Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
Admittedly, I am a fairly recent convert to the world of skincare. Prior to a few years ago, my skin was doing just fine without a lot of products and time-intensive rituals. Enter: my late 20’s, accompanied by the first few lines and signs of skin damage. My search for skin salvation was painful – expensive, frustrating, and time consuming.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Alli Reed, the founder of Stratia Skin, who has made it her life’s mission to bring the world skincare products that are founded in science and actually work. Stratia was the first skincare brand that I found actually worked for me, so I was excited to connect with Alli on her story. We chatted about the brand’s humble beginnings and where she sees it headed next. Read on below in our latest Quality Makers interview!
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Can you tell us about your professional background and how it inspired you to create Stratia?
AR: I’ve always been a science nerd; starting in elementary school, I wanted to be a paleontologist, then an astronomer, and I finally landed on chemistry by the time I started college. When I thought about a career, though, I only really knew about jobs in academia, where I’d either be running the same experiments every day for six months or I’d be stuck behind a computer writing grant proposals. Neither path appealed to me, so I ended up leaving chemistry behind after I graduated.
A decade later, I was working as a copywriter at an ad agency and feeling supremely unfulfilled, so I decided to combine my passion for skincare with my nostalgic love of lab time, and I started formulating my own skincare when I got home from work. After a long, long time of learning by trial and error, I had a couple of products I really loved, so I figured I’d open a little online store and sell them as a side gig.
Can you describe your experience of launching a brand in the hypercompetitive skincare/beauty space?
AR: To be honest, I never expected Stratia to grow anywhere nearly as big as it is now. I was formulating, manufacturing, and shipping everything by myself in my apartment, so my overhead was almost non-existent.
I started Stratia because I couldn’t find the skincare I wanted as a consumer. There’s great research on what does and doesn’t work for the skin, but when I’d get to the store, the only information I had about a product was what trickled through its marketing department.
So while the industry was and still is hyper-crowded, what I was doing still felt pretty different: science-first formulas with absolute transparency to the research behind it, what ingredients are in it, and why it’s formulated the way it is.
Stratia focuses on small-batch products. Why is small-batch production important to your mission?
AR: I started Stratia in my kitchen, making products in my little chem-lab setup. As Stratia grew, I just made my lab bigger and bigger. I didn’t have investors or mentors to help me figure out what to do as we grew, so I just made my best guesses about how to make enough product without sacrificing quality or safety.
I'm so grateful that we manufacture in-house. We’re able to have full control over everything: ingredient sourcing, operating procedures, quality assurance. It also helps us stay nimble and flexible, so if a product unexpectedly sells out, we can have it back in stock within a few days. Plus, doing everything in-house helps immensely with our goal of total transparency. We can take you behind the scenes to show you exactly how your skincare is made, because we make it in the same building the whole team works in.
Why do you feel science is critical to being a top skincare brand? How do you stay on top of the ever-changing environment that is scientific research?
AR: I actually don’t think science is critical to being a top skincare brand — there are plenty of extremely financially successful skincare companies that seem to eschew science completely (see ‘clean beauty’). In fact, Stratia may have made a lot more money if I sacrificed some of that ethos and went with the marketing trends. But I only want to make products that actually work, so it’s important to me to be completely, radically authentic and transparent, and to maintain an unwavering devotion to the research behind skincare.
Staying on top of scientific research is the fun part! I subscribe to a few research journals and I’m always looking out for new studies or ingredients that could be applicable to a new product. My favorite thing to do is build out a new potential formula in Excel and then try it out at my little formulation station. That’s my happy place.
Tell us about Interface, your new peptide moisturizer. What makes it so special?
AR: I experimented a ton (and reverse-engineered some of my favorite moisturizers), and came up with this gel-cream texture that’s super moisturizing with zero greasiness. There are two main things that make Interface so special: the peptides and the overall formula.
There are an almost infinite number of peptides in the world, since a peptide is just a short chain of amino acids… like a little Lego tower! We use three active peptides that stimulate collagen production (increasing skin firmness and bounciness) as well as a few key proteins in the skin barrier (helping restore and strengthen barrier function).
But we didn’t stop there: those peptides are encapsulated in a biocompatible shell, and that shell is lined with carrier peptides, which are like microscopic taxi cabs, taking those encapsulated active peptides to the exact receptors they need to reach. That system dramatically increases the efficacy of the active peptides, since they aren’t being lost elsewhere within the skin.
As a founder featured in our “Quality Makers” series, what does “quality” mean to you?
AR: To me, ‘quality’ is an intrinsic value. It doesn’t change based on trends or fads, and it doesn’t go out of style. In terms of skincare, ‘quality’ means skincare that actually works. A lot of the current fads around ‘free from’ claims lead to brands creating products that are free from a million perfectly safe and effective ingredients, but there’s no focus on what the product is, just what it isn’t, so you end up with nice-smelling water. A quality product is formulated to be effective, sensorially elegant, and safe.
Lastly, what dreams and goals do you have for Stratia as you continue to grow?
AR: I want Stratia to help lead the way into a more transparent, authentic, and science-forward beauty industry. I hope that Stratia can help create better-educated skincare consumers that push back against fear-mongering and misinformation. I want people to feel genuinely excited about skincare and how incredibly cool their skin is.
From humble, kitchen beginnings to becoming a full-blown beauty brand, we think Stratia’s trajectory is certainly one to watch. As a self-proclaimed nerd myself, I can’t wait to continue watching where Alli’s science-based leadership takes Stratia… and the future of skincare.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.