Clean up in the beauty department, stat. Lately, it seems like beauty retailers and department stores are in competition to stock the “trendiest” lipsticks and face creams. But, do these brands truly take initiative to see what these products are actually made of? Yes, some have an ingredient list deemed well enough to have a “clean,”all-natural,” and/or “vegan” label, but having a truly clean product is more than just using additives that come from Mother Earth—and Credo Beauty is here to educate the masses.
Founded by beauty veterans Annie Jackson and Shashi Batra in 2014, Credo has become the antithesis of everything we’ve been trained to accept from cosmetics retailers. The brainchild of the late Batra is now being led in full-force byJackson, who puts each and every brand through an intensive microscope—testing, background checks, and all—to make sure they go above and beyond the ultra-low bar for clean, safe products.
“It’s so counterintuitive for a beauty product to be bad for you,” says Jackson. That one sentence rings too true, and yet so many brands continue to use plethoras of harmful synthetics under the guise of millennial pink packaging and simple Helvetica fonts. Below, we talk to Jackson about Credo’s mission, the future of clean beauty, and more.
Why did you decide to start Credo Beauty?
“I started Credo with Shashi Batra, who I’ve worked with since 1997. We were at Sephora together before we had even opened up Credo, so we kind of credit everything we experienced at Sephora as the catalyst to start Credo. Sephora was already well-established in Europe at the time, so when we started in the North American branch, we assumed all of those big-name, conventional brands would go there. But back then, these brands had (and still do) very strong connections with retail department stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s, so they all said no. We really had to scramble—and this was pre-internet era—so what we found were all of these indie brands (before they became as huge as they are now ) like Peter Thomas Roth, Hard Candy, and Urban Decay. What Sephora ended up being was one of the best things that could have ever happened, because there was this pent-up demand for smaller brands that were totally undiscovered.
“Shashi was really the vision behind Credo. He passed away in May 2017, but it was really his idea. He was the President of Beauty over at Victoria’s Secret for a short period of time and wanted to have an organic beauty line in PINK, and he always laughed that it was his ‘biggest failure.’ He had the vision for wanting cleaner ingredients in beauty products and more sustainable packaging, but it was just for the wrong customer at the wrong time. They just weren’t interested in it. But doing that really sparked the interest in him to keep going. We started Credo in 2014, and we really had an earnest start. We opened our first store in 2015 in San Francisco, right on Fillmore Street. We really wanted to create a platform for brands that were really conscientiously formulating and creating products that were not only good for us, but good for the planet. That was really the idea from day one.”
During the time of Shashi’s first experimentation with clean beauty, people were just starting to become conscious about what’s in their food. Do you think there’s a correlation between the two?
“Food was really the impetus that got Shashi thinking. Coming from beauty and devoting so much time and our whole careers to the industry, he started thinking that it was the last spoke of the wheel. You can use 20 different products in a day, especially when you think about showering and all of the cosmetics going on your face daily. The accumulation of those chemicals can really impact your health.
“What’s changed about beauty and retail is that these brands were obviously inspired and run by driven founders that wanted to make change. They didn’t want to go to Sephora or Ulta because they were looking to align with someone that had that same values as they did”
Lately, the shopping experience at other retailers has become exhausting—most beauty stores are just over-saturated with products, and it’s anxiety-inducing ng. Credo has a more selective feel to it.
“Exactly. We went to the new Sephora store at Hudson Yards, and it was overwhelmingly large. We really work hard to be selective and not flood the store with more product just for the sake of having the next name brand. We’re merchants at heart, so we really want to choose the highest degree of clean beauty brands out there.”
How does the vetting process work at Credo? What’s the “Credo standard” to you?
“We came up with the restricted substance list when we first started—we call it our ‘dirty ingredient list.’ In a very practical level, brands have to be compliant with that. But beyond that, the product has to actually work. It has to do what it says it does, it has to smell nice, it has to have great sustainable packaging, and it has to fill a white space in the store. That was kind of the initial vetting process.
“Back in April 2018, we rolled out our ‘Credo Clean Standard,’ which goes beyond the restricted substance list. It’s about making sure that the brands Credo carries can back up the claims that they’re making. The ingredient list of a product isn’t time for marketing terminology. We also look at whether they’re working with contract manufacturers that follow good manufacturing processes and treat their workers respectfully and ethically, and if these brands’ ingredients are sustainably sourced. But, the poster child of the bullshit in the beauty industry, in our perspective, is the word ‘fragrance.’ We felt that we needed to push our brands to fully disclose what they’re using for their ‘fragrances.’ You shouldn’t be walking into a Credo, or any other store, turn over the box, and see the word ‘fragrance,’ and have to guess whether it’s synthetic or natural. We just want everyone to be transparent with the customer.
“We gave our brands 18 months to comply with our standards. Many of them were already compliant, but quite a few needed to work through new, updated packaging to meet our standards. We just don’t want our customers to have to play a guessing game with their products. What we’ve learned from rolling out the ‘Credo Clean Standard’ is who’s really walking the walk with us. It’s not just about window dressing.”
Credo has become one of the largest online and in-store beauty retailers of the moment. With this major blow-up, how do you make sure that Credo stays true to its original initiatives?
“We’re actually still a really small team; we’re still 20 people in San Francisco. Growing and opening stores is not for the faint of heart; it’s very capital-intensive and requires a lot of work. So, we’re growing at a measured pace. If there’s one thing I learned from my years in beauty, it’s that protecting your brand is key. We started it; I’m Credo, my kids are Credo, we really live and breathe this brand. It’s been personally transformative for me because these brands are really doing good work. They’re sourcing plant ingredients, they’re working hard to formulate their products in a way that all of the major brands copped out on because it’s hard and expensive. But they believe in it. We haven’t changed our mission from day one, and we want people to change the way they look at the products they use every day. I know that an organic apple is better than chips and other processed foods, and the same logic applies to our makeup. People are finally getting it and thinking about the toxins in their products.
“People ask us all the time how we feel about other retailers dabbling into clean beauty, and in one sense, we love it. It does bring some awareness to customers. But, I’m curious about the fact that you’re shopping in an environment and there are ‘good for you’ ingredients on one side, and there’s no explanation about the rest. I do get frustrated when there’s a marketing layer. It just says it’s clean, but what makes it clean? What are you standing for, and can you articulate what your standards are? Even smaller brands label themselves as ‘clean’ but never disclose through what standards make them that way. Your customer wants and needs to know why you chose to sell certain brands, and on what criteria. It’s a love-frustration relationship, because there needs to be more transparency.”
The problem I see is that the beauty community says that they care, but there are still some extremely popular brands that don’t follow ethical measures, whether it’s their ingredients or their packaging. While most of use know better than to buy these products, many teenagers don’t know better and buy whatever their favorite influencer is promoting. How can we teach younger shoppers about smart shopping?
“It’s funny, because most people are educated on these issues at this point. That’s the disconnect for me, because if you think about the conventional beauty brands that have been around for a long time, you realize that they weren’t intentionally using ingredients that are questionable or could potentially cause harm. They just didn’t know any better. But knowing everything we know now, why would anyone create a product with ingredients that are known to cause harm? How could people be okay with a bunch of toxic synthetics in their products? These billion-dollar businesses could create so much change for the better, but we’re not here to disparage any other brands.
“I think, for us, what we do like to do for customers is to bridge the gap for them. I think the hardest part is to chip away at the misconception that these clean formulas don’t work. You shouldn’t be sacrificing something if you’re going from conventional to clean beauty, so what we usually do is we find products that match up to the conventional brands. You’ll get the same color payoff, with clean ingredients. We’re not anti-synthetic; we’re anti-bad-for-you synthetics. We’re fine with the marriage of synthetic and natural ingredients, assuming that everything is good for you. And for those who believe all synthetics are bad, don’t get stuck on the idea that all natural ingredients are good: Arsenic is natural, too. It feels good to use a product that you know isn’t harming you or the environment. It’s so counterintuitive for a beauty product to be bad for you.”
Throughout your career in the beauty industry, what have you learned?
“I feel like I lucked into beauty. I started when I was 19, and I ended up at Estee Lauder by pure necessity. There was an administrative job, and I got very lucky and grew at the company from there on. They were a fantastic company to work for, and I think going from there to Sephora, to Benefit, and to other companies in my career, I came to a big realization when we started Credo. We didn’t even have an office; Shashi and I were just on the phone with brands and sussing out the space. More than a few times I found myself saying to him, ‘all these years we spent in beauty, and not once did anybody stop and question what’s in all of this stuff.’ There was one big dermatologist brand that had hydroquinone in it, and I remember coming into Shashi’s office and telling him that it’s a potential carcinogen. He looked at me with a grief-stricken face and we just stared at each other for a while. It was the first time that it really hit us.
“When you think about it, the whole experience of beauty is emotional: When you walk into a store with your friends and buy lip gloss, it should be fun. It should be quick, easy, and fulfilling. We don’t want to shame people about their past purchases, but if you want to tap into the intellectual side of things and learn, we have the resources for you to do so. We hope to feed customers the knowledge that they want and are ready for to empower them to make their own decisions.
“We get a lot of questions about preservatives, which is a major hot topic at the moment, and we get a lot of questions about us allowing Phenoxyethanol in our products. It’s a preservative system that we’re confident in the safety of if it’s less than one percent. The flip side of that is that, if it isn’t in your product, you could open a mask and it could be covered in gross bacteria. It’s always been our philosophy to give you the information on the ingredients, but it’s up to you to ultimately decide whether you want to use it in your routine or not. We’ve always tried to not jam what we believe down people’s throats because it is beauty, and at the end of the day, beauty should make you feel good.”
Beauty has also, in a sense, transformed into a self-care ritual. It’s become very therapeutic to people, especially when you look at skincare.
“We didn’t set out to create a lifestyle brand, but that’s definitely what it’s become. What we found is opening stores and being in the neighborhoods that we’re in has formed us into a local shop to stop by. If you’re coming out of the gym and you see a Credo store a few doors down, you’re going to want to come in. They’re all near areas of exploration and typically have stores that align with who our shoppers are as a person.”
The growth of the beauty industry really has a lot to do with the internet and social media, don’t you think?
“Oh, for sure, because you’re able to sit in the comfort of your home and research if you want to. What’s so important to us is that the founders of the 120-ish brands had some sort of change in their life that pushed them to create these brands, and to see them grow is exciting. They’re doing amazing work, and it’s so great that they have an outlet for people around the country to be able to find them.”
Another interesting change is that people are beginning to lose their trust in dermatologists, especially since a few are paid sponsors for brands. Who can we trust now?
“If you go to the dermatologist’s office, you see all of these big expensive names sitting in the cases by the front desk. But at what price? Even if it clears up your complexion or guards you from sun rays, your skin is still fully capable of absorbing a carcinogen. We’re willingly putting those on our faces, but the general public also doesn’t know about the dangers of these additives.”
How would you define clean beauty?
“For us, it’s the Credo Clean Standard. It’s the marriage of not including any toxic or harmful chemicals, sustainable sourcing practices, product safety, legitimate marketing, and being honest about everything you do or add to a product. It’s all of these things put together; it’s not just based on an ingredient list, it goes well beyond that to truly be clean.”
What’s the one thing that the beauty industry is doing right, and where is it flawed?
“What we’re really loving right now is the inclusivity factor happening in the industry. It took everyone a really long time to get there, but I don’t think there’s enough, even in clean beauty. I think these brands are small, and it’s expensive, so they have a hard time investing in shades for everyone. But it’s not acceptable, and our dream is creating a store that truly is for everyone. We’re not an exclusive club, everyone can shop at Credo. We really want to have something for everyone, and there is a lot of room to grow. But, overall, nobody should be left out of the conversation.”
It’s really expensive to create foundations with 50+ shade ranges, that’s why only major conglomerates can create them. But, the problem is that these brands aren’t using clean ingredients; it’s a lose-lose situation right now.
“And it shouldn’t be like that. We’re pushing hard and saying no to brands that only have three shades of concealer. It’s a terrible experience to have someone tell you that your shade isn’t available there. We’re in big, progressive, and innovative cities, and they’re very diverse places, so it’s not okay to only supply a few shades of the same color. And why bother making fifty shades of beige?
“What I hate the most is when brands tell me, ‘These are the shades that sell.’ Absolutely never give me that excuse. When you’re a brand straight out of the gate with six shades of the same color of foundation, you’re neglecting multiple communities and you automatically lose their trust. They’ve said goodbye to you already, so you can’t just buy them back by treating them as an afterthought.”
People somehow still look at inclusion, as well as “clean beauty,” as temporary trends. How can we instill them to become permanent standards in the industry?
“Whether we’re doing business with them today or we’re planning on working with them in the future, if a brand is thinking about launching a foundation, we tell them to not bother unless they have a good range of shades. We already have enough of the same-old stuff covered, we don’t need anymore beige. We’re pushing brands hard to come out with more.”
Where do you see the future of beauty going?
“I think we’ve done a whole transformation back to retail. Digital and retail now work in harmony and support one another. So, I do think your return to retail is coming. We’ve really had great growth in both places. “I do think we’re going to see more conventional beauty brands reformulating to clean, which is very exciting. It’s the endgame; it’s exactly what we set out to do, to spark that push for change. Now, we’ll see how the customer responds to it. When it comes to the Credo shopper, she’s voting with her wallet. So we’re also hoping that one day brands are able to scale their prices down, because I do know that there’s a lot more room for friendlier prices. These brands are sourcing the highest quality ingredients, but they’re pretty small businesses, so they don’t have the ability to lower their prices just yet. But, this need for clean beauty is not a niche thing, especially when you see companies like Target and CVS really dedicating to the cause.”
What are some of your favorite beauty products and brands of the moment?
“I love Josh Rosebrook, EVOLVh Haircare—I think haircare is really the next subsect of beauty that’s on the precipice of exploding. I also really like Indie Lee, Marie Veronique, the eyeliner from Ere Perz, and Ilia’s mascara. I feel like color cosmetics really have an opportunity for growth right now, but it’s really difficult to formulate using all clean ingredients and color.”
What’s your go-to beauty routine?
“For skincare, I use the Osea Ocean Cleanser and Saint Jane’s CBD Serum—it’s one of the few products that truly gets me excited. It’s cushiony and smells like rose, but every now and then you can get that light hint of weed. Then, I’ll use the Josh Rosebrook Nutrient Day Cream Tinted and mix it together with Ilia’s Tinted Moisturizer.
“For my hair, I use the EVOLVh Shampoo and Conditioner andReverie’s Mare Mediterranean Sea Mist, then let my hair air dry.”