You may not have heard of Thrive Causemetics yet, but once you clock the signature turquoise packaging, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon kicks in and you’ll notice it cropping up everywhere — on your Insta feed, in magazines, and in YouTube videos by makeup artists like @NikkieTutorials and @KathleenLights. The buzzy brand sells one mascara every nine seconds (and mascara is just one of their 90 products). Even more impressive, they give one away — for free — every nine seconds, too, thanks to founder Karissa Bodnar’s mantra, “beauty with a purpose”.
For every product you buy, one is donated to a woman in need, including those experiencing cancer, homelessness, or domestic violence. It’s not just good karma. In today’s socially-conscious marketplace, it’s good business. Millennials care a lot about where their money goes. More than 90 percent of them would switch brands to one associated with a cause, according to a study from Cone Communications. Precisely how Thrive Causemetics went from a plucky little makeup startup to a multi-million-dollar company in just three years.
Bodnar’s background in product development began as a kid in rural Washington state, making homemade cosmetics in her kitchen. Her passion eventually led her to L’Oréal’s luxury division, where she developed makeup and skin care. When she started her own line of high-performance products, it was important to be kind to animals, to the Earth, and to women’s skin. “Five years ago, vegan cosmetics weren’t very effective,” she says. “From my tinkering with ingredients like polymers, hyaluronic acid, and spirulina, I knew I could create better vegan and cruelty-free products without parabens and sulfates.”
Their biggest seller is the Liquid Lash Extensions Mascara, a fan favorite tubing mascara that boosts length and volume without smudging. Instead of powder fibers, which are “the reason traditional mascaras flake on you,” she says, the formula contains a stay-put liquid fiber blend made with Korean plant extracts, and orchid stem cells to coax lash growth. Infinity Waterproof Eyeliner contains the same type of semi-permanent micropigments used in microblading, for 24-hour wear that won’t irritate eyes.
“If you have cancer, alopecia, or trichotillomania, your skin can be more sensitive,” says Bodnar, who named one of Thrive’s false lash styles "The Kristy" after a friend who died of cancer. That makes Infinity Waterproof Lash Adhesive a holy-grail product for women with wimpy lashes or none at all — unlike most good lash glues, it’s long-lasting and contains no sulfates or latex. (“Jessica Simpson wears our lash glue,” says Bodnar. “She puts it on Monday in L.A., flies to New York for a week, and keeps them on the entire time — which we don't recommend.” That’s staying power.)
The newest product on the roster is Buildable CC Cream with SPF 35 (shown below), which launches in August 2018. It’s oil-free and has “smart” micropigments that adjust to your skin tone. To make sure the 18-shade range was truly representative, Bodnar worked with women of color on the formulation, including editors from Essence magazine, brand guru and influencer Bozoma St. John, and Indian actress Priyanka Chopra as well as customers in Thrive Lab, a community that gives input and tests new products before they roll out.
Thrive doesn’t pay influencers to hawk their makeup. (They do, however, give free swag to some.) The love they get from fans is real, and so is the compassion. “We actually bring our customers into giving events so that they can be a part of the magic of changing women's lives,” Bodnar says.
It’s this sense of community that allows Thrive Causemetics to succeed and, well, thrive. Not too shabby for a company whose business model is to give half their products away for free.