Alex Kummerow bought Julia Wills a soap-making kit back in 2011 as a gift, and the couple’s interest in creating natural skincare products was launched. Eight years later, the husband-and-wife team’s Seattle-based Herbivore is a leading player in the ever-evolving beauty industry, and on Monday announced a $15 million funding round.
Herbivore’s range of products and retail footprint have come a long way from the days of Wills making soap in the kitchen of her apartment and selling it on Etsy. Today, using all natural, organic ingredients, tested only on people, Herbivore sells more than 35 different items ranging from skincare to bath and body. Products are available in more than 500 retail locations globally, with its big break coming in 2015 when the multinational beauty chain Sephora came calling.
Bootstrapped since the start, and thriving behind a robust social media presence, including 450,000 followers on Instagram, Herbivore is now poised for more growth.
“Skincare was the initial category to embrace clean beauty, and Herbivore was one of the original brands helping to pioneer that movement,” Kummerow, who serves as co-CEO along with Wills, said in a news release. “We are eager to leverage this capital infusion to expand our manufacturing capabilities and increase brand awareness through digital and in-store marketing.”
Wills called it a “tremendously exciting time for Herbivore” and added that the company is “well-positioned for strategic and meaningful growth as we continue to solidify our standing as a category leader in clean skincare.”
The investment was led by the venture and growth equity firm Silas Capital, with participation from Stage 1 Fund. Silas has also backed ILIA Beauty, HATCH, Boll & Branch, Bellroy, Casper, Naadam, Summersalt and Lord Jones.
Herbivore is seizing on a shift in the beauty industry that has seen rapid change since the days of dominant, larger corporations selling only in department stores.
In a report last month, the retail analytics firm Edited called out the growth of direct-to-consumer beauty brands, enabled by social channels, email marketing and shoppable apps. The rise of influencers was also credited as well as the notion that “transparency-minded consumers are far more savvy about what’s going into products” as they help fuel the estimated $532 billion beauty industry.
Direct-to-consumer beauty juggernaut Glossier, which recently reached unicorn status, popped into Seattle with a shop in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood this past spring. The billion-dollar company started as a blog and grew into an online business, targeting younger customers who follow the brand on social channels.
Seattle also gave rise earlier this year to Gemma Labs, a Pioneer Square Labs spinout that sells custom-formulated shampoos.
But not everything has a beautiful ending, as was the case with Julep, the once high-flying online cosmetics startup. Acquired in 2016 by a parent company that eventually filed for bankruptcy, Julep laid off more than 100 people, closed its parlors and shut down its Seattle headquarters this year.