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Female Founded: ILIA

Female Founded | Apr 4, 2024

Skincare and beauty has often felt like a far cry from the natural world. With clinical aesthetics and a plethora of ingredients we can’t pronounce, it’s no wonder that exploring your options can feel overwhelming. For Sasha Plavsic, founder of ILIA, adopting a more mindful approach to everyday products was key in crafting a brand that people could trust.

Born in Vancouver and growing up surrounded by nature, Sasha’s experience of wellness was shaped by her mother, a pioneer in homoeopathy at the time, who encouraged her to look at the ingredients in her beauty products. Taking a peruse at her favourite lip balm, Sasha was surprised to discover that many of its ingredients weren’t considered safe for everyday use.

From this revelation, ILIA was conceived. With pared-back packaging and simplified formulas, Sasha’s approach to beauty focuses on clean and natural ingredients. Walking through polluted cities and basking under the sun’s UV, our skin can suffer, and ILIA provides a refreshing take on beauty that doesn’t compromise on safety.

We caught up with Sasha to find out how she beautifies the natural…

What inspired you to start ILIA Beauty? What gap in the market did you set out to fill? And have you been able to stay true to your aspirations?
In 2009, I returned home to Vancouver after living in London, New York and Los Angeles for several years. I was 30 years old, single after a decade-long relationship, and feeling lost. In many ways it was a reset that left room for new ideas and inspiration. At the time I had terrible skin, and discovered that many of my beauty products were the culprits. My mother pioneered wellness in the 80s when it wasn’t a trend, and suggested I start reading the ingredients on the back of my makeup box. This sparked my curiosity, and eventually the idea to create a thoughtful brand with products that can make your skin better immediately as well as over time. When I launched our first website in 2011, it led with a sentence that said: “I want to bring something new to the beauty industry, with transparency as a guide, and I want to make your skin look and feel alive”. This was the beginning of the ILIA journey.

How have you seen the industry evolve since launching the brand?
Yes. The industry has evolved immensely since I first started. It’s been over 15 years since our first formulation. When I started the brand, ILIA was more natural and organic. That presented a huge challenge to availability and consistency in raw materials, as well as being able to claim organic status, which required over 90% of ingredients to be certified organic. It’s impossible to get that claim if you want a pigmented concealer. What I also learned is that not every natural ingredient is good for the skin, nor every synthetic bad. It requires a combination of the two, with a thoughtful approach to ensure the skin stays balanced and undisrupted. We started using higher concentrations of active ingredients with clinicals to back our results. This broke us apart from other competitors from an early stage and made us an authority in our category. I like to say we were first in and best dressed in the makeup space with our ideology and product offerings, in what is now known as clean beauty. Today there are dozens, if not hundreds, of new, clean makeup brands. And while some make it through, others will not. It takes a lot of work, and heart to sustain a brand in this space today.  

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The brand prides itself on its conscious, carefully-selected ingredients. Can you elaborate on how these considerations are factored into your manufacturing process?
We carefully select ingredients that benefit the skin and look to limit ingredients that disrupt it. It doesn’t mean we have a short ingredient list, more that we select carefully to bring harmony to the skin. Stronger areas of circularity are being developed in our packaging whereby much of our newer packaging is recyclable. Many makeup components cannot be recycled, so we work with Pact Collective to help repurpose the hard-to-recycle parts. To date we have saved over 61,000 pounds of packaging waste from entering landfills. To take our initiative one step further we partnered with 1% For The Planet and One Tree Planted. In the last three years we have planted 731,000 trees in Peru, Brazil and Ecuador. Circularity in my mind must go outside of a business and contribute back to the planet physically whereby the impact can be measured. We look forward to continuing our commitment and growing in this important area. 

What sets ILIA apart from other brands? How do you maintain a distinct identity?
If somebody asks what I do, I tell them I make makeup that makes your skin better. I also mention that I am a customer and not a makeup artist. I believe there are some women who wear a lot of makeup and many women who wear a little. We are for the latter, and have stayed true to our roots in this way. As a founder, I am not a celebrity or very forward-facing to market the brand. There is a beautiful story that sets us apart, and I believe we can share this out further, though nothing will ever replace the quality of our products and how it transforms the skin. Product is king and this truly sets us apart. 

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How does the beauty sector continue to energise your creativity?
I wish I could answer that intelligently, but honestly I just love what I do. I love creating products that make people happy and change their skin. There is a subtle shift in your well-being if you feel that you look well, revived, refreshed. This energized my creativity to continue doing what we do. 

Can you share some of the key milestones or challenges you've faced in running ILIA, and how they have shaped your journey as a female founder?
I’ve had many personal challenges and some professional. In 2015, I had my first child, and also had a husband that traveled eight months a year. Coupled with the loss of a parent, life was very heavy, and honestly didn’t know if I would continue with the brand. At that point, I sought out a partner and CEO to help divide the challenges of the business. It was the best decision. In 2020, we launched our rebrand and Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 30 just one month before the world shut down. We were able to pivot our efforts quickly to a digital mindset, which we leaned into repeatedly over the next couple years. This cumulative effort and commitment to digital marketing was the biggest milestone for us, which garnered explosive growth and after nearly a decade in business put us on the map. 

For women interested in starting their own brand, what advice would you give based on your experiences?
It’s a lot of work! And it’s not for everyone. Women constantly lose in today’s world. Those that work and also choose to have a family are perceived as though they are not great mothers and those that stay at home may be seen as unambitious. The pressure is enormous. I believe you need to find something you love, and you don’t have to be an entrepreneur if you don’t want to. You can do fairly well by working for yourself, but you can also lose it all. You need to have a stomach for risk and uncomfortable situations. And if you do choose to have a family and work, support from family members and friends is key to ensuring you can maintain your well-being. Find what makes you happy, because after 15 years, time moves so quickly, and in many ways, I wish I could rewind and savour certain moments. Enjoy it. 

What’s next for ILIA? Are there any exciting launches our readers can look forward to?
We have plenty of exciting launches to come in 2024 and beyond. We recently launched the Skin Rewind Complexion Stick which was a new direction for ILIA. At ILIA we love a dewy finish, but it’s not for everyone. Our Skin Rewind Complexion Stick redefines the meaning of what matte skin looks like. This is not the matte of the past, it’s a breakthrough formula: weightless, dimensional, and blurs your skin in the most seamless way.