Evolve Botanica began in the wild woods of Pennsylvania, where a young girl raptly studied all the flora, and fauna that her grandmother taught her. With a focus on combining plant-based skincare with modern chemistry, the company began in earnest over 18 years ago.
We chat with the brand’s founder Jennifer to find out how she’s brought together the best of both worlds into a clean, cruelty-free brand that’s found success across borders.
‘It all began with my Grand-Mère taking us back to the roots and teaching us about plants, different poultices, and how to make soaps. I used to steal strawberries and things from Mom’s garden to make different face masks and things. It really started from there.’
A chemist by trade, Jennifer naturally gravitated toward the world of labs and technology prior to founding her own skincare brand. ‘The chemical side of things, that’s what skincare truly is. It’s chemistry. Evolve gave me the ability to explore both the modern technology side, as well as the natural homeopathic side of things. This is a really nice joining and merging of both.’
When it came to expanding the business, Jennifer admits it was never something she had planned for from the outset. ‘Cross-border expansion kind of fell into our lap organically. Just from the production side of things, contract manufacturing is how it really expanded, to begin with. Then we started with two of our biggest clients based in Canada.’
‘There are all these border issues you have to learn, how do you register with that ministry of health, and that one etc. It’s why we didn’t originally intend on pursuing it, but as we started working with our Canadian customers, we really saw that it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be. As we started expanding out, we then had a customer in the UK approach us. We never intentionally thought to expand, it really came as customers found us. We had to figure out how to work here, and there, and that’s how it started.’
Skincare and beauty brands face their own specific challenges when it comes to overseas expansion, which Jennifer admits was a learning curve for the brand.
‘Skincare going across borders is something else. There are so many specific regulations with how each country handles what is accepted, what products are allowed, how you have to have your labels done. Your weight in ounces, down to actually the very size of the font, and the readability. Going into Canada, for example, your ingredient labels must be in English and in French. Every country has its own very specific rules for skincare. It’s not like sending printed t-shirts where it’s just a commodity. Skincare is a whole different beast. You really have to learn what those very specific retail challenges are from both the retailers, and for yourself as you’re exporting that product into different countries.’
‘Italy, for example, is one country where the products have to be registered with the ministry of health. That’s a pretty hefty price for customers who are ordering from different countries. The product ships and they’re dinged with these registration fees for the product, not even tax. It’s pretty cost-prohibitive in some countries. And it’s not just on you to understand what you need to do — you have to educate your buyers on the processes they have to go through when they’re importing skincare products into their country, too. It’s definitely the biggest challenge for our industry.’
Jennifer shares how Evolve inadvertently became its own family business, ‘My son basically grew up with the company. I was pregnant with him when I started it and now he works for me full-time while he’s going to school. He oversees shipping and the wholesale side of things as far as making sure everything goes out, and overseeing our pickers and packers.’
On the team behind Evolve Botanica, Jennifer keeps things lean. ‘I oversee most of the higher end cosmetic production. I still like getting in there and getting my hands dirty because I love the process itself. I can’t get enough of it because chemistry is what gets me excited. We’ve got about four or five people on production, four of which are full time, and we’ve got one or two floaters who do the finished work on the product. Whether that’s the labelling, the impulse sealing, all the vacuum seals on the products themselves, down to the fine minutiae. We’ve got three or four part-timers who come in and do the picking and packing. We also have some sales reps, too, who do our wholesale stuff and our store visits.’
As far as what makes a successful team, bigger isn’t always better. ‘We’ve got a pretty healthy team. We can produce and put out a lot of our stuff pretty quickly with the small team that we have. So, I’m pretty proud of how we’ve grown. We’ve got a really great team. You’ve got to really make sure you like the people you hire and that work for you, cos’ you’re spending a lot of time with those people. The people are definitely the biggest part of what we do. I’d definitely say we’re like a family, me maybe a little bit more literally than some others. The team for sure is so important.’
In terms of how CREOATE fit into Evolve’s journey, Jennifer says the platform really helped accelerate their global expansion. As far as her advice to fellow business owners looking to go global:
‘Listen, communicate, and collaborate. We have so many partners and have made so many relationships just from the other small businesses that we’ve grown up around too. We started by selling our products in the farmer’s market world. I have relationships with the farmers that grow the produce and herbs that we use. I’ve been working with them from the start, and some of these relationships are over 18 years old. They’ve grown with us, and it’s important to have that backbone and connection — not just with people in your niche, either. It’s so valuable to have other businesses in your community that you can talk to, and safely vent at or throw ideas out there. You never know what connections you’re gonna make with it. Whether you’re talking with somebody about this particular product, or maybe you’re doing a gift box or a giveaway set, and you figure out these would be great products to partner up together. If you hadn’t talked to somebody and made those relationships, that’s an avenue that you could have completely missed. You really don’t know who you’re talking to, so just keep talking.’