A Conversation with Indie Lee
I decided when I started this platform, I wanted to provide insight to the beauty industry. It is such a tight-knit community where everyone tends to know everyone and breaking in, on any level, can be quite difficult. I wanted to find a way to not only highlight brands that I felt were changing the conversation around beauty, but giving an inside look at the people behind these brands. A window into the exclusive world that is cosmetics and skincare.
This series is called CONVERSATIONS. You will find me speaking to those brands that seem to have a cult-following or are defining beauty in their own terms. First up, we have the entrepreneur and skincare extraordinaire Indie Lee. Diagnosed first with Rheumatoid Arthritis and then an environmentally derived brain tumor, Indie promised to educate others on the effects of chemicals in their beauty products. Falling into the spectrum of “Clean Beauty” Indie’s band has a major following (including myself). I got the chance to speak with Indie about what goes into creating new products, how quickly she converted to clean beauty, what a normal day is like for her, and so much more.
Without further a due, I give you A Conversation with Indie Lee…
Before Indie Lee, what were you doing? Were you as passionate about that career or more so with your second life?
IL: I started my work life in accounting and finance. While my career was going as planned, I was not passionate about finance. Every weekend I experienced “Sunday Scaries” and would dread going back to work on Monday. Once I started my line, Monday became my favorite day of the week – and I attribute a lot of that to my amazing team. Now, I truly believe that Monday > Friday.
When the doctors told you that you had your rare brain tumor, how did you cope? Obviously hearing that you may not survive is quite impactful.
IL: It was a beautiful fall day in New York, and as I was driving to the doctor after receiving news of my tumor, I noticed something incredible – the leaves around me were on fire with vibrancy. It was as if I was seeing fall foliage for the first time. In that moment, the world became technicolor, and I realized that for the past 37 years, I had been a passenger in my own life; I wasn’t driving it. I had forgotten how to live fully with passion, purpose, and being fully present in every moment. I now appreciate every moment like that and feel very fortunate to be working towards something that will allow others to do the same.
Did you switch to clean beauty immediately (aka a complete purge) and did you notice any direct changes?
IL: After speaking with my neuroendocrinologist, I went home and started looking at ingredients in my go-to products. To say I was mortified would be an understatement. Toxin after toxin, and even worse, no regulation in the U.S. I was floored. And, the more I researched, the more I learned about the links between harmful ingredients and things like autoimmune disease. I threw everything out. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this approach to people who are entering the clean space for the first time. It’s more manageable to swap clean products in when you run out of a conventional one. That way, you won’t get overwhelmed.
With such a saturated market, what inspires you when you create and release new products?
IL: When creating new products, we really look at what’s missing for our customers and from there, try to go a little bit wider or deeper in categories. Ultimately, we want to make sure that we are addressing different needs. This is why we created two ways for people to shop our products: by Ritual or Focus. When you shop by Ritual, you can customize your products based on the different steps needed in your personal skincare routine. If you look at the packaging, you’ll see that all of the products have unique iconography which indicate the step of the Ritual they belong to, like “Prepare” (this would be your cleansers). With Focus, you can shop our products based on your daily skincare needs, such as Clarity. The different Focus collections are marked by color banding on the packaging. For example, Lip Treat is part of the “Protect” Ritual step and “Face For All” Focus, meaning anyone can use it to help defend their lips against environmental stressors, as well as factors such as dehydration.
Your packaging is so streamlined, what were you thinking during the design process?
IL: Thank you! In addition to wanting to create clean, efficacious products, I really wanted them to look chic on a shelf. I have an amazing team that has helped me evolve the look and feel to where it is today. We also try to be really intentional with our packaging, like the use of the iconography and color bands.
How do you pick and choose what retailers you stock at? Do they have to align with your ethos or are you trying to create a wide availability?
IL: One of the transformations that has been amazing to watch is how many retailers are now carrying clean products. We’re carried in major clean retailers like Credo and Follain, and we’re also working with more traditional retailers to bring clean to an even wider group of people.
What is your stance on essential oils? They seem to be such a controversial topic in the beauty space.
IL: I love them for aromatherapeutic purposes – I have diffusers all over my house. I think that nature has an incredible way of giving us gifts we need. In skincare, I think a lot of essential oils have amazing properties, it’s just knowing where and when to use them. Lavender oil, for example, is known to have great antibacterial and antifungal properties. It also has a calming or soothing effect; people have done studies on those who inhaled lavender and saw that their anxiety decreased immediately. I like to use lavender in my diffuser at night to relax before bed.
So we both love skincare, but what are some of your favorite beauty products? Are you a high/low kind of women? Do you stick to the same brands or are you ever experimental in your routine?
IL: I have always appreciated beauty and love to try all products! I definitely love to test and try but I do have a few tried-and-true products. Some of my go-to’s include Vapour Organic Beauty Siren Lipstick and Rahua Color Shampoo and Conditioner. A product I’ve recently tried and fallen in love with is the LAWLESS The One Eyeshadow Palette.
I know you are bias, but what is your favorite product from your line? If you could only recommend one?
IL: This is always such a tough question (they’re all my favorite!), but if I had to choose, I would say our I-Waken Eye Serum. This serum is my go-to for faking a full night’s sleep, which is extremely necessary with all of the traveling that I do. It’s formulated with Arnica, Mountain Ash Bud and Spirulina to help address the appearance of puffiness, fine lines and wrinkles. It’s also super lightweight, so great for people who aren’t a fan of thicker eye creams. The name is also quite symbolic of my journey, from my literal awakening from surgery to the rest of my life, as well as my awakening that life needs to be lived more vibrantly.
What was your skin like before Indie Lee was a brand? Are you able to relate to any of the major skin-care woes of your dominant consumer base (aka mid-teens to early thirties)?
IL: I actually struggled with cystic acne into my thirties. It really did erode my self-confidence; I wouldn’t go out without makeup. What transformed my skin was our Squalane Facial Oil. I was doing a lot of research on the skin's natural sebum production, and I saw that squalene was part of it. We have it in abundance until our mid-twenties, then it drops off. I did more and more research and found that Squalane (the more stable version of squalene) has so many other benefits. It's great for hyperpigmentation. It’s non-comedogenic, moisturizing, and absorbs fast. I was like, "Okay, why is nobody else using this?" We're cruelty-free and you can get it from sustainably farmed olives. So I found the highest grade you could get, and thanks to this product, I rarely wear foundation.
Describe a perfect day for you. What are you eating? Doing?
IL: A perfect day for me would include a nature walk with my pups, lots of healthy, nourishing foods, and would end on the beach just watching the waves crash after sunset. Nature recharges me and whenever I am feeling out of control, it always grounds me.
What advice would you give to women out there who are struggling with what to do with their lives or who are trying to make a change but cannot find the strength?
IL: After my diagnosis, I realized that life is not a dress rehearsal – I didn’t want to waste any moment I had. Each one is so precious. So I would say choose to live life vibrantly and joyfully. If you wait your whole life for big moments, you’ll have wasted so much time waiting. And, waiting begets waiting. How do you think you’re going to feel in that moment? Elated? Why not feel elated right now? Go out and live it. Be present in the moment and infinitely grateful for the opportunity to experience it.
~ A special thank you to Indie for taking the time out of her busy schedule to sit down and answer these questions. It means so much to myself, as well as others in the beauty community, to get authenticity and transparency from brand founders. Indie, you truly are such an insightful and trailblazing woman. ~