When Ellis Brooklyn founder Bee Shapiro is not juggling being a mother and beauty writer for the New York Times she’s creating innovative scents that push the boundaries of what sustainable fragrance means.
Since Bee is a writer at heart, dream-like stories are at the core of each Ellis Brooklyn scent. For Valentine’s Day this year, Bee and I both believe self-love and enjoying a fragrance that you simply crave wearing, can be the ultimate gift. Mine certainly is Ellis Brooklyn RROSES.
The Ellis Brooklyn founder spoke with Very Good Light on how she has taken her passions as a earth conscious consumer, mother and writer into her own brand, what the unique creative process she uses to develop alluring scents, and why it is so important to build sustainable brands today.
Can you talk to us about your background as a beauty writer and why you’re drawn to the beauty industry?
I actually fell into beauty by accident about 12-years ago. I started at the New York Times as a fashion and pop culture writer when the beauty columnist left for her dream job in the Travel section. I was offered the post probably because I was the last one asked, ha! The truth is I didn’t know that much about beauty when I started but I grew up with it and fell in love with the entire beauty world. It’s definitely not perfect, but especially compared to fashion, beauty has always been so much more positive. I also think if you take away the old notions that beauty is vanity, you get to this place where beauty can truly be about taking care of yourself and feeling good in a very real and measurable way. Our skin is our largest organ for example. I recently interviewed Kevin Hart for my column with the Times and he said this beautiful thing: “anything deserves the opportunity to be taken care of — your skin, your heart, your body, your mind.” Also in makeup and fragrance, you have this beautiful creativity that you can nourish and develop that is a beautiful way of expressing individuality.
What is your philosophy on beauty? Has it changed since starting your brand?
In the beginning, I definitely thought about beauty as a surface enhancement sort of thing. The desire is to clear up my skin or to look prettier. As I’ve gotten older and now that I have two little girls of my own, I think of skincare as more of what makes my skin happy, what is building its health? For makeup, it’s funny because in my 20s I probably didn’t need so much, but now I truly need it! And I have probably gotten more set in my ways with makeup, but I’m not hating on it. I think at some point, it’s cool to start to build a more signature look.
What makes Ellis Brooklyn unique from other fragrance brands? What have you taken from your background as a writer and brought to your brand?
What really sets us apart in fragrance is our commitment to clean but also to innovation. I don’t think so many brands are thinking about how fragrance innovation can actually help sustainability. This was a real pivot on our part when I started to really dive into sustainability. I absolutely love naturals but if we want to make a serious impact, we have to get down to what’s actually happening when sourcing and what we can do to make that more efficient but also to keep building this palette of scent ingredients that are stunning.
Can you talk to us about your experience creating high-quality clean and sustainable fragrances? Has this been hard to do? What is something special you’ve learned while developing clean/sustainable fragrances?
It has been incredibly hard to do. After years of reviewing other brands, I realized I completely underestimated what it takes to make and create and nourish a brand. Growing a brand is a challenge everyday, and then on top of that you add clean ingredient restrictions, packaging limitations and our sustainability commitment. What I’ve learned is that the only way to really get through this is to think about this as a personal commitment, because if you’re talking about this from a brand, it doesn’t make sense. Everything is more expensive when we’re creating a new clean, quality product and I’m not sure that customers are always buying for those reasons. I think there is a lot of price sensitivity, especially now, which I completely understand. So I try to put all those business issues aside, and think about this personally. Would I feel comfortable with two little ones and their whole futures in front of them, to put a ton more plastic out there—no I wouldn’t. Would I be ok paying less for this beautiful sandalwood oil that I couldn’t totally verify was being responsible to that farming community or environment? I personally wouldn’t sleep well at night if I make that choice.
Why is it important to be transparent about your ingredients, brand, and formulations in the beauty industry today?
I think transparency is important but also a tricky thing because we don’t have a great “dictionary” of ingredients out there. EWG may be the closest but it relies on outside sources of research and I think most people are not then vetting those outside sources. I think that there needs to be a lot more real research about ingredients that is available to brands of all sizes. Right now, what we choose to do is be globally compliant and then add top of that our own no-no list of questionable ingredients. I think the EU, Health Canada and some of the East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea do a good baseline job of regulating beauty ingredients.
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Where does a new idea spark when creating and developing new fragrances? How do you source inspiration? Do you make mood boards? If so, what do they look like?
I am inspired by my travels which is why this past covid year has been tough for me creatively. The scent profiles I’m working on now are actually from the two limited trips I’ve taken—the only two times I’ve traveled this past year which is not usual for me. I’m usually traveling at least a week a month. I don’t do mood boards, but I do love writing notes. I’m a writer at heart! I love writing and rewriting a dreamy, inspiration paragraph to my perfumers as the starting point and then see where they take it from there.
Can you tell us about your experience creating a brand and share any advice for a young entrepreneur?
The advice I would share is don’t quit. Have a vision, execute it, and then don’t quit. There are so many ups and downs when starting and running a brand and it’s sometimes tough to see the macro vision. I think it’s best then to just get in the weeds and do the work and keep going. lt makes it all feel less overwhelming and manageable.
Why is fragrance such a great Valentine’s Gift? Can you share any insight on how to choose a scent for a loved one?
I love the idea of choosing scent for yourself for Valentine’s Day actually. I find that fragrance marketing historically has always been about attracting others, but this past year I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself mentally, and I ask the question: what about self-love? I think an incredible gift for yourself is buying/wearing a fragrance that you personally can’t get enough of. I think from there, you have so much you can get from that—because what’s more attractive than someone who knows and cares for and is confident about themself?