Working with entrepreneurs at Goldman Sachs, WELLinsulated founder Julie Vavrichek got the start-up itch. On a trip to South Carolina she was inspired to create the beauty and wellness essential that solves a problem most of us never considered: protecting our products, tech devices, and medication from extreme temperatures. As beauty fridges were taking Instagram by storm, Julie created a portable solution with her chic insulated trio of bags. We caught up with Julie about what it took to make her idea a reality.
- What was the opportunity you saw in the marketplace the compelled you to launch a brand?
A close friend of mine is an entrepreneur who owns a company that formulates and manufactures beauty products for many of the luxury beauty brands. He asked me to partner with him in developing a new line of clean skincare products. Coming from the world of finance, I had zero experience in this space, and got a crash course in ingredients and product formulation from his in-house chemists.
I never knew that some of my favorite products – like my Vitamin C serum and retinol –lose their effectiveness quickly if not stored correctly. Like many women, I didn’t know that the absolute worst place we can store products is exactly where we are putting them: in our bathrooms, where the exposure to humidity and temperature fluctuations can make the preservatives break down quickly, causing the active ingredients to expire and making the products basically worthless.
Sunscreen is another product that can be very unstable when not stored properly, and the health risks of wearing expired sunscreen are severe. To think: Even when we are diligently applying it, our sunscreen could be leaving us completely unprotected from the sun's damaging rays if we’ve left it sitting in our beach tote or makeup bag too long. We spend a ton of money on – and time researching – what beauty products to buy, but all of that is a waste if these products stop being effective after a few months; even worse, they might be breeding harmful bacteria due to bad storage conditions.
One summer weekend when I was on vacation in Charleston, SC, the need for a solution really became clear. I was at the rooftop pool with my travel bag full of expensive products sitting in the 100 degree heat, and I realized I was going to have to throw them out because the exposure to heat and humidity had ruined them! I started looking for an insulated bag to keep them cool and all I could find were cheap lunch bags or huge coolers. There was nothing sleek, fashionable and technical enough to meet my need. And so the idea for WELLinsulated was born.
- What differentiates WELLinsulated from products already on the market?
There’s really no comparison between a WELLinsulated beauty bag and a typical makeup bag or organizer. Those options were designed simply to transport or stow products without thought of the technical needs and requirements for proper storage. Traditional makeup bags are also doing more harm than good: Standard fabric liners provide the optimal breeding ground for bacteria, are impossible to keep clean and the standard construction allows moisture to easily get trapped inside.
Modern life requires we carry products with us: in our purses, in cars, in gym bags, in suitcases. We need a solution that not only safeguards them from temperature swings, humidity and light when stored at home, but is also functional on the go. This is where WELLinsulated comes in.
WELLinsulated beauty bags were designed from the ground up to provide our beauty and wellness products the protection they need, in a package that’s both beautiful and highly functional. Our bags are constructed with high-performance, technical materials, including multi-layer closed cell insulation that regulates temperature and prevents breakage; aluminum lining that resists bacteria and easily wipes clean; mylar exterior that blocks light; and waterproof zippers that keep moisture out, and any spills in.
It’s not just makeup and face creams that require special handling — health and wellness has become a central feature to our beauty routine. Our medicine cabinets are overflowing with supplements, vitamins, probiotics and medication that can lose efficacy if not stored correctly. The protein-based hormones in birth control pills and thyroid medication, for instance, are especially sensitive to high temperatures—anything above 77 degrees can cause them to expire faster, making them useless. Our WELLinsulated system of bags is an effective solution to protect all of our beauty and wellness investments.
- This is one of those “why didn’t I think of that” products, but how difficult was it to develop and how long did it take?
We have seen so many advancements in the things we use everyday – from electronics to beauty formulas – even our suitcases have built-in technology. Why haven’t our makeup bags kept up? I was determined to create a storage system that had the performance-driven design our products need with a versatility and aesthetic that fit seamlessly into our daily lives.
I was new to manufacturing when I started, and it was a steep learning curve! In order to test demand, we did an initial production run in mid-2018 to determine proof of concept and have something that beauty consumers could give me feedback on.
I was fortunate to find some incredible industry leaders who believed in what I was doing and wanted to help -- from a lead thermal aerospace engineer to technical designers who created high-end coolers like Yeti. They provided their expertise on everything from the construction to the materials. I also brought in a leading handbag designer who worked with several well known luxury brands to make sure our bags met my standards for high quality construction and design. Sourcing a high-end handbag manufacturer who was also capable of working with technical materials took time, but after two years of R&D and product trials, we’ve done it. After countless revisions and testing, we have three thoughtful, versatile designs: a makeup bag, a train case, and a flat pouch — available for purchase on our website now.
- Who is the consumer target that you created your brand for?
Our customer is a modern woman who wants products that support her healthy, active lifestyle. She tries to make health and wellness a priority in every aspect of her life – without sacrificing style and fashion. She wants less stuff that does more, and that versatility has been a central focus in creating WELLinsulated: bags that can take her from a business meeting to dinner or even the gym.
When I started WELLinsulated, it was to solve a problem that I had. There wasn’t anything on the market that was high-end, stylish, and technical enough to protect my personal care items.
Women are passionate consumers. My core early customers tested all our prototypes and gave me valuable feedback, which I used to make adjustments and improvements. In speaking with many other women’s accessories brands, many of the designers and decision makers are men. I believe the early success we’ve seen speaks to WELLinsulated being a company run by and for modern women. Every aspect of our bags was designed based on women’s feedback and centered on our needs. For example, my early adopters really shaped our R&D process with their passionate support and feedback.
- What’s been the biggest surprise to date in the business?
Aside from the $300 the typical American woman spends monthly on beauty items and treatments, the biggest surprise to me is the information gap we continue to have about proper storage: how common it is that our daily environmental conditions—and how we store and transport our products—are causing rapid deterioration to ingredients, making them unstable and even unsafe to use. From humidity generated by warm showers to commuting in cold cars or the wild temperature swings of overhead airplane bins, our sensitive formulas endure a lot of environmental stress that most of us just don't consider when going about our everyday lives.
I’ve enjoyed creating an accessory line that addresses these issues head-on – a line that provides a fashionable, technical solution that protects beauty investments and reduces product waste. I’m happy to say that WELLinsulated is at the forefront of a new conversation in beauty. Since we launched, we’ve seen more awareness around proper storage and preventing spoilage. Fashion and beauty magazines are running “shelf life” articles, beauty fridges are all over Instagram and brands are more proactive in educating their customer—just as we're seeking to educate ours.
- What made you leave the world of finance and to launch a startup?
I’ve always loved the idea of starting a product-based business: something tangible, that I could actually hold in my hands.
- How have you funded the business? Why did you decide to self fund vs raise capital?
When I worked at Goldman Sachs, I spent a lot of time with entrepreneurs and really learned the different tradeoffs that are made regarding funding. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was the importance of taking on the right investor and being strategic around when and how much to raise.
It was important to me to get the business up and running on my own. I self-funded and bootstrapped it with my personal savings. It’s been an invaluable learning experience that has allowed me to fully appreciate the business from the ground up and has instilled a decision making discipline around capital and resource allocation. I recently raised a small amount of capital from friends & family and will re-evaluate our capital needs as we go forward. I’m excited about our progress.
- What is your distribution plan for the brand?
WELLinsulated beauty bags are currently sold directly on our website. This DTC model helps me maintain a close conversation with my customers, develop insights on their needs, and build a community around the beauty and wellness lifestyle.
I’m also exploring retail partnerships, because I think there can be a lot of value as a new brand to build credibility and brand awareness; to engage in conversations regarding proper storage of beauty and wellness items. I’m excited to find the right partners who share our commitment to helping women get the most from their beauty dollars.
- What is your vision for the future of WELLinsulated?
My focus right now is on continuing to make fashionable accessories that have built-in performance and high-tech functionality.
We’re developing a line of storage products and cases that addresses the organization and protection needs of the items we use everyday for both at-home and on-the-go. Our newest release — a train case, with insertable beauty bags — speaks to this. We know women need solutions that are flexible and can accommodate their active lifestyles. As WELLinsulated continues to grow, we’ll add products specific to the evolving needs of our customers.