The FEKKAI Life: Urmila Ratnam, CEO and President of Alima Pure

I am a celebrity hairstylist, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist who’s built my brand on taking care of others, body, hair, and soul. Join me weekly for The FEKKAI Life, a series of relaxed, intimate conversations with free thinkers, business leaders, and creatives who’ve used their passion to change the world for the better.  Available wherever you find your podcasts.

Frédéric Fekkai: Hi, I'm Frédéric Fekkai and welcome to the The FEKKAI Life, a podcast about some of the most impactful causes of our time and the creative minds that power them.

Urmila Ratnam: Hi, I'm Urmila Ratnam, CEO of Alima Pure. And what clean living means to me is really a recognition and honoring of everything that we've been given, all the wonderful gifts that the planet offers, being mindful and thoughtful as you go through your day and your life to make the best choices that you can self care. I always start my day with a sun salutation cycles. This is something that my grandmother introduced me to when I was 13 years old, and I've been doing it every single day. So practices like that, that center, you, that remind you of what's important. And I would say, especially in recent times with what we've been going through this year around the globe, that has been a real strength that gives me, you know, that source of, I would say calm. Once I've reacted to everything that I've heard, the new of the day to be able to move forward. So it's about that. It's about being thoughtful and making the best choices you can.

FF: In a beauty industry that grows more competitive every day, the brands that stand apart are those driven by their values. I'm excited to speak with Urmila Ratnam, CEO and President of Alima Pure, a natural beauty line dedicated to sustainability and creativity and feeling good about yourself. I want to welcome a wonderful guest today, and that is Urmila. And I mean, I'm so excited to talk to you and I know you are the CEO and the president of Alima Pure, which is a cosmetic brand, make a brand, which is made out of a natural mineral ingredients and a sister named boring. You're going to tell us even more about that. And I'm curious, is this a brand you founded or is this a brand you acquired?

UR: So first of all, it's a thrill to be here, wonderful to have this opportunity to chat with you, Frédéric. I am not the founder of Alima Pure, Alima Pure was founded 16 years ago by Kate O'Brien. And she had an early vision for what a clean inclusive, sustainable brand would look like way ahead of her time. When I first met Kate about 10 years ago, I said, you're so early on this journey, but the values totally resonated with me. And I joined her when she invited me to be part of the team and help grow the brand and grow the business. And slowly I have, you know, I started first as a consultant for Kate and then headed up sales and marketing, and then moved into my role as a CEO and President a couple of years ago.

FF: Would you tell me a little bit more about what is the meaning of the name of the brand, Alima Pure? Beautiful.

UR: Absolutely. So the name Alima references an old Sufi concept alim, which really touches on the idea that everything matters. The smallest of things have significance and mean something. And there is that interconnectivity between all actions and everything that you do. So it really comes from this place of respect and love for everyone and everything around you. And we take that through as a brand to how we create our products, who we're thinking about as our customer when we create this product, these products, it does come from that place of love and respect and that thoughtfulness and mindfulness on using our resources. It informs all of that. I would say to me, that really is at the heart of what clean living or clean beauty even would be. Is this idea that you respect these wonderful treasures and gifts around you. What you've been given, the people you work with, you interact with, and do your best every single day.

FF: So where is it Alima Pure based out of?

UR: So we're based in Portland, Oregon, and we are a tiny team. That's our one single location. So all our marketing production fulfillment, all of that happens right here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

FF: In your mind, what is Alima Pure standing for, what is the progress of the brand? What's the message out there that you are delivering?

UR: At the heart of our brand, there are three core values that really define who we are and everything that we do, we are first and foremost a clean high performance color cosmetics brand. And when we say clean it's you know, pure ingredients, minimal formulations using just what is needed and nothing more, sustainably sourced and ingredients that are of course healthy for you along with being healthy for the environment. That's our initial sort of, I would say pillar one, but right alongside that is inclusivity because we are very much a brand committed to having something for everybody for to address all the wonderful, diverse skin tones that we have across this planet. And you know, 16 years ago when Kate started the brand, that was non-negotiable for her. We, even as a small company, it's hard to have a diverse shade range, but we were either going to do that, or we were not going to do it at all. So our star product category, which is our Satin Match Foundation, we actually have had 45 shades of that ever since we began. And the third pillar, which is woven through all of this, is our commitment to the environment. So all of that comes together to define what is today being called clean beauty. This is how we've always done it at Alima Pure.

FF: That's great. So you talk about sustainability and clean formula on the component and the ingredients. Could you talk to us about the packaging? How is the packaging in sync with that and how did you achieve that?

UR: Absolutely. So that has been such a journey, and I know you are quite familiar with what the options have been, and what's been available to brands like ours over the years. We have always pushed ourselves to try to find the best solution, given all the options that were available to us at any point in time. And about five years ago in 2015, we started to introduce refillable cosmetic components. And that was a very exciting move for us. So people, you know, you can buy your compact, you can then choose your color and you have that color pan delivered to you. And then you can save that compact and reuse it and just refill your color. And we've we started with two categories, our pressed foundation and concealer in that format, but then we've expanded it to eyeshadows and highlighters and so on. So that's one big piece and we're continuing to extend that. The other side of it, of course, is the boxes that we use. It's 100% post consumer recycled paper and you know, soy based inks. And we're constantly talking with suppliers vendors, trying to figure out what's the next innovation that they have, what can we use that maintains the integrity of the product, of course, but you know, to continue minimizing that carbon footprint and being mindful of the resources that we use.

FF: Well, I'm very delighted to hear that. And it's also great to see that you are always in search to improve that. So Alima Pure has been carbon neutral for more than a decade. I think many companies are just starting to try and engage with sustainable efforts. It's also, I think a partner of the 1% for the Planet. How will you know when you reach a place where you're giving back enough, what does that journey look like for you as a leader?

UR: It's a journey that is going to from my perspective continue, and you're never done with something like the environment, but yes, as you said, we've been carbon neutral for over 10 years from our very first year in business, we've been a partner of 1% for the Planet, which means that we give 1% of gross profits of sales, I should say, not profits to environmental causes. So we write that check before we pay ourselves, essentially. So there was no question that we would make that commitment. And we are also, I believe, the first color cosmetics brand to become a certified B corporation, so that commitment to people, planet in addition to profit, to keep a healthy business going, is very much part of everything that we do. We are constantly trying to do better. We are of course proud of what we've achieved so far, even being such a tiny company, but we're constantly looking into new packaging methods. How can we educate customers? How can we bring people along to join this journey with us? And earlier this year on earth day, one of the initiatives that we announced was that we would plant, we committed to planting a quarter million trees this year. And we have made that decision at the beginning of this year that...we've planted trees before, wanted to just put a stake in the ground and say, I think we can do 250,000 trees. Of course the pandemic hit, and there are all kinds of things that happened, but we've continued to honor that commitment and are very optimistic that we'll be able to do that. And more, so it's never done, Frédéric. I don't, I don't think we'll be done. You know?

FF: I agree. I agree, but what a great initiative, and you know, what I applaud you for is that this is not a trend for you. It's been there for a decade and you've been assisting and continuing that progress, which is great.

FF: Urmila, I'd like to know, you know, your company offers an incredible 45 shades of foundation and diversity. How have you taken a leadership role in the beauty space when it comes to inclusivity? I think you touched on it before, but I like to have you explain a bit more about that.

UR: Absolutely. For us at Alima Pure, it was never a question of not offering you know, a diverse and inclusive shade range. Of course, if we're going to make a product that we're excited about, we want all kinds of people to be able to enjoy it, whatever you look like, whatever your skin tone, we were excited to share it with the world and just a core value and a commitment to recognizing that we are such a wonderfully diverse population on this planet. And we've whenever possible talked about that. We've talked about that with our retailers and how important it is that when they do carry our brand, even if they can't carry all 45, which we fully understand the stores, brick and mortar stores are not that big and we are a tiny brand, however, that we would want them to have a representative shade range to reach a diverse audience. And I have to be frank, when Kate started this 16 years ago we were really an outlier. It was not very common to be talking about such an extensive shade range. And we did you know, face challenges over time with some retailers going, this is going to be too complicated for us to present your brand. But over time, I'm very happy to report that the people have seen how valuable that is, you know, and so it's been easier for us to present a wider range to our retailers. And they have seen the advantages of having a brand like Alima Pure in their assortment because they can address a wider customer base. So I think that just has that ripple effect. You can imagine that this is not an easy decision from a business perspective to commit to such an extensive shade range, because you make that commitment to a big inventory would be so much easier to have a smaller number of skews. And we don't have deep pockets, but it's non-negotiable for us with this is the only way we're going to move forward.

FF: Yes. Tell us a little bit about the business. Where are you distributed? How are you communicating and inclusivity and your sustainability and clean formula and your positioning, basically? Tell me a little bit more, where are you present in distribution?

UR: So we are in a wonderful clean beauty focused stores, like the Detox Market and Credo Beauty and other independent retailers around the country. And we're also available to retailers in Europe and in Singapore and Hong Kong and Australia. And so we're tiny, but we do have an international footprint and a very loyal following beyond US and Canada. And we're excited to continue to reach more people. And I do think that that international footprint also speaks to the fact that we have this diverse shade range and there's something in our assortment for everybody, whatever your skin tone, whatever your aesthetic and who doesn't want to have a clean high performance products that is sustainably made? If you have the opportunity to discover that, you know, but it is not easy to formulate clean sustainable ]products that also perform, but it is makeup and if it's not going to perform, where are you going to use it, so we take our time, we don't necessarily launch, you know, a new product every quarter or so. We are really, really sticklers for finding the best ingredient and the performance aspect of things that said all the hard work that we've done over the years, our categories do perform. So whatever we do have out there stands up to all the wear. And, you know, the products are with you through the day through your life, wherever you take them. They work for you.

FF: I want to hear a little bit more about how the we can engage with Alima Pure and you online?

UR: Well, of course our website is alimapure.com. Our Instagram, we have quite a wonderfully engaged community there, and we'd love to have more people join the conversation, it's @alimapure. Facebook as well, Alima Pure. You can find me on LinkedIn at Urmila Ratnam. And my personal Instagram is @urmilaratnam as well. All one word my first name and last name, I have to say that I'm personally very quiet on my social media, but I love following other people and keeping track of things what's happening around the world. It's wonderful to be able to connect in so many different ways, especially during this time where we're all feeling so distant and isolated all this you know, the opportunity to connect on different platforms. It's that much more important to all of us.

FF: What is your ideal next step? What is your goal? What's the end goal?

UR: That's a big question and a very important one and one that I think about all the time. We definitely want more people to know who we are. We are really proud of the work that we're doing. It's a wonderful brand with great products. And so we don't want to be that best kept secret that you might only discover in one or two places. So a very, very important goal is to be able to market and reach a wider audience and just share the product. So growth is from a business perspective is key, and how can we achieve that? You know, we're looking at all the options because we've been completely founder owned and funded to this point. And then we might need to open that up a little bit. So those are all very important conversations from the business point of view but really, we just would love to share our products and, and hear from people around the country and around the world and what they think and what they would like from us, how we can do better, you know, do continue to do what we're doing so well.

FF: Throughout my career, I find myself drawn to leaders who let their values guide them. Urmila's vision for a beauty industry without compromise has the potential to shape our culture forever. I'm Frédéric Fekkai and this is The FEKKAI Life. Stay tuned for more eye opening conversations to come.

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Additional Blog Posts

The FEKKAI Life: Urmila Ratnam, CEO and President of Alima Pure

The FEKKAI Life: Urmila Ratnam, CEO and President of Alima Pure

In a beauty industry that grows more competitive every day, the brands that stand apart are those driven by their values.Frédéric Fekkai speaks with Urmila Ratnam, CEO and President of Alima Pure, a natural beauty line dedicated to sustainability, inclusivity, and feeling good about yourself. The vision that Urmila has for a beauty industry without compromise has the potential to shape our culture forever.

Read more