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How Model Josie Maran Proved Eco-Beauty Naysayers Wrong

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Josie Maran, who started her all-natural cosmetics line in 2007.
Josie Maran, who started her all-natural cosmetics line in 2007.

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A career in modeling can be toxic in many ways, but for supermodel-turned-businesswoman Josie Maran, one of the most unappealing aspects of the job was all the chemical-filled makeup.

Maran, a self-professed "hippie" from California's Bay Area, discovered argan oil on a modeling trip to France. At the time, it was not commonly used in the beauty industry. Inspired by argan's healing qualities and interested in creating a more natural beauty alternative, in 2007 Maran launched Josie Maran Cosmetics, a line of products that featured the oil, which is produced mostly in North Africa. Now Maran, who once graced the covers of magazines like Maxim and Lucky, spends her time creating new beauty products and supporting fair wages for the woman who produce argan oil in Morocco.

Maran shared the details of her business venture with Racked, from turning her passion for mother Earth into a business model to how she self-funded her entire operation after investors laughed at her business idea.

Photo via Josie Maran Cosmetics

When did you first become interested in a natural and holistic lifestyle?
"I was born into it. My family is politically and socially active and my mom had chronic fatigue syndrome so she was always very sensitive to chemicals. I grew up in a natural, holistic environment and I'm from Northern California, where we are down with the earth."

How did the modeling industry get you involved with beauty and cosmetics?
"Well I was a model for a long time, but I always wondering what my impact on the world would be. As I was modeling, I realized there was no alternative for beauty cosmetics that were good for the planet but also high-end enough for a make-up artist to use. I got excited about that and wanted to enter myself in that world."

Were people open to the idea that make-up ingredients can be bad for you?
"Not at all. Back then, like in the 2000s, people didn't talk about it. We were only just started to hear about parabens in, like, 2007, but no one really paid attention to it and if you did you were looked at like a weird hippie. Modeling isn't a very conscious arena, which is interesting because a lot of models end up going health conscious and green."

How did you find argan oil and why did you choose that ingredient to start a business with?
"While I was still modeling, I had a transformative experience with argan oil. Five years before I launched my line, I was modeling in the South of France and I met this 70-year-old woman who looked like she was 40. She told me she used argan oil so I started to use it every day. I used to have breakouts and my skin was really dry and I used very popular products and moisturizers that were not made of natural ingredients. I switched to argan oil every day and night on my skin and on my hair and it was amazing. I began dreaming about starting a healthy and natural line. "

Argan Illuminizer. Image Josie Maran Cosmetics.

How do you get the argan oil for your products?
"The oil only grows in Morocco but a lot of people in the area sell it. The oil is protected by UNESCO so that it's sustainable and the trees aren't cut down. All the argan trees are harvested by women's co-operatives, but a lot of [the people working in the area] are corrupt. Morocco isn't the most politically safe place and women don't have equal rights. So I went there to meet with different people and make sure they were doing what they said they were doing. [The people I work with] make sure money is given back to the women, the wages are fair, and the farm is sustainable."

What challenges did you encounter when starting your business?
"I had no idea what I was doing, I just had a lot of passion for wanting to make a difference and I wanted to support my sisters with good stuff. I had to figure out how to run a business, and that was difficult, but it was a labor of love and it gets better and better. Plus, in developing the actual product, it was hard to find a formula that is high performing and high quality. That was not easy, especially 10 years ago. I went to different labs, and I would bring them fancy products and say, how can we make this without any of the bad stuff? And I was told it was impossible. I even had labs try to convince me that parabens are actually good for you. I got a lot of nos but it helped us with the innovation."

Josie on QVC. Photo via Josie Maran Cosmetics.

Did you find people didn't take you seriously as a businesswoman because you were a model?
"Oh, yes. But I believed in myself. Early on, I met with stores and investors and I'd say, guys, this is going to be huge. Because obviously, right? But they laughed at me. And I tried to convince them but they just told me good luck. I got very little support from investors and especially people in the cosmetic business. So I ended up self-funding it and I invested every penny I had. My business manager called me when I was almost at launching my line and he said I had about three months left [of funds] to live! But I did get support from Sephora and Barneys and eventually people became really excited about the product."

What advice would you give to business owners looking to stand out?
"Always asking what's possible. If you play the same game that everyone else is playing, you won't do anything that's inspiring and you'll live in fear. If you don't allow yourself to dream, you'll never got yourself anywhere unique and important. You also really need to learn how to trust yourself and others. You need to be able to grow as a team and an organization."

Photo via Josie Maran Cosmetics.

Have you learned any important brand strategies you can share?
"Yes: you always have to have a point of difference. For me, I was passionate about innovation. You need to have a surprise so that the company is important, you need to have some sort of excitement or juice. You can't just make stuff just to put it out there: it has to be really special, and have a point of difference that is something you can own and be confident about."

What business mantras do you live by?
"I say to stay as authentic and transparent as possible. Let people know, you are not perfect but you're feeling it out and share the journey with your customers. With me, it allows my customers to see my journey and engage with me. I try to be honest and authentic."

Are there any social justice components at your company?
"A percentage of every bottle of argan oil we sell goes back to the women harvesting the oil. It's a level of my business I take part in, I call it empowerment. I found that I need to empower my team and my goal is to go to Morocco and empower women through the harvest. We're doing a lot of good but there's a lot more to do. We focus on behaviors and create a support system and make it a point [to be a company that] enjoys our lives while we work and impact the world. If we are happy people, we are able to cultivate that in ourselves and then make a difference."
· Josie Maran Cosmetics [Official Site]
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