Twenty-two years ago Jane Iredale left the entertainment industry to start a makeup line. Upset with products that had potentially harmful ingredients and advertising centered on beauty fads, she envisioned a revolutionary product line, with simple ingredients and simple messaging. Known as the first company to supply clean makeup products that also benefit the skin, Iredale Mineral Cosmetics became the “go to” line for pure, natural and timeless cosmetics.
Iredale’s revolutionary spirit hardly stops with her products. She is dedicated to promoting all aspects of wellness in her personal life as well as in her company and in her community. She sees the potential that we all have to support a better Earth and healthier people and her commitment to achieving these goals often requires her to defy convention. For instance, she tells us that there is nary a branded item that is advertised on TV in her house! Iredale is Wellness Warrior to the core. Read on to learn about this cosmetic industry icon's personal ideas on wellness, her amazing garden, and how she believes that accepting inconvenience is the only way we will change the world for the better.
WW: Your website speaks to enhancing natural beauty and not following fads. This is such a beautiful message. Can you talk a little about your philosophy on makeup and beauty?
JI: Fads are just fads. They’re a way of selling product. Making something trendy for the moment and convincing people they must have it right now but will then forget about six months later is not something we want to do. We don’t think of ourselves as being trendy. For us, make-up is a tool to make us feel the best we can feel. That doesn’t come from trying to change things. I’m in the process of providing a forward for a book on makeup in which the author writes, “follow what you love and what you don’t love will fade away.” That’s our philosophy here. It’s not about that purple eye shadow that you like this week (because a celebrity is wearing it), but next week you are going to hate. It’s what works best with your complexion and your eyes. That’s timeless.
WW: “Wellness” can be such an elusive term, with different meanings to different people. What does that word mean to you?
JI: Our health and wellness are dictated by so many aspects of our lives. It’s not just about eating well and going to the gym. It's about surrounding yourself with people you love who can nurture you, It’s about getting rid of those things in your life that are toxic emotionally and that are not nurturing every part of your being.
That being said, I also think that it is incredibly important to eat in a healthy fashion. I don’t necessarily mean being vegetarian, but rather eating in a way that nurtures your body type. I do believe in organic food. I do believe in eating locally and seasonally, because I think those are all fundamental to our human being. Food also needs to be beautiful as well and presented nicely because it nurtures all of our senses. “Wellness” incorporates all of that.
WW: How do you bring wellness into your life?
JI: I know the things that make me feel good. That’s one of the reasons why I moved out of New York City to the Berkshires. I feel good when I am surrounded by greenery and flowers, when I can be in my vegetable garden and walk my dog and come out of a restaurant and see the stars and hear the tree frogs. I know what pleases my soul and I was lucky enough to be able to move up here and do that. For me, living in a 7,000 person rural town makes it so much easier to run a company than if I were doing this in the middle of Los Angeles. That’s what works for me.
Speaking of keeping toxic things away: If you were to look into my house and look into my cupboards, you wouldn’t find one single brand. I don’t buy anything branded. Not even toothpaste. Anything that I see advertised on television makes me immediately suspect, and I just don’t buy it. This is a very personal choice, of course, but again, it works for me.
I love to garden, so I have my vegetable and fruit garden and my flower garden and my bees. This is such an amazing planet that we live on. I don’t think that we appreciate it... like we should. So, I can’t change the world or stop climate change all by myself, but I can affect my little part of the world. I try to do that in a positive and effective way. Sharing it with people is really important to me, too.
WW: Your garden sounds amazing. We’ve heard stories. Can you tell us more about it?
JI: I was raised with home-grown veggies. I’ve always had a garden where I live. When we moved to the Berkshires, I thought it would be fun to have something that the company could share in and watch grow. A lot of people don’t know how a potato grows, or they’ve never seen beans on a bush! So, we started out with a small garden, with the idea that whoever wanted to join from the company could. The only rule was that if you wanted to pick the produce, then you had to do the weeding. That really sorted out the people who were serious and those who weren’t. But even those who don’t garden come up and walk in it and bring their kids to it.
It started off small, but then it got bigger and we now have a community garden that involves people from the company and beyond.
And then I got very concerned because I thought that [fruits and vegetables] weren’t getting pollinated enough. So I talked to a friend of mine who is a beekeeper. She put a hive in my garden and it’s done really really well. Typically they don’t last through our cold winters, but mine have lasted for five years! These gardens have so much wonderful food. Fruit trees: pears, apples, peaches, cherries. We also have a big asparagus patch. We do our own composting and it’s a totally organic garden.
It is technically mine–it's on my property and I’m ultimately responsible for the caretaking–so I’m out there weeding and tending to it. (I’m the best weeder around–nobody weeds the way that I do.) But, it brings so many people together. It’s really grown into community garden. We have company people involved and community members involved and we take turns watering, planting, harvesting...keeping it going. We’re just starting to get it ready for some planting now.
WW: Aside from your garden, how else do you bring wellness into your company?
JI: We do wellness days where we bring experts into the office. We might bring in 7 or 8 different people– for example, a massage therapist or an acupuncturist or a nutritionist to talk about their work. We do a lot of screenings of important films, too.
We are as mindful as we can be of what we do for our employee's health. We just had our building renovated to Gold LEED certification. That was really important to us. We have rain gardens around the building. We recycle. We offer everyone spring water.
We have a “no plastic bottles at work” policy. When we have meetings we put jugs of water on the table with glasses. We really try to give everyone as non-toxic an environment as we can.
And of course, we are a no smoking campus and we try to help those people who want to give up smoking to get into cessation programs.
And then I have my own private agenda.
I try to keep everyone abreast on what’s going on out there with the issues that I think are important, like GMO labeling and fluoride in water. I try to not overwhelm them with stuff because it can be too distracting and difficult to sort through what is truly important. What’s important to me, may not be important to them. So I’m mindful not to overwhelm.
But, generally, people are very receptive. We’re so concerned with what we put into our products as a company that it permeates and sorts out the people who care about these kinds of issues and people who don’t. Very few people work here just because it's a job. Most people here are of a similar mind. And I do think that this ethos rubs off on people in the company who don’t necessarily start off that way.
WW: You’re doing some pretty amazing working in the Berkshires, but let’s look with a wider lens. What do you see as the greatest advancements for wellness in the U.S.?
JI: Research into stem cells has huge potential. Other countries are so much further ahead than we are, but I hope that people will see the see the sense of it.
I am not a person who takes medications, but I do certainly understand that for many people it’s necessary. So I think that 'profiling' drugs is on the right the track, so it’s 'not one size fits' all. I have a friend with cancer who is just going through this kind of treatment and it’s been incredibly effective.
Since I’ve been in this country the growing fitness trend has been a good one. That can be overdone, too. It has to be crafted in a careful way.
I see much more awareness of organic food and eating locally. In my area organic farms surround us. I’m on the board of Berkshire Grown, an organization that helps and encourages small farmers. I host a farmers' market every week during the summer. I think that people are much more aware now of eating locally because restaurants emphasize it.
I may be living in a bubble and that might not be true in Peoria, but from my perspective, that’s been huge. I can think of five restaurants that do farm to table right around me. In a small town that’s a lot.
WW: On the other side of the coin, then, what do you see as the most pressing wellness issues in the U.S.?
JI: The first thing that comes to mind is obesity. I always relate it to the high fructose corn syrup which has been so incredibly damaging to America's health. If I could eliminate one thing (that’s hard to say, because I think that fluoride in our water is a really pressing issue), I would take high fructose corn syrup out of all of our food. Not that sugar is great either, but corn syrup is so damaging.
The GMO issue is huge. Particularly the conflict over whether we should know if GMO's are in our food or not. To me it's a no-brainer: Why shouldn’t we know what we are buying? Particularly because we are all told that it is perfectly safe. Well if it is perfectly safe, then what is the harm of putting it on the label?
Another thing that comes to mind is stress. Everyone is so wired and “in touch” all of the time. We can’t have a second away from our cell phones, or televisions or whatever it is that we watch. I think that affects us at different levels; from bodily health, to our mental health, to our community health. The way we deal with each other is dramatically affected in a number of negative ways by all of these electronics.
WW: You have such a broad understanding of our world and its problems, and you’re clearly doing a lot to change things for the better within your company and community. On a larger scale, how do you think change happens in the world? Can one person really make a difference in creating a better, healthier, more-well world?
JI: I do believe that one person can make a difference. It’s one person at a time. My team here includes 180 people, and I got an email the other day from someone saying, “My family is healthier because of the information you send us.” So, you start by hoping that it can be one person, then two, then three, then four and so on. It’s has to start somewhere!
It can get frustrating and depressing, but what is the choice? Of course we are all inspired to take care of ourselves, but when you are in this wellness mindset, it’s not something that you want to keep to yourself–you want to share it with others. And some people will be receptive and some aren’t. One of my dearest friends is not receptive! He just wants to do what he does with his diet and with his exercise. It doesn’t matter how hard I try. (I’ve been trying for 40 years!) He’s still alive and kicking so maybe he’s got some things figured out…
I just think that those of us who can see the opportunities for positive change need to keep doing what we’re doing and trying to spread the word. For instance, last year I was very grateful that we could host a farmers' market and make it into a place that people really love to come to. Throughout the season more and more people came and were exposed to good food. This year we’ll do the same thing. Little bit by little bit, some things work and some things don’t. You just have to keep trying.
No matter how well meaning we are, nobody wants to be inconvenienced. Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” was so well titled. It doesn’t matter how much we want change, if it is inconvenient, then we often won’t want to do it. It’s inconvenient to recycle. It’s inconvenient to cook dinner rather than buying Kentucky Fried Chicken. Human beings just will not be inconvenienced.
[We have to] understand our aversion to inconvenience. [We have to] accept that we might need to experience it to make changes for a greater good. Otherwise there will be no changes. I believe that we all need to do some deeply personal work to try to understand within ourselves why we might be averse to change. Only then will we be able to tackle issues together.
Photo: Jane with her beehives ©:Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, Ltd.