Adina Grigore is the founder of one of our favorite skincare lines, S.W. Basics, and is the author of the recently released book Skin Cleanse. Here we talk to her about the most important things you can do for your skin (hint: water!), what it was like to launch a business from nothing, and why it’s important for you to Marie Kondo-ize your beauty routine.
How did the idea for S.W. Basics come into existence? Were you always interested in skincare and DIY health, even prior to developing the brand?
The premise of the line is that everything is made up of five ingredients or less. I have a background in holistic nutrition and worked as a personal trainer for a while, which are both within the wellness industry in general. But what really gave me the idea for the line was my own sensitive skin. When I was learning about how to deal with my skin issues, I came upon the DIY movement and learned that a lot of people make their own stuff in the kitchen. At the time, it still felt very complicated. I mean, there are some really serious DIYers out there. I know I’m not an expert in chemistry and my skin is so sensitive, that I thought complex formulas would be too much on my skin, so I just started experimenting with one ingredient at a time. Everything makes me break out, so I knew that if I were to develop a line, it would have to be really simplistic–aimed at people who read labels and have sensitive skin. Obviously Brooklyn is a great place for that because people are really receptive to handmade and craft brands.
In your book, Skin Cleanse, you speak about S.W. Basic’s humble beginnings and how the idea for it began with a quest toward healing your own skin. What was the process of making a skincare line for actual customers like and how did that differ from making products solely for yourself?
It’s been insane. I mean, really hard and really fun. Definitely more hard than fun. The transition involved a million little mini changes versus one big launch. Even now, we’re still constantly evolving. I started on Etsy and was doing Artists and Fleas, and the Brooklyn Flea; I was really experimenting in each place with how to promote the brand, how to price the products—even with the name of it. When I first launched it, it was called Sprout Wellness and began as a series of workshops where I’d be like, “Oh my God, I have this amazing cream and I’ll teach you how to make it!” And people were just like, “Um, no thanks. Do you sell it?” We stripped the name down to S.W. Basics, to pitch the products more as streamlined essentials to your routine and not some twelve-step program.
How has the response been to the book?
The book has been so fun. It’s funny, the book coming out is what got me back into teaching the workshops, now that we have a team and have scaled enough where I don’t have to be doing every little thing. I started thinking about writing the book a few years ago. My book agent was a nutrition client and she was like, this stuff that you’re doing isn’t discussed or thought about enough. Have you ever thought about putting it in a book? I think what’s nice is that a product line and a brand is a good vehicle for a message, but it’s not the same as a book. A book really gives you the ability to put your words somewhere, a place where you’re telling people that you really mean the things you’re saying, which I think was a really important step for me. But the feedback has been going really well—I’m kind of floored by it. I also felt that the book really came out at the right time, right when people really started becoming interested in living more minimalist lifestyles.
How did you finalize your recipes for each product? Did you come up with all of them yourself or is it more of a collaboration?
Tons of research on ingredients and tons of botched experiments. I’m always changing and tweaking things. The majority of recipes are mostly my own, but the nice thing is that because everything’s so nice and simple, I’m not having to mix like fifty different ingredients. Now that we have manufacturers, I can kind of pitch my ideas to them, but sometimes, my suggestions get pretty weird, so it’ll just be me.
DIY has certainly been gaining traction recently. What advice do you have for people who also like to make their own homemade cosmetics?
Start really simply like I did. I think what happened with me is that I got very excited and just started Googling a lot of DIY stuff. I learned that a lot of DIY on the Internet is made up either of people who are experts or those who don’t do it at all and are just trying to market. In the case of following the recipes of experts, it’s like trying to become a French cook overnight. You can’t assume that it’ll always be super easy–be patient with yourself and also be careful. Do a little bit of research, because you can hurt your skin. Have you seen the ingredients before? Do you recognize them? When it starts to not make sense, it’s probably a more of an intense formula. In the book, I call these strong ingredients. If something sounds strong or just not right, you’re probably correct. It should feel intuitive. More like, “Oh, I have this in my kitchen—that’s easy.”
And since all the products can theoretically be made in anyone’s kitchen, are all of them are made in-house?
I put the first products on Etsy in 2009 and at that point I was labeling and hand packaging everything myself. In 2011, we hired our design team in Brooklyn—who we still use. Up until then, the whole thing was more like a hobby, but it was in 2011 that I was like, I’m going to do this for real. Now, our closest manufacturer is in the Hudson Valley, and the rest are spread out around the US. It’s all a little scary because we’re so far from our Etsy days, but are still really trying to figure out how we want to scale the brand.
Where are S.W. products sold?
We just launched at Urban Outfitters in a couple of locations in the city and are on their website too! Our nationwide Target launch happened three months ago as well. Everywhere else the products are sold are at more of independent boutiques in different cities: the sort of places that are eco-leaning, independent, and going hard on the natural. Plus our website, of course.
Do you have any favorite products from the line?
The cream is our bestseller and the product we made first. You can use it on your face, your body—your hair. It’s my favorite because it made me start the line in the first place. I couldn’t use normal lotions and moisturizers on the market and was just so frustrated. I put this on my skin, after working on the formula for two years, and it just felt better instantly. It made me realize that you can make really simple products and have them work. But I guess I kind of rotate between favorites. In the summer, I love the toner because you can put it on your skin over and over again and just feel it working, especially when the weather is hot and you’re sweating a lot more.
What’s next for the company? Are you guys currently working on any new products?
With the book out, I’d love to return to the DIY route, like when the line first started. Beauty is an expensive habit and I want people to have access to it by being able to make products of their own, so I’m teaching workshops again. In addition to that, we’re working on more creams and another cleanser, but I’m sort of a perfectionist, so it all takes a while. But soon, hopefully.
Many people have no idea what’s really in the products they put on their skin or in their bodies. You’ve managed to debunk some myths about common miracle products in your book. Any other health tips and surprises you have to share?
I think the one thing I didn’t mention enough in the book was anti-aging. I think that’s a huge marketing—not even a myth, but a lie. The idea that you can buy a product, put it on your skin, and age more slowly is crazy. It’s not true, it’s not possible, and perhaps you can treat your body very well and influence how you age, but you’re not going to stop your skin from wrinkling. That’s a natural process of aging. It’s about how you’re living, not your beauty products. You can put as many serums on your skin as you can afford, but if you’re living a terrible, stressed out, unhappy life, you’re going to see it on your skin. That’s the one thing that’s great about skin. You can’t always tell what’s going on in your body internally, but you can look in the mirror and see your skin. When you do that, you’re seeing your health, and I think that’s an idea that people have kind of lost. They’re just putting more and more stuff on their skin because they think they have to, and sometimes I have to remind them and ask, “How does your skin look?”
If you could say what the top three most important natural things to do for your skin are, what would they be?
Water in general is really important. Hydrated skin comes from drinking lots of water, not what you’re putting on your skin. We were just talking about the anti-aging myth, but if you want to age gracefully, drink water. Secondly, and this has become more trendy as of late, but it’s important to eat healthy fats. Don’t be afraid of them. Something else I’d group under diet is getting enough probiotics–fermented foods. I think we eat a lot of foods that have been hyper-pasteurized—kind of like dead foods. An example of this is a granola bar, which is a bar that’s completely different from eating a plate of fresh vegetables and is really messing with our gut bacteria. A lot of people focus on aging and breakouts, but eczema, rashes, psoriasis—that’s all gut bacteria to me. Lastly, I know beauty products are fun and a lot of them work really well, but I feel we treat them as a crutch. A lot of women are really afraid of skipping on their strict three-step routines but it’s really important to let your skin sit bare every once in a while.
You’ve made your own skincare products for some time now. Have you incorporated a sort of do-it-yourself mentality to other aspects of your life since the line’s development?
One of the things I discovered when I found my sensitivity to skincare products was that I was kind of the same way with food. I eat mostly homemade food now, and as cliché as it is, have gotten super into shopping at farmers’ markets. Fresh food makes a huge difference. I’m the type of person where if I have a “bad weekend” and stay out too late, I’ll see the effects on my body and skin for weeks after. I think in general though, it’s the minimalism of DIY that has affected me most. It’s really freeing. You start throwing stuff out, you save money—it’s really scary at first, but once you realize it isn’t the end of the world, it’s really amazing. The idea of clutter and having stuff around you… it’s nice to realize you’re better off without it. Perhaps more significantly, I care a lot more about who makes my stuff. I don’t necessarily want to DIY my furniture, but I want to know where it was made and who made it. We’re lucky to live in a time where that’s possible. I think it’s kind of a new thing—or old thing that’s coming back? Like we used to know our farmers, and now we can again. It’s really different to go to a farmers’ market and meet the guy that churns the butter versus buying a branded product at the store. I think that’s where the market is going, and that people want to know about their brands. That’s what we’re responding to. It’s why what we’re doing is working and we take that very seriously. Ultimate transparency.