We have spent the last 2 weeks in the US looking at the best of retail. For us that covers technology companies like Facebook or Google, who are shaping the face of commerce, as well as up-and-coming retailers who are challenging their individual industries. San Francisco-based ‘clean’ cosmetics and skincare retailer, Credo, fits in the latter camp.

What is Credo Beauty?


Credo COO Annie Jackson (centre) and Director of Marketing, Lydia Harter in their San Francisco store

Credo Beauty is probably best described as the ‘anti-Sephora’. They are focused on the ‘clean beauty’ category (expected to be worth US$24B (+8% CAGR) by 2024*). Like most revolutionary retailers these days, they started online, but with a clear positioning that provides guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable for them to stock, but before we go there – let us explain a couple of things about the make-up industry and why ‘clean beauty’ has become such a big thing:

  1. Your skin is your biggest organ. So, what you put on it ends up in your system/ bloodstream. Don’t believe us just remember people use Nicotine patches…on their skin to manage their smoking addiction.
  2. Petrochemicals are in a majority of cosmetics (yes, you heard right). They are used as a means to extend the shelf life of products. However commercially successful this decision may have been, science is increasingly proving they’re probably not the best things to be putting on your largest organ.
  3. And there’s the other chemical ingredients – like Diazolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin, both of which tend to release formaldehyde, and are common in many cosmetic products. These chemicals have been known to cause headaches, irritation of the mucous membranes, and cause damage to the eyes.

So, back to Credo. They’ve set themselves up in a part of the market that’s growing fast and at a time when consumers are changing their preferences (as we learn time and time again – timing is everything). What’s great about Credo is they strike the middle ground in beauty – balancing efficacy (aka will it work) with clear rules around what’s ok and what’s not.

Too often people make the mistake of taking the ‘holier than though’ approach, where they essentially become strict rule keepers telling the consumer what they should (or should not) be doing. The problem with this is that human behaviour is not black and white; rather it’s heavy with conflict and nuance. This is something that Credo understands and underpins why they haven’t taken a black and white approach to their concept (as we’ll discuss below).

Our Interview with Annie and Lydia from Credo:

We were lucky enough to talk to Credo Beauty’s COO, Annie Jackson, and Director of Marketing, Lydia Harter, at their flagship San Francisco store. Asking them about the key to their success and where their future lies.

Q. So what’s the focus of Credo Beauty?

Credo: “We do have a smattering of body care, hair, sun, fragrance but for the most part our focus is skincare and colour. Most of the products in the store are from licensed aestetians or make-up artists and we have a Tata Harper (well-known organic skincare brand) spa – intact we have three spas across the current network (5 stores) and they’re all designed very differently according to the vibe of the store – this one was modelled after Tata’s farm in Vermont. All the protocols are developed by Tata Harper and then the staff are trained using these protocols.”

Q: Was this always part of the plan to join forces with Tata Harper? 

Credo: “We aligned with Tata Harper very strategically because they had the most brand awareness in our space and considered her the gold standard in natural beauty. It’s worked out perfectly. She (Tata Harper) is ECOCERT certified, 100% natural, the products work and they are totally vertical so she supports our ethos of complete traceability from the source ingredient all the way to filling the bottle.”

Q: So how do you judge what’s right or wrong for Credo to stock?

Credo: “Yes, so we have a our Dirty Ingredients Standard (here if you want to check it out: https://credobeauty.com/pages/dirty-ingredients). First stop is everybody has to comply with that list but then the next is that the product says it’s going to do what it say it will do, and that it fills a white space in store.

We also evaluate the brands as a dynamic, looking at the founder (and it as a whole). That’s because for customers today, especially in the states, it’s more of a considered purchase and from a conscious standpoint they want to know who was that person that created the brand, what do they stand for, why did they create it, what’s their story… so every single one of the brands in Credo has a founder that we work very closely with – we’ve video taped many of them on our website, and collaborate on events in our stores every week and usually the founder is there talking about why they created what they’ve created.”

Q:  It can be such a blurred line between organic/natural and conventional – how did you come up with your Dirty Ingredients Standards? 

Credo: “For those of us in the space, we are creating our own definition of “clean” since there is no legal definition for ‘clean’ or ‘natural’. At Credo clean means that many of our brands are all natural or using a combination of plant and synthetic ingredients. We are not opposed to synthetic ingredients assuming they are safe synthetic ingredients.

We created our Dirty Ingredient list (which continues to evolve) working with an ingredient expert and formulator and referencing ‘Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ environmental working group, David Suzuki (Canadian Scientist) etc. We took all those collectively and then looked at how they apply to our world. You can get companies that go crazy with these long lists and you think (as a consumer)  ‘god that’s crazy’ but maybe 50% of what they say really applies to what they’re selling. So it’s a bit misleading, and if you look at our Dirty Ingredient List we basically put it into categories where we’ll say ‘no doubt about it these ingredients are really nasty so stay away from them no matter what’ but you’ll still find them in conventional makeup, then there’s the bucket of things that are bad but you’ll never find in anywhere (they haven’t been used in these products for a long time, even though they get heaps of media attention).

As we learn and grow, and the space evolves we try to share our knowledge with our customers. For us first and foremost we’re a beauty store, we want people to come in because they want beautiful brands, and our staff are ingredient experts as well as make-up artists and/or aesthetician. If you want deeper information or knowledge (as a consumer) our staff are really well trained and they know their stuff. You can get the information if you want it, but if you just want to buy a beautiful lip-gloss that’s cool too.”

Q: Have you found that your customer is becoming more fluent in the ingredients list and doing their research too?

Credo: “Yes, for sure. Of the people that walk in this store, we feel that they are really savvy about reading ingredient labels etc. But to our earlier point a lot of the time they’ll come in looking for ingredients that you hear about but wont necessarily see listed on an ingredient label (like formaldehyde is called Dehydrolised Urea) or even used anymore in cosmetics. So they’re pretty savvy, still seeking more information.  It is also challenging if they read one inaccurate blog and get really invested in that point of view. So we need to work hard to give our staff confidence in their knowledge because there is a lot of misinformation out there.”

Q: On that point, how are you keeping your staff educated on this information – given this is an area that’s knowledge intense and continually changing?

Credo: “We do a tremendous amount of brand training, so our team will have brands in our stores all the time doing training. Before a store opens we dedicate a significant amount of time on brand training and use other experts to provide a solid foundation of knowledge in formulation concepts, reading ingredient lists, and understanding preservative systems. This part is on-going, and a cornerstone of who we are.”

Q. Given clean beauty is growing rapidly (though still small compared to conventional beauty) do you think the beauty industry will catch up to this movement?

A: “On the conventional side we haven’t seen a lot happen where new products are introduced or ingredient philosophies have changed to meet the demand in clean beauty products. We see some activity where some of the smaller natural/clean brands are getting capital or acquired.

Retailers like Sephora, Nordstrom and Blue Mercury have carved out space for natural beauty as part of their stores. Many of the brands that they showcase in these features are not really natural however so it furthers consumer confusion.”

Q. So the future of Credo, where are you headed?

A: “We’ll our mission is to change the way people think about the products they are using everyday. The way to do this is create a place they can try and explore and have resources in terms of ingredient information. We currently have 5 stores in the states and are about to open our 6th in Boston. We will continue to open stores in communities where we see alignment in the way they live their life and know there is demand for a store like Credo.”

Q. Do you see any of these stores being international? 

A: “Maybe, but we still have so many markets still here in the United States that are ready for a Credo.”

Q. How are you picking the neighbourhood where you open stores – is it the type of consumer in the area?

A: “Yes, when we started this we could identifying many different markets that we thought would be ready for a Credo. We opened our Chicago store on July 20th and the incredible positive results were really telling. The customer is very open to clean beauty and there seems to be a lot of interest for the brands and what they stand for. It’s been fun, interesting and a great indicator for other cities in the States.”

Q. Have you found that the Credo customer is the same in each area or different?  

A: “Our customer is 25-40 years old on average. She lives a busy life, exercises and eats organically. Credo is in communities where relationships are built with the people living in these neighbourhoods and spreads the word to their friends and family. They are wonderful advocates of our stores and staff.”

Q. Finally, do you find that your online customer is the same as you store customer? 

A: “Yes. But we able to cultivate that relationship in such a specific way around the products she likes, and her shopping habits since the information is so much easier to access.”

Keen to visit.

We’ll be heading back to the US in January to visit and more a retail tour (plus attend the National Retail Federations Big Show), if you to register your interest email us enquire@retailoasis.com

Otherwise if you’re in San Francisco, NYC, Chicago, Boston, Brooklyn or just shopping online, check out Credo Beauty here: www.credobeauty.com

*Source: Formula Botanica https://formulabotanica.com/global-organic-beauty-market-22bn-2024/



Author Pippa Kulmar

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