A MOVEMENT FOR CHANGE
Gregg Renfrew is a woman on a mission. In a way, she always has been. She grew up in and around New York City, the daughter of a successful businessman who fell on hard times. Her mother had to step in to help the family make ends meet and that meant moving, often. She was selling real estate and would flip houses, some of which they were living in, to help provide.The family moved 11 times in as many years. It left her with a keen sense of the role of finances in life and taught her to never take them for granted.
Her mother set a strong example. She didn’t complain when the family's fortunes took a turn; she just got about the work of getting it done. When she started selling real estate it showed her young kids that there wasn’t much room in life for complaints. That if they wanted something, there was one way to get it: work hard for it.
After graduating from college, Gregg would weave her way through sales jobs and climb her way up the corporate ladder. In 1997 she saw the future of e-commerce and started Wedding List. Way ahead of its time, the platform catered to brides and wedding guests. It was one of the first multichannel retail businesses in the United States, and a groundbreaking idea early in the internet craze, before people were entirely ready to buy online. The business was eventually sold to Martha Stewart.
Gregg’s scrappy mentality that had been instilled at a young age by her mother was playing a key role to her success. In the following years she would go on to work for both Martha Stewart and Susie Hilfiger, learning valuable lessons of the dos and don’ts of running a business.
In 2006 after watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth she became consumed with the environmental health movement. “I don’t like Mother narratives.” she told me on a call early this year, “but your life does change when you have children. And I was thinking about the environment and the impact on my kids and I was trying to do the right thing for them as a new, anxious mother.”
She was bathing her children with a natural oatmeal body wash and decided to learn more about the product. That led her to the Environmental Working Group’s database, and what she found shocked her. The body wash was rated an eight out of nine for toxicity. At first, she was outraged. But obsession followed. She started to read everything she could find about the personal care market in the United States, and what she read was distressing.
At the time the European Union had banned 1,400 chemicals for use in personal care products, the United States: 11. Something had to change. Her entrepreneurial wheels began to turn. What if she started a business that could lead to change. Could make an industry better. Could inform customers what they were really buying and, more importantly, putting on their skin.
Beautycounter was the result. A business built to change the way an industry operates with a commitment to better ingredients and higher standards. She began to assemble a “Never List,” a list of ingredients that she would never put on her own skin and that Beautycounter would never put in its products.
With the core mission intact, she began thinking of a new kind of business model, one that empowered people to get behind a business and a product they believed in. She imagined a team of salespeople, selling products they trusted to networks of their friends.
She wanted to build a business where her customers “trusted us, trusted our integrity, and commitment to safety and health. So they didn’t have to read our labels and do the research that I had to do to know that the product was good for you.”
Today Beautycounter has become a thought leader in the personal care industry that gives economic opportunity for women and men. Their message of change is carried by close to 65,000 independent sales people, nearly all of them women. They are leading a movement to change the way the Food and Drug Administration protects consumers and challenges an industry that has put profit over people for too long.
Her advocacy work often takes her to DC where she is a frequent speaker on Capitol Hill and a tireless messenger of reform. But whether it's speaking to senators, or working moms the message remains disarmingly simple: businesses need to put safety, transparency, and accountability above profits.
To learn more, visit beautycounter.com.