DC-based Bluemercury recently opened up it’s first Seattle store in University Village. Barry and Marla Beck, the founders of Bluemercury, Inc. opened their first store in Washington, DC in 1999 with a simple concept – create a neighborhood store where clients could find high quality and innovative beauty products with honest advice from the experts. Men and women in search of their favorite products would no longer have to wade through large department stores to find what they were looking for. In addition to offering high end products, Bluemercury also offers its own line of products, M-61. Created by Marla, M-61 offers a power-packed treatment line that provides maximum results with minimal time for clients to sample as well. I had the opportunity to interview Marla at the Bluemercury press preview event.
What does it mean being in Seattle?
I came to Seattle many times. My sister went to Bastyr University. She is a naturopathic doctor. She doesn’t live here anymore, but she did live here for a very long time. I used to visit her and we always had the greatest time biking and hanging out, drinking coffee and eating organic, natural foods. This is an area I love and always wanted to be in. The University Village management team called us and asked if we would come here. Of course I said, “Yes!” They told us about this new development with these great shops and boutiques and we are just excited to be in this vibrant, growing city. This area has so much great energy.
What inspired you to start Bluemercury?
We started 15 years ago, when you could only buy cosmetics in drug stores and department stores. I was in my 20’s and really felt uncomfortable shopping in department stores. I felt like I would walk up to the counter and everyone would look at what I was wearing. Honestly then there were no Sephoras or lone-standing makeup stores at all, so that was really the only choice. You could go to the drug store and not be able to try anything or go to the department store. I figured there had to be a better way to buy cosmetics. The other thing that bothered me was that everything was counter by counter, so if you were standing at a counter and if a product two feet away was better for you, nobody would tell you because the staff are paid for by the brand. I know that nobody buys one brand. If you open any woman’s bag, she has a mix of products. It’s like nobody wears just one clothing brand. We are going to create the friendly neighborhood store where you can buy beauty products and the staff are low pressure and trained in every line. I call our staff, “beauty junkies that are Google for beauty products.” I have learned a bunch of new tricks today just being here. They are really amazing.
What experience in your career are you most proud of?
I think for us, we really give people career paths and create a home for them. We have two staffers at our Georgetown (Washington, DC) location that have been with us for the full 15 years. It’s like a family company with a family of employees. A lot of our store managers have come from being sales associates, even some of our district managers. We give people a career path and a home who love beauty and that in the past wasn’t possible. Most people in the beauty world are part timers. We give them a full time career with benefits and sort of a whole life of excitement around products and a career path to hold onto and say, “What do I have to do to get better? What do I have to do to hit the next level?” Because we are growing, there is always the next level.
Why is giving back important to you?
For me, I had a lot of people help me out and be my mentor along the way. Our main thing is that we support entrepreneurs in a lot of ways by giving advice, support and giving back in a lot of ways. We also provide support for social entrepreneurs. In DC, we support a lot of homeless shelters. I look and think we have plenty, let’s give people what they really need.
When it comes to your own philanthropic efforts, what do you look back and feel made the largest impact on those that you set out to help?
I think for us, its back to entrepreneurship, encouraging people that they can start something. When you look back at the statistics, most of the jobs in this country are created by small business and entrepreneurial ventures. Anytime we can support an entrepreneur in creating jobs, that’s something that we like to do. A lot of it is just insight and advice and support that they need for the extra push of inspiration.
What are some of the must-attend charity events for you?
The best things that are the most impactful is when they need physical labor to produce a good. We can go to Martha’s Table in Washington, DC and help sort food or help cut vegetables and get things ready too help make soup. I’m not a big gala person and I do go to some of them but I want to get as close as possible to giving physical labor so you feel like you accomplish something. We also donate money to places like the homeless shelters.
Tell us about your M-61 products.
This came for our clients. Our clients wanted something more natural and efficacious. We just started developing these six years ago. We have a lot of clients who love the highly effective dermatologist brands, but when you look at the ingredient list, the clients didn’t love what was in it. There are many ingredients that can’t be in our product line, so it’s the natural world with the efficacious world. The products have dermatologist-loved ingredients like Vitamin B or E or glycolics or peptides paired with research naturals like tamarind or gobji berry or seaweed and aloe. The products are also gluten free. Cher came in a couple weeks ago and only bought vegan products. That was something important to me, I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years and we have a lot of clients who wanted gluten free. Our most popular product is the Power Glow Peel. It’s an exfoliating peel with glycolic and salicylic acid, bilberry and Vitamin K that helps with rosacea-like patches. You can use this with any product in the store. We don’t believe in routines from one brand. A lot of the products were made for instant gratification. We have three new products coming out in June, a Vitamin B-5 and peptide cream with papaya, gobji berry and seaweed. Gobji berry actually has more beta-carotene than carrots. Beta-carotene on the skin converts to Vitamin A and C and those two ingredients build collagen.
What is your thought process when coming up with products?
It’s a few things. I think about what ingredients I love, combined with what’s the outcome I want for the skin. One thing that has been missing that I am working on that is coming out in November is to buffer a Vitamin A cream. Dermatologists love Vitamin A because it builds collagen differently than any other ingredients. I want it in a cream and an eye cream. I haven’t named it yet. I also have a soothing makeup remover coming out that has goldenberry in it which is a new ingredient for us. Goldenberry is from the Andes in Peru. Part of it is finding ingredients that I want to use and putting them into products for specific outcomes that I want. A lot of my ideas come from super foods and how they affect the skin. Tamarind has been shown to increase the pace in which a wound heals by 20%. Papaya is another ingredient – its not only an exfoliant, it is a wound healer. There is an International Journal of Wound Healing that studies this stuff. I am also working on some makeup products as well.