#112. Supergoop is an SPF-first skincare brand. We talk with founder Holly Thaggard about how she decided to raise awareness in a highly misunderstood category while innovating products that put health and sun protection at the forefront. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Check out the full transcript below.

Holly: [00:00:01] I felt an even bigger responsibility to deliver on a silver platter innovation in SPF because I knew that it had to be as productive in the dead of winter as in the 4th of July.

Richie: [00:00:15] That’s Holly Thaggard, founder of Supergoop, an SPF-first skin care brand. After a friend was diagnosed with skin cancer at age 29, Holly decided to create products that raise awareness and put health and sun protection first in a highly misunderstood category. I’m Richie Siegel, the founder of Loose Threads, which analyzes and advises next-generation consumer companies, and FaceLift by Loose Threads, a retail incubator and accelerator for leading brands and retailers. For our latest insights and analysis check out our free weekly newsletter at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:46] I started the Loose Threads Podcast to spark engaging discussions with leaders across the consumer economy. That’s why I was excited to talk with Holly about how she unbundled SPF, used international distribution to scale the brand, and is starting to experiment with offline experiences. Here’s how it all began.

Holly: [00:01:06] A friend of mine was diagnosed with skin cancer, and another good college friend was going through a residency in dermatology at the time, and we were talking about how this happened at such a young age. And she said, “You know despite what the skin care industry says and looks like, it’s not all about the beach. It’s every single day, that exposure, that you are out in the middle of the day and exposed to UV rays. That’s cumulative.”

Richie: [00:01:31] Whether it’s cloudy or sunny, it doesn’t matter, right?

Holly: [00:01:31] Right, right. And so, I immediately thought back about my time in the classroom and thought, you know, you’re right. The kids are outside on the school on the playground after school and sports, and this is during peak UV exposure, and never did I see a tube of sunscreen. And so I looked at the industry—my parents are both entrepreneurs, and kind of taught me growing up to look for the white space in things—obviously, I played the harp not the piano. And when I looked at the industry I found it was incredibly sleepy. There was no innovation. It wasn’t a habit that we were teaching America, and yet it was an epidemic. I learned that one in five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer—that’s 20 percent of everyone.

Holly: [00:02:11] And the skincare industry or the space was also ripe for innovation. It was always just a race when you did see a seasonal end cap of SPF that it was just like, the only innovation was how high the SPF went, right? It was always lotion, spray, gel— SPF 10, 15, 30, 50, 70, hundred. And I guess that’s when I was originally inspired to change the way the world thinks about sunscreen. I knew that that had to be through product innovation. I think we had to do something cool and make some game-changing SPF.

Richie: [00:02:45] So you had this idea, you kind of saw the white space, [but] you had not made products before.

Holly: [00:02:50] No.

Richie: [00:02:50] From the little I know it sounds like that’s not the easiest area to make a product in. Talk about, where did you begin, after… post-idea. How did you start putting this into motion?

Holly: [00:03:00] It was, for me, let’s look at what’s in the industry. I saw chemical formulas that were full of very controversial ingredients. My mother’s a breast cancer survivor and I knew that the primary ingredient in every chemical sunscreen on the market was oxybenzone. And so, for selfish reasons I was like, we’re gonna create a chemical formula that does not have oxybenzone. And then when I looked at the mineral formulas on the market they were very heavy. These were the ones that linked into zinc and titanium, and they were heavy and pasty on the skin. And so, you know, it made total sense why consumers weren’t wearing SPF every single day, ’cause on [the] one hand it was an itchy irritating mess, and on the other hand it was thick and pasty.

Richie: [00:03:40] And briefly, why were those the two methods? Just for people that don’t know.

Holly: [00:03:44] Right. So sunscreen is an over-the-counter drug. It’s regulated by the FDA, so there’s only a handful of ingredients that we, as formulators, have to use to achieve the SPF claims, or the broad spectrum claims that we want to achieve. And you can either do it with chemicals—and there’s, like I said, a handful of them [that] you can mix and match—or minerals, which are zinc and titanium, and you can actually do a hybrid of the two as well. But what I saw the opportunity was to really bring to market a clean chemical that wasn’t irritating, and I later learned, gosh, maybe five years after that initial formula, that oxybenzone, as controversial as it was, it was announced that it is also the most irritating ingredient. Hence, when you ask people what they think about sunscreen and they’re like, “Ugh, it burns my eyes,” it’s because every single chemical formula on the market in 2005 had oxybenzone.

Richie: [00:04:43] Okay. So where does one begin? It sounds like you started with a product.

Holly: [00:04:47] You find a chemist. So the first step is, if I want to create this formula—and my original plan for once I created that formula was to, of course, go into schools. I wanted children to have access to SPF during the school day before recess and after school before sports. But first I had to have a formula. So I started talking to chemists and looked at the national sunscreen symposium, and started listening to what chemists were talking about. And, frankly, it was only one chemist that I found that was even willing to work on a chemical formula without the use of oxybenzone, and then I also added to the list parabens and chemical fragrances.

Richie: [00:05:24] Right. ‘Cause it makes our job harder.

Holly: [00:05:26] Makes their job harder. SPF’s tricky. It’s volatile, you don’t know if it’s going to be compatible with the packaging, you don’t know if it’s going to be stable. Meaning, over a period of three months in high, high heat is it going to maintain its stability and its efficacious spirit. So.

Richie: [00:05:43] Why is it volatile?

Holly: [00:05:44] It’s just tricky to work with. And it breaks down when exposed to sunlight a lot of times so—

Richie: [00:05:50] Which is ironic.

Holly: [00:05:51] Yeah. You don’t want that to happen. So it’s important to find somebody that really knows what they’re doing. So I did, and we started working on this and, you know, made this wish list of everything that I wanted which was, you know, my dad was a golfer, so of course I wanted it to have this you know very dry touch. And I wanted it to be something that people could wear every single day, so it needed to be light-weight. And you just make this wish list of everything you want in it, everything you don’t want in it. I learned early that infrared radiation, which is the IRA rays that are bouncing around, are also damaging, and the only way to protect from IRA rays is through antioxidants. And so I knew that I wanted this formula to be heavy in antioxidants to protect from UVA, UVB and IRA.

Holly: [00:06:36] You know, I always referred to the samples as—I didn’t really know they were called “lab samples,” ’cause I’m not, you know, from the industry, and so I just referred to them as “goop.” And passed it around to the family and just said, “What do you think of this goop, that goop?” And when we finally got what I thought was, like, the most “super goop,” the name stuck.

Richie: [00:06:56] So you made this wish list. What percent of that was kind of, realized, versus were—

Holly: [00:07:02] One hundred percent.

Richie: [00:07:02] A hundred percent. Wow.

Holly: [00:07:02] We got there.

Richie: [00:07:03] Was it challenging? Was it just straightforward and took time? Were there any ups and downs of the process, and how long did it take for you to get there?

Holly: [00:07:10] It can take a couple of months once you get to a place where you love the formula, to even know if it’s stable in high heat. And so the testing, the clinical tests, are very important that go into SPF, ’cause you’re actually claiming that you’re doing something for the skin. And so we had to rewind several times, and that process went on for probably about 18 months after I found the chemist.

Richie: [00:07:30] Were you patient during that? Were you anxious?

Holly: [00:07:33] No I was working on the curriculum, because I wanted it to accompany the lotion in school so I had my teacher hat on.

Richie: [00:07:40] Talk us up to the point of launching the company. In terms of, what were you focused, on what was the idea for the launch. How do you get there?

Holly: [00:07:46] Sure. So, like I said I was hoping to put this in every school classroom across America.

Richie: [00:07:51] How were you gonna do that, I guess? Or what was the plan?

Holly: [00:07:54] Well, I quickly learned, and it was a total failure. I quickly learned that SPF as an over-the-counter drug was still, in this country, thought of very much like an OTC product, and it was prohibited, actually, on school campuses across America. It was thought of like Advil, you wouldn’t send your child to school with Advil in their backpack, so I had a big problem from the get-go. California had, though, carved out a policy to allow—and I think it was a young child who had skin cancer whose mother advocated for a carve out in the policy, so I knew it could be done but I didn’t anticipate there was only gonna be an open market for me and in one state.

Holly: [00:08:30] So, I happened to teach in a private school, so I knew private schools really well and I knew that they wrote their own rules and could go by their own set of guidelines, and so I went and started talking to the private schools. I lived in Dallas at the time, and Austin, Houston, Louisiana, I just kind of called, and I started looking for headmasters that also could get behind my message. And it was incredibly slow and very time-consuming. I hadn’t yet built the brand, which is another reason I had to pivot away from that original plan. And when you’re talking to a school about putting lotion onto the kids and not having built the reputation that we have today, that was a little bit challenging as well.

Richie: [00:09:12] It sounds like you did pivot. Talk us through that process and then where do you end up on the other side.

Holly: [00:09:16] What I learned from these five or six schools that I convinced they needed Supergoop in their classrooms was the parents became incredibly grateful towards the end of the year, that their children had learned this habit, and had been putting sunscreen on every single day. And so they came to me and asked if I would be interested in approaching their country clubs, ’cause that’s where the kids were gonna be spending the summer. And so that was real easy for me because I had played the harp in most of those country clubs, and I knew everyone up in the management, and while they thought they were gonna be talking to Holly the harpist, I had to tell them what else I had in mind for their club.

Holly: [00:09:52] Ultimately, they were very receptive, and we brought Supergoop in. The tennis shops and golf shops started asking for small tubes, and that was when I really had to walk myself through learning retail, and what is packaging and components and taking that formula and packaging it three different ways. And while I did that, and the country clubs really offered to open up more clubs for me, and introduce me around to more general managers, the entire distribution for me just felt wrong. It felt a little seasonal and off, and everything for me has always laddered up to the mission, which is to get SPF onto everyone’s skin every single day. And so, going the route of entry into country clubs across America didn’t seem consistent with that.

Richie: [00:10:34] So it’s interesting it actually started off in commercial packaging, and you had to kind of back into the consumer side. What was that process like?

Holly: [00:10:41] You know, you Google “barcode.” How do you create a barcode? Honestly, the number on the packaging, and I still get cell phone calls today, but I just put my own cell phone number on the packaging. I didn’t quite know what I was doing, but I don’t know if entrepreneurs ever really do.

Richie: [00:10:58] Yeah. So after kind of ruling out the country club side, where did that mean you would go from a distribution perspective?

Holly: [00:11:03] Always with this mind, that we have to educate our youth. I mean, changing consumer behavior as adults is one of the most difficult things to do, and so I felt like it was most important—and I was a new mom, too—to bring up a generation that already from the get-go protected their skin every day, just similar to putting their seat belt on when they hop in the car. Washing their hands, brushing their teeth, this is just this healthy habit. So with that in mind I started looking at prestige children’s retail. I’ve always thought it’s not a lack of SPF on the shelf that caused the epidemic, it’s a lack of education. So I really wanted to go with some retail partners that would help tell my story, and that could educate, and that had highly curated assortments of product.

Holly: [00:11:45] I stumbled at a trade show on to Ali Wing who is the founder of Giggle, which was this beautifully curated retail with all—the assortments were really handpicked. I got her ear, she was excited to help. And then I also felt that FAO Schwarz told stories really well to the consumer. And so those were my first accounts in retail, and I spent a couple of years just doing the trade show circuit and focusing only on the prestige children’s retailers, that the buyers really bought into what I was trying to do and could help through—email blasts were starting at the time and could help really tell our story.

Holly: [00:12:26] What I learned from that experience though, pretty quickly, is a lot of the beautiful children’s brands, in an effort to scale, would transition to a brand like Target and go into mass. Which, again, felt really wrong for our brand, because there’s only so many mom-and-pop prestige children’s spaces. And so, when you max out you just have to go, “And where do moms shop? They go to Target.” And Target had called and I definitely met with them, it just, I trusted my gut that it felt wrong. Fortunately, though, the skin care buyer at Sephora was a new mom, and she had stumbled upon my product and Giggle.

Richie: [00:13:05] And so, at this point did you have one product, or you had a few?

Holly: [00:13:08] I had a stick and swipes, and the swipes I think were incredibly innovative. Nobody had put SPF into a towelette. I did learn shortly after launching that the FDA said, you know, “We don’t recognize a test that can make sure that what you are impregnating into the towelette is going to actually transfer to the skin.” So while we could test the liquid and know that it achieved what we said it did, there was no real way to say to the consumer that you have to rub 25 times, and all those actives that tested are going to be transferred to the skin. And ultimately I pulled it back because that also made me really nervous, and when my kids reached for the swipes I would steer them over to the lotion, ’cause I knew that was being absorbed into their skin.

Richie: [00:13:53] So you got in touch with the buyer from Sephora. What year is this now?

Holly: [00:13:57] So she called the number on the packaging.

Richie: [00:13:59] There you go. Benefit.

Holly: [00:14:01] Yeah, I thought, you know, if anybody’s ever gonna call this brand I sure want them to reach me directly. That was in, gosh, 2010?

Richie: [00:14:08] Okay.

Holly: [00:14:08] Sephora is incredibly supportive of young entrepreneurs with vision innovation and product, and they really like to help build brands, and so she gave me some advice. She said, “I don’t think that you’re probably quite ready for us. But look, if you can do this, this and this, keep in touch with me. And if you want to come to San Francisco we’d love to sit down with you.” At the time—and this was, again, in 2010—all of the skincare brands in Sephora were very doctor-driven. They were very serious. High clinical testing, you know, 90% reduction in fine lines and wrinkles. And it was the day of the “doctor brands,” and clinicals, and testing, everything was like, the more copy you had on your packaging, the better. And when she passed Supergoop around she said, you know, “We all talked at the office at corporate about how you’re doing something very serious in science, but it’s delivered in a very playful spirit and you’re on to something.”

Richie: [00:15:06] So, just to back up briefly, from 2007 to 2010 it was primarily focused on prestige children’s and so forth. Is it you, is it a small team?

Holly: [00:15:16] Yes. So the company was just me during that time, and anybody I could rope into going with me to the trade show; my sister went, and you know, just like, “Come on, we’re going to Vegas. I’ll buy your dinner.”

Richie: [00:15:28] Yeah. And so, is the goal at that point just to keep going? Is it just to keep building? And what was the head-space you were in, I guess?

Holly: [00:15:34] I think the first year we did like $45,000. And then, you know we tripled that the next year, it was $150,000. And so I just felt like if I could keep doubling or tripling the business, that was the right path to changing the way the world thinks about sunscreen. As long as I could keep that growth up—you know, and I might have even held on a little too long in hiring, making those first hires. My husband actually, I’ll give him credit for actually just like, kicking me out of the house. When my kiddos were young our garage was our warehouse and everything came there, and the UPS truck backed up to it. So I think at some point he was like, this is insane. He came home and I think the women packing the boxes had my son on their hip. But, you know, I think it was, for me, just about continuing to double or triple the business and that’s what we did. So figuring out what were the roadblocks and how to get past them to continue that.

Richie: [00:16:27] So it was around 2010 when you started to build up the team.

Holly: [00:16:30] Well, so 2010, before I started to build the team I realized one of the things Sephora would need— an inventory.

Richie: [00:16:37] What was a list of things that she gave you?

Holly: [00:16:38] Well, the first was press, and this was back when social didn’t exist, and so it was all about how many product placements you had in Allure magazine. And so I needed the press to support the sell-through on the shelf. And so I partnered with the biggest PR firm in beauty in New York and started getting the product placements. Then the money, I think, was the second one, and while my husband and I had bootstrapped, he at the time was also going out on his own. But fortunately, my brother was doing really well here in New York in real estate, and he had witnessed me sleeping on his couch for so many trade shows, and he saw the commitment and the passion that I had for [it] actually just never stopping, and every roadblock just going a different direction that I think he was just betting on me. And he said, “You know I really want to invest in what you’re doing.”

Holly: [00:17:30] And so it was at that point that I called that buyer back at Sephora—and I had had a pretty tough conversation that Thanksgiving. The family dinner where, of course, all we talk about is Supergoop. And it was my dad and my husband that were like, “You know, Holly, you need to go get your big elephant. You can only do these small little prestige children’s boutiques for so long. We really need you to go and like, put your eye on who you’re going to go after.” And so I decided the time had to be right, because if I was going to continue I needed money. And so I reached out to the buyer that had contacted me.

Richie: [00:18:09] And how did that go.

Holly: [00:18:10] She didn’t call me back. But I knew I would probably get her voicemail, and I had my voicemail all written out, exactly what I was going to say. And I told her that I was gonna be in San Francisco the next week. You know, the whole week, I made sure to like—

Richie: [00:18:27] Right. There’s no way no way she can avoid this.

Holly: [00:18:29] There’s no way she’s available on one day. So I was like, “I’m gonna be there the entire week and I’d love to sit down and share with you my vision.” And so she didn’t call me back, but I felt like I had to go to San Francisco. I had left that in a voicemail and I left her my cell phone number, and I thought it’d be terrible if she called me during that week and I wasn’t in San Francisco, she’d call me on my bluff. And so I went to San Francisco. I remember thinking, what am I doing? I stayed in some like, hole in the wall that like, had no windows. And it was close to midnight, my phone lit up, and it said “Sephora,” because I had programmed her name as Sephora. And she said, “Holly, I think you might be here in San Francisco.” And I said, “Yeah I am, actually, and I’d love to see you.” And she said, “Well, how’s 10 o’clock tomorrow?”

Richie: [00:19:15] What day the trip was that on?

Holly: [00:19:16] First night! Hadn’t even gone to sleep.

Richie: [00:19:19] That’s amazing. So you have the meeting. How does that go?

Holly: [00:19:24] We had a great meeting. I had prepared for it hoping that it would happen. So I had my foam boards and all of my products and everything, and she brought in even her boss, and we got to talking and it just went really well. They didn’t give me any answers but, you know, meeting ended and it was not too far after that that she called me. She said, “I think we’ve got you an endcap for the summer and we’ll try you out.”

Richie: [00:19:50] Is that a big deal, to get a full end cap on your first run, versus just being a section on a shelf or something?

Holly: [00:19:57] I think so. I think that means that they’ve really bought into you. You know, for me, I think it was interesting because it was actually a little like nails on a chalkboard, because I was, of course, I’m trying to deseasonalize the industry. And so I had to politely kind of shift the conversation around to, “That’s amazing. I’m so flattered. My gosh I’m really excited. But let me come back to San Francisco and let’s talk about this, and the best way for this brand to launch.” And I’m still a team of one. So, you know, to launch with a big endcap and not have a team to support that also concerned me. But she was like, alright, and Sephora’s really good at listening to the vision of a founder. And so I explained why that felt wrong. I said what I really would like to hope for is, you know, a small space, but I need a guaranteed full year of distribution. Ultimately they gave it to me.

Holly: [00:20:51] They said— You know and it was on a phone call much later than that in-person meeting. I got another phone call, but at this time it’s like the end of January. I know this ’cause my brother’s birthday…

Richie: [00:21:00] So we’re 2011 now?

Holly: [00:21:02] Yes. We’re in 2011. And she called me on my brother’s birthday and said, “Guess what. I got you six inches of space, two SKUs, full year of distribution. Show us what you can do.”

Richie: [00:21:14] Just literally enough for two SKUs, stacked, kind back on the shelf. And you were…?

Holly: [00:21:18] Ecstatic. It was going up on a new wall they were calling “skincare favorites,” which was another real win for me, because I wanted to be very much a part of the skincare world and not thought of as sun care. And so, you know I was really excited about it. And, as I mentioned, my brother was starting to invest in the brand and so that was a great birthday present for him that year.

Richie: [00:21:40] That’s awesome. So you, I assume, had to scale up inventory for this.

Holly: [00:21:44] Yes, but they held my hand. They shared and gave me— “These are the quantities we’ll need.” And you know, ultimately what I didn’t even know at the time, I didn’t even know that until really recently, but those sunscreen swipes were the second SKU that they chose along with our everyday lotion, and they were a real hit. The convenience factor of those and I even still get calls today about what happened to the swipes.

Richie: [00:22:06] Interesting.

Holly: [00:22:06] But yeah, two SKUs. And they felt that it was a good fit too, because they knew I didn’t have a team and if it was positioned on their skin care favorites wall, we were all positioned better to win.

Richie: [00:22:19] So bring us to the end of 2011 in terms of, what were your focus and priorities? And when did it launch into Sephora?

Holly: [00:22:23] It launched that spring. It’s all about productivity on-shelf, and so we just keep doubling our space and growing. And I think what’s really interesting about the way that we launched was that it really put the responsibility back on me as a founder to think about how I was going to create product going forward. And I felt an even bigger responsibility to deliver on a silver platter innovation in this category, because I knew that it had to be as productive in the dead of winter as in the 4th of July. So it really shaped how I thought about product. I literally dream about SPF, and it led us to a beautiful luxurious oil that has water resistance, it’s in broad spectrum, and a makeup setting mist or our invincible setting powder. And these just, really—you know, poof part protector, and even more recently we’ve just launched this year our shimmer shades, which is the first ever eye shadow with full broad spectrum SPF. But it’s a beautiful answer to the problem that nobody’s putting SPF on their eyes.

Richie: [00:23:31] Right. So you’ve built a skincare brand, effectively, with sun care embedded in everything.

Holly: [00:23:35] We don’t even really talk anymore about the SPF in our formula.

Richie: [00:23:38] Right. It’s just assumed.

Holly: [00:23:39] It’s assumed. Our chemists that we work with know that it’s got to have a broad spectrum. And we’ve even gone beyond that today to deliver pollution protection, and blue light protection, and just basically anything that stresses your skin out. We want to be there for our largest organ and for everyone in America. And I think that’s also really shaped the way we think about product, in that we’re a very inclusive brand of every skin type, color and tone. There’s not one SPF that’s right for everyone in the world. And so, if we really want to change the world we’ve got to think about everybody’s skin type and all the different rich tones and textures, and really deliver a full wardrobe of SPF that you can pull in what’s right for yourself.

Richie: [00:24:27] It’s interesting in that you were trying to basically get the main benefit to disappear, which some brands are trying to do the opposite, they try to make it like, the hero. But it seemed to solve your mission; you wanted the opposite to happen.

Holly: [00:24:38] Right. I’ve always thought about it like how we can slip it into a person’s routine, every person’s daily routine. And I think about it like when my children were younger I would make their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with peas inside because they didn’t know they were there. And you know, I was like, slipping vegetables in their food any which way I can, and that’s how I often will talk to our chemists about like, look we’re gonna slip the SPF in. And in the early days, in fact, I remember even downplaying the SPF, the size of the SPF, to a place where you really had to search for it on the packaging, because I felt like people were more likely to reach for our product if the SPF wasn’t big and front and center.

Holly: [00:25:18] But what’s really fun today too, is that we were recently told, I think, last year by Sephora that we actually need to increase the size of the SPF because we’ve finally made sunscreen cool. And it’s a hot thing that people want right now so they’re like, “Can you make the SPF a little bit bigger?” And I’m thinking back about the day when I was trying to hide. Yeah.

Richie: [00:25:40] So I guess to the end of 2011, where’s the business? Then we can kind of work into 2012 as well.

Holly: [00:25:46] I should mention, right alongside launching Sephora I also launched Nordstrom. My father, as an entrepreneur, often said to me whenever I did anything well, “That’s awesome, Holly. Way to go. Now what are you gonna do?” And he was that dad that just like, believed that. And I think it’s true, I still am guilty of telling people on the team this now: when you have a win, the best time to get another win is after you’ve had a win, because you’re on a high and, you know, you can do anything. And so, after that meeting with Sephora I networked my way to the skincare buyer at Nordstrom. And I felt, in a way, I was kind of doubling down because I needed a big account, but also I felt like the consumer shopping in Nordstrom was often—what I saw was a young mom with a stroller and a kiddo on the other hand, and I felt like our brand definitely needed to reach that consumer. And Sephora addressed for me what I felt was a younger demographic that really had beautiful skin but needed to learn how to keep their skin beautiful, so that years later down the road they’re not trying to pull in products that are reparative, it’s much easier to protect and be a preventative approach. And ultimately [we] launched both of them together.

Richie: [00:27:01] You have some major wholesale accounts now going. What [do] your priorities look like for that year? It sounds like hiring and building out the team was one big piece of that.

Holly: [00:27:07] Hiring and building out the team. We had a friends-and-family round where I took a series A, and with that use of capital it was really all about product, having more inventory. I was finding myself always on backorder in the summer—not a good place to be. But it was hard to anticipate the volume and the growth. So, building out the team became a real priority for me a little over three years ago.

Holly: [00:27:34] You know one of our investors, I will not ever forget, sat me down and said, “So what is it, Holly, that you want to do, and what can’t you hire?” You know, I need someone to run the company, and that could really help me build a team and know how to lead a team of vice presidents, and be also inspiring but allow my time to open up for things like this. And set out to look for that person—gosh, I guess it was almost four years ago, ’cause we took a little time, and found an incredible president for our brand. Her name is Amanda Baldwin. She is just a machine, she’s brilliant. I think also the beauty industry is here in New York, and I live in Texas, and I always knew that if I was gonna build a team and start hiring I needed to be able to have a presence here in New York. And the talent that would be available to me here that isn’t in San Antonio would be important to this brand. So that’s, I think, another reason why I always knew that I was going to need to look for a president, so that somebody could be right here.

Holly: [00:28:41] And then, you know, the team that I was building that I initially started to hire a little bit faster was like, the head of operations because you have to have a good head of ops when you’re talking about working with big retail. Our accounting team, regulatory, all of the things that, I mean, at one point I did all of those jobs.

Richie: [00:28:59] Yeah. Happy to hand them off.

Holly: [00:29:01] Happy to hand those things off. So those were the first earliest hires. And then came, of course, the fun part of building the marketing, creative, the digital partnerships and influencer relationships and all the really savvy girls we have on the team now.

Richie: [00:29:14] Where’s the product assortment at in 2013, 2014? In terms of what new products had you released or developed?

Holly: [00:29:21] We had launched our sun defying sunscreen oil. We had launched mists, we had launched Defense Refresh, which is the makeup setting mist. And this is like the first time you’ve ever been able to reapply your SPF spritzing on a makeup setting mist, but again, it solved that problem of, “Everybody says, you say to reapply, Holly, but how do I reapply in the middle of the day? I have a full face of makeup on, and I’d have to do my makeup over.” And so, you know, when I looked at the beauty industry I was like, well what are people putting on their skin in the middle of the day? And it was like, makeup setting mist. And so, for me it was like, well why can’t that stuff have SPF in it?

Holly: [00:30:00] So we had a lot of innovation. And, in fact, everything we bring to market has not ever been done before. So it’s interesting when we’re looking at the competitive product and we’re determining price points in everything, it’s like, we can only look at those formulas that do the secondary benefit of ours, and then we have to know that, hey and guess what, you get the broad spectrum SPF in there too.

Richie: [00:30:23] In terms of price, where did you want the products to land? Who do you want them to be accessible for?

Holly: [00:30:28] You know, when you’re telling people to apply something generously and frequently and reapply and, you know, you can’t make the price point such that it would make the product too precious.

Richie: [00:30:39] Right. ‘Cause it’s supposed to last for about, what, two to three hours?

Holly: [00:30:41] If you’re in direct sun you really need to reapply every two hours. And so, you know, always for me ingredients have been incredibly important. I want to use the best ingredients, I want to stay away from anything cheap and anything controversial. And so that does immediately price you out of being a mass product in the drugstore where it’s just a race down to the bottom price. But I think that because I don’t want it to be so precious, that you don’t feel good about putting a lot on, I knew that our price point had to just be at that bottom entry level of prestige, and just a slight premium to what you’d buy at the drugstore, making it much more accessible to the world.

Richie: [00:31:22] So I guess at this time, how do you go about launching a product? ‘Cause, again, if you think about it today, people will go post on social, they’ll send an email blast etc. What does at-launch look like in, I guess, wholesale, and especially when you’re starting to build an ecomm site as well. Like, how did those all get coordinated?

Holly: [00:31:37] It was really just 100% about PR. You know, in 2011, 12, 13, 14, it was—for me anyway, and I didn’t have a marketing team to create the IRL that our team’s doing today, and the pop-ups and all the crazy ways that we launch a product today—but it was 100% about the PR strategy. And so it really was about hitting the beauty editors in January. Interestingly, at that time, back in 2010, beauty editors really only wrote about SPF in May. It was like, you gotta go in in January, have weeks of desk-side meetings, meet as many as you can, and work your way into every SPF story that would come out in May, which is how backwards that was.

Holly: [00:32:25] I mean, the Allure best of beauty, for example, comes out every October, and we’ve been the most innovative SPF for five years now on that list, and that celebrates only innovation in the Q4, so we’re really seeing this movement of deseasonalizing SPF, and editors are writing about it all 12 months. Any given day there’s just tons of articles on it.

Richie: [00:32:52] So into 2014, 2015, 2016, talk about how the business evolved during that time, what your priorities were. It sounds like you started to build your own ecommerce.

Holly: [00:33:00] My brother at the time started working on building our ecommerce. 2014, 15, you know, my brother and I also partnered with Maria Sharapova who at the time was playing tennis at the prime of her game. And she had stumbled on Supergoop at Sephora and found that it was the only SPF she could wear and compete in Australia without it running into her eyes and burning, which is apparently a big problem tennis players have. And she asked for a meeting. And so 2014 and 15 we did a lot of putting a megaphone to our brand’s message through her help. We sat down and she asked what I wanted to do with this, and I said, you know, the reason I’m sitting here is I need a megaphone, I need a little bit of help. And, again, in those years, influencers weren’t really a thing. And she said, “You know I really want to help. I’ve always believed in SPF.” At the time you could Google her name and articles for years had come up about how important sunscreen was to her. Her mother taught her at a very young age she couldn’t go outside and play tennis without sunscreen. And so she seemed like a really good fit for us, and has been a great fit for us. I just shipped her some things yesterday.

Richie: [00:34:15] Very cool. So into 2016, 2017, and then we can talk about last year and the present, it sounds like you started to really invest in the team. What other kind of main developments are focuses?

Holly: [00:34:26] The brand awareness really started growing. We had also launched Bluemercury. We did a huge partnership in 2015 with Vail Resorts. You know, the brand’s always I think looked a little bit bigger than it was, and so we’ve been lucky, and I’m very fortunate in that we’ve gotten a lot of really great incoming inquiries. So it wasn’t ever about me hitting the pavement, we had so many incoming opportunities, it was really just about how do we stay focused and not get overwhelmed and be over here and over here.

Holly: [00:34:57] So we formed a partnership with all of Vail Resorts and Aspen Skiing Company. And Marla and Barry were on a family ski trip and stumbled upon Supergoop, and told their buying team to get in touch. They said, you know, “This is the first ski trip we’ve taken that nobody got sunburned.”

Richie: [00:35:14] Wow. It’s always the worst sunburn.

Holly: [00:35:16] It’s so bad, I know. That shaped that partnership. Many people still forget to put sunscreen on when they’re on the mountain, and you get hit twice: you get hit when the sun comes down on you and then it bounces back up off the snow. We have to talk about this. You know we’ve had product launches in the winter.

Richie: [00:35:32] Do those counter-intuitively do well?

Holly: [00:35:34] We had our first one last year, matte screen, and we had another one planned for this fall too. It did really, really well. But we just got talked into bumping it up into summer because everybody’s ready for it, so it’s actually going to hit the market a little bit more mid-summer.

Richie: [00:35:49] And then just talking 2018 and then into this year, in terms of, it sounds like the business is just at a much more mature place. There’s a team, there’s infrastructure. What were the priorities for you in the business last year and then into this year?

Holly: [00:36:02] Yeah in the last 18 months the priorities have really been doing our existing retail really well. We’re not adding retail partners.

Richie: [00:36:10] Right. No new accounts.

Holly: [00:36:11] No new accounts. We’re laser-focused on those existing accounts. And then putting partnerships together with, for example, the Soho House or SoulCycle cycle or Outdoor Voices or Bumble. And you know, really growing the awareness of our brand through partnerships has really worked well for us. And fortunately today it’s all about getting out there in real life and doing things, and guess what? You need SPF to have a good experience doing those things.

Holly: [00:36:40] So that’s been our focus, making sure that our retail is incredibly set up to succeed. And building a team of very passionate people, not necessarily full of experience but just really passionate too, about what we’re doing as a brand, and then growing that team. Our DTC is growing very fast, and with that growth I think our priority over the last year has definitely been on understanding the culture of the brand, and the culture of our team and how we got to this beautiful place. And we’re still small, but we’re about 43, I think, now? Split between San Antonio and New York. And so, you know, really prioritizing the time that’s needed to understand how we got where we are because it’s working so well, and how we are building this culture of very happy passionate leaders for our brand.

Richie: [00:37:34] How is the role of direct-to-consumer evolved in the business? It sounds like it’s one of the big focuses now. How do you think about the channel piece there. And then, you know, in two years, do you want that to overtake wholesale or play more of a role, or how do you think about all of that?

Holly: [00:37:48] It is growing very fast, because we do have five people on our direct-to-consumer team, but we really think about it through the lens of education, and how do we give consumers a place to go where they can ask the questions that they’re confused by, because maybe marketing in mass is just wrong, it’s just flat out wrong. A lot of it is. And so we think about our website first and foremost as that valuable place where you can go and learn about SPF. We always say, “Let’s talk about SPF.”

Holly: [00:38:20] While we do have big growth numbers plugged in for the coming years and we’re trending to hit them all, I think it’s because our consumer’s incredibly loyal and they become evangelists for our brand. We try to really prioritize connecting directly with people. And I spend a crazy amount of time on Instagram and DMs, and talking to even people that I see with a sunburn that have nothing to talk about with Supergoop, that even knows Supergoop.

Richie: [00:38:52] I feel like you can make a really funny like “sunburn thought,” that would scrape images of sunburned people and then say like, “Hey, we’re here to help!”

Holly: [00:38:59] We’re here to help! We have done some really cute campaigns with like, texting and, you know, oftentimes people too are sunburned when they don’t have a means to reapply and they didn’t realize that it was gonna be so sunny at the baseball game. And so, you know, we have a way to like, get that SPF out to people really quickly, and we’re doing some fun things with that. But I think really connecting directly with people so that—the way we think about D2C is that they can come to us for a wealth of information, we can help educate on how to build a wardrobe of SPF, or how to layer what two products are right for you, whereas they may not get that education. And they may be replenishing in Sephora—and we think that’s great, because who doesn’t love to go in Sephora or Bluemercury. I mean, those are both such beautiful unique environments— but we do know that our consumer is incredibly loyal, because once you find an SPF that you like, truly love, and it’s a luxurious feel-good experience, you’re not, I think, as prone to go jump to another one.

Richie: [00:40:03] And then the last bit is, you’ve started experimenting with some retail, or like, offline, owned-retail pop-ups as well, yes?

Holly: [00:40:11] We did our first pop-up in Soho next to the Crosby Hotel, it was super fun. Which, for years we talked about the Crosby hotel as being our “conference room C,” cause we were very early on in WeWork and we ran out of conference room, so we would go over to conference room C. So when this pop-up opportunity came available next door, we jumped on it. But it was really inspired most by these small dinners and intimate conversations I’ve had with influencers over the past 18 months. Instead of having huge events, when I’m in New York I’ll take eight or ten girls for dinner and we’ll just talk about SPF. And what I learned from these really intimate conversations was that there are a lot of misunderstandings about the category and there’s a real hunger for knowledge.

Holly: [00:40:57] And so when the team brought this up, this pop-up opportunity, I was like, I know exactly what we need to do, we need to take it back to the classroom. And Amanda was quick to say, “Tell me about what your first class [was like].” I only had one classroom because I only taught for one year, but she said, “Tell me what it was like.” And you know, for me that year it was all about the rainforest, and we literally decked the room out with fish and trees and we taught math, science, social studies, English.

Holly: [00:41:21] And so she was inspired to kind of recreate “Holly’s classroom,” but, of course, all funneling up to what SPF is right for the cheerleader, for the jock, for the science nerd. So we really held panels and informational Q and As, and invited all of our friends in New York, and it was standing room only. It killed it. We were not even anticipating the sales to be as strong as they were, we really just had the product there ’cause you can’t have people to the pop-up and not be able to buy when you’re talking about your product. And we had racks of our “wear sunscreen” T-shirts and everybody left with one. And I would be super excited to do another one, or possibly do something a little more permanent, but I think it would only make sense for our brand if we continued to use it as a vehicle to educate the consumer around why they need to have a wardrobe of SPF.

Richie: [00:42:14] I love that saying, “the wardrobe of SPF.” You circle back to the classroom mission at some point, right, in terms of all of that.

Holly: [00:42:22] I did. Last year we announced Ounce by Ounce, which is our giving program to put sunscreen into schools, and you’ll probably say, “How can you do that? ‘Cause you had a roadblock.” Over the years, very slowly, the laws have been changing across the country. We’ve actually worked in partnership with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston to help support and advocate, and I’ve emailed a ton of representatives and senators and just, you know, brought awareness to the fact. And what I learned about this is very few people even were aware there was a rule against having SPF in the classroom. So when you bring awareness to it, and I think I’ve had a few big press pieces, like The Wall Street Journal did something. And I think you get that out there. And then DC begins to realize this is kind of ridiculous, why would we not let kids have SPF on the school day? And so we’ve been a part of helping change state laws, I think we’re up to 19 states now that allow it. And so it felt like the timing was right to kind of come full circle.

Holly: [00:43:21] And, certainly, one of the roadblocks early was the cost, as well. My original program, each pump was like forty five dollars, and had to convince a school of 20 classrooms to buy 20 pumps, and that was a roadblock, when oftentimes schools are strapped for cash and they weren’t even convinced that they needed to be giving SPF to the kids. It’s kind of really fun for me to think about how we’ve come full circle, and now being able to change state policies to allow sunscreen in schools, how we’re now able to fund it because we’ve taken the better part of the last decade and really strengthened our retail partnerships and built the brand, was the other challenge.

Holly: [00:44:01] I wasn’t known as the “sunscreen queen.” I wasn’t an expert in SPF like I am today, and that really only comes through time and consistent delivery on what you’re meant to do. So we were really able to check the box off of all those problems. We made the commitment to go into 1,000 classrooms last year, which we hit. We’ve tripled that, we want 3,000 more this year, and we’re kind of winging it. It’s a passion project for me, and I think that children should have access to sunscreen in schools. And I think, you know, here, pretty quickly if our growth pace keeps up we’re going to be able to deliver on that for America. That’s what our giving program is in the U.S., but we also two years ago launched Sephora Asia. And we want to change the way the world thinks about sunscreen so we can’t stay put in America, but it’s been a really big success, and that’s been a huge focus for us over the last two and a half years, making sure that we can replicate what we’ve done here in the U.S. in another market. And so it’s required a lot of trips over to Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore and Indonesia, and really getting into that market just like we did here in the U.S.

Richie: [00:45:13] How did you choose to go there, versus Canada or Europe or so forth?

Holly: [00:45:16] You know we felt like it was the smart place for us to go. It’s definitely hot year round. I think in Asia people are particularly more savvy to how important it is to protect their skin, so it seemed like a good first place for us. And Sephora really just wanted us, and they fought really hard to convince us that the timing was right and that we could support their market, and we now have two people on the ground there in Singapore, and a PR firm in Singapore too, that we work really closely hand-in-hand with.

Richie: [00:45:47] If you could give the FDA one piece of advice that would make your life easier, what would that be?

Holly: [00:45:52] Oh gosh, I know exactly what that would be. We need access to more chemical sunscreen actives.

Richie: [00:45:58] What does that mean?

Holly: [00:45:58] So we only have a handful of actives in this country that we can work with legally. It’s a drug facts box that is on every package, and you have to claim your active ingredients. And the FDA has paid zero attention to this category over the last 14 years, and they are finally waking up to it. But we need access to more ingredients that can protect and keep our skin healthy, so that we can, as formulators, continue to innovate and really bring unique textures and have options that are healthy and clean. That is my ask of the FDA.

Richie: [00:46:38] And those are out there, they just have to be approved.

Holly: [00:46:40] They’re out there, they’re in Europe. And it’s not that the formulas in Europe are any better than the formulas that we have access to, it just allows for more innovation. Our formulas are every bit as efficacious as a formula with a different set of ingredients in Europe, because the test is what it is. We have a protocol, and so we don’t bring to market products that aren’t efficacious, highly efficacious, but it sure would be nice to have a wider range of ingredients.

Holly: [00:47:09] I would also ask that the FDA be careful in their communications not to scare consumers. Today, often, particularly going into the summer months there’s always a big scare about, is your sunscreen healthy? And my fear is that that is a scare tactic that’s keeping people from making a decision on an SPF, and therefore not wearing it. And taking, withstanding, the sunburn or the little bit of sun damage, which is why we’re in this epidemic in the first place. You know one in five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer. So, I mean, the time is now to stop that, it’s primarily preventable, and how many cancers can you say that about?

Richie: [00:47:47] In terms of scale and success, how do you think about those in terms of where you are today versus where you want to be?

Holly: [00:47:54] We have a long way to go. Growing fast, very fortunate that’s all we can handle in terms of team as well. But I think that, you know, a brand with a big mission, we have a long way to go. We’ve gotta keep our foot on the gas. We’ve gotta continue to double in size every year. What I love is that we are changing consumer behavior along the way, people are embracing SPF. I’ve had so many men tell me in the last year that they never wore SPF until we launched Unseen Sunscreen, and now Unseen Sunscreen with this like, total game-changing texture that is literally invisible, you can’t even feel it going onto your skin, men are telling me now that they don’t mind wearing SPF. So we are changing consumer behavior.

Holly: [00:48:38] What’s really exciting about this next generation coming up is they’re coming up with moms that are millennials, and the millennials really understand how important it is to protect your skin with SPF. So they’re educating even their young babies at one, two, three. We launched Sunnyscreen recently, which is a small little assortment of three beautifully clean mineral formulas that are just perfect for a new, you know, one-year-old skin. With that in mind, we have all the opportunity in the world to just keep going.

Richie: [00:49:08] Yeah. My last question: what is your daily regimen of Supergoop products?

Holly: [00:49:13] SPF Wardrobe?

Richie: [00:49:14] Yes. What is your wardrobe?

Holly: [00:49:15] So, right out of the shower I keep our Sun-Defying Sunscreen Oil in the shower, and I mist it all over my body, that locks in the hydration. Then I jump out and cover myself with body butter, because it just feels so great. And then for my face routine I start with our Superscreen, which is that moisturizing, beautifully whipped luxurious moisturizer that protects from everything, and that gives me the hydration that I need. And then I layer our 100% Mineral Matte Screen on top which, it’s like an Instagram filter for your face. It makes your pores completely disappear. And then I use our CC cream which is also a hundred percent mineral. CC stands for “color correction,” so it reduces inflammation over time so it’s actually treating the skin while it’s immediately giving your face a more flawless finish. And then I finally dust with our Invincible Setting Powder, and I throw that one in my bag and I use that to reapply. On the weekends I use Defense Refresh to reapply and set, because it’s more refreshing, and I think I’m always outside and on the go on the weekends. And then I usually have a few products that are in the works that haven’t launched.

Richie: [00:50:27] I was gonna ask about that. But it got filtered in accordingly.

Holly: [00:50:29] My bathroom is my second office.

Richie: [00:50:31] Amazing. Thanks so much for talking.

Holly: [00:50:33] Oh, thanks. This was so much fun.

Richie: [00:50:39] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave review on iTunes, we always appreciate it, and thanks to George Drake Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests and we hope you tune in next week.