Tell us a little about yourself. I grew up just south of Kansas City in a place called Shawnee. It’s kind of an Everytown, USA kind of place where a lot of people will describe themselves as Libertarians but not many outright Conservative. I fulfilled my own version of Manifest Destiny (not to be dramatic or anything) by heading to the Berkeley for school to study Chemical Engineering. It was in the Bay Area where my vanilla upbringing was broadsided by a dose of granola and I started questioning everything from what I was eating to who I was dating to what I was putting on my skin.
So that’s how the skincare obsession started? Ha, not exactly. That was more of a slow burn. It actually all started when Kiehl’s reformulated a moisturizer that I loved. I couldn’t believe that they changed it and I hated the new version. So I set out to replicate it and eventually found that I could actually make one that was better for me and rid of any synthetic ingredients. I started replicating all the products that I was using with my own formulas, getting the exact SPF I wanted with the right mineral sunscreen, making the perfect after gym moisturizer, etc.
Cool, you can make what everyone else is making, why not save yourself the trouble and just buy it? Good point. 1. I was trying to eke out a living in San Francisco at the time and 2. I just liked what I was making much better. It’s like baking a cake and looking at the recipe and thinking “I can probably do this with less sugar and no margarine and make it taste better.” I liked the challenge, knew exactly what was in my products, and they were better.
How did you branch out? The first contract project I did was for a friend of mine heading to Burning Man in Black Rock Desert, NV. The soil is super alkaline there and a low-pH skin conditioner really helps counteract the harsh environment. We made probably 50 bottles of a custom formula that he gave out in exchange for various items as part of their “gift economy.” He paid me in dinner. I think we had lasagna.
I then did a few other custom formulas over the next few years for companies on contract, friends in need of a natural remedy—I made a nipple cream for a friend of mine who just had her first baby from all edible ingredients called “Tay Tay’s Ta Ta Cream.” I also helped out with the formulation of an eco-conscious product by LXMI, now sold in Sephora.
What inspired you to start Yucca? I mean, you can read about it in the About section of the site, but I’m fascinated by folk remedies and plants that grow where everything else dies. The Chemical Engineer in me is blown away by how much science backs up what shamans and chieftains hold so sacred.
I wanted to create products that honored folk remedies and gave scientific credence to the most resilient plants in the world. To create products that were both natural and effective, in formulas that were gentle on skin and could be used by people who had never tried anything else.
I love to travel, too. I remember one time driving through the Negev Desert in a Nissan Micra, stopping because the Acacia trees were so stunning against the Dead Sea backdrop. Just perched out in the middle of this salty desert, thriving. I particularly love marketplaces and the cultural exchanges that happen there. Everything from the branding on the products to the pricing, the bargaining, it’s exhilarating. You can tell a lot about a culture by the things that they sell.
What trip are you most looking forward to? Well there are two. In August I’m driving from Tulsa, OK to San Diego, CA along I- 40 and am so excited to visit Taos, NM, Albuquerque, NM, and Tempe, AZ as well as all the little towns along the way.
In January though, I’m planning to visit South Africa and Namibia with my partner and some friends. I’ve been dying to visit Deadvlei—a petrified forest—south of Windhoek in Namibia. Stay tuned.
Any new products in the pipeline? Well, that’s what these trips are for. I get inspired by the flora I see along the way and start investigating the molecular makeup of their extracts. I’m dying to make an eye cream and a facial scrub. So I’ll be keeping an eye out for more antioxidants and some natural exfoliants!