Well People Brand Review and Interview
Ok, so I know there are three founders of W3LL PEOPLE, but I actually don’t know that much else. Tell me how it all began.
The funny backstory is that all three of us knew each other our freshman year of college in UT Austin and so...
Did you take a class together, or?
Our stories of how we met are completely different. I think James [Walker] and I met in the cafeteria of our dorm, he thinks we met on the football field. Now, I would never ever be on a football field so I don’t know how he thinks that! He’s like, “Oh, you were walking and I was doing sit-ups.” And I’m like, “I wasn’t ever.” I wasn’t exercising my freshman year of college, so I don’t know if that’s what actually happened, but my freshman year of college is actually a little bit of a blur in general. So same thing with Renee—Dr. Renee Snyder—we met in school, just through friends.
Fast forward from college—we all graduated with our specialities. I was psychology and art therapy, Renee was pre-med and moved on to become a full on MD, and James was an ad guy. I moved to Dallas and started working for NARS, well, started for MAC and then moved on to NARS. Renee went off to Belgium to finish off all of her studies, and you know, become an MD. And James moved to NYC to pursue his career in advertising. Over the years—I mean this was like 1992—so over the years, we stayed in touch. Fast forward to about 2005. James left New York and opened up his own ad agency in Austin, Texas, and one of his first clients was Wholefoods.
Just a small client! [laughing]
Well, back then they were! I mean they were big, but they weren’t what they are now! So it was a really pivotal point for him to take them on because they were growing like gangbusters!
We’re all beauty junkies at heart. I was living in New York at the time and James would come visit me and we would literally go beauty shopping—like fragrance shopping, bronzer shopping, concealer shopping—whatever it was. And it wasn’t always exclusively natural at that point either, but what we did realize was, in partnering with Wholefoods, was that there was this tremendous white space within that beauty department, within the whole body department.
There was nothing…
There was nothing! But the health movement was growing, the fitness movement was growing, people were wanting to make better choices for themselves. But when it came to beauty and skin and hair, there was nothing available for them! And if there was, it didn’t work—it was too heavy, it was too greasy, it didn’t perform to the standards that they expected. And so James approached me and said, “Listen I think we have an opportunity here.” My beauty background—I was with MAC for seven years, working corporately, and then I went to work for NARS for 14 years and I was one of the six original members of their corporate team, from a training and education perspective. James said, “You know retail, you know makeup.” I’ve been a makeup artist for about 27 years and he said, “I think this is something that we can take, we can own this, we can make something good happen.”
The only problem was, I didn’t have faith that natural could work. So my comment to him was that I was on board if it worked. If I could put it in my kit and it could blend seamlessly, then I was down. Let’s make this happen. My own personal journey in making better choices in beauty started with my clients. When they started asking me what a paraben was, you know, we’re talking about early 2000s – like, ‘What’s a paraben?’ ‘Why is mineral oil bad for you?’ All things that seem obvious to us now, weren’t back then, and frankly I didn’t know the answer. I was never trained to speak about ingredients—I was trained to sell an amazing handbag and do an amazing winged eyeliner—but I was not trained to do ingredients in beauty.
I started doing my research and I didn’t like what I found. I made it my mission to create something that would actually work! You know, our brand is almost 10 years old, and I feel like we got it! W3LL PEOPLE products can easily replace a NARS product, can easily replace a Chanel product. It’s there. We’ve proven that we can make it happen and give you something that is good for you.
How did Renee come in?
When the idea started brewing, we were sitting and having margaritas. Renee joins us, and we tell her about what we’re doing. It turned her on beyond belief, and she just wanted to be a part of it. What was really awesome was that she was sick of prescribing Accutane...
Wait, so she’s a dermatologist?
Yes, she is. She’s a cosmetic dermatologist. She’s like, “I’m so sick of prescribing these things to young girls, to adults, when I know they don’t really need them. And when I deny them, I know they’re going to get it elsewhere.” What she was really excited about was that we were providing an alternative. We opened up our studio in Austin, in downtown, and we serviced basically all of Renee’s clients.
So you had clients straight away?
Yes, it was instant! It really boosted our clients, number one, but number two, she would send people to us and you know it was like an elimination diet for makeup. She took them out of all the conventional make up, and she was like, “I want you to go natural. I want you to take oils out of your formulas, what you’re using on your skin, even natural oils for that matter.” So she would prescribe our powder foundation, our skin basics that didn’t create that dryness in the skin, and it frickin’ made a difference. So, it was pivotal on many, many different levels—for her, for us—like, right before our eyes we saw people’s skin change.
"I always lead product development with a conventional product. You know, I go to our chemist and I tell him, 'I want it to feel like this, move like this, breathe like this, but I want you to take all of this crap out of it and make it good for you."
So you started talking about it in 2005, when did the Austin studio doors open?
2008. June 29th.
So it took a long time. Did it take a long time to formulate? Did you work with labs?
Yes, we worked with labs—with one chemist in particular. And we did it ourselves. It took about 2 years to come up with the base line, and now we’ve extended it.
Who came up with the name W3LL PEOPLE?
Margaritas were involved again! [laughing] We were actually sitting with James and his ad team and we were kind of brainstorming. We knew that wellness had to be involved—but that was kind of cheesy and obvious—and W3LL PEOPLE, to us, inspired a mission, inspired a lifestyle. And the ‘three’ within our name is to signify the three founders.
We do everything we do for performance. We’re not just three people with good intentions creating a product with beautiful ingredients. We create a product first from a performance perspective, and then make that INCI deck match.
What’s an INCI deck?
The ingredients! [International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients]
That’s why it takes us twice long, because it may look good, but if that INCI doesn’t work, then no one really cares. And you want it to look good on your skin. I always lead product development with a conventional product. You know, I go to our chemist and I tell him, “I want it to feel like this, move like this, breathe like this, but I want you to take all of this crap out of it and make it good for you.”
So you know, it’s tough.
Are you still a working artist?
I don’t have a lot of time, but I am when I do.
You’re like, ‘technically yes…’
I am when I do! [laughing]
Would you say that you have a signature aesthetic when it comes to makeup?
I do! I am really big on skin. Our signature look is a minimalist look. I pride myself on how I do skin—very, very clean, and glowy and glossy. I just love the texture of skin. Period. And that has translated to what we do.
So, speaking of skin, you’re a color brand, but you recently launched a new serum. Are you so excited?
Tell me, in a world of face oils, what is special about this one? [laughing]
The Bio Booster Serum is brilliant! It’s kind of your everything oil! It’s for all skin types, and it includes broccoli seed oil that feels like, from a texture perspective, silicone—so it’s really smooth and light. You’re going to have the sensation of something very emollient, but it’s not going to have that weight. Somebody who loves hydration, but doesn’t love heaviness on the skin will just love this. It has cumin, it has turmeric, it has rosehip oil, it has sea buckthorn oil—so you’re getting vitamin C benefits from the rosehip oil and sea buckthorn, which is going to help with hyperpigmentation and even out the complexion. It’s a beautiful, beautiful deck of ingredients that’s geared for everybody. What I love about it from a makeup perspective is that I think it primes the skin sensationally, especially right now as glossy skin is big. The shine is back. [laughing] It makes a beautiful primer under the Bio Tint. It’s something that you can incorporate into your everyday routine to add hydration or glow. Whatever you choose, it’s there for you to use as you want.
So, W3LL PEOPLE has evolved enormously. What are the best and most challenging things about growing as a brand?
The best thing about growing as a brand is getting to bear witness of a dream truly coming to life, and bringing amazing people on. And that’s what I get really tearful or emotional about—we have such an amazing team because they believe in our brand as much as we believe in our brand. We are very active within the brand, we really are out there as much as we can, and that really resonates with the public and that resonates within our team. That’s what makes me proud!
What’s really hard is keeping up! You know, we’ve done something right, and it’s growing really, really fast. We’re trying to keep up with that, but also getting to a point where we’re growing beyond our bandwidth. James and I are really good at what we do, but doing it on this national or global level is different—so it’s hard, though I love the opportunities that it brings us and being able to expand the team. What really sucks is just keeping up! We just went through an out of stock situation… and I’m not going to pretend it didn’t exist or happen. It happened because we upgraded our formulas from varying organic content to being 70% organic.
I love the new formulas.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
You know we changed our packaging, we changed our boxes—we think we can do everything, and sometimes you just can’t, and so that’s kind of what happened. In the end, we’ll be better and stronger for it. Our formulas are out of this world BUT those are the pains. We’re coming out of it.
It’s all coming together. That’s awesome! Aside from your amazing team, your brand, what else brings you joy in your life?
My family. We have, my wife and I, we have a 10-month-old son.
Such a fun age!
It is—he grows so fast it’s like a blur. It’s cheesy, and you hear it all the time, but the meaning that he brings to my life has fed my desire to do good all over—from my own health, definitely his health, my wife’s health—it trickles down to my parents because I want them to be around as long as possible for their grandson. You know, and I decided to have a son at the age of 46 so you know it’s like, let’s do this! It’s powered my mission even more! You know, I can’t express it. It fuels everything I do.
What’s your favorite thing to do as a family?
Our favorite...[laughing] My wife owns her own business as well, and so we have a nanny during the day. When the nanny leaves at 6, we feed him and then we have our little dance party. We have our little landing dedicated to him and his toys, and so we crank up the music really loud and he’ll hold onto the side of a chair or in his bed and he dances, he bounces, and we have a dance party! And we dance… That’s my favorite part of every evening! [laughing]
What’s the top tune? What do you like to jam to?
Oh lord, we have distinctly different music choices! He’ll dance, she’ll play, she was doing Beyonce with him, and for me I’ll either play—god what did I play for him the other day? I can’t lie—it might be some cheesy kid music, but I also love, love love love, some full on 80s.
You just busted some good 80s tunes.
It was New Order, it was Blue Monday! So anything, anything.
Brilliant. You have to start them young! Lastly, what does the future hold for W3LL PEOPLE? What’s next?
Everything! More stores, more studios, bigger expansion with partners like The Detox Market, with partners like Target. Our goal is to be accessible to everyone, and building that presence right now is what our mission is. You know, we just lowered our prices by 30% this past July . The reason we did that was there was a blogger that approached us and said, “I love what you do, I love your product, but I can’t afford your product.”
That’s a really tough problem.
Yeah, she said, “I want to do good, I want to use your product, but I just can’t afford it.” And it really hit home, and so we lowered all of our prices across the board by 30%. It was kind of our reward to the consumer for our success. You know, as we grew, the cost of goods went down so we were actually able to lower our prices. That was awesome, and so its made a big difference for us, you know big picture wise. I’d say from a product development perspective and from a brand perspective what’s next is creating a more well-rounded brand. So next year, you’re going to see our best formulations. You’re going to get ones that are wet and dry so that you can get your dewy skin from a powder, and you’re going to see eye shadow pots.
So the idea is to come up with three different pots that have different looks—one is your iconic, one is your smoky eye, and the other is your jewel tone. All within a neutral tone.
So for the woman who wants to be playful and sexy, but she doesn’t want to overdo it. She doesn’t want to look like she just walked off a runway. And then, finally lipstick.
That’s my language. How exciting!
Yeah, just a great classic lipstick. Classic bullet, you know so it’s exciting. It’s really exciting. And we’re working on lip liners.
Oh, our team is going to freak out!
The girls here are the ones that make me start pushing for more. You know, that’s why The Detox Market makes sense for us from a store perspective. You’re here to promote a healthy lifestyle within the wellness and health industry.
Thank you so much Shirley!