To celebrate the launch of Axiology at Sephora, we are revisiting Axiology’s origin story. Ericka Rodriguez, Axiology’s founder and CEO, was inspired to start the business when her search came up short for cruelty-free, vegan, and natural makeup. Sensing a gap in marketplace, Ericka dove into concocting her own lip balms and lipsticks from scratch in her kitchen. So how did she make the leap from DIY beauty guru to CEO with products in 90 stores worldwide? Read on to find out the secrets of Ericka’s success!
What is your background? What were you doing before you started Axiology?
I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I went to school for business administration and concentrated in entrepreneurship. After I graduated, I began looking for a path to entrepreneurship. Axiology was actually the third business I started. The first was in the vegan community, trying to put together a blog with a YouTube channel, just focusing on vegan recipes and skincare. I was using fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables to make masks and skincare regimens. My second business was also focused in the wellness industry. Both of those businesses taught me a lot about the power of natural ingredients, and how to use natural ingredients to make beauty and wellness products. But eventually, those other businesses fell through, and then I got the idea for Axiology.
How did you get the idea to create Axiology?
I had done some research about animal testing in the cosmetics industry in the United States, and I was honestly horrified. So many cosmetics and personal care products are not cruelty-free. So, I dedicated myself to finding and supporting companies that were both cruelty-free and vegan. However, many of those companies are not natural, and their products include ingredients that you can’t even pronounce. It’s important to me to take the same care in choosing products for my face as I do with the foods that I eat.
Unfortunately, my search for cruelty-free and natural beauty brands came up short. At the time, I didn’t find a brand that spoke to me and my age group. I also didn’t like the performance of most of the natural cosmetics on the market. For example, I would try a vegan lipstick and it would make my lips feel tight and dry.
So I just started playing around with formulations in my own kitchen just for fun. About six months later I realized that this was what I had been searching for in terms of building my own business. I became serious about the idea and started building out a business model for Axiology.
How did you develop the Axiology formula as we know it today?
It was really a lot of trial and error. I would check out books from the library about natural beauty and watch other people's tutorials and spin off of that.
I started with making a lip balm. I didn't even play with color for the first couple of months, I was focused only on honing in on the base recipe. Once I felt like I had the base recipe at least kind of completed, I then started researching natural pigments. I knew I didn't want to use anything synthetic or harmful. I actually tried using vegetable and fruit pigments, and that didn't work out, so then I started researching other forms of natural pigments. I started adding color once I understood how the color worked with the base formulation. Then I was able to play around and mix colors together and really try to formulate a specific color that I was going for.
It took a long time. It took me two years to feel confident enough to release the product in any way that wasn't just for my friends or family.
How many shades did you start out with?
When I first launched on Etsy, there were six shades. Shortly after I was able to launch another four. Now we’re up to twenty-seven shades and continuing to grow!
How did you scale your business and expand to include different stores?
After about a year, while I was still working and making lipstick out of my house, I hired my first employee. She would come to my house and we would make lipstick in my kitchen. We used my spare bedroom as an office. My boyfriend, who is also an entrepreneur, was using the spare bedroom as an office as well, so we had three people squeezed into a 100-square-foot room, all trying to get our businesses off the ground!
We really started to grow when we met Erin, our sales director. Erin approached us when we were in just five stores. She found out about our brand and LOVED it. She just saw something there, so she contacted me right away and offered her help. She’s helped me so much in terms of getting the brand where it is today. Now we are in 90 stores, and that’s thanks to Erin.
All your packaging is made in Bali from recycled materials. How did that idea originate?
I was originally formulating in New York City. Once I realized that I wanted to pursue Axiology as a business, I needed to find a way to keep my costs low while I got started. I spoke to my boyfriend, who is also an entrepreneur. We did a bunch of research, and found that Bali is an incredible entrepreneurial hub. There are so many people who go there to start digital and product-based businesses, and we loved that we would have people around us to consult with and seek guidance from. Plus, Bali is beautiful. We ended up moving there and it was perfect.
I continued formulating the product while in Bali. I brought all of my oils, butters, and pigments. I spoke with the locals about ingredients, because they have a lot of knowledge about skin care. I also took classes to learn more about beauty, wellness, and natural ingredients.
While strolling through town, I stumbled upon a little paper store that sold the most beautiful paper. There was just something about it that I was super attracted to, so I asked for the story behind the shop. They told me that these women had been making paper for 25 years. They started their business because they noticed a trash problem on the island and they wanted to do something about it. So they just started collecting used paper from the island and hand-recycling it in their backyard. 25 years later, they have this shop and factory that is women-owned and women-run, so I asked if I could visit the factory. My boyfriend and I rode a scooter three hours out of town to see them. We had a long meeting and I told them that I really wanted to work with them and I asked if they would be willing to make Axiology's recycled boxes. They said yes, so that’s how that started!
The name Axiology comes from the philosophical study of ethics and aesthetics. When we were coming up with names, we actually poured through a bunch of axiology journals and studies on axiology. We grabbed a bunch of names that we found spoke to that philosophy.
Where do you get the inspiration for your shades?
It kind of just happens really naturally. You know, I'll have a shade in mind and then I usually never end up with that exact shade. I usually just start mixing and matching and realize that this other shade that I just created is much better!
We are very lucky because we still manufacture in-house and are able to mix and match on our own terms. I have one employee who is in charge of making the lipsticks and formulating, and she and I work very closely together. I just encourage her to play around. We'll just mix and match and see what happens, and then go from there.
How do you find your ingredients?
We have specific suppliers with whom we work closely and we've been using them for years now. Every once and awhile we will find a story that we are connected with, that will inspire us to change our product offerings to include a certain supplier. We started using shea butter and moringa oil after discovering this company that set up farms in Africa to help the locals. It’s fairly traded and they do a lot of great things in that area. Once we heard that, we had to find a way to use moringa and shea in our next product, and so we developed our lip crayons to utilize that supplier. So we just kind of see what we find and if the story captures us, then we will go for it!
What’s next for Axiology?
We launched at Sephora on August 4th. We are in 35 stores in California, Oregon, Illinois, New York, Virginia and Washington. It's really exciting! We're also working on a new product that should be coming out this year!