Why It’s So Hard to Make Affordable, Clean Beauty Products, According to Captain Blankenship’s Founder
"The cost of formulating with organic ingredients that are grown in the earth is undeniably more expensive than products that use cheap synthetics which are made in a lab and can be endlessly replicated at a low cost."
Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they’ve learned on the job.
Jana Blankenship couldn't find the clean beauty products she wanted to use, so she started mixing her own in her kitchen. Eventually, through a ton of experimenting with essential oils and plant-based ingredients, she landed on the formulas for Captain Blankenship, her clean beauty brand that's sold in stores like Detox Market, Sephora, Follain, and Target.
Even though her luxurious but clean formulas have reached cult-status in the green beauty space, Blankenship hasn't abandoned her DIY ethos that helped her kickstart her brand. She just released Wild Beauty, a book of natural beauty product recipes meant to inspire people who prioritize ethical, clean ingredients to start creating their own products.
Here, we caught up with Blankenship to find out how she turned her homemade products into a bona fide business, the challenges of making affordable clean beauty products, and more.
How did you get your start in the beauty industry?
I was a kid who liked to make potions who ended up mixing my mother's perfumes together and giving myself a lifelong sensitivity to synthetic fragrance. I abandoned my love of alchemy until I discovered natural perfumery when I was living in Northern California in my early 20s. I studied with the amazing natural perfumer Mandy Aftel and dove in headfirst. From there, I also studied herbalism, soap-making, and read every book about plant-based products I could get my hands on. I fell in love with the rich palette of essential oils and plant-based ingredients and started to experiment making my own products in my kitchen. The line developed very intuitively from my desire to create clean beauty products I couldn't find elsewhere, and it initially just grew through word of mouth.
What was your initial inspiration for the brand?
I wanted to create the best beauty products possible made with organic plant-based ingredients at an accessible price point. Our motto at Captain Blankenship is "Beauty wild with nature." Nature is my source of inspiration for everything we create. I always say you will find the ocean, forests, and fields in every bottle. Harnessing the intelligence of nature by using the best organic plant-based ingredients and lush, experiential essential-oil based scents is the key to everything we create at Captain Blankenship.
What was it like transitioning from making products in your kitchen to selling them at stores like Target?
It was a real adventure to say the least. After making small batches in my kitchen, we ended up finding our own manufacturing space to scale up production and then, when the quantities kept growing, we formed a relationship with a wonderful organic beauty manufacturer. They really saved us when it came to production for the Sailor by Captain Blankenship line we launched in Target. I always tell other natural beauty founders whose companies are just getting off the ground, the hardest thing to find is a good manufacturer. We feel really lucky that we found one from day one that understood the vision of the company and the integrity of the ingredients.
How many versions does it take until you reach the formula that’s sold in stores?
It usually takes at least five tries until I am happy with it, but sometimes it can take more. Working on a formula is like working on art: You keep working on it and taking breaks and coming back to it with new ideas. I feel grateful that I get to test on my team of six beautiful women at Captain Blankenship who aren't afraid to give honest and critical feedback. When we are working on something new, I literally feel steeped in it for months if not years. When it is done, it is definitely a cause for celebration.
What some misconceptions you think people still have about green beauty?
There are two misconceptions that arise often around green beauty. First, people think they can't find an equivalent to their beloved conventional product, but that just isn't the case anymore. If you visit clean beauty specialty stores like The Detox Market, Credo, and Follain, I promise you will find the swap you are looking for in skincare, haircare, bodycare, makeup and more. Also, people think that it is not economical to switch to green beauty. Just like conventional beauty, with green beauty there is a range. You can buy a $150 face moisturizer but you can also find an effective one for $15. In this culture of more is more is more, we use too many beauty products which isn't good for our skin or our wallet. If we can find the right products, stick with them and use them daily and consciously, we will save money, and our skin, hair, and body will thank us.
Today, there are so many green brands on the market but a lot of them are expensive. What makes it hard to formulate or sell clean products at affordable price points?
I have always tried to keep our products at the most affordable price point as possible, but it is very hard. The cost of formulating with organic ingredients that are grown in the earth is undeniably more expensive than products that use cheap synthetics which are made in a lab and can be endlessly replicated at a low cost. We also choose to use sustainable packaging (glass, compostable tubes, and 100 percent recycled harvested ocean-bound plastic), which costs more than virgin plastic but is worth it to us and the environment. Certainly in the green beauty space there are brands that mark up their products 2,000 percent, but that isn't us. It's not to say those products aren't worth the price tag, but to us, we have always wanted our products to have integrity and be effective, but also not carry a high price tag.
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What products are you most proud of creating?
I have to say our trio of Mermaid Hair Care Products: Mermaid Dry Shampoo, Sea Salt Hair Spray, and Hair Oil, which were some of the first products I made. I know I live by them every day to get effortless hair full of body, life, and texture, and I know how many of our customers do as well. I am really proud of creating these products that have stood the test of time and also bring ritual and pleasure to people's days. They look, feel, and smell amazing and do their job well. We are also launching shampoo and conditioner this winter and am very proud of what we have created. I can't wait to share them with you!
What inspired your book Wild Beauty, and what advice do you have for people who want to DIY their own products?
I have always wanted to write a book. My passion is education and I love talking about clean ingredients. Wild Beauty felt like the right way to reach people to educate them about everything from what a toner is, how to read an ingredient list to how to make all of their own beauty products. I really wanted it to be a very practical primer full of anecdotes and information that is engaging and would immediately be put to use. I feel like I got to where I am now by really following my nose and I advise others to do so as well when it comes to DIY products. The 45 recipes I have created in this book are a suggestion, but I always recommend that people experiment and make them their own in time. Maybe it means a drop more of this or less of that to make it smell the way you like, I really want these recipes to become beloved and become yours.