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Behind the Brand: Conor Riley of Luxie Beauty

By Robin Tolkan-Doyle, Beauty Editor

Log onto Luxie Beauty’s Instagram page and you’ll immediately get swept into the endless stream of artistically styled makeup brush photography showcasing beautiful pink handles, gleaming rose gold ferrules and feather soft bristles. The interspersed shots and video tutorials of beauty influencers demonstrating their artistic self-expression twirling Luxie brushes in their hands can hypnotically make just about any beauty lover with a credit card click “order”. If only Luxie brushes were around for Michelangelo! Upon first inspection, it’s easy to assume Luxie is just another makeup tool brand, profiting off an ever-burgeoning beauty industry. However, if you dive a little deeper into the brand history, you’ll learn that Luxie is actually built on a well-defined moral code and is the world’s first 100% vegan and cruelty-free makeup brush brand. When Luxie Beauty founder, Tammy Huynh, wanted to scale the business that she created out of a desire to offer the world an ethical, waste-free alternative, she knew she had to find someone whose core values aligned with her own. San Francisco-based, business visionary, Conor Riley, happily joined her crusade and for the last three years as the CEO, he has helped turn Luxie into an unparalleled leader in the beauty industry setting the standard of what it truly means to be an ethical, sustainable and high-quality brand.


Your role as CEO of Luxie Beauty over the last three years has really helped position the brand into a category all its own, as a vegan beauty brand that puts the planet and its creatures first. Have you always worked in the beauty industry?

No, I started my career in finance and working in venture capital and private equity. Then I went sailing on a sailboat down in Mexico and I got to explore reefs and hung out with fish and communed with nature that way. It was so magical. I was still working on a part-time basis on some projects that interest me discovered Luxie, which was founded by Tammy Huynh, who wanted to do something in cruelty-free, vegan synthetic brushes. But way back in 2014, that difficult to do. A lot of the synthetic brushes were essentially just plastic brushes that clump, that abraded, that weren't soft, that were not necessarily that great at picking up product. She wanted to do something that was a little different in this space. And that got me really excited. So we teamed up and I got off the boat and came to San Jose.

How long were you on this boat?

Five years. It was a sailboat, an Islander 36. It’s like a floating apartment with a bed, facilities and enough for me and my partner. It was a big moment in my life, exploring the Sea of Cortez, Puerto Vallarta, Banderas Bay, Manzanillo, and Mazatlán. As a sailor and explorer, it was something that I really loved. When my daughter was born, we came back to the states and started life in the Bay area once again. That's about the same time that I plugged into Luxie. Originally, I was more of a financial advisor to the company, but then the role evolved securing sales contracts, helping with product development, flying around to manufacturers.

That’s an amazing story. And since you then, the brand has exploded. Luxie is everywhere.

We're in Nordstrom, Macy’s, Anthropologie, Revolve. A lot of niche retailers carry us as well as large online stores, and many subscription boxes like Birchbox and Glossybox. We’re also in the UK and Europe. We are so excited that the brand has been embraced by everyone. Our vendor partners understand the brand value and what we're trying to do. That’s allowed the brand to really explode. We’re able to also tell our story. We’re highly functional, professional grade makeup products in the form of brushes and applicators. But we're doing it in a unique way where our core values are giving back to the environment.

What motivated you to create sustainable makeup brushes made from renewable resources?

Whenever you come into the consumer product world, you're challenged by the massive scale of consumption. It's plastics. It's shipping. It's carbon footprints. It's all of this horrible stuff that I saw firsthand on the deck of my own sailboat in Mexico, looking into the water and seeing plastics and other things that are polluting. Seeing the effects of that on sea life. I knew that I wanted to make a difference in whatever my work life was going to be once I came back to the real world. Luxie was really an opportunity for me to leverage our core values, which center around empowering all people to express themselves. At the end of the day, makeup brushes are a form of self-expression.

Luxie has an amazing partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. How did that come about?

When we were looking for potential partners that could help us deliver against our goal of creating a better world, we loved how the World Wildlife Fund was preserving environment, endangered species and reducing plastics in oceans.

What makes your brushes so unique?

Our brushes are not really too different than the mainstream brushes, but it's the way that we do it. Brushes have three different components. There's the handle, the ferrule, and then the bristles themselves. So the handle, in our case, is wood that's sustainably farmed through farms in Southeast Asia. We track the certification to make sure that there's no human rights violations, that there's no ecological problems or red flags that have been raised there. For the ferrules, we use a material that can be recycled and that is processed humanely.

Are there many beauty brushes in the marketplace that are not processed humanely?

This is actually a difficult thing to do in our industry because the ferrule and metal dying process associated with colors in the ferrule can be quite toxic. The nasty chemicals used create a horrific working experience. I've walked the factory floor when my shoes literally started dissolving because of how toxic the chemicals were. Here are these poor workers, there's no clocks in the place and they simply rely on their experience for how long to put the metal in these chemicals. They're wearing giant rubber boots with thick soles and t-shirts in the sweltering heat of the tropics. It’s awful. As a manufacturer, you have to see where your products are being manufactured, so that you can take control over your supply chain.

Many consumers have no clue what is happening to the people making the products they buy. How does Luxie prove that it is an ethical brand to consumers?

Yeah, there's this groundswell of brands claiming to be sustainable, claiming to be vegan, claiming to be cruelty-free. Yet, there's no real gold standard that can be applied universally across different products. It makes it really difficult to be transparent to the consumer. Not to bore, but we have third party auditors audit everything that we do. They review chemical composition in the paints, the manufacturing process, how the plants are run, and how our supply chain is managed. We want to make sure that our consumers see that we really are walking the walk. And then encourage upstream, our retail partners to also share in that.

Are there any specific labels on your packaging that conscious consumers should look for so they know the products are truly all the things you say they are?

There's not a little symbol or thing that we can put on the box and that’s frustrating. I wish as an industry, we could kind unite around what it means to be a vegan brand, a cruelty-free brand, talk about sustainability, talk about carbon offsets, talk about giving back. I think we really need to do some work as a community to build that out.

What’s in store for Luxie?

2021 is really going to be about telling our own story, raising awareness for causes that we believe in and rallying around our core values of giving back in our community. We were working with a women's shelter yesterday. We also did a virtual food drive for the Second Harvest Food Bank and another food drive for a national food fundraiser called Fight For Hunger. There's going to be more of a need as the pandemic continues to align with and help build up our community…and make it fun.

Photos Credits: Luxie Beauty, World Wildlife Fund, Shutterstock.


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