Fifteen years after launching the groundbreaking indie brand, Urban Decay, beauty industry trailblazer Wende Zomnir is still breaking new ground. This time, the forward-thinking founder is focused on uniting three of her personal passions — clean formulas, high-performance products, and sustainability.

“I really wanted to marry my obsession with clean beauty and wellness with my obsession with performance,” said Wende, Chief Executive Officer of Caliray. “As one of the leaders of the Indie movement, [I thought] okay, where do I take the industry from here, and I felt like sustainability was the next place to lead.”

Enter Caliray, a clean, California-inspired beauty brand, launched in October 2021, that unites innovative beauty formulas with “sexy sustainability,” a term Wende coined to ensure eco-consciousness is at the forefront of the brand DNA, while still being achievable, and even desirable for customers.

“One of the most important things for me is making participating in sustainability a joyful thing, [without a] compromise on the performance or cute packaging, or how good the formula feels,” said the CEW Beauty Creators Awards Ambassador. “It’s about flipping the narrative to make participating in sustainability easy and joyful.”

When it comes to sustainability, Wende is incredibly passionate. Beyond making her products as clean as possible — they’re infused with nutrient-rich botanical extracts and exclude potentially harmful additives — Wende is laser-focused on the brand’s eco-footprint. With the goal of bringing on a dedicated sustainability officer to ramp up efforts, Wende has ensured that from a supply chain and packaging perspective, the brand is thoughtful and deliberately future-focused.

“We’re hardcore about it,” laughed Wende. To that end, Caliray’s outer boxes are made with 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials without coatings to easily re-enter the recycling stream. Caliray also utilizes bioplastics like sugarcane (found on Caliray’s eye pencils and lip glosses), 100 percent upcycled in ocean plastic (found on the brand’s tubing mascara), as well as algae and veggie inks for easy recycling. The brand has also partnered with Pact — a non-profit collective mail-back program that is dedicated to diverting beauty packaging from landfills.

According to Wende, sustainability and “clean beauty” have always been personal passions. In fact, while Urban Decay’s product performance is well known, many may not realize the brand was also an early player in the clean space.

“Urban was one of the first brands to take parabens out of their products but back then nobody cared,” said Wende, adding that she built the brand’s headquarters — the “Urban Decay Mothership” — to be entirely non-off-gassing and made with zero formaldehyde materials. “We [offered] yoga classes and had a biodynamic garden that people could pick their lunch from. Sustainability and wellness were always important to me.”

Beyond sustainability, Wende has imbued the brand with her signature directionally emotional sensibility. Rather than Urban Decay’s “elevated makeup with a grunge feel,” this time it’s the easy glamour of the California lifestyle that inspired her. With a decidedly diffused and beachy vibe, Caliray’s tightly edited collection of skin-first formulas are designed to be at once simple and high-functioning.

“It’s the inspiration of what [California] stands for — that freedom, that creative point of view, the feel-good wellness aspect that anyone can apply to their own life, wherever they live,” said Wende. “That’s s really what Caliray is about.”

Products include Freedreeming, a “tinted face elixir” comprised of 94.5 percent natural ingredients and antioxidants to minimize pores and imperfections, and “Glazed & Infused,” a “skin care-level” plumping lip gloss. There’s also

Come Hell or High Water, a volumizing tubing mascara made with water-resistant waxes, and Superproof Pencil, a soft, pigmented eye pencil housed in a bio-based barrel. Caliray’s newest product Just Add Rays, is a clean bronzing oil made with a blend of three organic botanical oils for “juicy toned, satiny skin.”

To ensure each Caliray product is unique and futuristic, Wende says she looks for “micro white spaces” where innovation can exist. “I don’t think today you’re going to find a big white space to jump into like we did with Urban,” says Wendy. “So that’s what I do, I just look for those little cracks of light, and that’s how I sort try to pinpoint or get excited about an ingredient, and I try to build around that,” said Wende. And for clean beauty, that crack of light was performance.

“The clean space was a little behind on performance,” said Wende. “Not only are Caliray products clean, but they are also amazing and long-lasting. They are performance clean, meaning Caliray’s clean makeup has the same level of high performance as other makeup on the market.”

Another focus for Wende, an athlete who loves the outdoors, is looking at product development pragmatically, always seeking to create formulas that will stay put while swimming or sweating and won’t clog pores.

“A lot of my motivation comes from [the question], ‘How is this going to work in real life,’” said Wende. “You don’t want your makeup running down your face.”

Looking back, Wende says the beauty industry has certainly shifted in the last 25 years, and relevancy today takes more than offering something unique — it really takes standing out against a landscape filled with covetable offerings from a plethora of interesting brands.

“When we started with Urban, there weren’t Indie brands, and then a big cultural shift happened where Sephora came to the United States, and suddenly Indie brands had a place and a platform, and then social media happened,” said Wende. “I think that’s been the biggest cultural shift; we broke down those barriers and then the flood gates opened.”

Another evolution, according to Wende, is that customer loyalty is no longer guaranteed. In fact, she reports that shoppers have gone from being very brand loyal to being wildly experimental with their routines. “You have incredible, insane amounts of choice now,” she said. “Now, it’s about talking to the customer who wants to try the next mascara and the next mascara and the next. Even within categories, it’s hard to have that customer loyalty.”

The biggest reason for the change? You guessed it, social media. Customers are consuming so much content,” says Wende, who shares that she is currently focused on leveraging smaller influencers to help build organic connections via social platforms.

“We’re really working on building a great network of smaller influencers and those micro-influencers, which I know a lot of brands are ready to do, but when you are building it, you’re building a brand from the ground up,” said Wende. “You have to build that network.”

When it comes to giving advice to people following in her footsteps, Wende says, that as a creative-minded leader, finding a strong financial executive to prioritize the operational side of the business, is key. (In Wende’s case, she married one, as her husband Doug Collier is the brand’s Chief Financial Officer).

“The amazing thing about the beauty industry is it’s this magic combination of art and science, art and commerce,” said Wende. “In some ways, it’s packaged goods, in another way it’s this thing you’re putting on your face that makes you feel more beautiful. The whole vibe represents something about who you are, and there’s this emotional connection to it. You’ve really got to be disciplined and treat it like a business, but you’ve also got to embrace the artistic, creative vibe side of what you do — that’s where the magic has to happen.”