Wren and Wild's Q&A with Axiology's founder and CEO, Ericka Rodriguez
Hi Ericka! It's exciting to get a chance to talk with you. You are truly an innovator in this industry and we'd love to hear how it all began.
You didn’t originally get into the beauty industry to radically challenge the status quo but rather you happened upon it by discovering that the beauty products you were using were being tested on animals. Can you tell me about that moment in time? And how did it change you as a person and your brand?
I’ve always been an animal lover, vegan before it was cool, I was made fun of a lot. In my early 20’s I was putting on makeup as usual and saw the cruelty free logo on one of my products and I thought “Oh my gosh, does that mean everything else is tested on animals?” That moment opened up this world for me because I didn’t realize how many products were tested on animals and how many animal derived ingredients were being used. That’s basically where all of this started.
So you said, “this isn’t right, and I’m going to do something about it”?
Well I tried to not. Haha. I tried to be an everyday consumer and go from there. This was in early 2013 so the clean beauty movement was just barely happening, especially vegan beauty. There were two big vegan brands at the time. I ended up ordering like five of their lipsticks and I’m not kidding you, every one of the bullets I put to my lips broke because they were so dry. I thought, wow, why is it so hard to find quality vegan makeup and my focus was just lipstick at the time. I just wanted some cute lipstick to go out in and because I couldn’t find any I thought, let me just play around and here we are.
There was a time when natural grocery stores were the only places you could find clean beauty and I agree, they were nothing like this (as I held up my new favorite, tinted dew, multi-stick) I’m obsessed. These are beautiful! So tell me about that process. You’re reading books, making products in your kitchen. Did you ever think, “what am I doing?”
I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t know that 8, nearly 9 years later I was going to be here with a cosmetics company. So I didn’t really have the pressure. For me it was more of a creative outlet. It was just fun, I was enjoying myself. I studied entrepreneurship in school so I had that understanding. I was making smoothies at a vegan restaurant in NYC and I had time to spare. Slowly but surely I started taking it more seriously and thought maybe I should launch on Etsy. OK, now maybe I should launch a website. OK, now maybe I should post on social media. It was all baby steps.
Your launch of 10 ingredient lip shades that are vegan, clean and cruelty free was a huge success and you were picked up by some big name retailers. What was the word on the street at that time? What feedback were you getting?
Again, I was at the right place at the right time when this clean beauty movement started. I was one of the only clean makeup brands that was also vegan. Everyone was looking to fill their clean beauty stores. Barely over two years in we were picked up by Sephor (which we are no longer in) but it happened fast and it was fun. I just held on.
You were once again fueled by the industry to evolve your brand when you learned that 120 billion units of packing waste is created every single year and you went plastic free. Instead of contributing to the problem you literally have turned trash into treasure and your Balmie’s packaging is not only 100% recyclable but is made from island trash.
I’ve always been concerned. It was always in the back of my mind and I just never really felt good about this piece. Back when we started we were using aluminum tubes from China and every shipment half of the inventory would be broken so we had to trash it. I even flew to China with my husband who is an engineer and he was explaining what we needed, didn’t help, each shipment we were trashing nearly half of it. So I thought OK, maybe we can recycle plastic, let’s try post consumer recycled plastic tubes. We stopped using the aluminum and our tubes were 50% post consumer recycled. Our customers were like “great we can recycle these?” and I was like “no, you can't, it's actually still trash.” And I just didn’t want to have that, it just never felt right in my soul. So I was trying to find a partner that could make recycled tubes that could also be recycled and you can’t. It doesn’t exist, can’t exist. Around that time I took field trips to our local recycling plant which was eye opening. I learned that 120 billion units of packaging waste goes in the landfill every year and I was like, “every year? That’s horrible!”. Everything just meshed together and we innovated the Balmies which are tubeless, wrapped in paper. We got rid of all of our plastic tubes and we’ve been working to bring our multi-sticks back which we just launched in the paper tubes with you at Wren and Wild. It was a lot of realizations, a lot of nights up thinking I just don’t want to contribute this way.
Tell us a little about the collective you partnered with?
When I was creating Axiology in my kitchen my husband, then boyfriend, encouraged me to go to Bali and focus on building my company. It was there I found this paper company that has been hand recycling paper trash for 25 years. It’s just something they do to help their community, their island. They don’t have a disposal system like we do in the U.S. You have to do something with your trash or you end up burning it or throwing it in the ocean. These women have been working on traditional methods of recycling, recreating paper. I saw their little store, drove to their factory and I was like I don’t even have a name for my company but I want to work with you and I’ve been working with them ever since.
You are truly an innovator in this business. Can we expect something new and cutting edge in our future?
We’re launching new products and they will all be the same ethos: vegan, cruelty free, sustainable and planet first. We have a foundation launching in 2023 and other fun stuff on the way.
Thank you, Ericka. It was not intentional but very appropriate that I’m wearing the multi-stick “ethos”. I just love it, it’s so creamy and lovely. And we are just so delighted to carry these products at Wren and Wild. Truly, thank you for all you do, what a pleasure to get to chat with you.