Mara Beauty CEO Allison McNamara had always wanted to create her own skin care line, but a 2015 trip to Turkey inspired her to go full steam ahead and press pause on her career as a television host, producer, and fashion/beauty journalist. “I was on the Sea of Marmara in Istanbul and thought Mara would be the most beautiful name for an algae-based skin care brand. ‘Mara’ also translates to ‘sea’ in Gaelic, and as an Irish citizen I loved this element of familial heritage,” Allison recalled. “Mara” happens to be the last four letters of her last name as well, and she added, “The first thing I did when I got home from that trip was to see if the trademark was available—and it was.”
It took two years to perfect Mara Beauty’s proprietary blend of wild-collected algae sourced from France and Ireland, and the brand launched direct-to-consumer in 2018. “Our biggest challenge at that time was getting customers to embrace the idea that less is more. That was the height of the 10-step Korean skin care craze, and I entered the marketplace with one amazing, do-it-all face oil. Within three months we were in Credo Beauty, and we launched internationally with Cult Beauty in the U.K. that first year as well,” Allison shared.
Allison added, “We try to make sure we’re successful at each retailer before adding a new one,” and partnerships with Bluemercury, Revolve, Anthropologie, Free People, and independent retailers have followed. Mara’s latest stockist is goop, and the brand just recently debuted with their newest SKU, the oil-based Sea Kale Sunscreen Serum SPF 30 with zinc oxide, which was the first SPF oil to market and sold out twice within two weeks of the initial launch.
Building a Brand Without Doing a Fund Raise
Celebrity endorsements have played a significant role in increasing Mara’s visibility, and the brand has seen unpaid, viral social-media nods from Hailey Bieber, Chrissy Teigen, Olivia Munn, and Addison Rae. “From the beginning, one of our main strategies was gifting the glam teams. Having them use and love Mara trickled down to them using our products on the celebrities they work with,” Allison revealed.
In terms of financials, Allison said that the company is up 70 percent year-to-date for wholesale and website sales as compared to 2021, and expects a 100 percent year-over-year growth for 2022. The brand has also seen 1,500 percent cumulative growth since launching in 2018.
When asked about exploring funding opportunities, Allison said, “I’ve had many lovely discussions with investment bankers and VCs, but I have a very clear vision of the story I want to tell. I want to make sure I’m able to establish the key pillars of the brand before having any outside people telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing.”
Using Your Brand’s USP as its Long-Term Opportunity
Looking forward, the brand is on target to launch two new products over each of the next three years. Allison’s three-year plan also includes growing retail distribution and global presence. Long-term, Allison emphasizes, “Twenty, thirty years from now, I want Mara to be the leading prestige, algae-based line, and a heritage brand that still feels fresh, current, and familiar. I also want to continue acquiring new, younger customers while growing with our existing customers. We never want to feel trendy or go out of style. We use this lens when approaching both our formulations and packaging.”
Mara’s focus on algae as its driving ingredient offers a significant long-term opportunity. “The cool thing about working with algae is that we’re still discovering new types. The category itself is so complex, and there’s a lot of fun science,” Allison said. “I’m really interested in exploring the body category since we tend to pamper the face and neglect other areas, and I see us playing in cosmetics and hair as well. I feel like the opportunities are really endless,” she added.