Behind the Brand: Ilia Beauty Founder Sasha Plavsic
By Robin Tolkan-Doyle, Beauty Editor
If you happened to visit Los Angeles or New York City in the last year, chances are you spotted a billboard or bus advertisement - not for the latest Netflix series - but for the uber popular clean beauty brand ILIA. While a billboard promoting makeup may not sound so unique at first, an indie brand spending their ad dollars outside rather than online or on the glossy pages of beauty and fashion magazines is a bold move. This unorthodox approach used to create everything from brand awareness to developing their award-winning, skincare-powered makeup, is what has propelled ILIA Beauty founder, Sasha Plavsic, to the forefront of the clean beauty movement. Coco Eco was thrilled to sit down with Sasha and chat about everything from her initial inspiration to launch a clean beauty brand (her mother encouraged her to research the ingredients in her skincare after suffering from cystic acne), to her new partnership with 1% For the Planet, and their shared goal to plant one million trees by 2023.
I read that your younger brother was born with a lot of allergies and asthma, so your mom created a very environmentally-friendly home for your family growing up in Vancouver, Canada.
My brother was four years younger than me and was very sick. Three to six months into his life, he started developing all these allergies, autoimmune issues and asthma, and was living in the hospital indefinitely. So that’s when I say my life changed as a child. I grew up with a mom who was from the hippie area. My brother was very sensitive to everything you can possibly think of…dust, curtains, carpets, food, cleaning products. That awareness became very heightened in my life. At the time, I didn't realize how much that had impacted me.
What encouraged you to go into cosmetics because you started off in graphic design and typography?
When I was 30, I had a bit of a midlife crisis. I walked away from a job because I just really burnt out, and I needed some time. So, I traveled, did a short stint with a cosmetic company in Orange County, CA then went back home to Vancouver and had all this makeup in my bag. I was complaining about how much cystic acne I had, which I suffered from throughout most of my life. I remember my mom saying to me, “You should look at what's in the products that you're putting on your skin.” That was really the trigger point that made me curious about what's in my products, and what can I take out and avoid? There was a lot of trial and error. In the beginning, I don’t think it was a business I was creating as much as it was a project. I wanted to see if I could recreate one of my favorite tinted lip balms into a product that was really nourishing and had a better aesthetic. Now it’s called “clean,” but back then, those types of products were not available. They might be at Whole Foods, but they didn’t work the way that I wanted them to. They were not very efficacious.
What was the lip balm that you wanted to replicate?
It was by Labello. I think it’s owned by Nivea now. It’s like a chap stick, but all the ingredients are synthetic. It’s a beautiful product. I was looking to see if I could recreate in a more natural form.
At what point did you realize you were on to something with ILIA?
Well, this brand has had a few lives. It's 10 years old. And we took a huge risk three years ago to rebrand the company. We also raised our first round of capital in 2018. Until that point, I would say ILIA was a project for the first seven years. The company was started with a $25,000 line of credit, a couple credit cards and a co-signed line of credit with my dad. Eventually I brought in an experienced person, Linda Berkowitz, who had been the president of Two-Faced cosmetics, and the SVP of Bobbi Brown. She’s our CEO and she believed in me. She has a very strong relationship with Sephora and all the pieces started falling into place.
What is the one product you’re most proud of?
I'm most proud of the Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40. I was told it was impossible. But I like when people tell me that, and I've been told several times before in the past, because that helps to spark innovation. It was a really challenging product to do because it's zinc oxide, which is the best type of sunscreen to have, but one of the hardest to work with because it can render a white cast. It was important to me that we made it inclusive. We figured out how to offer darker pigments and blend them in with all those ingredients to deliver real skincare benefits to the skin.