Meet the Founder: Karen Behnke of Juice Beauty
Posted on July 11 2016
Meet Karen Behnke, founder of the organic skincare and makeup brand, Juice Beauty, and a leader and entrepreneur in the health and wellness space. Karen has been in the wellness industry for the past 20 years, breaking boundaries, pushing limits, and helping to establish the clean beauty movement. We're thrilled to share an interview with Karen on how how she started her organic empire, her daily motivations, PLUS what it's like to work closely with Gwyneth Paltrow.
What were you doing before you began your career?
My career began at the age of 22 right out of college and I've enjoyed a long and successful entrepreneurial career in the Healthy Lifestyles/Sustainable sector of business. My consistent goal has been to equally marry my passion for helping people enjoy healthier lifestyles with building financially successful businesses that are mission driven. My first company was an aerobics exercise company where I secured the Army contract to teach fitness for various divisions of the military. That led to starting one of the first corporate wellness companies in the country that delivered worksite wellness to major corporations throughout the Western USA—pretty much before “wellness” was a word! I sold my wellness company to PacifiCare (now United Healthcare) and became their 2nd female executive during the parent company's five-year growth phase from $1 to $5 billion in revenue. While I was having my children, I served on a few boards including 24 Hour Fitness during a seven-year growth period, from $75 mm to over $1 billion in revenue. This path all led to starting Juice Beauty.
Tell us a bit about how you started?
Karen: Experiencing hormonal changes and the beginning of lines and wrinkles in my skin in my early 40s while I was pregnant with my two children, I set out to find healthy skincare solutions that delivered visible results and I was astounded to learn that, although the skin absorbs over 60% of what is placed on it, there were very few available healthy personal care products that worked well. So I literally became obsessed with the idea of creating beauty products with organic ingredients and wanting to create meaningful change in the beauty industry. Years after my second child was born, I bought the name “Juice Beauty” in 2004 and launched the company from scratch in 2005 and set out to do the impossible: to create organic and natural formulations that perform as well as conventional beauty products yet never compromise on the luxurious experience. Over the last several years, I have worked with PhD chemists, physicians, and microbiologists to perfect Juice Beauty’s chemistry. Juice Beauty’s revolutionary formulations started with a basic premise: I believed that by formulating with an antioxidant and vitamin-rich organic botanical juice base, rather than petroleum derivatives or added water, and combining it with powerful skincare ingredients, it could yield equal or better results than conventional or natural products. Multiple clinical testing proved this premise to be true.
What was your inspiration at the time? What motivated you to go ahead with your new makeup range?
Karen: Juice Beauty now has over 100 skincare products, all made with certified organic ingredients yet formulated to compete with high efficacy conventional chemical brands. It was a natural progression to move into makeup with the same quality and organic ingredient standards. Gwyneth Paltrow and I were introduced by a mutual investor and the collaboration came together because of our shared values. I wanted an authentic business relationship with a celebrity that would fit the eco-authenticity of our company—we have 10 abiding eco-values: sourcing certified organic ingredients, sourcing many ingredients locally from the West Coast, utilizing solar power for some of our manufacturing, no animal testing and more. After an initial great meeting with Gwyneth (over organic chicken salad) and discussing our shared values, we quickly agreed that we could form a partnership to create a great makeup collection with Gwyneth serving as Creative Director, Makeup. We both wanted luxurious makeup products but without any of the potentially toxic ingredients. Additionally, Gwyneth really wanted to develop products that had conventional chemical efficacy and application and vibrancy…not just the typical sheer natural products. Real makeup with high-power, high-payoff pigments that could stand the test of the red carpet. Gwyneth has been working alongside me and our scientists and our product development team over the past several months, choosing all of the packaging, the color ranges, the final textures, and she also named all of the products.
What do you feel has been your biggest achievement?
Karen: Certainly my family and both of our kids and my husband (cardiology by day, thinks about Juice Beauty by night) are very involved in thinking about the business and helping when they can. That is one of my biggest achievements in successfully meshing my business and personal life because as an entrepreneur, it’s a necessity!
Who are some of the people that have guided you and inspired you?
Karen: My team inspires and motivates me daily as well as our customers. I really draw inspiration from this incredible group of employees as well as reading our customer comments and going to our in-store events talking with customers. Gwyneth and I share the same attention to minute details with formulas and packaging so it was inspiring to see the same level of dedication with the development of the makeup and skincare collections with her as I have shown myself for the past ten years.
Who has been the most exciting person you have worked with?
Karen: Gwyneth Paltrow, our Creative Director, Makeup is a fabulous and driven person that has been a great partner. Gwyneth and I are both working mothers and we both share a passion for health and wellness through exercise, nutrition and now beauty. Seeing in Gwyneth the mutual goal of filling the white space in the market for healthy, high-performance makeup made the launch of the new Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigments makeup an exciting project along the way. I also had the opportunity to lead the development and produce Goop by Juice Beauty, a luxe skincare collection made with certified organic ingredients which is the first goop branded consumer goods ever created – the perfect alignment of the shared vision of Gwyneth and me.
What has been one of the biggest challenges you had to face?
Karen: Formulating Juice Beauty’s Phyto-Pigments makeup has been very challenging and actually achieving such amazing quality with our mascara has been a miracle!! Gwyneth and I were adamant on not having any endocrine-disrupting artificial dyes in any of the makeup formulas, they are vegan (so no animal glue or beeswax either of course) and no petroleum-derived ingredients like carbon black. It is much harder to create makeup without having any recourse to synthetic colors and petroleum-derived ingredients. Having the makeup products last on your skin and look vibrant with plant-derived ingredients throughout the day with formulas that made with certified organic ingredients is no easy task. But I am personally proud to say that Gwyneth and I created 75 formulas together in the space of a year, all made with certified organic ingredients, and all of them were matched to a conventional makeup/skincare benchmark that Gwyneth provided and never once compromising on performance.
What is your top three pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Karen: Follow your passion. Trust your gut. Marry someone that is supportive of your entrepreneurial personality.
What is your motto?
Karen: Go For It.
New Yorkers, to learn and experience more about Juice Beauty, come to the mini facials and makeover event this Wednesday, July 13th.
Images are provided by Juice Beauty.