I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I’m the daughter of entrepreneurs. The conversations around our dinner table were always about creating, building, and doing things that have never been done before. My mother and father always told me to look for the white space in the world.

I did okay in school, but I was never really interested in subjects aside from music and art. And I liked doing things a little differently. For example, I quickly became bored playing the piano because there were so many piano players in the class. So, I took up the harp. Performing gave me a lot of confidence, and it taught me how to break things down measure by measure. If you look at a piece of sheet music, it can look overwhelming, but all of my harp teachers would say, “Break it down one measure at a time. Play the right hand, the left hand, put it together.” And if you just don’t stop, pretty soon you have a beautiful song.

I’m 5’11”, so in high school, I did a little bit of modeling for department stores. Walking around to the different counters is really where my obsession with health, wellness, and skin care started. My mom started me on the Clinique three-step routine, but I loved sampling things like the Borghese Fango mud mask. I remember Lauder launching Prescriptives as a new brand. It was seriously clinical and clean, yet custom, and I thought that it was so interesting. I think some of these experiences in high school ended up laying the foundation for why I found SPF (and the lack thereof) to be particularly inspiring.

The Supergoop! team.

I didn’t major in music at college because although I loved to perform, I didn’t like the theory and the math behind music. I switched my major to education because I loved building units around topics. So, I studied to be an elementary school teacher, with the goal of teaching third grade, because I loved handwriting, and third grade is when you learn script. I was actually obsessed with handwriting — the Supergoop! logo is inspired by my own handwriting.

After graduation, I spent only one year teaching in the classroom. It felt like a great outlet to create and teach, but I didn’t like being told that I had to stay there until five o’clock when the kids left at three. Even though I won the most creative classroom in America from ABC News that year, I wasn’t playing by the rules of a first-year teacher whose job is really to fit in, rather than execute big ideas when it comes to lesson planning. I’m still very close to those third graders I taught that year; I’ve kept up with many of them and it’s fun to see them now, with families of their own.

I’m grateful for that year of teaching. I always tell younger founders and entrepreneurs that you can’t regret certain things that you spent time in your life doing, because it will always come full circle if you’re open-minded. If I hadn’t spent that year in the classroom, I might not have later realized the importance of educating our youth to wear SPF every single day. And I wouldn’t have had the experience of seeing children on the playground during the peak hours of the day, completely exposed to the sun.

When I didn’t return to teaching, I shifted gears and spent my twenties performing the harp. I came to realize that I loved the business of building “Holly the Harpist” more than I actually loved playing. Building something that people appreciated and that added value was something that I just couldn’t quit thinking about.

Then, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with skin cancer at age 29. I tried to understand the nuances of my friend’s diagnosis and learned that our cumulative exposure to the sun starts at an early age — that serious sun damage can happen in your childhood, and that we need daily SPF in order to prevent it.

I became obsessed with finding out as much information as I could about the sun care category. What I found was that sun protection was never mentioned in the press other than in May or June. And at retail, sun care was exposed during the summer months and then the products were literally returned, as they were put out on consignment. At the time, sunscreen was all about beaches and bikinis, and there was so much tanning talk. Skin care was all about reversing the damage that had been done instead of proactive prevention. Nobody was talking about protecting our body’s largest organ. I learned skin cancer was 16 times more prevalent than breast cancer. And with my mother being a breast cancer survivor, I was like, Wow, what if you could put a magic lotion on your breasts and prevent breast cancer? And since this is what you can actually do for skin cancer, I just couldn’t get the category out of my mind.

San Antonio Supergoop! SPF Academy.

I kept thinking about the benefits children would have by following the healthy habit of daily SPF and incorporating it into their lives — and also making it in such a way so that people would actually want to apply sunscreen every day. I saw so much white space. The real unlock for me, though, was thinking about making sunscreen fun and easy. There was so much innovation that could happen in the category and it felt like the exact right next step for me. I didn’t ask anyone any questions; I just got busy by myself.

My original idea was to put Supergoop! in school classrooms. While in formulation development, I spent two years back in 2004 and 2005 writing a curriculum. Then, I learned that sunscreen was regulated just like an over-the-counter drug and thus prohibited on school campuses across America without a doctor’s note. My whole initial idea — that I spent two years on — was a total flop. But it’s coming full circle today. As we built the brand, we started our Ounce by Ounce program that puts sunscreen in school classrooms across America (and we will actually be taking it to the next level very soon).

The Aspen Sunshine Shack.

I feel that as an entrepreneur, one of your jobs is to turn the negatives into positives, or the lows into highs. When we launched in Sephora, they offered me this big fancy endcap for the 12 weeks of summer. For most people, that would be really exciting, but I was trying to get SPF out of just the beach and the summer months. I think that was a really good lesson in staying true to myself. A lot of people would have said, “Okay, let’s give it a try and see what happens.” Instead, I fought for a much smaller space that guaranteed me 12 months of distribution, which was unheard of at retail. I had to convince the team that through product innovation, we could be as productive in the dead of winter as on the Fourth of July. That’s something I’m really proud of.

I think my superpowers are grit and gratitude. Those go a long, long way when you have such a big job to do. And then as a founder, I always describe my role as the five P’s: passion, purpose, product, people and our planet. As the brand has grown and evolved, my appreciation for people in particular has impacted my leadership style the most. I’m so grateful to be joined by people who are as passionate about our mission and accomplishing everything that we have as I am. I never want those things to go unnoticed.

Thaggard with her family in summer 2020.

Seeing a shift in people’s perception of sunscreen over almost 20 years is highly encouraging. It makes me feel that what we’re doing is valid. Yet I know we still have a very big job to do. I cannot emphasize that enough to our team and to everyone, but I also see how much we’ve impacted the shift in consumer behavior. Sunscreen used to be a chore. You’d have to put it on when you were at the beach or by the pool. Now it’s truly a daily ritual that people are actually looking forward to.

The amount of support that the beauty industry has given me is incredible. It’s such a warm and supportive environment that cheers everybody on. Every beauty founder is just as passionate about whatever it is they’re trying to change. I wasn’t fully expecting to be cheered on by so many people. Now, as a veteran of the industry, I want to continue to cheer on this next generation of achievers.