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West Van beauty guru launches lipstick line
I remember my first encounter with lipstick. I was six, and my mom was tasked with making me look equally adorable and atrocious for a dance recital, (I’m an ‘80s baby, so you get the idea). As she carefully put it on, she explained mysteries such as, if you pick the wrong shade for your skin tone, your top lip will look green, and to run your finger through your lips once after the lipstick is on to keep your teeth clear of its tint.
Those methods might be unique to my mother, or something I have in common with many girls around the world, but one thing few of our mothers thought to caution back then, was that whatever was in that lipstick was actually making its way into our bodies.
In fact, the realization that every beauty product I added to my routine was tantamount to food, ingested by my skin instead of my stomach, disconcerted me much later, in my 20s.
I briefly met West Van’s Sasha Plavsic here in the fall of 2011 — the older sister of a friend — and the only thing I really knew about the gorgeous brunette was that she had just launched her own organic lip care line, Ilia. I was intrigued. Time went by, and the now-L.A. resident popped up on my radar again, only this time Ilia was in the July edition of Elle. Enough said.
I caught up with Plavsic by phone during a break from her desksides (face-to-face meetings with editors and journalists) in New York last week, and quickly discovered that her lip care line is only half the story. The 33-year-old is also a savvy businesswomen, marketer and salesperson.
Plavsic had just finished sitting down with the beauty director for fashion bible W magazine: “She was really excited about (Ilia). It felt kind of unreal.”
When I asked for her story, she laughed and said she’s been giving it all week, so it’s getting easy. The gist? Her little tube of lipstick has become huge.
Plavsic left her California packaging design job, against the advice of friends and family, after noticing she couldn’t find an all-natural lip product that looked beautiful and was also nourishing.
“I saw a hole in the market, but I only found that hole by trying to look for something that I wanted and couldn’t find. I took a risk and started thinking about what I wanted to do — create a lip balm that’s packaged nicely that has total transparency — where the packaging came from, all the ingredients, everything.”
It took two years to create the first Ilia formula. “You research all the ingredients like, ‘Oh, I really like this cake, I wonder what the recipe is? I bet I can make this cake tastier if I cut out half the sugar and put this in it instead,’” she explains.
Plavsic went through three labs trying to find the right fit of working relationship, organic ingredients and accountability to produce Ilia. The first lab wouldn’t release the list of ingredients before she signed on. “It’s like raising a kid without knowing what you’re putting in it,” she countered. The second lab had trouble sourcing the organic ingredients she demanded. The third one was the perfect size for Plavsic’s new business and she quickly formed a bond with her chemist.
“She’s like my aunt,” Plavsic says affectionately. Her desire to work with people she cares about is evidenced even in the name of her line — Ilia.
“It’s my great grandfather’s name. He was a shoe cobbler at the turn of the century in Belgrade and he was really into aesthetic and providing a good product. What I like about it was he was very strong and masculine, but in English it sounds like a very feminine name, so I thought it was really suited to a beauty brand.”
Satisfied with the formula (touted by Marie Claire as the best natural lipstick ever), she focused on the packaging — a huge priority for the experienced designer and typographer. The end result was a natural tinted lip conditioner that proudly lists its ingredients, wrapped in Plavsic’s ideal aesthetic — sleek recycled aluminum tubes. Ilia’s refined luxury was first picked up by LYNNsteven and then Misch boutique. Plavsic actually landed the first 50 accounts herself and now her team has placed Ilia in 70 accounts worldwide, including Barneys in America and Colette in Paris.
During her three-day junket in New York, she personally met with the beauty editors of 25 magazines and says the interest in Ilia has boomed in the last six months.
“I think it’s because of the packaging, in combination with the fact that I can talk about all the ingredients in there and that I know where they come from. A lot of beauty brands won’t divulge all those details. A lot of them will say they’re paraben-free and this and that, but it’s not enough anymore. And a lot of beauty editors will say those brands are lying,” she cautions. “I think at the end of the day, [Ilia] is something different.”
With this much attention to detail, she must have some very specific preferences when it comes to what she uses on her own skin.
“I like Devita skin care. It’s a natural skin care line that has SPF. I really like their face lotion, my skin is really sensitive. I use all my own cosmetic products, obviously,” she laughs, “but lotions... Even just using a vitamin E oil on the body to moisturize is really important.”
She also has some kind words for her peers. “Linda Rodin — she’s an older woman in her 60s, totally beautiful. She’s actually a stylist in New York, and she has an amazing line of natural oils for the face and the hair and has also pioneered something on her own.”
And that embodies the spirit of Sasha Plavsic. In a matter of months she established a brand that is now retailing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all over the world.