Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

Founder Feature:
Justin Wolff of Junk Theory

Meet Junk Theory: the brand on a mission to end the plastic era in beauty

For Justin Wolff, co-founding beauty brand Junk Theory isn’t his first rodeo in the startup space. Justin explains, “The last company I founded was Yoobi, which is like the Tom shoes of school supplies. For every item we sell, we donate one to kids in need across the United States.” Yoobi is also where Justin met his co-founder at Junk Theory, Allison Mabbott, who ran marketing.

Justin’s co-founders at Yoobi also launched a beauty incubator, which is where he got his first peek behind the beauty industry curtain. He says, “I saw the meteoric rise of what we’ll call clean beauty…but really, the conversation ended with formulas. It was all about creating formulas that are good for people and the planet, but what happens when those formulas are placed in plastic single-use jars, which 95% of them across the category are?”

Allison and Justin asked,  “Would it be possible to create a brand where nothing went in the trash? Is it possible to rethink what it means to be a clean beauty brand? And instead of ending the conversation with formula, we begin it with formula?” These questions formed the foundation of Junk Theory: “The idea that a clean beauty brand should not just be about formula, but packaging as well.”

Justin says, “We wanted to make something that wouldn’t just be incrementally better. The world and the environment do not have time for incremental change. We need something that is impossible to ignore. So we developed the first skincare line to be entirely packaged in aluminum, the most recycled and recyclable material.”

No more guesswork and no more guilt

“A lot of people,” Justin explains, “don’t realize how much plastic is actually recycled in the US. Only about 5% of what you put in that blue bin is recycled. There’s just simply not the infrastructure in the US for that, and last year alone, the beauty category produced over 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging.”

With these numbers in mind, Justin says, “We need to rethink how we do things. What we don’t do, though, is shame other brands or people for any current behaviors. [Junk Theory] is introducing new ways of doing things, and making it really easy for the consumer to make the switch and celebrate those wins. We say, ‘No more guesswork and no more guilt in your daily routine.’ You shouldn’t have to be a pharmacist to figure out whether the ingredients are good for you. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about getting the products you need. We want to take care of our skin, but we shouldn’t have to feel like it’s coming at the cost of 500 years of plastic sitting on the planet.”

Justin and Allison also practice radical honesty with Junk Theory that goes beyond their packaging alone. Justin says, “Beauty is one of these opaque categories where you don’t have to disclose all your ingredients. That’s crazy to me. We have one hundred percent ingredient transparency. Because if you have nothing to hide, then you show it all. Our ingredients are incredible, so why not let everyone know about them?”

You need great products to create a great impact

“The most important thing that I learned in my time at Yoobi, where all I wanted to do was talk about impact, is that unless your product is better than whatever sits to the left or the right of it on the shelf, there is no impact story. If you want to create great impact, you have to create great products.” Justin explains.

Refusing to white-label their products, as many in the beauty industry do, Justin and Allie worked on their product formulations for months to bring truly unique and essential formulas to market. Justin says, “We worked with ****arguably the best green formulator. They understand what it’s like to formulate clean and healthy products that are good for people and the planet and make responsible decisions around sourcing ingredients.”

Justin and Allison were also mindful of creating too many products when launching Junk Theory. “Three of the most common skincare products that people use every day are a daily cleanser, moisturizer, and overnight treatment. So we decided to start with those three and win trust with those products. We’ll probably do two or three more products for the face, but that’s it…Once we win trust on the face, it could be interesting to see how we can expand to other products outside of the skincare category — look at the other culprits in the bathroom, the basic suite of products you use the most, and eliminate their plastic footprint.”

Bringing Junk Theory to consumers

Getting a new and emerging beauty brand out there, Justin says, is no easy task. “I won’t paint a rosy picture,” he says. “It’s hard because you’re working on extraordinarily limited budgets. By the time we launched, we had gone through a ton of the money we raised…So we have pretty much launched this brand more or less organically…We’ve done tens of thousands in sales, had hundreds and hundreds of customers, and all of that without spending a penny on paid ads.”

“What we have done is engaged PR. We’ve been mentioned in pretty much every major beauty publication, and we’ve been winning awards left, right, and center for our formulas. PR has played a key role in giving [Junk Theory] some legitimacy. What has also been helpful is just word of mouth. People are getting out there and something is happening – [Junk Theory] is resonating and it’s such a unique offering in the category…We’re more than double the industry average for repeat purchasing at this point. Almost 40% of customers are buying again, and that is without any retail targeting or paid ads whatsoever.”

Junk Theory’s biggest challenges

“Nothing was easy about this,” Justin says. “One of the hardest things was figuring out how to do the packaging. We originally started with ocean waste plastic — we’re going to pull the plastic out of the ocean, make jars out of it, and then have people send it back, and we’ll upcycle it into durable goods. But we realized the company we were working with was never incorporating the ocean waste plastic into the actual packaging. They were telling us the bottles were made out of ocean waste plastic, but at the end of the day, they were just pulling plastic out and handing it off to municipal recycling, which meant they were burning it. I thought, ‘I’m not starting a company saying we use ocean waste plastic when we’re not…It took a very long time to get to the point where we had packaging we could use. I would say that was by far the most expensive, most time-consuming, and most challenging aspect of the brand.”

The second biggest challenge, Justin says, has been marketing. “Anyone thinking about starting a beauty brand, it takes a lot of money to market this stuff.  If you don’t have the resources, then you need to be a hustler and be very careful about how you spend, especially in the digital environment. Allie and I always talk about how we’re building a movement as much as we are building a brand. So how can we build it from the ground up? Every time we send out one of these starter kits, I write a personal note on it. That’s a different kind of relationship that you can have with the consumer, where I can show them how much I appreciate them being part of this mission and vision for the brand.”

As they continue to spread the word about Junk Theory, Justin says, “I would encourage people to give us a shot. I will put the [ingredients in our formulas] against any brand in the luxury category that costs twice as much. We’re at a premium price category, but if you put our brand against any other brand at our price point, I think we win every time.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed

All Comments