Beauty Store Business magazine - January, 2020

Executive Q&A: Sara Jane Pirok Talks Nontoxic Skincare

In search of a simple, nontoxic skincare routine, two friends discover a remarkable Moroccan ingredient to create Carter & Jane.
 Carter + Jane cofounders Susan Carter Kier (left) and Sara Jane Pirok.

Just over a decade ago, best pals and beauty industry executives Sara Jane Pirok and Susan Carter Kier had the idea to create a simple, nontoxic skincare line–if they could ever find an exceptional, game- changing ingredient that delivered results. After discovering the myriad beauty benefits Moroccan prickly pear oil offers, Pirok and Kier launched their hero product, The Everything Oil in January 2018. Designed to simplify one’s skincare routine to one item, the oil does everything– cleanses, moisturizes, nourishes, protects and heals the skin. It has quickly become a favorite among celebrities, beauty infuencers and just about anyone wanting a simple, totally organic skincare regimen that works. Here, cofounder Pirok (the “Jane” in Carter + Jane), shares the fast-growing brand’s story and future plans.

Beauty Store Business: How did you get your start in the beauty industry?
Sara Jane Pirok: Throughout high school and college I worked in salons as a receptionist; this started my lifetime love affair with the beauty industry. I always knew I wanted a career in the industry, but after college, I accepted a position in corporate education (long story for another time). After several years, I found a way to take that knowledge and apply it to beauty, when I was hired to work for Pivot Point International, eventually becoming a vice president of the company. I later went on to become the chief marketing officer for Fromm International. ... To this day, I am a big fan of both Pivot Point and Fromm, and credit the experience and mentoring I received at both companies for giving me the knowledge and confidence needed to successfully launch my own company.

How did Carter + Jane come about?
Susan and I were having lunch together on a day off over a decade ago. ...We were both frustrated with our skincare routines and not being able to find a non-toxic (or really any skincare routine) that worked well for us. We vowed that we would start looking for an ingredient that could be a game-changer, and if we ever found it that we would quit our day jobs and launch a brand. We vowed it would have to be a company that would do no harm to people, the planet or pets. A decade later we launched Carter + Jane! Carter is Susan’s middle name and Jane is my middle name.

What inspired you to create The Everything Oil?
Both Susan and I were certified beauty junkies. ... I literally had a beauty “closet” full of hundreds of products with 10 steps a day, yet nothing worked. I also had terrible hypopigmentation from a bad chemical peel years ago and nothing helped to make it less noticeable. I went to every doctor and tried every market out there with no results. Susan’s husband is from Morocco and every time she was there, she would send back a few products/ingredients for me to try. She discovered prickly pear seed oil about 4 years ago and sent it to me. In a matter of days, my skin improved to the point that my husband asked if I had gotten botox or had some sort of surgery/procedure. Within two weeks, my hypopigmentation was barely noticeable.

The results I personally had were so extraordinary (and Susan had the same experience) that we knew we had to share this with the world!

What’s unique about your oil’s ingredients, prickly pear oil and A3 concentrate?
Our ingredients are 100 percent USDA certified organic, sustainably sourced, high-purity and cold pressed. Our star ingredient is organic prickly pear seed oil. With 150 percent more vitamin E than argan oil, and brimming with antioxidants, prickly pear seed oil is one of the most powerful, luxurious skincare ingredients in the world.

It takes over one million seeds from one ton of the prickly pear cactus fruit and more than 36 hours of manual labor to produce a single liter of this vitamin- and mineral-rich oil. It is a super expensive oil to harvest, but with all its benefits for all skin types, we believe it is worth every penny. It has the highest natural source of vitamin E in a plant-based oil, which is a powerful antioxidant that fights UV damage, protects the skin from free radicals and reduces the formation of blackheads. It also has one of the highest concentrations of unsaturated fatty acids of any plant oil, at 88 percent! Unsaturated fatty acids are healthy fats that are required for the proper structure and function of every cell in our body. They increase the absorption of vitamins and minerals and help to nourish the skin.

Our proprietary A3 Concentrate combines the natural hydration, antioxidant and replenishment properties of organic avocado oil, organic sweet almond oil and organic aloe vera. When the powerful A3 Concentrate is added to the prickly pear seed oil in just the right (tiny) amount, it creates a collective synergy more powerful than any of the singular oils.

What has been the greatest challenge since you launched your Kickstarter in January 2018?
Our greatest challenge has been a surprising one...the smell of our hero product, The Everything Oil. People either love it or they don’t, with really no one in the grey zone on the subject. We made a decision, knowing it was slightly risky, to not add any fragrance or essential oils to our original formula. And as I mentioned, our formula consists mostly of cold-pressed, organic, unrefined prickly pear seed oil. The best way I can describe the scent is it smells like hay. ...While we had some “smell” feedback early on, the same people that had said they “hated” it initially, told us after a few days of use they now love and crave the scent. (We literally hear this feedback from at least one new customer every day.) After nearly 12 months in business, we still have had only a handful of returns. But we want everyone to be able to use and love their experience with The Everything Oil so we started working on a second version. ... We sought out to find the perfect balance of organic essential oils that are also good for the skin. After working on the formula for nine months, and hundreds of renditions later, we are launching The Everything Oil Angelic Clementine this summer. It smells delightful and still offers the same amazing benefits of our original formula. And to be clear, our original formula will always be available too!

How do you and your cofounder, Susan Carter Kier, define your roles?
Susan and I are genuinely best friends and know our own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses so well that when we sat down to do this part of our partnership agreement, it took maybe five minutes, and we’ve stuck to it. Susan leads sales, customer service and supply chain/product fulfillment, and I lead product development, marketing, finance and legal. When things come up that don’t fit nicely into one of our buckets, we decide who will handle it based on our areas of expertise and current workload.

What do you want retailers to know about Carter + Jane?
We are currently looking for beauty boutiques and spas to partner with us across North America. We do exceptionally well in a setting where there is either an esthetician on-site or in an environment that specializes in green beauty or has a green beauty section. We are currently carried in around 50 boutiques across the country, and we are one of the top five SKUS in nearly every store we sell in.

What are the most (or one of the most) important lessons you’ve learned about running your own business?
I have two amazing little boys (age 2 and 5), and like most parents say, having children is the best, most rewarding and hardest thing you will ever do. To me, launching Carter + Jane, almost feels like having a third child. It can be really tough and exhausting at times. ...With all of that said, I guess the lesson is owning your own business is so much harder and also so much more rewarding than anyone can ever describe!

Does Carter + Jane work with influencers? How is your social media game?
We work with both influencers and celebrities and are super lucky to have some really amazing people that love, use and talk about our products, but we quite honestly don’t have a traditional strategy. I produce and fashion direct the beauty and fashion makeover TV show, “The Look All Stars,” on the CW. So, I’ve had direct access to some of the top beauty influencers in the world that have fallen in love with Carter + Jane’s products. We also have a pretty intense Hollywood, cult-like following, but we want to expand that following to all people across the country and world! ... We are taking an extremely organic approach to social media. We won’t buy followers or do the “follow/unfollow” strategies out there.

What do you see next for Carter + Jane?
Susan and I are committed to making only organic products that are category game-changers, so you won’t ever see tons of new SKUS from us. But we are continuing to develop and innovate products that do no harm to people, planet or pets! As mentioned earlier, we have Angelic Clementine coming out this summer and a few other exciting products just being finalized now for a fall/winter ’19 launch. We are also expanding into the U.K. and China this fall!