The beauty world is full of labels. From “green” to “clean,” every product we put on our faces is marketed to us with words that should help us identify what is in it, or how it has been made. But it’s not that simple.
Despite its size, the beauty industry—which is worth more than $630 billion globally—isn’t regulated. The US, in particular, lacks significant rules on what ingredients brands can use, and how they can market products. (More on that here.) This means that using words like “sustainable” or “clean” in branding is easy, and, unfortunately, so is greenwashing. But Jazmin Alvarez is helping consumers “cut through the noise” with her curated beauty platform Pretty Well Beauty.
“There is no standard definition of clean beauty. Every person, every brand, every retailer has their own standards, their own ways in which they define it,” she says. “But I really wanted to find brands that are going above and beyond just the table stakes of formulating with non toxic ingredients.”
Clean beauty is good for the planet and people too
Getting a spot on Alvarez’ website—which serves as a marketplace for clean, sustainable, and ethical beauty brands like Axiology, Naturally London, and Mango People—isn’t easy. The founder’s bar is high: Brands can’t just say they don’t use a few toxic or cruel ingredients and be done with it. They also have to prove it, by offering up their products for the Pretty Well Beauty team to analyze.
The platform’s no-no list is extensive, but among the ingredients it doesn’t allow are wool-derived lanolin and beetle-derived carmine, because of their links with animal exploitation; animal fat, because of environmentally-destructive animal agriculture, and mica, because of its child labour links.
But beyond ingredients, prospective brands also have to demonstrate that their sourcing methods are not exploitative, and that they safeguard the people who work in their supply chains. Because for Alvarez, clean beauty isn’t clean if it isn’t ethical and sustainable too.
To ensure values align, Alvarez sits down with each brand before they are added to the Pretty Well Beauty platform and asks the tough questions about their products. Wishy, washy answers aren’t acceptable, she needs the nitty gritty details. “I can kind of tell within the first few minutes whether or not their ingredients are sourced sustainably,” she says. “When I ask them where they get their products from, and they say ‘oh, you know, we just buy from a third party source in bulk’, that kind of tells me they don’t really know who’s on the ground working.”
Creating a welcoming clean beauty space for people of color
The beauty founder also has another mission: true inclusivity. Years ago, Alvarez headed to the first clean beauty store in New York City. She was eager and excited to see what the store had to offer, but when she stepped inside, her enthusiasm was far from matched. As an Afro-Latina, she felt like she didn’t belong in, what became clear, was a heavily white space. “It felt very exclusive, very elitist,” she recalls. “My first thought after that experience was ‘I can do something like this, but I can do it in a way that’s more friendly, more welcoming, more inclusive.’”
For people of color, Alvarez’ experience is all too familiar. The beauty world has been dominated by Eurocentric faces for decades, from campaigns to leadership positions to products. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017, when Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launched, that foundation shades became truly inclusive for people with dark skin tones.
Before she went on to launch her own platform, Alvarez herself was a part of the Fenty Beauty launch. That role, combined with her work on shoots and campaigns for brands like Ralph Lauren and Sephora, gave her a solid foundation of experience to build Pretty Well Beauty. But it didn’t happen overnight. The platform started off as just an Instagram page. “It was just a place for me to talk about clean beauty,” she recalls. “The brands that I felt were really getting it right.” In 2019, Alvarez decided to use her newfound social media presence to leverage a whole business. She left her job at Ralph Lauren, and launched Pretty Well Beauty with 12 brands. Just three years later, it has more than tripled its offering.
Alvarez has big plans for the future, which could include a hair care line and NFTs. But beyond that, she wants to help shape a more sustainable, diverse beauty world. We spoke with the founder about her vision for the future of her industry, how she’s constantly striving to do better for the planet, and why, as a person of color, clean beauty is central to her identity.
Creating a new standard for clean beauty brands
LIVEKINDLY: With Pretty Well Beauty, you are striving to create a “new standard” of clean beauty. Can you explain what that is?
Jazmin Alvarez: I like to use the term “beyond clean.” I consider the entire lifecycle of a product. That means thinking about where the product ends up when it’s going down our sinks. Where is the packaging going once we’ve discarded it? Is it biodegradable if it doesn’t get recycled? Not all clean beauty is created equally. There are ingredients that are indigenous to certain parts of the world that are being grown in places where they’re not meant to grow. They’re stolen from their habitat. But sustainability is about preserving ecosystems and not taking more than what is necessary. It also speaks back to giving back to the communities that you’re borrowing natural resources from. So, making sure that the people who are collecting these ingredients on behalf of your brand are being paid fair wages. They’re not being exploited. That they have economic growth opportunities. It’s making sure that even if packaging were to be tossed on the street, it’s not going to have an environmental impact that would be damaging for 200 years.
LIVEKINDLY: Beauty has a huge packaging problem—it uses 120 billion units every year. How are you working to reduce Pretty Well Beauty’s plastic footprint?
Alvarez: Moving forward, there will be no addition of brands where plastic is their primary packaging and that includes BPA free and PCR plastic. Plastic is not infinitely recyclable. It can only be recycled up to about three times and then it just goes back into our landfills and our oceans.
Clean beauty’s roots go back thousands of years
LIVEKINDLY: You’re a big believer in nature, and the ability of plants to slowly but steadily improve our skin with consistent use over time. Why do you feel such a strong connection to plants and their healing properties?
Alvarez: You know, I’m a person of color. I come from a mixed heritage background, Afro-Latina. Growing up we always used natural ingredients for beauty, for wellness. If I ever got a burn or a scrape, my mom didn’t use traditional drugstore products. She would literally take a piece of fresh aloe plant and rub it on my skin. She would use things from the kitchen to put in my hair like olive oils and eggs. My aunt and I would spend time in the kitchen whipping up face masks using oatmeal, bananas, and avocado. We were just using our instincts. These are things passed down to us from generation to generation.
LIVEKINDLY: So for you, a clean beauty routine is also a connection to identity and heritage?
Alvarez: Clean beauty has existed longer than any of us have been here. It’s the oldest form of self care. In Egypt, Cleopatra was using natural products. She was using earth on her skin. She was using charcoal as eyeliner. She was using naturally pigmented dyes for her lips and her cheeks. There were no store-bought things! You had to make it. That has carried on through many, many cultures around the world. Mostly with Black, African, Indigenous, and Asian people. It’s really important to recognize and to honor those experiences. Because for a lot of us, it was just a way of life. It’s now become commercialized and marketed in a way that has lost a lot of its authenticity.
Working with Rihanna on a history-making beauty launch
LIVEKINDLY: Before you started Pretty Well Beauty, you gathered experience working with some of the biggest names in the industry. But getting involved with Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launch must have been a highlight.
Alvarez: Rihanna is very different from most celebrities. She doesn’t just put her name on something. She was very much involved in every detail. She’s very professional. She’s very decisive. She’s a little hard to pin down! It was an incredible experience. I did the art buying, the production, and the casting, which is a lot for one person to do. Usually you do one of the three, not all three in one go. But it was great. I was up for the challenge.
LIVEKINDLY: That launch changed the beauty industry overnight. Did you realize at the time how much influence it was going to have?
Alvarez: I knew it was going to be big. But I didn’t realize just how much it was going to impact the beauty industry and culture in the way that it did. She pretty much dropped the proverbial mic. For so many years, a lot of large brands would always say that the reason they didn’t carry darker shades is because they don’t sell. And we all saw what happened when Fenty Beauty launched. Everything sold out in seconds.
LIVEKINDLY: Fenty paved the way for a more diverse industry. And with Pretty Well Beauty, you’re helping to shape a more inclusive and sustainable market too. What’s your vision for beauty’s future?
Alvarez: In an ideal world, I’d love to see more authentic diversity and inclusion. There’s a lot of performance that’s happening, which is really upsetting to see. A lot of brands didn’t really give the platforms and voices to people of color before, now they’re doing it, but they’re doing it to profit. I’d love to see more diversity everywhere you look, not just in certain spaces. I want people to feel that regardless of skin color or hair texture, that there is going to be space for them. And to me, that’s what Pretty Well Beauty represents. It’s a space for all humans. I’m not talking about just people of color, it really does mean everyone. It means men. It means non-binary. And of course, all women.
Find out more about Alvarez and Pretty Well Beauty here.