Inspiring Women: Katherine Power On New Beauty Line Merit And Creating Clean Wine With Cameron Diaz

by Freya Drohan

This Women’s History Month, we’re putting a well-deserved spotlight on female founders in the fashion, beauty, and lifestyle space. Next up, entrepreneur Katherine Power. On any given day, I’ll be reading WhoWhatWear for my fashion market updates, have some clean Avaline stocked in the fridge lest a surprise visitor show up, and you can guarantee I’ll be covering any tell-tale dark circles from said impromptu wine night with my new go-to perfecting complexion stick from Merit. What do these all have in common? Well, Power, for one. But they all can thank a loyal community, clever and sleek branding, and tireless research for their success. The Daily caught up with the busy mom, the epitome of ‘how does she get it all done,’ to get the low down on the many strings to her bow.

Merit has been in the pipeline for two years. What was the initial aha moment and how did it develop over the two years of research?
Four-and-a-half years ago, I posted a short video from my bathroom doing my makeup in five minutes. This was a normal part of my routine, however, if I’m being honest, I mostly did my makeup in five minutes in the car on my way to work, because I have very little spare time to put into ‘looking good.’ I received such enormously positive responses, so I started thinking about creating a collection of clean, comfortable products that were everything I needed to look like myself, but better. Around that time, I started to feel like I didn’t connect with any of the beauty brands on the market. I grew up wearing the legacy luxury and prestige brands that my mother had once introduced to me, always gravitating towards the products that made me look natural, but after having my son, I wanted to wear cleaner formulas than those brands offered (while I was pregnant, I literally became nauseous when I would use my normal, “non-clean” lip products). As the clean beauty landscape started to grow, I tried a lot of great products, but always felt like they were being marketed towards a younger customer who was looking for newness (and excess) at every turn. I just didn’t connect with them, emotionally.

 

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What drove you to start the brand?
I felt compelled to create a brand that would reimagine luxury beauty for modern consumers like myself, by making it cleaner, well-edited, accessible, and of course, beautiful. Merit is the antidote to the overwhelming, saturated world of beauty with too many steps and 50 shadow pallets being dropped every week. It’s built around the concept of Minimalist Beauty and the fact that we just want to look like ourselves, but better.

Tell us about the process creating the brand.
I’ve been quietly working on this brand for almost four years now. Some of the formulas, like The Minimalist complexion stick, took almost two years to reach perfection, and in the meantime, I’ve been staying in close contact with my digital community to understand their needs. In the last two years alone, we’ve spoken to more than 4,000 people through focus groups, shop-a-longs, and surveys, honing in on exactly what they are looking for from the makeup brands in their life. It turns out there are a lot of people who are just like me. Of the people we surveyed (mostly females, 28-45 years old), 66% wish their makeup routine was cleaner, 85% of them want to look ‘natural,’ but better, and 77% wish more cosmetics brands aligned with their lifestyle. Ultimately, they want high-performing, easy to use products that create a polished look in minutes and don’t irritate the skin. By the beginning of 2020, beauty and self-care had reached a fever pitch — it was a saturated market with products coming out every few days, full of ingredients we couldn’t pronounce, palettes with 50 colors when we only used two on a night out, 10 steps in a skincare routine, and more and more additions to the list of what it takes to be “ready.” When everything stopped in March, we all reset, switching to natural hair, nails and lashes, really minimizing our daily routines. It seemed like the perfect time for Merit to emerge, to help streamline our makeup bags.

 

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Do you have an elevator pitch for Merit?
Our initial lineup will get you ready in five minutes—seven impossible-to-mess-up products. The base of the five-minute makeup look is called The Minimalist. It’s a complexion stick that blends so seamlessly into your skin you can’t tell what’s makeup and what’s you.

What does the term minimalist beauty mean to you?
Merit, and the concept of minimalist beauty, is the antidote to the overwhelming, multi-step world of beauty. Our products are multitaskers — we simplify what it means to get ready.

The packaging looks so chic….not to mention that bag! What do we need to know about the packaging?
Thank you! Our boxes are made with FSC-certified paper. Our shipment packaging is either reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable. The makeup bag is made from soft cotton: it’s double-lined so you can throw it in the wash and use it for years to come. Each customer gets 1x max. Any repeat orders ship with green cell foam, a corn starch derivative that dissolves underwater or can be composted. The mailer box and postcard are made partially from post-consumer waste, and are fully recyclable.

 

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What product are you most excited for everyone to try?
I am excited for people to try our seven-piece launch assortment. It’s everything you need to get ready in five minutes, and nothing you don’t.

Ok, shifting gears to Avaline! Did you ever think you would branch into wine?
All of my businesses have started from a personal need, and Avaline is no exception! I spend all my time with millennial and Gen Z consumers, learning what she’s interested in. I’m a very passionate wine drinker and so is Cameron. We were sitting around drinking one day and talking about how everything has gotten healthier. We started to wonder is there a way to make wine better for us? Wine is the only consumer product that doesn’t list nutritional facts or ingredients! Consumers were starting to question that too—we don’t know how it’s made or what’s in it. When we began to learn the process, it turns out that in commercial wine making, you can add up to 70 ingredients without having to disclose it on the label. What we learned early on was shocking enough for us to switch the way we were drinking.

 

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Was it hard to find natural wine when you started the process of creating Avaline?
It was really hard to find this sort of wine! It was only really in specialty shops. We would go to our favorite restaurants or hotels and we got a lot of eye rolls if we asked. This was only three years ago, and now they have dedicated sections to clean wines. We thought, how is it this hard to access in L.A., which is the mecca of wellness. But I started to see other people asking the questions I was asking and I thought this is going to be the next category that’s going to get cleaned up.

Avaline was two years in the making. Was the process to perfect the current offering more difficult/time-consuming than you anticipated? Did you have a lot of fun along the way? 

It started as a fact finding mission. Cameron comes from wellness, she’s written two books on the body that are essentially science books and she’s an investor and advisor. I know how to build a a business, but this is so different to us. First it was learning all about the process, meting with anyone who would take our calls so we could become students of the industry. Then it was learning about the business, bringing it to market, and learning about the complex rules and regulations. When we understood how we wanted to build the brand and what our criteria was, we sought the best winemakers. That took lots of knocking on doors, virtually and in real life! For our four different blends, we chose a different winemaker for each—but they are all in Europe. The rosé is in Provence, the red is in Côtes du Rhône, and the white and sparkling are in Spain.

And it has no added sugar? We thought that was too good to be true!
No sugar is added! Our Sparkling has a touch of organic cane sugar added, as part of the traditional method, but as you’ll see on our website where we list nutrition facts, on a per glass basis it’s extremely low. There’s no unnecessary additives, and no color or concentrates (which is a common practice in winemaking!). We keep our sulfates under 100 parts per million: we don’t think they’re bad, but we don’t use them in excess. There’s also no animal byproducts. This wine has changed our lives!

 

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How did you originally meet Cameron, and what drew you to her as a business partner?
We’ve been friends for several years, so we’re friends first and foremost. We gravitated towards each other as we’re both homebodies. We love spending time at home, entertaining, sharing wonderful meals, and drinking great wine together. She’s incredibly curious as a person and detail-oriented. She’s definitely the scientist in the relationship! She understands the farming and the biology involved. 

Do you have plans to expand into more categories?
We’re listening to what people feel like is missing; what’s the white space? We’ll continue to innovate through that lens, with clean products with transparent ingredients.

[Ed note: Just this week, Avaline announced a new DTC program! This month, Avaline will donate 2% of DTC sales to the brand’s newest partner, Lift Collective, an advocacy organization that promotes positive change in the wine industry through the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion. To further the partnership, Avaline will sponsor Lift Collective’s Virtual Conference on March 23 and 24 (tickets available here) as well as the creation of Avaline Scholarships.]

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