The Founder of Saie Dishes on Clean Beauty and How Instagram Influenced Her BrandFebruary 05, 2020
Laney Crowell, a beauty boss turned beauty founder, knows what’s up when it comes to clean makeup. Case in point? Saie, her newly-launched, non-toxic, works-like-a-freakin’-charm brand that has answered our prayers for a clean mascara (and lip balm and brow butter) worthy of a holy-grail title. We spoke with Crowell to get the scoop on her career and all the deets on Instagram’s favorite new oh-so aesthetically pleasing brand. Ahead, find out everything from why she stepped away from her previous high-powered beauty role and how she started her wellness journey to the reason she personally runs Saie’s social feeds and what an average week in her life looks like.
You have so much experience in the beauty space. Can you give a little background on your career?
I moved to New York after college 100 percent certain I wanted to work in magazines. I don't think I even really knew what that meant. I just knew that reading magazines was what I love to do and everyone said, “You should do what you would do in your spare time as your career.” Well, in my spare time I read magazines. I moved to New York and I got my first job at Lucky magazine, in the fashion department. The way I got my job at Lucky was that I ran into the editor-in-chief at Banana Republic. I read every magazine, but particularly Lucky, religiously, and I loved the editor's letter. I recognized her from that photo. I introduced myself, and she said that the number-one thing you need to succeed is fearlessness. The fact that I introduced myself to her was a good sign. After that, she called me in and she gave me my first job. I also worked at Elle Accessories, which was a spin-off magazine.
While this was happening, digital was becoming more and more important, and I was super interested in it. I think I'm always really interested in things that are emerging. I got a call from someone I worked with at Lucky previously saying that she was going to a fashion website startup and she wanted me to be part of it. It was StyleCaster. I went there and helped launch StyleCaster — it was like bootcamp. I mean, I learned about wireframes and building websites and coding and social media before social media was really a thing. I was particularly interested in social media, and I started playing around with it. I quickly started to get calls from brands asking me for help. That’s when I started consulting for brands. Then, Estée Lauder called and said, You can have any job you want, take your pick. They sent me a list of jobs and I was most interested in a digital job for Estée Lauder. I thought it'd be the most interesting to bring digital to a heritage brand. I launched all their social media channels, created all their online content, started their influencer marketing content program and launched their online magazine. It was fantastic. I was there for five years.
While I was there, I started getting really interested in my health and wellness. I educated myself on nutrition and meditation. As a natural progression, I became so conscious about what I was putting in my body and what I was putting on my body. I stopped using all Estée Lauder products and I just felt like, morally, I couldn't be marketing something that I, myself, didn’t use. That was when I left, and after that, the process of creating Saie began.
What was your inspiration for founding Saie?
The name of the brand actually came from a conversation that I had with my blog/Instagram followers. When I left Estée Lauder, I started a blog called The Moment dedicated to my wellness journey. I was interviewing founders and people who inspired me. Really, from the day we launched The Moment, brands started sending me products to review. I was getting like 10 boxes a day — I had to create a beauty closet in my apartment. One night, about six months after launch, I went into my beauty closet looking for some makeup because I was going out that night. There wasn’t any. I went out to dinner and on my walk home, I went on Instagram and I just started asking my blog’s community: Is there no non-toxic, clean makeup? What’s the deal? What would you create if you could create something? What's wrong with what does exist? I just peppered them with a million questions. What they came back with was what inspired Saie directly. They said: It doesn't perform. It's too expensive, and it's not cool. Those are the pillars of the brand. That’s the problem we're answering. Sustainability is also something that I’m very passionate about. I would say that's probably the fourth pillar. It’s not necessarily something that my followers brought up, but the sustainability conversation only happened like three years ago.
Saie is a clean and non-toxic brand, but in the beauty space those definitions can get confusing. How do you define those terms for your consumer?
Because clean isn't regulated, we take it very seriously to regulate ourselves. What we mean by clean is that we don't have any ingredients in our products that [we believe] are bad for your body or bad for the Earth. And that list is very long. We enlisted the top ingredient expert in the US to help us formulate our blacklist. She reviews all of our ingredient lists and is really essential to our team because the topic is very complicated and something that we're always navigating. Our blacklist is always getting longer.
You launched with just a handful of hero products. How did you decide what was going to be included in that initial launch?
Mascara 101 was the first product we started developing; that took us about two years. That was a product that in the conversation I had on Instagram, came up over and over and over again. There was no clean mascara out there that actually worked. I knew that, too. I only used clean products and was still struggling with mascara. I knew we were going to launch with mascara. The Brow Butter was a white space that I saw in the clean market. I felt like there really wasn't a go-to clean brow product that was a cult-staple. I also wanted something that was really nourishing and was also a growth product. I also saw a white space for our Liquid Lip Balm. When my product developer and I started talking about our product lineup, we were like, why is there no go-to clean lip balm? I just wanted a lip balm that makes my lips look good, that’s super nourishing. I wanted something I could wear to the grocery store, I could wear to the playground, I could wear on a date, into a meeting. I really wanted a product that wasn’t a gloss. That was the inspiration for the balm. I feel passionately about not just putting out products to put them out. I think a lot of brands launch with 20 products. There ends up being so much duplication in the beauty industry. If you're going to create something that inevitably has an impact on the environment, I think it's really important to create something that is filling a white space.
Instagram was huge for figuring out what went into your line, but how has that community carried over since you launched?
Instagram is really how you communicate now with your customers. I'm the CEO and founder of the brand, and I manage our Instagram. I see every single mention and reply to every single person who mentions us. It’s almost like having a store and getting to interact with your consumers, talk to them and get their feedback. See what they liked and didn't like, what they want next.
What has been the biggest challenge for you since starting Saie?
There have been so many challenges. I think starting a company is basically just constant problem-solving. Fundraising was something that I had never done before. I worked at Estée Lauder for five years, and my product developer and CFO worked there as well. We have almost 40 years of experience in beauty combined. The formulation, the packaging, the brand development, creating the website — we had done all of that before. But fundraising was something that we had not. Even just learning the terms was like learning a new language.
On the other hand, what was your pinch-me moment?
When we launched! From the press to Instagram, Saie was everywhere and that was a super surreal moment. When I looked at what the organic impressions were, I was like, Oh my God, I can't believe that 10 million people were just looking at what we created. That was a big wow.
Walk me through a typical week.
I'm pretty rigid about my schedule. I think when you're a mom it makes you extra efficient, so I can literally answer this down to the minute. If I exercise, which I try to do five days a week, I wake up at 5:30. My daughter wakes up at 7:00. We all have breakfast and smoothies and coffee together. I leave the house at 8:00 am, and I’m at the office by 8:30. I have internal days where I’m in the office and do phone calls, and external days, where I take my meetings outside the office. I leave the office around 4:30 or 5:30 to get home and spend time with my daughter — it’s how I unwind. Then, I go back to work for probably an hour and I try to be asleep by 9:30. And then one or two nights a week I’ll go to dinner with friends or have an event!
What’s next for Saie?
Our next drop is on February 11th. It’s our first play into the rest of the face. I'm really excited about these products; I use them every single day.
Fill in the blanks.
I would tell my 20-year-old-self to wear SPF!
A beauty trend I regret trying was bangs.
My first memory of beauty was walking through a French pharmacy. We lived in Paris when I was in middle school.
To me, beauty means feeling content every day.
I unwind by watching a Disney movie with my two-year-old daughter. Frozen has been banned because we’ve watched it so many times. My favorite is Moana.