Accountability: a word as intimidating as it is liberating. In 2020 we’ve wedged a stark contrast between an unapologetic pursuit of accountability, and embracing forgiveness when accountability is nowhere to be found. At All the Pretty Birds, we are ending the year meditating on the subject; from seeking it in relationships to how it molds our self-preservation. Credo Beauty is an unmatched retailer in its approach to accountable action. The company was cofounded by its current COO Annie Jackson and ultimate visionary, the late Shashi Batra; credited for his innovative anticipation of a market reshaping the beauty industry as we know it.
Today, Credo Beauty not only tackles the challenge of providing its customers with an assortment of safe, transparent products, but modeling the best of accountability to its industry and communities of color. Along with many retailers forced to confront the realities of systemic injustice, Credo caught our attention for its unique, multi-faceted pursuit of supporting BIPOC-Owned Brands. We had the pleasure of interviewing Annie Jackson to further discuss how the brand grappled with all that 2020 had to offer.
How Annie Jackson’s Humble Beginnings Beget Honorable Mentions
Have you ever met someone for the first time and oddly walked away from the conversation feeling like they shared with you the secrets of Pandora’s Box? I mean, wholehearted, genuine wisdom is seeping out of this person you just met…and now, you feel as though you could save the world? That is what stepping away from a conversation with Annie Jackson feels like. In reflecting on her journey to Credo Beauty, the executive was keen to share the origins of her story. This would later impact the actions taken to create equitable opportunities for BIPOC-Owned Brands.
One of the founding team members for Sephora US, Jackson’s career in beauty, began at nineteen fetching coffee and filing binders at Estee Lauder. Originally from San Francisco, when recruited to leave New York and work at a company no one had heard of at the time, she jumped on the opportunity. Jackson recalls her early days at the now, global enterprise:
Annie Jackson: “That’s where I first got that entrepreneurial bug. I think I was like twenty-six by the time I started at Sephora and that was an incredible experience for someone my age. I continued on for my career, I really just loved startups and the challenge that it brings. Every day is totally different. I love having to figure out this ‘puzzle’ that we face every day. The ‘same old, same old’ works for some people but definitely not for me.” I was lucky enough to meet Shashi Batra who is really the visionary behind Credo and Sephora. He was not only my boss, but my mentor. He became one of my closest friends. We work so well together; he was the true visionary and I, the operator. We were like ‘Sonny and Cher.’”
A Clean Start for a Strong Finish
In reflecting on the interview, I wish I could characterize the experience of Annie lighting up when talking about Batra. She went on to explain the significance of mentoring relationships, and the inspiration that came with mentoring BIPOC founders through the Credo for Change mentorship program:
Annie Jackson: “I was totally inspired by the founders in this category. They all came from very different walks of life and they looked at product development in such a different way. There are usually very aspirational stories about how they started their business and why they were really compelled to do it. Most of them [over ninety percent of them] are women which I found also wildly exciting.”
The initiative launched in August and committed to six months of intensive 1-on-1 mentoring. BIPOC founders were paired with Credo executives and other industry experts for coaching and strategy around growing their clean beauty brands. A feat Jackson knows all too well, we continued to unpack the challenges Credo faced amidst a year of social unrest.
Accountability in Motion: A Crossover of Nuances
In addition to creating equitable opportunities for BIPOC founders, Jackson was tasked with an unparalleled operation: navigating the crossover of mass nuance. The indie retailer, known for its ethical ‘Credo Clean Standard’ is undoubtedly set apart in the beauty industry. While ensuring its customers receive a quality selection of transparent goods, it further highlighted the BIPOC-Owned Brands it carried, and exponentially grew the category altogether. The Chief Operations Officer unpacks the experience for us:
Annie Jackson: “While this year has been so challenging and honestly quite scary, there have been several silver linings to what we’ve all experienced. I think facing racial injustice and inequities for us has been the most eye opening. What we learned as individuals and as a team really began at the end of May with George Floyd’s murder. We all sat back and became introspective to look at how we operate as a company.
I think we got into a really comfortable place prior to that. We’d say ‘we’re welcoming to everyone’ and ‘our staff is so diverse’. ‘We don’t ask founders their race – this is about filling a blank space in the store.’ What we learned is that’s not the way to look at it.’ We had to question why Black founders or Asian founders weren’t actually even submitting to us? To actually question why that was a barrier, but also as merchants to intentionally seek them out.
That’s why we started a mentorship program, because everybody on our team has a very similar background. This network of people was in part, a large way that brands got in our door. We found it to be this very inequitable path to having shelf space in a retail store whether it’s Credo or any other. The mentorship has been incredibly valued and valuable, not only for our mentees but also for us. We get to know them much better and to understand what their challenges have been along this road.”
Jackson went on to describe the gratification that comes with seeing growth in some of the original brands at Credo;
Annie Jackson: “I think back on some of our early conversations with brands and where they are today. Whether they added a couple people and got a real office or they started contracting with a distribution center and they’re growing. That to me is more rewarding than any paycheck or any additional store. To have an integral part in making someone’s dreams come true? I mean what else can you ask for; it feels very good.”
Product Integrity and Diversity: A Recipe for Reciprocity
While Credo offers the promise of growth to its brands, it offers a standard of excellence to its customers. Maintaining and encouraging product integrity is another layer of nuance the retailer tackles. With a growing audience of the Clean Beauty curious, Jackson dives into the importance of accountability in product development:
Annie Jackson: “We are very selective about who we bring into the store based on our beliefs that people should see what’s in their product. We make sure the product is safe for importantly people, but also the planet. I think we had a couple areas where we really fell short of that and I would say the biggest piece was in complexion.
Over the years we’ve spoken pretty loudly about that lack of diversity in shades and this is very frustrating. I’m sad that brands got into [the habit of] ‘okay here’s my new concealer and it’s only four shades, but if these four shades do great then I’ll add more’. That was just making me crazy. And we try to always lead with empathy and kindness, but we started to get much more direct in terms of our feedback. ‘You’ve already told that customer when you only launched four shades of white girl that you’re not for her. To actually combat it and later on to just say ‘okay actually, now we’ll work for you’ that’s not okay either. So we’ve said, ‘either don’t do it or do it the right way first.’
That has been our biggest council to keep all the brands that we already had. We focused on pushing them to add more shades. And I want to point out that I’m not beating them up. None of this was intentional, they just don’t have the funding and it’s a big risk to take financially so we created this brand called Exa.”
Exa Beauty: 43 Shades of Clean Beauty Coverage
Credo launched Exa Beauty in the middle of the pandemic, despite nationwide store closures. Facing the elimination of the in-store experience due to Covid-19, Jackson describes the trials faced and hopes after the pandemic:
Annie Jackson: “We had spent our last 24 months working our tails off to get 43 shades of foundation to market. Now, the biggest vehicle we wanted to use to bring that foundation to people is inaccessible…”
“We must ask ourselves, ‘How are we talking to this diverse client? How are we having her listen to us and trust us, because we’ve told her in the past we are not for her? We’ve got a lot of work to do there: to change the way of thinking in the [Clean Beauty] space.”
“We’re excited to get the stores back open again; to get this product out there and get people’s butts in the chairs. Let’s start having the conversation about the fact that clean beauty has changed. We have to tell people that the industry has evolved and that people are meeting them where they are at. That’s one place we feel proud in terms of not only holding ourselves accountable, but also our other brands. That’s the space we want to help them grow in too.”
The foundation and primer pair is not only clean, but vegan, cruelty-free, gluten-free, dermatologist approved, and sustainably packaged. As Credo continues to be a leader in Clean Beauty, larger beauty retailers have made efforts in adopting higher product standards. Most recently, Credo and Ulta Beauty joined forces to better serve the market.
In conversation with Annie it was important to share with you Pretty Birds the importance of affecting positive change. Credo is not looking to keep raising the bar for brands, but to take advantage of the innovation offered by the likes of sustainable ingredients or packaging. As mirrored by these milestones in technology, we must seize the moment in the social milestone of confronting and addressing issues of systemic inequities. Taking accountable action in our respective industries, what we produce, our networks, or even our relationships are all means of affecting positive change.
At All the Pretty Birds we are excited to feature Co-Founder and COO, Annie Jackson and companies like Credo Beauty that are taking accountability, and demonstrating effective change in the lives of not only its team, but its brands, and customers.
All images via Credo Beauty
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