The ingredient list on the back of a box can be a bit of mystery when it comes to beauty. That’s why clean beauty brand Cocokind wants to introduce a new layer of transparency to all their packaging — listing not just the ingredients, but the percentage of each ingredient included and the carbon footprint of each product.
When Priscilla Tsai founded Cocokind in 2015, the so-called “clean” beauty space was just beginning to come to the forefront. After experimenting with what worked on her own skin, she started the company in hopes that it could help a few other women, bootstrapping the venture with her savings.
“I grew up always wanting to be an entrepreneur. But I didn’t think that it would be in the beauty space. Building a company around one of your insecurities isn’t the first thing that comes to mind,” says the 31-year-old entrepreneur.
Cocokind was quickly picked up in one Whole Foods location, and Tsai started building a digital following on social media, sharing her personal skin journey and ups-and-downs with adult acne. Now, six years later, the brand is at national retailers such as Target, Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Ulta Beauty.
As that “clean” beauty space has expanded, Tsai wanted to share not only the ingredients in her products, but also the formulations. Since some beauty products are sold as containing a superfood, or a specific trendy ingredient, she felt it was important to showcase just how much of these “hero ingredients” were found in each bottle.
The new packaging does just that, breaking down the formulas, which Tsai acknowledges was a tricky move and not everyone at the company was on board from the beginning. “I thought about this alot because the more transparent you are, the more exposed you are.”
But she’s keen to point out that even if two brands have similar products with similar ingredient lists and formulations, the sourcing of those materials can determine if one is made of higher quality ingredients.
There’s also the added layer of calculating the carbon footprint of each product. “So many are making claims in the market. These claims have become diluted in terms of what impact they actually have.”
Because so little is regulated, be it in beauty formulations, or the world of sustainability, Tsai wants to lead with data. She’s aware that they have shortcomings as a brand still: not all their packaging is made from waste or recycled materials (some of it is virgin plastic because those are the only materials available), but it’s a work in progress, she argues. “Sustainability is a journey. We are not a perfect company, and I am not a perfect person or CEO, but we are learning as we go, and I think consumers want to go on that journey with us.”
It’s a three-phase program, says Tsai, which is detailed on their website. The first being focused on just collecting data and doing research, followed by determining how it would be best to offset that footprint, and then lastly, having a long-term blueprint to true sustainability. Currently, the company is in the first phase.
“Not every ingredient or component that we use has perfect data to determine the carbon footprint. So just getting comparable data can be a challenge,” she admits. Cocokind turned to a third-party to do these assessments, and determine the Life Cycle Analysis of each of their products.
Going to these lengths, Tsai says, is a bit of a deviation in the beauty industry: “There’s an attitude of ‘this is how it’s done’ in the industry.” Or at least that m has been the case by legacy brands. But sharing formulas and better environmental data should be the new standard, she argues.
“We don’t have anything to hide, and these words we use — natural, clean, sustainable — they need to be backed up. Otherwise, they don’t mean much.”
Because most of Tsai’s customers still buy directly from the Cocokind site, she has the ability to explain the nuances of these issues through her storytelling on the website or their Instagram channel which has over 260,000 followers (and Tsai still responds to many of the messages herself).
She hopes that Cocokind will not just be a storefront online, but also an educational platform that drives decisions in the beauty industry to build in more transparency and eco-friendly practices. “There’s industry-wide implications for this. It’s not just about us.”