Salty Girl Beauty was born out of a tragedy. In 2015, Sarah Kelly was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. She was also 32 weeks pregnant.

Throughout the intense chemotherapy, at the start of which she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Kelly never wavered. Kelly and her sister, Leah, began to take note of the ingredients they put both in and on their bodies, eventually going into business together with Salty Girl Boutique—a brick-and-mortar store where they sold various makeup brands and learned the ins and outs of the cosmetic world. However, after still feeling dissatisfied with the lack of health-focused beauty brands, Sarah and Leah Kelly decided it was time to create one of their own, and SaltyGirl Beauty was officially born.

Salty Girl Beauty was designed to help women feel beautiful and confident with safe, healthy products. Beauty Matter sat down with founder Sarah Kelly to talk about her journey into the cosmetics world.

You originally started the Salty Girl brand with a boutique, where you sold other brands’ beauty products. How did your experience with the boutique inform your business model?

Our boutique included many up-and-coming brands who saw significant growth over the time we carried them. On the boutique side, and being a small boutique, we saw the importance support and customer service can make in the success of the brand. We did a lot of small events for our customers, and those vendors that could participate in some way, sending samples, marketing, and or educational materials, or even were able to participate in an event, we would see a lot of success in those types of support services. Also customer service is always a huge part of the success factor and we believe fully in delivering the highest level of customer success not only to our consumer but also to the retailers we work with.

How did your initial funding strategy differ with SaltyGirl Boutique and SaltyGirl Beauty?

With the boutique we were probably less prepared when I look back on it from a financial perspective, but somehow it did all come together. We are scrappy … haha! But for Beauty although we still have to be scrappy we also planned. We had some funding support from family and also ran a successful Indiegogo campaign that helped us with those initial development and manufacturing costs. We have tried to pace our growth so we don’t get over our heads.

As first-time beauty product owners, what was your product-to-market strategy and formulation philosophy?

Our product-to-market strategy and formulation philosophy has always been education based. Because the company was founded out of a cancer diagnosis, we wanted to produce the cleanest and most nourishing product we could. Not only do we want it to look good but we want it to feel good and be good for your skin. And we want people to know why it feels so creamy on their lips or why they see improvements in their skin when using our foundation. So we really try to educate and empower in the formulation of our products and the way we communicate to our customers.

What inspired you to leave the boutique behind and start your own brand? 

So our goal was always to have our own brand, but the idea of starting that seemed a bit intimidating at first so we kind of sidestepped and started the boutique. At the end of the day I would never change how we did things. It has been a hard transition to close our boutique, because we love the brands we work with and have really built a great community of customers, so I feel bad we are letting our customers down by no longer offering these brands. But at the same time the relationships we have built by having the boutique helped us transition that much easier. Like in the question above it showed us what we wanted to create and what we didn’t, based on our experiences in our boutique.

But it also connected us with people like Cynthia Besteman of Violets are Blue Skincare. We are actually in the midst of planning an event called the Cancer Wellness Expo on Sept 29th with Leah and I of SaltyGirl, Cynthia from Violets are Blue, and Caitlin Kiernan, author of Pretty Sick: Beauty Guide during Cancer. The event is being hosted at Donna Karan’s Urban Zen in NYC and we hope to bring 150-200 cancer survivors for honest real panels with experts around sex, beauty, nutrition, and medical updates, along with yoga, meditation, makeup, and other holistic services. We would have never made the strong relationships we have with these women if we didn’t have our boutique first.

What was your vision for the brand when you first started out? Did you meet your initial goals? 

The vision of our brand was to educate women but also empower, help them see the sexy, powerful, sassy person they are—AKA #StaySalty #OwnYourBeauty, two hashtags we use a lot! I think we have created that vision, but need others to hear it.

What has been the biggest challenge evolving the SaltyGirl brand? 

What’s been the biggest surprise? 

Getting the word out on what we are doing with a limited budget has been our biggest challenge. We have an amazing message and obviously want to share this message with as many people as we can!

Several surprises … not sure if this is a surprise or just an incredible validation is how our brand resonates with people. Once people hear of our story, how we came about, and what we are trying to do, and then try us, they are hooked. Customer loyalty is the greatest compliment! Another surprise is the incredible friendships and side passion projects that have come from this, like the Cancer Wellness Expo or our Foundation4Love which is our 501(c)(3) into which a percentage of all our profits feeds. We give back experiences like Spa Day, Private Chef, Sporting Event, for adults with cancer.

Who is your consumer? How do you aim to serve them effectively? 

Our consumer is female, 34-60+. A socially aware consumer. Many of our customers have been either personally or has had someone close to them affected by cancer. Many are working moms who love the simplicity of our product or baby boomers who as they enter that next stage in skincare are looking for a cleaner but nourishing product for their skin.

How are you looking to add to the natural beauty conversation? 

We want to be an accessible, real, and honest voice in the market. Most importantly we don’t want women to feel intimidated by wearing makeup. We don’t want women to feel like they need to spend a zillion dollars or know how to contour or bronze or highlight. It can be a lot. Instead we want women to pick a great-color lipstick and use a nourishing foundation and multi-stick on the cheek and eye and be able to leave the house feeling great about how they look. Simplistic clean natural beauty. Not everything has to be complicated.

Transparency is a hot topic in the beauty industry. Many companies are still hiding behind a marketing campaign without revealing the truth behind their product ingredients. How do you stay transparent?

All the ingredients we put in our products are listed on our website. And customers can also always reach out to learn about where products are derived from. We want to be an open book, as ingredient integrity is huge.

 Natural ingredients are an important pillar to your brand.

Where do you source your ingredients? How do you ensure the quality and safety of them? 

We work with a third-party team that assists us with the sourcing, testing, safety, and quality control of all our products. We have access to all those reports and data sheets to ensure we are utilizing ingredients we can put our name on.

What do you see for the future of the natural and organic cosmetic industry? How do you see SaltyGirl Beauty fitting into that future?

This category is going to continue to grow. As education and research continues to infiltrate the mainstream, so will the industry. I hope our brand continues to grow, I hope we continue to create opportunities where we can educate on the WHY it is important without using scare tactics. We have a powerful but simple message for women, and we hope our message continues to get louder so more people hear it!

Tell us about your expansion to brick-and-mortar. What does your distribution strategy look like?

We are in a few spas and other shops, and really want to grow our footprint in this space. Currently we sell direct to consumer on our website and are reaching out to Med-Spas, Spas, Organic Spas, Natural Beauty Stores, and other Boutiques and Shops.

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