NATIVSK/N : A Rich Plant-Based Skincare Line Founded By A Man Who Believes That Melanin Is A Gift
We all know that the natural beauty industry is undoubtedly ran by women. Which is why, we were especially elated to interview Timothy Simmons - founder of NATIVSK/N. From the perspective of a black man in the green beauty industry - we were intrigued to learn so much about the beauty of melanin but more importantly his attention to detail when it comes to crafting organic and well thought out luxury products.
Check out this interview:
How did you come up with the name NATIVSK/N? What is its significance?
In 2015 I began studying herbalism with Peeka Trenkle—an herbalist (and now theologian) with a unique point of view on healing—at New York City’s Open Center. The course of study was called “Green Medicine.” One of the many things I learned was how herbalism stresses food—especially wholefoods, particularly plants—as medicine. We made our way through all of the vital systems and organs (circulatory, digestive, respiratory, integumentary (skin, hair, nails, exocrine glands), and the “plant actions” that botanicals have on the body’s tissue. One comes to realize the plant world provides everything the body needs to sustain itself. Plants can exist without us, but we are wholly dependent upon them for our wellbeing. I became particularly interested in the way plants work with the body’s natural pathways to help the skin do what it does naturally: which is to heal itself. As long as we’ve inhabited the planet, humanity has relied on traditional uses of plants. NATIVSK/N came out of this idea that our bodies share this “special” and long-established relationship with the plant world—as though we’re practically native to one another.
How/Why did you transition from a career with Estee Lauder’s AVEDA to having your own skincare brand?
My tenure with AVEDA continues to inform the decisions I make professionally (and personally). It was there that I began to be a part of a mission to help the cosmetics industry be beautiful in every way—particularly where environmental stewardship is concerned. Between AVEDA to having my own brand, I made several stops at a few other major multi-national beauty players, where I helped to launch and build global beauty brands. It was during this time I began to notice that women of color (who are major beauty consumers) seldom had seats at the table when it came to products developed for them. I also had countless conversations with the women in my own life about the challenges they faced when looking for effective and safe products they felt were developed to meet their unique needs. These conversations served as the underpinnings of NATIVSK/N, and greatly influenced the imperatives we strive to meet when it comes to developing products.
You were an early advocate for better environmental stewardship by the cosmetics industry - What are the biggest detriments in this industry and how do you plan to make a positive impact outside of your brand?
People use to tell me that environmental stewardship by the cosmetics industry would be a fad that would be quickly replaced by the next shiny object. There was a feeling that sustainability only appealed to a niche market of consumers, and that it would not take root. From calling for a complete halt to all testing on animals, to thinking about the entire lifecycle of packaging, environmental stewardship in beauty continues to take center stage in brand narratives. More than ever, consumers not only expect good behavior from brands, they demand it. This change has leveled the playing field somewhat, particularly where suppliers and manufacturing are concerned, but we still have a ways to go.
I started my career in beauty as a packaging designer. I was tasked with looking for ways to incorporate more PCR (post-consumer recycled content) into packaging and with finding ways to minimize the environmental impact of the materials we use. Back then the challenge was to align the brand’s design with the brand mission, and do it beautifully. Aesthetically pleasing results that are visually appealing and competitive at point of sale continue to be key tenants in beauty marketing. Factor into this mix tight cost parameters and lack of technology, and you get a sense of the monumental task of marrying environmental stewardship with the demands of the beauty industry.
Huge strides have been made in the market where packaging materials are concerned. Plastics, however, continue to be challenge. Packaging needs to tell the brand story, but it also has to ensure the safety and efficacy of what’s inside. Like skin, packaging has a barrier function. I love the idea of bio-plastics, but this is still not the slam-dunk solution we’d hope for. There is confusion around terminology, and what can be called bio-plastic; even the definition of biodegradable is murky. And let’s face it anything can be printed on a package. This is where third party certifiers will continue to play a vital role in helping to prevent green washing. And there is still the lack of infrastructure to deal with when it comes to recycling or composting plastics. On many fronts we still have a ways to go. But progress has been made, and innovations will continue to happen.
With NATIVSK/N I knew right away that it would be critical to the success of the brand to adhere to sustainable business practices. Whenever possible raw materials come from certified organic sources at fair costs (We’re sourcing our Marula oil from a women’s cooperative in Kenya). And we saw absolutely no need to test our products on animals, or use animals in any way. We’re most proud of our products that meet the certification standards of ECOCERT/COSMOS Organic, Leaping Bunny, PETA Cruelty-free and Vegan, and Certified Vegan. We’re also fortunate to have manufacturing partners along the supply chain continuum who themselves adhere to fantastic environmental practices, including the use of renewable sources of energy. While we’ve incorporated as much PCR into our packaging as possible, I wish there was a way around the plastics issue. But I’m confident that will come.
Now you use some amazing ingredients - tell us about those! What are some of your favs? Where are they sourced? Why are they beneficial?
It took forever to find a cosmetics chemist who got what we were trying to do with our prototypes. And when we layered my obsession with aesthetics and performance on top of a desire to craft skincare with only skin-beneficial ingredients the task of finding a science partner felt impossible. Going from DIY to selling we had to ensure the safety of your products. This would require ingredients to protect the products against microbes. Key to what we wanted to achieve was making sure every ingredient had a benefit to the skin—even those used to keep the products safe and make them luxurious.
Skincare is a sensorial experience, and it’s got to feel good when you use it. We want women of color to get better results from their skincare with better quality ingredients. The ingredients have to be purposeful too. White Saponaria and Thorntree Fruit are biodegradable cleansing agents we use in our cleanser to help remove even stubborn oil-based makeup without stripping the skin. Our skin tonic uses Hydrosols of Rose flower and Chamomile to calm the skin and help bring it back to balance. To help fortify the skin’s barrier function we use Prickly Pear and Shea oils in our Balm Emulsion.
Marula oil, however, is my all-time favorite ingredient. The ecology of the Marula tree is poetry. The tree requires no cultivation, and grows under the harshest of conditions, including extreme drought. It bears a fruit that is only harvested once it has fallen from the tree. The fruit is a great nutrient source, and provides an important source of income. The remaining kernel is where the oil comes from. It has 4X more vitamin C than an orange, and offers antioxidant levels that surpass most oils used in cosmetics. We’re sourcing a cold-pressed oil from a women’s cooperative in Kenya from a region called Olkerii.
One of the taglines on your package says "Melanin is a Gift" - Why is that? Why is the concept of melanin important to your brand?
In 2015 a Harvard professor of dermatology was commissioned to do a study on skin aging. She compared aging skin in women from various ethnicities, and found that women of color don’t begin to show signs of aging for up to 10-15 years. Melanin in darker skin acts as a barrier against UV and photoaging. Melanin is indeed a gift, but it does not render darker skin invincible: It doesn’t prevent skin cancer. Darker skin is also prone post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). Melanocytes are very reactive, and when irritated leave the complexion uneven. When we looked at a lot of the ingredients used in skincare to either preserve the product or enhance its aesthetics we learned that many of these ingredients don’t necessarily have skin benefits. Moreover, many products that promise to stop time or even turn back time include ingredients that women with darker complexions probably need to avoid. Skin with more melanin requires a gentle approach to care. We know women of color want more efficacy from their skincare products. Our goal is to formulate products that will allow them to get more from their skincare and minimize her exposure to chemicals that aren’t necessarily good for her or her skin.
What do you want to say to women of color? (This is a very vague and open ended question)
You’ve been given a gift of ageless skin. The melanin in your skin is something to be celebrated. Be patient, be loving and be gentle. The anti-aging discourse of skincare doesn’t make sense. It’s a false construct against which women are told to fight, and it really doesn’t make sense for women whose skin is blessed with melanin that slows down the signs of aging. Herbalism teaches us that giving the body what it needs to optimally function is crucial. Your skin has a purpose and plays a vital role in your overall health. Like the rest of your body your skin needs proper nutrition to function optimally. Your skincare should not interfere with your skin’s natural pathways, but should support what your skin is design to do naturally—which is heal itself. Shifting the skincare discourse away from defying age and toward function reframes skincare as doing something that helps the skin be vital at any age. Make decisions that will support the vitality of your skin, and treat your melanin as the gift that it is.
How do you define beauty? (This is a question I ask all of our interviewees but I think it's particularly interesting and important to have a definition from a black make perspective. Especially one who is in the beauty industry)
I define beauty as something more than purely aesthetic. Beauty is what you do, how you feel and what you think. Beauty is a recognition of your unique talents and gifts, and what you have to offer to those around you. There are many ways to define beauty, but I think lasting definitions of beauty are those that center on our beautiful struggle, and ultimately what makes us all uniquely human. This quote by Maya Angelou sums it up beautifully: “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” And put succinctly by Coco Chanel, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”