highly pigmented eye shadow palettes made with zero-waste materials (read: no magnets or mirrors). Effective immediately: clean, sustainable beauty is on the same plane as traditional beauty brands. When it comes to beauty and packaging innovation, Āether is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest – appealing to consumer tastes and values, without compromise. The Āether Eye Shadow palette is considered a zero-waste product, which means each component is recyclable or reusable. The palette contains no mirror or magnets which would pose a problem for recycling centers, just a small price to pay for sustainability. And, as you’ll read, Āether ticks all the boxes of a blue beauty brand: by sourcing ethically and giving back to the environment.

We wanted to know the magic behind this unicorn cosmetics brand, so we tracked down Tiila Abbitt, a traditional beauty executive-turned-indie-entrepreneur who saw a big opportunity to create a way to bring real, clean, smart beauty to both the planet and the consumer. Meet the woman behind a brand that’s just getting started, leading the way in zero-waste beauty.

When did you come up with the idea to launch Āether Beauty, a zero-waste makeup brand?  Can you give us a glimpse into your thought and development process?

I have been a vegetarian since I was 14 years old and have always lived this organic lifestyle. I started to have a disconnect working at Sephora, when we were formulating conventional beauty, so I volunteered and became the Head of R+ D for Sustainability for the entire retailer. I started to notice that all the clean and natural color brands just did not compete when it came to efficacy of conventional beauty products. Not only that, but the space was a bit boring to me. There was no fun, no trends and no storytelling beyond messaging ‘clean and nontoxic.’ I could see a huge hole in the market for a clean brand that could stand up next to the conventional brands at Sephora. So, I decided to leave and create my own brand, Āether Beauty to fill that whole. Vegan, cruelty-free and clean ingredients were the baseline for me. I wanted to take the same approach with making sure ingredients were also organic, fair trade and sustainably sourced. As I’m a packaging developer as well, I thought it was so strange that in this space there weren’t brands that were truly 100% recyclable. The EPA just reported that on third of landfill waste was mad of personal care products, and I didn’t want to launch a brand that would end up in a landfill. I wanted to put as much attention to packaging as I did to the formula.

At Beauty Heroes we believe in supporting the growth of Blue Beauty, the movement to create products that are light on the environment while giving back to it. Do you give back to environmental causes? What else makes Āether a Blue Beauty Brand?

Yes, I wanted the brand to also be a vehicle for philanthropy! I could not decide on just one company to donate proceeds to, so I’ve paired up with a different charity for each product. For the Rose Quartz Crystal Gemstone Palette, with rose quartz being a water stone, I partnered with The Water Project, which provides clean water to communities in Africa. With the Crystal Grid Palette, I partnered with The Rainforest Foundation, which helps secure land rights to indigenous people in the rainforest. I am also open to hearing from clients for charity suggestions and there’s a space on my website for clients to do so.

Do you think living in San Francisco influenced your path to creating a zero-waste makeup line?

No. I’ve lived here more than 15 years but had this mentality prior to moving here. I do appreciate that the city has mandatory composting and I’ve learned a lot since moving here, but it wasn’t necessarily coming from this city. I think San Francisco lets anyone be who they are, which I have always appreciated, but actually it’s a pretty hard place to be vegan, surprisingly. You can actually get more vegan options in Vegas of all places than in San Francisco.

Can you tell us exactly how you recommend recycling and composting the components of the eye shadow palettes, making the zero-waste?

Yes, you need to pop the aluminum pans out, which are easily removed with a tweezer or something you can leverage. Then you simply recycle the pans separately from the paper palette and cut the elastic off, which you can reuse as a hair tie. I’m always losing my hair ties too!

You’ve made sure your eye shadow formulas are clean, yet with a lot of pigment and wide shade range. Can you share some of the challenges and insights into the formulas, and what makes the shadows so long-wearing and beautiful?

Actually, since I was in charge of product development for Sephora for makeup collaborations for over seven years, the formulation was always the easy part. I like to say that I received my second master’s degree at Sephora from some of the smartest and amazing women in the beauty industry. Sephora taught me exactly how to push formulas, how to substitute ingredients, and what the client is truly looking for. We used to constantly stalk the ratings and reviews because clients don’t hold back when they don’t like a product. Plus I had the macro lens to see what was trending and working across all brands, not just working on my own so it gave me an entire overview of the category and that helps you ideate brand new ideas as well. As far as ingredients, what many people don’t know is that 25% of the world’s mica unfortunately comes directly from child labour. Along with the rise in natural and clean beauty, people are straying away from talc and using mica instead as a base of any powder formula and unfortunately contributing to this problem. If I cannot vet the source of my mica, I actually substitute synthetic mica, which is exactly how it sounds: made in a lab. However, natural mica grows in the ground with other minerals and tends to be all smokey and gray in color, while if you create it in a lab, it’s clear. So when you formulate with it, you get purer shades and a totally different shade range. It’s also rated a 1 on the EWG, so it’s nontoxic but also more expensive than natural mica. Understanding tricks like this helps me push to get shades never before seen in this clean beauty space.

What’s next for Āether Beauty?

Being a product developer, I have about two years of product that I have been developing, including other innovations in new formulas as well as innovations in packaging. I can’t wait for everyone to see what I have been working on!