Q+A with Molly Hart of HIGHR Collective
HIGHR Collective founder Molly Hart on the creation of her lipstick line, her experience with clean beauty, and more.
Launched in November of 2020, HIGHR Collective is a clean beauty brand that has already made quite the splash in the cosmetics space. Known for clean ingredients, sustainable packaging, and an introductory collection of five universal shades, these lipsticks are just as beautiful for the planet as they are for your lips. For founder Molly Hart, clean beauty is a personal passion and she takes all steps to ensure the HIGHR Collective brand is as nature-friendly as possible while still making products accessible for all women. In the short time since launching, HIGHR Collective has been featured in the September issue of British Vogue, as well as Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Grazia, PopSugar, The Zoe Report, Who What Wear, and L'Officiel. We sat down with Molly to learn more about her relationship with clean beauty, the development of her line, and more.
Q: With over 15 years in beauty, what experiences did you have in the industry that led you to want to create a clean beauty brand of your own?
So many! I started as a makeup artist for MAC, and then I went into the business side of the beauty industry. My first job at the Estée Lauder Companies was working across the portfolio on their first-ever digital marketing team. My boss and I had to go up to all of these big heritage brands and tell them why they needed a Facebook page. Then I got to launch the first social media pages in beauty on Facebook, which was so fun. However, once the brands we live on social media, the question that I had to answer every single day on one of our Facebook pages was about how we could support breast cancer research when there were ingredients in our products that were linked to cancer. That was my baptism of fire into my own personal research into clean beauty. Ever since then (and this was back in 2007 when clean beauty wasn't as big as it is now), I've been passionate about it.
I also got to help the Origins brands launch their first-ever organic collection at the same time. So I was like, “Amazing! This seems like the right way to go, let's do this.” But the collection was not in the prettiest packaging, and it was white plastic with green letters. I was like, “They should have sexy-ed it up a little bit! Not everything has to be crunchy granola-looking if it’s good for you, right?” Just having those two experiences really early on when I was 22 years old and just getting started with my career was really the basis of the HIGHR concept.
It wasn’t until I had my two children later on in my career, when I was Head of Digital at Revlon, and then L’Oreal, when the idea of clean beauty became really personal to me. Like a lot of women, I was constantly screening products for safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Being in the industry and having the career experiences I had, I didn’t feel safe wearing the products of the brands that I was, and had been, working for. That’s when I realized I had enough. I started piecing together what a beauty brand that had a higher purpose would look like. HIGHR was born out of motherhood, based on a career in the industry.
Q: With all the different types of beauty products out there, what made you choose lipstick as the first product in the HIGHR line?
The lip category is really intriguing to us because it’s the only product that you actually ingest. All regulations in the EU and elsewhere are all based on topical application. There's no research that says what these ingredients do to you when they're on your mouth every day and you're actually ingesting them. The lip category should have its own regulation. The other thing is that cosmetics companies are really opaque when it comes to their formulations. Skincare companies like to talk a lot about what's in their products, but you don't hear much about that with makeup. I think that since this is a very invasive category, we should know what's in our lip products. It's also just a really fun category. I love the joy that it brings you. I remember when I was at the counter, I could sell three lipsticks to someone just walking by because it’s fun and exciting.
Q: Can you walk us through a bit about the production and development of the lipstick, as it uses only organic and clean ingredients?
The first point to make here is that we are not a white-labeled brand whatsoever. We're the opposite, which is unique in this industry when you have lots of influencer and celebrity brands launching white-labeled products and sticking their name on the front. We own our formulas, which is also rare in the beauty industry. Most people don't own the IP to their product. We custom make them and we blend a proprietary formula that is unique to us.
We start with an organic plant-based blend of butters and oils to get the consistency where we want it. We started with more of a lip balm because we wanted the texture and the feel to be really comfortable. Then, we blended in a few other different waxes to make it a little bit more of a matte lipstick. We use candelilla wax, which took the place of synthetic beeswax because our formula is vegan. We didn't want to use synthetic beeswax because it's made from petrochemicals, which are not clean — it's difficult to be vegan and clean which a lot of people don’t realize.
Then, we wanted to have the products be a treatment as well. A lot of times when you ask women what their biggest concern is with their lips, it's that they want to make them fuller, plumper, and juicier. So we added hyaluronic filling spheres to the formula, which are really low in molecular weight and actually penetrate your lip and plump it up. We also added rosehip oil because in order to generate collagen, you need both vitamin A and vitamin C, and rosehip oil is really rich in both.
Q: So much work goes into the formula itself, but we'd also love to learn a bit more about the packaging! The packaging for the product is sustainable too; what is that process like? How did you source it, and is it more expensive than making a standard lipstick?
The packaging we sort of broke into two buckets. First, you have all of the packaging that comes with placing an order — that's all single-use. Then you have the actual packaging of the lipstick bullet, which is not single-use. We focus mainly, first and foremost, on the sustainability side with all the single-use packaging. So all of our materials that we use for boxing and for shipments are 100% upcycled and 100% compostable. We work with a shoe factory in Italy that sends us their old shoe boxes and we turn them into HIGHR packaging!
Also, our boxes are only printed with vegetable oil ink. We think through all those tiny little details, which we've been able to do because we just have one product so it's a very consolidated concept, and it makes it as sustainable as possible.
Next was the actual tube, which we wanted to make unique to us. We designed a built-in mirror inside our bullet. It’s all aluminum, so has a weight to it and a sensoriality. We wanted it to be more of a keepsake than just a tube and wanted women to be able to have this in their handbag. We did a lot of development upfront and asked women what they wanted from their lipstick, to add more value to your basic bullet. It’s also great for those mask-off-lipstick-on moments!
Truthfully, it's an expensive way to produce a product. But for me, I feel like this is the responsible way to make products for women and to make them have the least impact on the planet. However, we wanted to keep the price in line with the market. A lot of times you'll find clean brands double the cost of what you're used to paying for traditional cosmetics, making clean beauty unattainable for some women. We take a smaller margin and make a smaller profit off of each sale, so we can give the customer an ethical price and make our products more widely available.
Q: What are some other ways that we can be more sustainable when it comes to our beauty routines?
I think the first things that you want to cut out if you're really interested in being more sustainable are silicone and microplastics. On the side of the box of most lipsticks, you'll find the ingredient Polyethylene. Polyethylene is literally plastic melted down and blended into the formula. That's what you're putting on your lips every day, so you’re not only polluting yourself, but it gets washed into the water supply and doesn't break down. A lot of people are making noise about packaging, when packaging isn't the only thing that we think about. The other thing that can make the biggest difference is just adding a recycling bin to your bathroom. A lot of times, everyone just throws out their shampoo bottles in their bathroom trash which creates more plastic pollution.
Q: You've touched so many different parts of beauty, and HIGHR is very much a passion project for you. What have you found the most rewarding about the development and launch of these lipsticks?
Creating the first-ever carbon-neutral makeup brand has been really rewarding, and that wasn't even a goal. I just wanted to create the cleanest supply chain in beauty, then we ended up being the first carbon-neutral makeup brand. It's taken a lot of discipline and making sure that every decision that we make as a business embodies sustainability at its core. We track and offset all operational carbon in our supply chain. That means if I'm getting samples from the lab, I'm recording flights that the product had to take to get to me. If I'm going to Los Angeles, if stock is coming over, if anyone in the company is going to a conference, we're tracking and offsetting all of that, because this is a really carbon-intensive industry. Lots of big brands make their products in Asia, and then ship them all over the world. Plastic and pollution are not beautiful and have no place in this industry.
Q: What is next for HIGHR? Are there any new products on the horizon?
We're going to be doing some new shade extensions! HIGHR’s lipstick currently comes in a nice tight collection of five universal shades, and that's for a reason. We wanted to take the guesswork out of shopping for makeup online. I also didn't want to create products that are for some women and not for others. It was really important to us to make sure that the collection was universal. So there's a little bit of room to do some shade extension work within our lipstick range. Then the next product that we're going to be coming out with later this year is a multi-use lip and cheek balm, and we’re also going into product development for a full range of essentials.
Q: What are some of your other favorite clean beauty brands right now?
I love Weleda — I’ll always love Weleda. It's funny, in the winter I can only use things that are super bland. I can't use anything that's intense because it just makes my skin really unhappy. I really like One Love — they vertically integrate their supply chain so they own their own factory which I think is so cool. And their cleanser is holy grail for me.
I also really like Goop products. I think they do an amazing job with their range. They have an acid that's really nice — there’s nothing else like it. Another brand that I discovered on Goop that I really like for hair is called Innersense. They do this awakening hair cream bath that smells so dreamy, and it’s sulfate-free.
Q: Do you foresee a day in which people are using majority clean or entirely clean products? What advice do you have for those who want to try clean beauty but don't know where to start?
There also needs to be more education on which categories should be clean. There are a lot of clean products that are clean for the sake of being clean. For instance, mascara does not even touch your skin’s surface really. You're not ingesting it, you're not even topically applying it, so there's really no reason to buy clean mascara, but it’s a marketing claim that some brands take advantage of to sell the product. So I see that with lip, skincare, anything you use in the shower — those are the categories that I would first recommend to anyone who's looking to make the swap. Oh! And fragrance as well. Fragrance is the problem child in the beauty industry. I always tell my friends this: spray your perfume on your clothes and not on you because you're spraying on your neck, right on your thyroid, and right on your circulatory system on your wrist. I spray on my clothes!