Interview with Alli Reed - Founder of Stratia Skin

1) Can you tell us about your journey and what inspired you to start Stratia Skin?

I started Stratia in 2016 as two passions of mine came together. I have a chemistry background (that I didn't end up using in my career) but I always loved lab time. The hands on part was always my favorite, and then separately in my twenties, I started getting into skincare for the very first time. I was so fascinated by the intersection between the chemistry of a formula and the biology of a living organ; that you can actually impact the way a living organ functions. That was so fascinating to me. So I did as much research as I possibly could about how skin works, how skincare is formulated, what the interaction is between the two, reading dermatology journals, peer reviewed studies…it got to a point where I was really well educated on skin and skin care and found that as a consumer, that wasn't helping me shop. When I wanted to make sure that my skincare aligned with the research I was doing, the only information I had about the formula was whatever trickles through the marketing department. So I decided to cut out the middleman, combine my chemistry background with my love of skincare and the research I'd been doing to formulate my own skincare, making sure that it was truly aligned with the hard science behind it, and that I could make skincare that actually works.

2) How do you approach the creation of your products? What's your process like?

If I had to pick one thing that makes Stratia unique in the skincare world, I think it is how we approach our product development. I am the formulator for all the products and it is so rare to have a chemist that high on the totem pole. Usually, the cosmetic chemists are being handed a brief that tells them what ingredients to include, ingredients not to include, what it needs to feel like, make sure it feels like this other product that's already on the market, etc. I have absolute free reign to create whatever I want. So how I start, I am always reading research, new studies that are coming out about ingredients, new products that are being developed. I am super tapped into a lot of consumer forums. I'm always working on Reddit and skincare addiction and all those subreddits to find out what people really want. And then when I have an idea, whether it's a single ingredient, a combination of ingredients, a skincare concern I want to address, I start out with absolute freedom. I get to create whatever the research tells me and whatever my own intuition tells me in terms of what the formula feels like and how it's used. As I formulate, I go through generally 20 to 50 different prototypes as I have a prototype that I think is pretty good. I will reach out to a list of about a thousand people who have signed up to test my prototypes on a volunteer basis. And at first come, first serve, send out a bunch of samples, and then they have to test it for 30 days, fill out the super thorough form. So grateful for these volunteer testers! And then based on that, I iterate for the next prototype and rinse and repeat until it literally cannot be improved on anymore. I don't have a timeline I'm following. I don't have a launch date that I need to hit. I am just creating the best product I possibly can and a product that because I'm testing it on so many different faces, I know works for not just for my skin, not just for the skin of the product development team, but on as many different skin types, tones, ages, textures, genders as are out there. So then when I literally cannot think of a way to improve the formula, then it goes through stability testing and I hand it to the marketing department to figure out how to sell it (because they do not get a say at all in what I'm formulating). And so that process, as I spend more time in the beauty industry, I learn just how unique that is.

3) How do you stay connected to your customer base and understand their evolving needs and preferences?

I started Stratia as a consumer, strictly. I have never worked in the beauty industry. I had never started a company before. I had no idea of behind the scenes. I just wanted to make the kinds of products that I as a consumer wanted to buy that were backed by research. That were really science first and just super effective, efficacy focused rather than marketing. So being immersed in what consumers want is part of Stratia’s core DNA. I am always lurking on Reddit, skincare addiction and the other skincare subreddits. I'm really involved in the Instagram and TikTok skincare communities. And I also make myself really, really available to all of our current and potential customers who can email me directly with the kinds of products they want to see, any concerns they have, what they're looking for, any questions they have about how certain ingredients, how they interact with each other or “hey, can you help me understand this study?”
Making myself so accessible and being on-the-ground with everyone else who's trying to figure out skincare at the same time, is so rewarding and it's something that is part of Stratia's foundation and that I'm really passionate about.

4) Many customers love Stratia after their first try. Why do you think sampling is important?

The thing that drew me into skincare as my first and true love is how complex it is; that your skin is a living organ that is as unique as your fingerprint. There are so many different biological processes going on, so many different skin types, skin concerns, skin proclivities. There is no way to know for sure exactly how your skin will respond to any given skin care product. There is truly no substitute for trying a product on your skin to see how it will react. You can read reviews, you can read the ingredients list, but there are so many different complex biological processes going on with your skin at all times. That's why I think sampling services are so important. It's so hard. It's like the butterfly effect and so it is so hard to predict exactly how your skin will react to any given skin care product. So the absolute best way to find out how it works for you is to try it.

5) What are 2-3 brands you admire in the beauty space? These could be makeup, skin, hair, etc. Feel free to share why you love them.

There are so many brands that I admire in the beauty space, so I'm just going to name a couple of them. I so admire The Ordinary for what they've done to bring ingredient focused skincare to a much more affordable price point. Before them, there was kind of this dichotomy between if you want skincare that works really well, you need to pay a lot of money. You want skincare that's okay, you can afford it. And they really broke down that barrier in a really big way and I'm so grateful to them for having done that. In terms of makeup, I really admire Mac. For they have been such a staple in both the consumer and professional makeup industry for so many decades. It is so impressive and as someone who enjoys doing my own makeup, there are products that have been around for decades and have still not been improved upon in that other brands haven't found a way to do better. I so admire the cosmetic chemist(s) behind those cult products at Mac. That just cannot be outdone.