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…
College friends and Brooklyn natives, Nina Zilka and David Krause are the co-founders of Alder New York: the queer and woman-owned independent skincare brand that makes products for all skin types, no matter age, gender, or ethnicity.
Nina and David became creative collaborators at the Pratt Institute for Fashion Design before starting a small clothing line together during college. Around that time, Nina had also become interested in skincare after learning how unsafe a lot of U.S. products are. She started making DIY products – like dry shampoo – in her kitchen. David suggested they bottle and sell it with their clothing for the holidays.
To their surprise, the dry shampoo blew up bigger than they could have imagined. And, as the years progressed, the duo became more passionate about skincare. They regularly asked themselves: ‘Where is the brand for us – the one that appeals to us aesthetically, isn't hyper-gendered, is vegan, and that's clean to our standards?’
When they couldn’t find it, they launched Alder New York.
I’d love to hear about the name Alder New York.
DK: “Our name, Alder, is actually a tree that's very symbiotic with its environment, especially when compared to other trees. We wanted to have that same connotation, and on top of that, Alder doesn't really mean anything to anybody. We wanted to be associated with something new and unique.”
How do your design backgrounds guide you in uncomplicating the skincare space?
DK: “As designers, we aim to solve problems in a functional and aesthetic way. A lot of skincare companies are focused on results and aren’t as concerned about the sensations and experiences that are stimulated when using it. So, we wanted to design something that could look good on our bathroom counter, but still really bring in efficacy. Our formulas have active levels of ingredients, so that when you’re using our products together, you’ll get the best results because they’re meant to work collectively to create a holistic, clean skincare effect.”
I'd love to hear more about making a line that isn't hyper gendered, that embodies minimalism and doesn't factor in how someone identifies.
NZ: “For us, it was just so inherent to who we are, that we weren't thinking about hyper gendered marketing. We want to make products that work, that are beautiful and that are simple. The farther we got in understanding skincare and its chemistry, the more we understood that the way your skin is, whether it's oily or dry, has nothing to do with your gender. It has to do with your hormones, and people's hormones change all the time.
When someone's going through pregnancy, they're going to have a different skin type than when they're going through perimenopause. And if you’re someone who’s transitioning, your hormones are going to change as well. So it never made sense to us to define skincare by gender. We realized that’s really just a money grab, because you can charge more for women’s products and you can make shittier products for men. It's that simple.
With our products, we focus on universal, beneficial ingredients. Something like glycolic acid works across the skin spectrum. It's magical; it doesn't dry out dry skin, it helps exfoliate without being too harsh, and it brings oily skin to a balanced state. Niacinamide (which we use 5% of in our Balancing Serum) is beneficial to all skin types. Our customer isn't somebody who's obsessive about skincare in the traditional sense. They want products that work and that make sense to them. That inherently has a genderless feel to it. Do you want your skin to look good? Then this skincare is for you.”
Do you – and if so, how – maintain sustainable production and ethical manufacturing?
DK: “We use ingredients from all over the world. But we make sure that they are safe both for plants and the body – that's part of our Environmental Working Group (EWG) certification. We’re conscious about things like contamination and making sure that these products aren’t causing bio accumulation in the water, etc. We want to be aware of the effects our products have both on your personal body but also on our environment.
In terms of manufacturing, all of our products are made in the U.S. We’ve been working with one of our factories from day one; we know them, we love them. And when it comes to packaging, we're always trying to figure out the most sustainable solution. Through our research, we’ve found that plastic is actually the least environmentally impactful in the long run, from beginning to end. Right now, we’re focused on getting more recycled content plastic into our packaging. Most of our packaging has 30% post-consumer recycled packaging, which is basically the most you can do at this moment, before you start to lose the structural integrity of the actual bottle. And lastly, for our cartons, we are moving towards 100% post-consumer recycled paper, which most of our products already are. Everything is also FSC certified, which makes sure that any non-recycled paper is coming from an ethically managed forest.”
Apart from the whole sustainability approach, what kind of thought processes have gone into your packaging as designers?
NZ: “It’s probably the most fun for us. Designers are very practical people for the most part. It really is that combination of form and function. Something we learned in the fashion industry is: it doesn't matter how sustainable you make something, if it doesn't work and it isn't easy to use, the customer won't buy it. For the actual design part of the packaging, David does it all and he does it beautifully.”
DK: “When I’m thinking about the packaging, it’s really about hitting different levels of knowledge. All our products have different icons that make it easy for the consumer to recognize: ‘I use the Lightweight Moisturizer ($34.99) with a bull's eye on it, or I use the Nourishing Cream ($34.99) with the drip on it’. So there's that visual representation, the very straightforward name, the listed ingredients and the effects that all of that has. There are so many brands out there that have all these different products and each one has a sub-brand identity, and we really just wanted to streamline it all.”
What do you hope people will take away from your products?
DK: “Our mission with skincare is to tell people: ‘We're here for you. Anyone can use skincare and it doesn't have to be hard. It's accessible to everyone, regardless of how knowledgeable you are.’ Nina and I were never skincare obsessive people, but we knew we needed skincare in our lives, in an uncomplicated way. That allowed us to create a routine that's really simple and effective, and it still leaves you feeling amazing and looking good.”
NZ: “When we launched, it felt like skincare was only for wealthy, white women. I remember watching women online show their 4-hour long skincare routine and thinking: who has the time for that? We wanted to change that narrative and remind people that skin care is not just for the privileged with crazy amounts of time and money. Our goal is that most people can afford to buy our product, and not feel like that’s something they have to stress about, because we want you to be able to use our products regularly.”
Can you speak to the lack of queer and female representation in the skincare space?
DK: “Our industry has taken advantage of female identifying people in paying taxes and providing products that are way more expensive than they would be if catered to a different gender. Additionally, clean products, especially previous to the whole ‘clean movement,’ were not accessible to many, particularly female and queer people of color. We're really trying to create something that feels inclusive and evokes a ‘no judgment zone.’ Our products are here to provide you with a neutral, safe and comfortable space. I think a lot of people try to approach non-binary or gender non conforming people in a different way, where it may be about being colorful or bringing traditionally feminine things into traditionally masculine spaces. But we're really taking out the whole concept of gender and not pushing anything on anybody. At the end of the day, we are our customers, so we think like our customers and strive to give them what they want. Here it is. If this feels like it’s for you, just go for it.”
Want to know more about Alder New York’s inclusive + genderless take on skincare? Discover the brand’s latest accessible and affordable products here.