The average American woman uses a dozen personal-care products a day. Ask Kari Gran and she’ll tell you that’s far too many. So when developing her eponymous Seattle-made skin care line she looked to the little black dress, of all things, for inspiration: She strove for something versatile, something elegant, something simple that could be a staple in every woman’s medicine cabinet. And that’s why, since 2012, Gran has sold just three items—except for the line of makeup she just introduced. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Let’s backtrack: In 2005, Gran was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that forced her to reconsider the bevy of lab-made creams and cleansers she’d been slathering on her skin. Frustrated with the decidedly unchic selection of natural beauty products on the market, she retreated to her kitchen to make her own. And even after a snafu that involved spilling hot organic beeswax down the front of a cashmere sweater (“I always wear an apron now,” she says), she pressed on, whipping up all-natural concoctions that shed the patchouli-scented stereotype of typical eco-beauty.
As it turned out, the project came along at just the right time. Gran had worked—and done well for herself—selling downtown real estate, but after two decades she was burning out. So when Lisa Strain, a friend and fellow broker who’d fallen in love with the bathtub skin care endeavor, pushed Gran to turn it into a full-time business, she took the plunge and launched Kari Gran in 2012. Today the duo sells cleanser, toner, and moisturizer made with natural, non-GMO oils online from a South Lake Union loft space: Strain on the business end, Gran on production.
Kari Gran products don’t make any wrinkle-filling assurances—and that’s no accident. Gran herself is out to reeducate consumers lured by the (often false) promise of instant dermatological gratification made by chemical- and preservative-filled products. She even encourages customers to take a big-picture approach to skin care by combining the products with exercise, a healthy diet, and lots of sleep. “There’s really no such thing” as a true antiaging product, says Gran, who sheepishly admits to buying her first such product at 19. “And I would never suggest that there’s something wrong with the skin you have, especially as you get older.”
Despite having a philosophy that runs counter to the current cosmetics world (or because of it?), the boutique line has grown from $42,000 in sales its first year to roughly half a million in 2014—with many orders coming from our farm-to-table, holistically minded corner of the country. “There’s a demand for the honest, back-to-basics approach,” Strain says. “Women don’t want the bullshit anymore, and they’re educated enough now to know when they’re being lied to about a product’s effectiveness.”
Up next, Gran and Strain are moving the line from an online-only presence into local boutiques and larger retailers. They’ve been approached by national names like Sephora (you’ll find their Lip Whip in select stores this spring), boutiques like San Francisco’s Credo Beauty, and smaller local venues like Bella Fiore Med Spa in Queen Anne. They’re even launching a mineral-based makeup line with the same straightforward, little-black-dress philosophy: versatile, elegant, simple—and aimed to replace your entire beauty counter.