This is our second post in ‘Move to Mindful,’ a new series of interviews about people’s connection with mindful beauty— a movement beyond clean, nontoxic beauty that also incorporates ethical, sustainable, and wellness practices. The goal of these interviews is to provide space for open discussion, always with this mantra (and then some): You do you, while being *extra* for our planet and humanity too.
Tiila Abbitt has a background in fashion design but ended up working as Sephora’s Head of Product Development for 7 years before realizing that the world needed a real clean-beauty pioneer. As a longtime vegetarian and clean, organic-product enthusiast, she set out on her own to create Aether Beauty Co, a cosmetics brand dedicated to clean, cruelty-free, crystal-infused makeup sold in 100% recyclable packaging. Her brand has risen to become the “gold standard” for clean makeup that she hopes will someday become the future of beauty.
DEFINE WHAT ‘MINDFUL BEAUTY’ MEANS TO YOU.
Oh boy. So, you know, it really goes beyond ingredients for me. Mindful is really just being more aware of the product that we are buying—especially in beauty. So, for me, that means the ingredients we're putting on our skin, the packaging the beauty product comes in, as well as what it takes to actually make that product. I think the customer is getting more savvy and they're demanding more from brands—which I think is fantastic and is a step in the right direction.
For me, it really shouldn't be coming from customer demand. It should be coming from beauty brands desire to do the right thing.
WAS BEAUTY THE INITIAL CHANGE YOU MADE WHEN TRANSITIONING TO A MORE MINDFUL LIFESTYLE?
So, no, I have been a vegetarian for over 26 years and that sort of always gave me a different lens as far as what I was buying and putting in my body for a very long time. I also was a cook in an organic restaurant when I was in college. I got organic mattresses for my kids and us. I got an organic couch without fire retardants because I’m just crazy about chemicals, etc. I understand manufacturing.
I got my background from fashion design, so I know sort of the ins and outs and the dirty secrets of all these industries and how toxic they are. I have always been mindful of what we're eating and what we're breathing in and what we're putting on our skin.
WHAT CAUSED YOU TO MOVE TOWARDS USING MINDFUL BEAUTY PRODUCTS?
I have always been aware of the ingredients being used. Working at Sephora, Sephora is part of LVMH (LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE) and LVMH has its own blacklist of ingredients you are not allowed to formulate with. But I learned how to talk people out of ingredients like the back of my hand because I did that for 7 years. There I really learned exactly what ingredients were being used in this space. And I learned quickly that there are only 32 banned chemicals in the United States and the last time that we banned one was 1938. And since then there have been 16,000+ ingredients introduced.
It’s insane and it's up to brands to self-regulate even those 32 ingredients. In Canada, there are 500 ingredients banned and in the European Union, there are over 1,300 banned. But I also changed a step beyond that in making sure what I am enforcing is actually ethically sourced. So, I am sourcing organic and child-labor-free ingredients which, to me, is when you need to be at the source from the beginning of your product to really understand where everything is coming from. A lot of beauty brands work directly with cosmetic facilities and they have nothing to do with the sourcing of the actual ingredient. So, they don't really feel responsible for it, I guess. And it's the same thing with packaging. They are just buying the final packaging from the packaging supplier and they are not taking responsibility for the making of the packaging—how recyclable it is, the end cycle—none of it. They don't think about it. It's not part of their product development. So now, Sephora is using my brand as the gold standard when it comes to the packaging.
That's what I want because I want people to be able to change that. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reported that a 3rd of the landfill waste is from the beauty industry. People think when you finish a lip gloss and you put it in a recycling can, it gets recycled. That's completely untrue. Those things end up in a landfill. And now with China's laws getting more strict when it comes to recyclable goods, a lot of areas aren't even recycling. Or they are just incinerating because it's cheaper for them.
So, as a brand, I see it as my responsibility to make sure the products I am producing in this world are recyclable at any point and if I am making packaging that's going to end up in a landfill or not have any way to go back in the system, that's on me. And, being a mother, I am not okay with creating a problem that might harm kids.
And it's crazy because now there are a bunch of brands launching and they are getting on board with sustainable packaging— “trends" for lack of a better word. But they are just contributing to the greenwashing in this space.
WHICH BEAUTY PRODUCT WAS THE FIRST YOU SWITCHED? AND WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT MINDFUL BEAUTY/SELF-CARE MUST-HAVES?
It was definitely skincare where I started being more aggressive with buying clean beauty products. And then it transitioned to makeup. I tried a lot of makeup in the clean beauty space but I am like a conventional Sephora girl, so I have really high expectations for efficacy and am well aware of all that. It was always sort of lackluster for me so it was hard to transition over into clean for cosmetics. But for skincare, there were so many amazing options that really work. That made it very easy to switch skincare over.
I always try a million at one time. So, let me see. What is around me? There is this new mask that I just got that I've been dying to try actually—from Australia. It's called Asarai. It's like a mud mask. You don't even need foundation—your skin looks amazing—and so I am excited about that.
I actually just tried Innersense. I've always had their perfume and Innersense has this volumizing lotion for my hair (because my hair is very fine and thin but it gets incredibly frizzy). And that has been kind of my latest go-to. And then there is this company—I don't know how you pronounce it. And I keep using this dry skin beauche concentrate on my skin which is like a serum and I just really like it.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT MINDFUL SELF-CARE PRACTICE?
Learning how to say no.
Especially having your own brand, there are so many things coming at you all the time and so many opportunities that it’s hard to decipher. It's hard to know what is sort of worth your time when you are first starting out, you know? And when I first started out creating my brand, I said yes to a lot of things and it really took a toll on my health, but I had to sit back and realize that my business will survive if I'm not working 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I do have my kids and my family and everything else to balance me out. And I needed to refocus that. And with doing that, I feel like my business has actually gotten better.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING NEXT FOR MINDFUL BEAUTY?
Well, I think it's really awesome that people are getting more concerned.
I am looking forward to people really looking at their ingredients and for brands to start using truly clean substitutions when they are creating products because I believe in 5 to 10 years there will be no such thing as "clean beauty". I think all brands will be clean. And so I'm really looking forward to that shift and change of companies actually being more responsible for their products as well as being responsible for the ingredients that their customers are ultimately using on their skin.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE WANTING TO MAKE THE MOVE TO MINDFUL BEAUTY PRACTICES?
You know, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by all of this. Most people want to go home and throw everything out—stuff that might contribute to the landfill issue. We've gone through that. But I always say it's easier to concentrate on what your next purchase is.
Your biggest power in this space is your purchasing power and just being more mindful about what’s the next thing you need to get in your beauty routine and maybe doing a little research to see what you’ve been using.
I love Environmental Working Group where you can look up any ingredient. But I also love the Detox Market or Credo Beauty because they kind of do the work for you and make it a little easier, because it can be incredibly overwhelming. You look on the other side of these ingredient lists and you have to be a scientist to understand everything.
That's why a lot of greenwashing happens because people don't know what these ingredients are to even begin with. So, yeah. If you can trust your retailer, like those that I mentioned, that can make it a little bit easier.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MINDFULNESS MANTRA?
“I think I can.” Like on repeat.