Allison McNamara of MARA: A Modern Take on Classic Skincare

Elizabeth welcomes the inspiring Allison McNamara, founder of the algae based clean skincare line MARA, known for its popularity among skincare enthusiasts and celebrities like Hailey Bieber and Chrissy Tiegan. Allison takes us on a journey back to her TV days as a host, producer, and journalist, sharing experiences from the red carpet where she interviewed celebrities and navigated various products. Drawing from these insights, Allison learned how to effectively communicate messages to the right audience, which also just happens to be one of her super powers. 

In the conversation, Allison details the steps taken to develop and successfully launch the award-winning skincare line, now available at Sephora. She shares some of her favorite MARA products including the Universal Face Oil and the body oil,  and how she personally uses them in her daily routine. Finally, she underscores the importance of dedicating a few precious minutes each day for personal rejuvenation.

I think the big thing behind MARA for our earlier success was in the time of the 20 step skincare routines, we were offering simplicity and I don’t think that was being offered or advertised in a way that felt accessible and attainable but also was effective.
- Allison McNamara

 

Listen now: 

 

Podcast transcript below:

Elizabeth Stein 0:00
Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder, and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey.
This week's guest is Allison McNamara founder and CEO of MARA, the algae-based clean skincare brand now sold at Sephora. Allison started her career in TV as a host and journalist on Pop Sugar before pivoting to skincare after inspiration on a trip to Turkey and the sea of NaMara. MARA launched in 2018 with just one product, universal face oil, and is now a cold favorite by everyone from Chrissy Tegan to Haley Bieber, and me. I love her products. In this episode, we talk about Allison's career transition from the entertainment industry to beauty, including her favorite celebrity interviews while working in TV, the benefits of working closely with PR which gave her a unique perspective on what brands were looking for and how to communicate effectively, and ultimately the steps she took to develop and launch her skincare line. Allison shares the importance of tapping into her intuition, launching with confidence, brand building, her favorite skincare tips for glowing skin along her favorite wellness hacks to feel her absolute best. This was such a fun conversation. Keep listening to learn more.
It's officially oatmeal season and I'm so excited to share that you can find our Purely Elizabeth oatmeal products at select Walmart stores, just in time to get cozy with a warming breakfast. You can find our blueberry flax, oatmeal multipacks, and dark chocolate chunk oatmeal cups in the cereal aisle. Out gluten-free instant oatmeals are made with organic oats combined with five super food grades and seeds for delicious taste and texture. Our packs and cups make for an easy breakfast, snack, or dessert. And they're also perfect to take on the go. Click the Store Locator in the show notes to find a Walmart store near you. Happy oatmeal season and happy shopping.
Allison, welcome to the podcast. It's so lovely to have you on today and meet you and I'm so excited to hear your story.
Allison McNamara 2:25
Thanks for having me. I'm so excited. I'm a big fan of yours as well.
Elizabeth Stein 2:29
Wonderful. Well, start with what you were doing before you started MARA as you were in the entertainment industry, something different. Would love to hear what you were doing. Did you always think that would be your career path? Or did you know it was just going to divert elsewhere?
Allison McNamara 2:48
I did go to school for journalism. And I always, from as early as I can remember, wanted to entertain people. I love storytelling. Whether that was acting or plays or doing a long-form poetry contest, I just knew I loved being in front of people. So when I got to college, I learned that broadcast journalism was something that you could study. I grew up watching E! News, The Daily 10, and so many of those amazing entertainment news shows that I look forward to every night. I decided to pivot from what I thought I was going to do, which was doing some more political analyst-type on-camera work to entertainment, and I got to internet E and MTV. It was so profound, that it shaped my formative years of college. And I just knew I wanted to be in that industry somehow or be in a way where I got to connect with people. So after college, it took a little bit of time, but I did start working on camera as a reporter pretty quickly for Pop Sugar and grew with that career. I went from doing small daily entertainment and fashion news shows to hosting a live-to-tape TV show. I had different shows on the FYI network and ABC. I was living out my dream life. But then it was also coming at a time when people weren't tuning into news the same way they used to. They weren't waiting till 6 pm to watch E. They were getting it on Instagram. I remember even getting a Star magazine or a Us Weekly magazine, like waiting until that would drop and going to the newsstand and getting that and that was like your fix for the week. So that all changed really while I was in the growing years of my early career. So I had to pivot and figure out what I wanted to do as the shifts were happening. And beauty has always been in my blood. It's something that my family's done while I was growing up. And it's something that I was always super passionate about. So, ventured on this journey as a side hustle. It was the era of the side hustle, that was the term that they were using in the 2015-16 era. So I started doing this and now I'm so happy to be where I'm at now. And I still feel like I get to touch a little bit of what I used to do by doing things like podcasts and interviews and promoting the brand. So it feels like it all wasn't in vain.
Elizabeth Stein 05:03
So do I. What a fun journey though. I have to ask what was one of your favorite interviews that you ever did?
Allison McNamara 05:12
There are so many, but I think the one that I got the most excited about was interviewing George Clooney. Just someone that you grew up watching and my mom loves him, and I love him. So that was a cool experience. I think just the iconic actors and actresses are the ones that I got the most excited by. Another one was Angelina Jolie. I interviewed her in 2012, I think it was, at the salt premiere. And that was like a huge bucket list because I grew up watching her and just idolizing her amazing.
Elizabeth Stein 05:37
How amazing was her skin?
Allison McNamara 05:39
This was 10 years ago. But even then she looked flawless. And she just ages backward. She looks incredible.
Elizabeth Stein 05:48
I'm sure it was so many amazing experiences and a lot of learning lessons in that industry. What have you taken from that work that you've now taken into launching your own business, I'm sure there have been so many nuggets that have been helpful along the way.
Allison McNamara 06:04
There have been so many crossovers. But I think the most powerful one that I had in my toolbox when I was starting MARA was the fact that I would also write our shows, these short and long-form shows for Pop Sugar. And I was writing so many a day. Sometimes we were shooting 8 to 10 small segments or a 30-minute show. I was writing those. And so it taught me how to communicate ideas, punchy, and very quickly to the end consumer. I think that the rigorous boot camp of writing every single day made the whole ideation of MARA and the way of communicating our education to the customer pretty easy for me like it was very clear on what was on the messaging. So a lot of people have to hire copywriters, or they go through fancy marketing agencies. To this day, I still do all of the copywriting and naming. I love it. But that's my favorite part. I get so excited, I get to do so little of what I love to do because that's actually what I'm good at. And as a business owner, the fun stuff is only 5% of your daily, not even 5% of the total pie. You're doing so much more operational. So I think that's probably the part that I had a leg up on. And I think the other one would be being in media, being on the receiving end of pitches, because I would get pitched from beauty brands, and fashion brands every day about being included in our stories, I think working closely with our PR team, and just knowing the messaging of the product that the PR team is going to then be pitching out was vital. And to this day, I still receive so many press releases. So I think that has helped me understand what people are looking for and how to communicate it.
Elizabeth Stein 07:40
So you honed in on what your superpowers are and how you're utilizing them. Sounds like you have. That's the inspiration. So things were changing in the industry for you. And what was your family doing in the beauty space?
Allison McNamara 07:58
So my dad worked at a variety of consumer product goods companies, specifically in beauty and cosmetics growing up. So it was really fun, especially having a dad who loved to talk about makeup and skincare. There's nothing better, right? So we were always talking about marketing in general, he would always ask us so many questions about what's cool. What do you think of this? Is this a good face wash? Do you like the colors of this? So, I think that was fun. Like I think about that, like, wow, I do have the coolest dad. But it's such a cool job to share with two daughters because I have a sister too.
Elizabeth Stein 08:32
That's amazing. So things are changing, you have the background of your family, and then what was the catalyst to start to move forward and the inspiration and starting the brand?
Allison McNamara 08:44
Well, I had the idea in 2015, on a trip that I took with my family and I took when I was able to get the name trademarked, I was able to also get the Instagram and the website. I took that as a sign that should just really go forward with it. But also, I think I had both feet in, in a way, but I also was smart about it. So, I didn't take on any outside capital when I started the business. So I continued my job as well. I was working for myself at the time, I have another business called McNamara Inc. that did everything from copywriting to Instagram work to consulting. So I kept that going as my main job until two years ago. So that was three years after launch. So, I think it was really important to be very clear-minded about where MARA was going, but also be financially secure myself. So that didn't make me worried as I was working on this. And it was really hard. I think people glamorize having a side hustle, but I still work crazy hours, but especially when I was working two full-time jobs, that was tough but rewarding.
Elizabeth Stein 09:47
No, I think that's so important to think about what that looks like. Because for some people it can be doing two things and going headfirst and it could show up in a variety of ways and it's however you feel comfortable at the time, certainly. So, where did the name come from?
Allison McNamara 10:03
MARA is the last four letters of my last name. My last name is McNamara, but it's pronounced MARA as a brand. And MARA means sea and Gaelic. I'm an Irish citizen, and the actual name was inspired by the Sea of Marmara. I was on a trip to Turkey, and I just thought MARA would be a cool name for this brand that I was already starting to put together in my mind. Again, like I love storytelling, so I plan to do it around the ocean with and very minimal, heritage feeling. So, everything just fell into place. And the easiest part of the whole journey, honestly, was the branding and the naming. Everything else was tough. That part came together very nicely.
Elizabeth Stein 10:42
Wow, that's incredible. I love how all those signs just pointed together so seamlessly.
Allison McNamara 10:50
Yeah. I'm big on like a gut feeling, too. So I think when things are easy, the world's giving you signs that you're going in the right direction. So, I ran with that intuition.
Elizabeth Stein 10:59
That's funny. For me, when I started thinking about what the name would be, my family was all together, I wasn't with them. And in one afternoon, like in 10 minutes, they sat around and someone came up with the name Purely Elizabeth. I wasn't there. They called me and they're like, “What about this?” And I was like, “Yes, that's it.” I just knew in my gut that that was the right thing. So sometimes it's those gut moments, and then everything else was hard. But the naming was easy.
Allison McNamara 11:24
Yeah, if you know and it's so perfect for your brand too. And I think those brands, you can tell when there's like a lot behind the name and the meaning. And I love that. I love it when there's more of a story than just going to a creative agency and having them come up with something for you. I think both ways can be beautiful. But I do love it when there's a little bit more personality behind a brand name.
Elizabeth Stein 11:43
Totally. So you talked about intuition. What are some ways that you tap into your intuition and use it today?
Allison McNamara 11:50
So, this is ever-changing. I feel like if I would have answered this a few years ago, it would have been different. But right now I'm really into listening to frequencies. So, I've been listening to the 432 frequency, which is positive vibrations. And I usually play that as I'm falling asleep.
Elizabeth Stein 12:05
Do you just go on Spotify and play 432 lists?
Allison McNamara 12:10
I get asked this all the time. So, I should clarify. So I use an app called BetterSleep. And you can pair frequencies with different sorts of sounds. So I love a deep brown noise. So I put deep brown noise with a little bit of the 432 frequency. And I just let that play on my phone relatively close to my bed, not too close. And I love that just in the distance. And I try and do visualizations as I'm falling asleep. So that's one way. But then I think with your intuition, you just have to give yourself time to be alone. I love just going on long walks without music without my phone, and letting my inner voice show through. Because I feel like as business owners and as people we're bombarded with so many other people's opinions all the time. So sometimes it's important whether it's a morning, walk with your dog that's phone free, whatever it is, just being alone with your thoughts, I think it's really important to be able to harness your intuition.
Elizabeth Stein 13:06
I agree. And I think it's hard as the years go on in the business, at least I found for myself, I felt much more like gut feeling intuitive earlier on, then I went through stages of feeling and maybe it's to your point that you have so much coming towards you so many people given your opinions that you almost get lost in that. So, getting to those routines of getting back into it is super important.
Allison McNamara 13:31
Definitely. And I think you're right, everything ebbs and flows. And I do think at the beginning, it is easier to rely on your gut for sure.
Elizabeth Stein 13:39
Okay, so let's get back to the beginning for you. So what was it like launching? So you have this idea. You get the branding down, the easy part. Now comes the hard part what is the product? How do you formulate and source and all of that, I know it's not as easy as not that food is easy, but you can only say go on your kitchen mock up a couple of things, it's easier. What is the process like for you?
Allison McNamara 14:04
There are so many different ways to do it, we ended up using a completely separate cosmetic formulator because we own our formulas. So worked with an independent team to develop clinically the products that we created and that did take a long time. But I was pretty specific in the ingredients that I wanted. I knew I wanted Moringa and algae to be the stars of universal face oil. How did I pick those two? just deepen research. You know as someone who researches skincare and is a journalist by trade, I felt like there were face oils out there on the market. This is 2015. And a lot of them use jojoba and Marula oil which are both great but I felt like they didn't have those properties that sank into the skin and I felt like they left in a more oily finish. So I was looking for something that had deep hydration but didn't leave an oily residue and Moringa is known for that. It's also one of the most nutrient-dense plants on Earth, so vitamins A through F. Incredible for just overall complexion balance, redness, and inflammation. I noticed it wasn't being used widely in skincare at the time. So I wanted to find ingredients that were incredible for skin but also weren't widely distributed, because I wanted to create something that truly was a first of its kind. So mixing the anti-aging algae with the moringa was the DNA of the brand. So, I came to my formulator with that, and then we built out the rest of the profile. It did take a long time to nail the entire formula. But I think the harder part is when you want to scale up, and you have to go to a contract manufacturer. And then you learn all about a bill of materials and sourcing components. And we do all of that in-house. So it was a challenge. There were so many learning curves. And I remember that first year, we launched in 2018. 2017 was probably one of the most formative years of actual business learning in terms of production for me because I had never done it before. And every day, it felt like I was being thrown a new acronym, they had no idea what it meant or a word that I had never heard before, or finding out that I needed to have something else to get to the finish line. So that was challenging, but now you learn. I look back and like wow, one product, so easy. Now I have so many more SKUs. It's so much more complex, but grateful for the way I did it. Because I think launching one SKU allowed me to be successful with that one SKU and then build upon that.
Elizabeth Stein 16:24
As you were ramping up over that time, what do you think it was that helped you, give you the courage to be fearless and do it? Because it's not like a couple of months. You're dedicating those couple of years to building out this thing that you don't know what's going to happen and where it's going to go. And that takes a lot of guts and being fearless to do so. Was that sort of just part of your DNA?
Allison McNamara 16:52
Yeah, it's funny. Now I have more trepidations. And I did back then because there's more on the line. But I've always been pretty fearless. And it takes a lot to scare me, I had no qualms about launching my line. I completely believed in the product they created. I knew it was unique, I knew it would stand out on the shelf. I felt very confident about how I branded it and what was inside it. So I had no hang-ups. And there was also nothing really to lose besides the costs that I put into the business. But at the time, we only made one SKU. I didn't buy a massive order of bottles, I found the bottles that we use as dead stock. So I only bought what we were manufacturing. Dead stock is usually used in a fashion where its brand ordered blanks of the bulk of T-shirts ended up only buying and dying 10%. So then the warehouse is stuck with this deadstock, which is completely usable. But it hasn't been claimed by someone and I just so happened to find these blue bottles as deadstock. I went to all the different trade shows too. And it was just so serendipitous. And now it's a key part of the brand. And I work with the same manufacturer to custom-make all the rest of our components now. But I found that it's dead stock. I still had overhead. But I didn't have crazy overhead the way that some people do when they launch a brand. So I think because of that, I wasn't quite as nervous. And I was also really excited. So I think you have to have excitement about what you're doing. We can't live with fear, we have to live with excitement. And so now I always try and remember that because I think as you launch more products, as you have more of a name in the industry, there's more pressure to keep outdoing yourself. And I think that's where the challenges arise. But at the beginning, no, I think ignorance is bliss, at least for me.
Elizabeth Stein 18:38
Yeah, I agree. If you had known, you may not have started in the first place.
Allison McNamara 18:44
Yeah, I still probably would have done it. But I think there's a lot that you take as you go. And if you would have known before, you've been like, oh, do I want to have that anxiety? Do I want to go through that stress of that, just all the things that come with it?
Elizabeth Stein 18:57
Yeah, I was just thinking the other day about how if and when the time came to start a second business, what would it be you think about founders who started a second business and you assume they'd always be successful, but then they're not. And I wonder if part of that is because you do know so much that you're not going in with the different mindset where you already know the things and you're putting up that wall versus just going in completely unknown and making different decisions based off of that.
Allison McNamara 19:30
So interesting. I'd love to see someone who has the time to do a deep dive into such businesses and compare and contrast. Because I do think you bring up a good point. It's just that when you don't know you're constantly in the state of learning, and you're also hustling to figure it out where if you know you feel like you already have it all figured out, maybe that changes the course of how the business presents itself to the world. So, that's interesting.
Elizabeth Stein 19:53
So if someone is brand new to the brand, what product do they start with? And what's that hero product of yours?
Allison McNamara 20:00
I created this line to have every category have a hero product because I felt that people were just launching too much. And there were too many steps. And it was so convoluted. I honestly have such a hard time answering this question because I think every product is such a standout. I would think if you're new to oils specifically because we're mostly oil-focused at MARA, I would say start with our universal face oil. We call it universal for a reason. It's great for all skin types, acne, oily, dry skin, it's so good. You'll see the hydration and the results that we're known for.
Elizabeth Stein 20:36
That was your first product, right?
Allison McNamara 20:40
That was our first product. That's why I launched because I felt like it was the one that everyone could take advantage of. And it wasn't eliminating or alienating anyone from being able to try the products, because cleansers also are an incredible product. And that's something that you use every single day. So I think the cleanser or the universal oil would be a great way to start.
Elizabeth Stein 20:58
So at what point after you launched the universal oil did you feel like, okay, this business is going to make it and this is successful? And now let's go and roll out more products into the marketplace. What was that first year? What was that like?
Allison McNamara 21:15
The funny thing about the whole journey, I was not laissez-faire, but I wasn't super anxious or scared about the launch of the first product. I was prepared to make this business bigger than it was. I had already started working on five formulas when I started formulating in 2016. So, I did have my second product formula ready. But I didn't start doing all of the necessary things like ordering bottles and making unit cartons and getting all of that together until after the launch of the universal oil. So the plan was in my mind because I didn't have a business plan. I didn't even go to business school, I would have liked a marketing minor. And that's like pushing it. That's been very generous with my business experience. No, I didn't have like a business plan. But my mind was like, okay, if it goes, well, I'll feel it out after the first month. And if it is going well, then we'll start using the initial profits, or not even just profits, the initial money into the second product and order the bottles and the unit cartons and whatnot. And so, it was successful. So I started on the retinol oil. The idea was to launch about two products a year. We stick to that, we didn't launch any in 2019, we launched different sizes of things. We did launch basically two to three every year since then. And that's the general rollout that I try and keep to because I don't want to over-inundate the customer. And there's also only so many products I want to create. So, I don't want to like to do it all at once.
Elizabeth Stein 22:44
So what are some of the other key ingredients that you're using? Or is it algae and the moringa in everything?
Allison McNamara 22:53
No. So the algae is and everything we have a proprietary wild collected algae blend, and that's the secret sauce that's in every single product that ties it together. But we add different types of ocean and marine ingredients depending on the formula in addition to the blend, and then each product has a unique makeup. So some of them also share the moringa ingredient. But no, the retinol oil has 1.2% clean retinol. It uses four natural forms of vitamin A like Kay oil, which is more dense in vitamin A than rose hip. We have our vitamin C serum, which has a unique ingredient profile with no Moringa in it. So it has really beautiful 14 different types of vitamin C in the oil form. There's 15% THD ascorbate. It's just really beautiful. So each product is a ground-up experience when we formulate beyond the algae blend that we make sure everything works with.
Elizabeth Stein 23:46
So what's your skincare routine every week? Your skin is beautiful.
Allison McNamara 23:53
Thank you. I'm very simple and everything we create at MARA has to fit into one of these categories. It's a three-step routine. Cleanse, treat, hydrate. I do no more than three steps on any given day except mornings with sunscreen. So my morning is like I cleanse with our cleanser or I don't. Sometimes I don't wash my face in the morning. If I don't wash my face in the morning, my cleanse step is like essence to dampen the face because our skin receives serums better when we're slightly damp versus dry. You shouldn't ever put serums on dry skin especially if you're someone who leans dry like myself. Should always try and refresh the skin with an essence or a spray or cleanse before a serum. Then morning, it's always vitamin C followed by sunscreen. I love our MARA screen. I also love a few different types of sunscreens. Depends on where I'm going for the day if I want waterproof or not. And then at nighttime, it's always cleansed again with the mark cleanser. Then I'll either do our retinol oil or our lactic acid, I skin cycle. So I alternate between those two. And I always end with universal face oil.
Elizabeth Stein 24:58
And when you skin cycle, are you switching every other night?
Allison McNamara 25:03
No, I intuitively treat my skin. The lactic acid for me, which is incredible, it's a flower acid algae serum, I find that that's fine for me one to two nights a week. If I use it too often, I've got pretty sensitive skin, it's a chemical exfoliant. So it's exfoliating the top surface of your skin. I've never done well with doing that multiple nights in a row. But I could use retinol every single night and some nights I use a prescription strength retinol as well just depends on what your skin type is. For people who've got more acne-prone skin, or oilier skin, sometimes they can get away with using an acid or an AHA multiple times, like in a row or throughout the week. But that's just not my skin preference. So, it's all depends.
Elizabeth Stein 25:44
So when you are developing new products, and I guess just for anybody who's testing out a new product on their skin and seeing like, okay, how is this making my skin feel and look, how long do you give yourself to test and say like, here are the results that we want over X amount of time?
Allison McNamara 26:02
It depends on what the product is. Something like a retinol oil, for example, that took a long time for us because it takes like three to four months to see the full scope of what you're gonna get from the product. And you have to be using that one product consistently to see it. So that one took a little bit longer. Same with vitamin C, I think our treatments take a little bit longer in testing just to make sure that they're effective. Because efficacy is the top priority for me. I think products like a cleanser or which we went through a million revisions, that cleanser kept me up at night. It was so hard to formulate but worth the wait. But you can tell immediately if you don’t like something on a cleanse or it just didn't wash it right. And then you can tell afterward if there's dryness or tightness or you feel stripped. So while the actual process was no quicker, I had feedback faster. So, I think it just depends on the nature of the product you're creating.
Elizabeth Stein 26:51
So in addition to your skincare routine, any other things that you do just to make your skin look glowy?
Allison McNamara 27:00
Yeah, that's all I do is just work on it. I think a big part of it is sleep. That's why I use the better sleep app and I monitor my sleep with my Apple watch. I think getting good quality rest is super important because that's when our body is… we talked about cellular regeneration a lot for skincare products, but your skin can't regenerate if you're not sleeping, because that's when our body detoxes it's when all of our cells turn over. So I think sleep is really important for great skin. I think a healthy you know diet that's consistent with the rainbow is super important. I think at-home modalities are a great way to enhance your skincare routine. So, I love LED light masks. I use the one by Dr. Dennis Gross and I think it's amazing.
Elizabeth Stein 27:48
How frequently do you use it and for what duration?
Allison McNamara 27:53
Dr. Dennis Gross is on the pricier side but the reason why I love it that is it has a built-in three-minute timer. So I usually just use that for the three-minute time that it's directed to us.
Elizabeth Stein 28:03
That’s it? That’s nice. That seems like it’s worth it.
Allison McNamara 28:05
It's worth it. I was using one from Amazon and you could do it for up to 18 minutes. I think the Dr. Dennis Gross is stronger. You can feel that there's more intensity to it. But I love the three-minute one-and-done thing. You can easily do it while you're getting ready for bed. I do it while I do a light meditation. It's easy. So, I love that. I love intermittently using things like gua sha. I think it’s great for just anything. It's gonna lift. We're always waiting to defy gravity. So, things that go up. And then I do love investing in certain skincare treatments. I'm a big fan of the Vivace, which is a pretty noninvasive microneedling treatment that's nice. Not a huge facial person. But I do love doing my facials with my cleanser as I'm washing my face. That's pretty much it. I think exercise and good sweats are great for our glow too. Nothing gets you glowing quite like endorphins.
Elizabeth Stein 29:04
Oh, boy. Getting that sweat in is amazing. So as you think about building the brand over the last couple of years, we'd love to hear what your approach has been to stand out because you have in this sea of, especially the last couple years, there's so much more competition coming into the world. And you're now in Sephora and all those exciting things. So, congratulations. Your branding and packaging are beautiful, but what's resonated and worked do you think?
Allison McNamara 29:39
Thank you. I think the big thing behind MARA for our earlier success was in the time of the 20-step skincare routines, we were offering simplicity. And I don't think that was being offered or advertised in a way that felt accessible and attainable but also was effective. Now, I think we're learning especially through COVID that less is so much more. Minimizing your friend groups even, getting rid of the excess in all walks of life, whether that's your skincare routine or your inner circle. So I think that we're in this stage of modern minimalism that we were early adapters and adopters of, I should say. And I think that's resonated with our audiences. We've grown. We don't launch a ton of things. We make sure that when we launch a product, there's a need for it, that there's a first-to-market sort of aspect to it, whether it's a new ingredient pairing or a new format that we're delivering the product in. A good example was our sunscreen oil. We're always trying to do things in a new differentiated type of way. So I think we're a modern take on classic skincare. I also think it's that heritage feel, I hopefully designed the brand to not feel tied to any one era. I didn't want to do anything that felt millennial pink, or that was neon or that felt too tied to one specific time. I wanted it to feel like timeless and unisex. And so I think it's those qualities of the brand that people are drawn to.
Elizabeth Stein 30:59
It is a beautiful, timeless aesthetic that you've created. What's been some of the best advice that you've gotten, either from mentors or friends in the industry? Where do you turn to?
Allison McNamara 31:15
I go to my dad a lot because he's been in this industry for a long time. Not that your mentors or mentees don't have your best guide at heart. I think it's really like, your parents want you to be successful. There's nothing in it for them besides for you to win. So, I think having a parent that I can share and bounce ideas off of has been important. It's not actual advice that he has given me, but it's something that I now do with my team too. It's like we're constantly running through our lifecycle of everything every day. So like, what's the status on this? He kind of grilled me to make sure I knew where my business was at all times as I was starting. And I think that's been helpful because I have such a hands-on approach to all parts of the business. So I think that early grooming of just asking me a million questions and being forced to answer them and not feel like a loser, I wanted to have these answers to tell him, I think helped me as I grew my business. So, it's not technically advice. But I think being able to do every part of the business and like learning it wholeheartedly made it so important as we've scaled the business to feel like I know what everyone's doing.
Elizabeth Stein 32:22
And that is such a critical piece for growing the brand. It's like you're the only one at the beginning. And you have to learn how to do everything, whether there are things you want to be doing or not be doing. But it's you. And then it becomes how do you take the step back and not do all those things and delegate. That’s not easy either.
Allison McNamara 32:40
No, that's the hardest part. And that's the advice I've been given that I haven't taken just yet, but I'm working on it.
Elizabeth Stein 32:48
What do you like the hardest piece of that right now for you?
Allison McNamara 32:54
Probably the operations because I'm the only one who's truly in the weeds with the operations. We have a position out for an amazing logistics or operational manager. But I think because we are bootstrapped, it's really important to know where our cash is going. And one wrong click of a PO and you could be out for 100s of 1000s of dollars in a wrong order. So I think that one's been hard for me to let go of because it's so tied to everything else we're able to do. If we're able to properly time out our inventory buys, then we will have more expendable cash for fun marketing activation. So I think it's gonna take someone I trust to give them the reins to do that.
Elizabeth Stein 33:32
Yeah. You'll get there for sure one day. Will your dad ever come work with you?
Allison McNamara 33:38
Oh, no. He's retired. He's been in this business for a very long time. And he still works as an adviser to some companies and he advises me as well. But no. I think it's my thing.
Elizabeth Stein 33:53
Nice. So as you think about growing the business and how far you've come, what would you say is an area that you've grown personally or professionally or that you're looking to grow personally or professionally?
Allison McNamara 34:11
Well, I came from such a creative job that I'm just impressed, I was able to figure out so many parts of the business, and impressed I enjoy doing a lot of the operational sides of things. One thing that I love now is we took our business on to NetSuite a few years ago. I didn't even know basic accounting, so to have an entirely immersive ERP system, I love it. I love using the system. I love operating it. So, I think that part has been eye-opening. I still would love to get rid of the day-to-day in a wholesale aspect of it. I'm still very much in the weeds with that. So at some point, I'd love to release that. But I love the operation side, which I never thought I would ever like. So, you never know.
Elizabeth Stein 34:59
That is such the fun part about creating your own business it does open you up so that otherwise you would have never experienced these different types of roles. And now it's opening your mind to something completely different and out of your comfort zone. It's all about being out of your comfort zone.
Allison McNamara 35:19
All the time. You feel like you're uncomfortable all the time. But your ability to handle uncomfortableness expands so you can handle a lot more as you keep growing.
Elizabeth Stein 35:33
You can handle a lot more uncomfortable things and a lot more fires.
Allison McNamara 35:37
Yes. Oh, fires every day. You're like, oh, that happened. Whatever, we'll figure it out.
Elizabeth Stein 35:41
Yeah. Are you someone who is naturally like an even-keeled person? Or has that changed since you've had the business and had to realize not every fire is gonna be the worst thing in the world and how to get through those times?
Allison McNamara 35:57
I wouldn't say I was not even-keeled because I'm pretty with it, I think. But I'm an Aries. So, I'm reactive. And that's been something that's been tempered over the five years of being in the market. And then like the eight years in the game, I felt like things triggered me a little bit more. You kinda have to release these deadlines that you've set for yourself in your head and have to be more flexible. And those were hard things, especially coming from the world of news where it's like, no, you're going live at nine. Like everything has to be done at nine, the cameras start rolling at nine. I think when we have set deadlines for things and then inevitably sometimes, products are delayed, a shipment didn't pass the customs, all the things that we have to deal with. So I think that part was really hard at the beginning because I was so used to everything being so definitive. But I think once I started to learn that you have to just roll with the punches, things got a lot better for me mentally and probably for the business too.
Elizabeth Stein 36:57
As you think about mentally, because your mental and physical health, certainly are a huge part of the business. I would love to hear some other things that you do. We know that sleep is very important to you. But some other things you do in your day to optimize your life and show up as the best version of yourself.
Allison McNamara 37:16
I touched on this too, but exercise is so important. I scheduled my workouts like you would schedule any sort of meeting. They're like non-negotiables for me. They're not every day, but I want to make sure I'm working out. I love pilates. Four times a week was just the ideal time amount for me.
Elizabeth Stein 37:35
Let’s start with the beginning of your day. Is that the first thing you do when you wake up or is anything you do right away?
Allison McNamara 37:40
It depends on the mornings. I do see a private instructor so I have a set schedule. But not every morning is the morning workout. Some mornings I work out. But the first thing I always do is I wake up, I try and not to look at my phone, like turn off the alarm, try and do my gratitude journal. It's very quick, like some prompts for the day before I do anything else to set the intentions and things I want to achieve. I think as business owners, there are so many things to do that if I define three things I would like to achieve by the end of the day, it helps me have a bit of a Northstar, as I'm navigating all of the interruptions that we get daily. These three things have to be done.
Elizabeth Stein 38:17
And are you writing those three things down in your journal? Or somewhere that you can then see again for the rest of the day?
Allison McNamara 38:25
Yeah. I do a gratitude journal in the morning and night. It's just The Five Minute Journal. Right now I'm using a bootleg version of that one that I got on Amazon. I like the Five Minute Journal better, but same concept in a way. So, I start with that. Then sometimes if I have time in the morning, I'll do free journaling, more like free writing. But I don't do that every morning. I like to get outside and get some natural sunlight. I'm big into listening to Huberman Lab and Peter Attia. I think getting morning light is important for the circadian rhythms. So, I'll try and take my dog on a little walk. Then the rest is history. It goes pretty quickly. Sometimes it's a workout and then just coffee. Sometimes it's get to the office as fast as I can. And the evenings are the same. Sometimes I exercise in the evening. And then the rest of it is just slowing down for the day.
Elizabeth Stein 39:12
And then any tips that you have for better sleep other than your sound frequency?
Allison McNamara 39:17
I would love to say that I don't look at my phone 20 minutes before I go to sleep. But I'm not always that person. Sleep is probably the thing I have the hardest time with. I used to be a good sleeper but I think business anxiety and all that stuff creeps in. I love taking magnesium and there's one called BIOptimizers. Oh, it's the best and I take two of those and I know I'm gonna have good sleep when I take one or two of those. So, that's probably my biggest tip. I think so many people are magnesium deficient because we are not getting through the soil and the foods that we're eating. So, I think that has been the biggest game changer for me.
Elizabeth Stein 39:54
I was just reading something that Einstein slept 10 hours a night and he took a nap every day.
Allison McNamara 40:02
What? I mean his brain was working so hard, he needed it. It's like he's working with like a Tesla supercharger and we're just all gas cars. He needs to sleep more.
Elizabeth Stein 40:14
Curious to hear anything that you have in your diet that you stick to or don't stick to because certainly, that's playing a role in how you're thinking feeling, and how your skin is looking.
Allison McNamara 40:24
Well, I like to intermittent fast. So I try not to eat for a 16-hour window each day. Just depends on what time dinner ends. I try and then fast until that time the next day. So the 12 to 16-hour window. I try and hit 14 to 16 hours though. While I'm a night owl and I'm sure we might talk about that a little bit, I like to stay up late which is hard for me because I'm just naturally more creative at night. I've had to try and slightly table that because while I don't do my best creative work in the morning, I do better when I'm on an empty stomach. I feel like I'm better with emails and better with communication. I like to be slightly hungry when I'm doing work. I hate being full when I'm working. I feel lethargic, I feel slower at the thought. So I try and have all my important stuff like podcasts or meetings or things where I have to be on in the morning and then after lunch is when I have to answer emails and do stuff that can be a little bit slower. So with eating, I intermittently fast, and then I just love Erewhon. I'm a sucker for Erewhon. I love doing wild-caught salmon or I love their grass-fed beef. I try and do high protein, lower on the refined carbohydrate scale but just eating healthy, rule of thumb, 80% good, 20% less good. Simple. Life is pretty simple if you think about it. Like eating whole foods, I try not to eat things that require me to open out of a bag. I feel like things in bags, my chips and stuff, or like a rule of thumb, we're trying to have chips or foil baggy type things. I feel like it's in a foil bag, I maybe want to turn it down. That's where my compass is.
Elizabeth Stein 42:17
So as you talked about the nighttime being this time when you are maybe thinking your best, and getting inspired, I'd love to hear what that looks like for you and if you need to brainstorm or get inspired, what would you do?
Allison McNamara 42:34
I love formulating, I'm doing product ideation. I love being on airplanes. It's like a weird tic of mine. What's your sign?
Elizabeth Stein 42:45
I'm actually on the cusp of Aries Taurus.
Allison McNamara 42:48
Okay, like fire earth. I like to either be up in the air. I'm a Gemini moon and I've heard that a lot of your creativity comes from your moon sign. And to me, being up in the air has been always a big part of how I work on products. But if I'm not traveling, I'd love to do it in the evening. I like being nice and cozy with warm socks and just in a dark room with my computer. And it happens at night. It's always at 10 pm. I’m like, you know what? I'm feeling inspired right now. So it's always in the evening when I get my best work done. I wish it wasn't the case because then I stay up too late and wake up too early and not get to sleep. That’s a battle.
Elizabeth Stein 43:24
Yeah, that's tough. Have you ever gotten on a plane intentionally not because you had a trip planned but being like I need to go and think and I'm gonna take a trip just to be on a plane?
Allison McNamara 43:34
I'm not that bougie just yet. I don't think I could just randomly afford it. Especially the flight prices right now, everything's so expensive. But no, if I can't do that, I do love going to the things that are behind the brand. So, I'll have to go to Malibu for a workday on a Friday and work by the ocean and get inspired that way. I think nature is a great place too. You've got plenty of that in Colorado. It's a great place to feel inspiration too.
Elizabeth Stein 43:56
Yeah, I mean it is the best thing. Just getting outside for five minutes clears your mind and brings inspiration instantly.
Allison McNamara 44:04
Totally.
Elizabeth Stein 44:06
Okay, we're gonna move on to some rapid-fire Q&A. If you could have anyone dead or alive use MARA, who would it be?
Allison McNamara 44:19
Taylor Swift. Like such as super fan and I just love her and she's saving the country's economy right now. So yes, Taylor Swift.
Elizabeth Stein 44:29
Has she had a product gifted to her yet?
Allison McNamara 44:34
We have not gifted her directly. But we have gifted some people in her circle some.
Elizabeth Stein 44:38
I bet she's using it.
Allison McNamara 44:39
I would love that. Taylor, if you're hearing this right now, we'll send you whatever you want. I love her. Put it out there in the world.
Elizabeth Stein 44:48
Three things that you're currently loving.
Allison McNamara 44:50
Three things that I'm currently loving. I mentioned this already, but the BetterSleep app. I think this one is so unrecognized. I think people need to hop on it because, beyond the 432Hz, there are some other incredible frequencies that you can take advantage of on there. So, give that one a listen. I recently read the book Outlive by Peter Attia and I think he is such an important doctor and has so many insightful things about our health that have been just eye-opening for me, things that I didn't even know I should be testing for, should be looking out for. So that to me has been like a mantra right now. And the last one, the other third one, what else would I be obsessed with? I'm obsessed with our new product that's launching this month. So that's been really on my mind lately because everything's about it. It's sculpting. It's new for us. And it's a new category. So, that's my other obsession.
Elizabeth Stein 45:41
Oh, can’t wait to hear what it is. Could you tell us?
Allison McNamara 45:49
Well, it depends on when it’s airing. When are we airing this?
Elizabeth Stein 45:51
It'll be after it launches.
Allison McNamara 45:56
Okay, the third thing I'm obsessed with is our brand-new body oil. I have been wanting to launch this for so long. Because body is so important to me. And I think it's a category that was underrecognized for me for a long time. It was putting all these fancy things on my face but was neglecting my body. When we decided to have our wedding on the loom, I was like, I need to start thinking about the body. Because I can’t be in a swimsuit during my wedding. Like what? So that became a focus for me in 2019. So I'm excited to launch our first body product.
Elizabeth Stein 46:29
That's so exciting. I think you're so right. We just don't even think about that. And yet our skin covering our entire body is so important.
Allison McNamara 46:37
It's our largest organ, but only 3% of it is getting any love. So right now, we're delivering some activities to the rest of the body.
Elizabeth Stein 46:43
That's great. What do you want more of in your life?
Allison McNamara 46:48
I think I want more nature. I was at my lake house this weekend, and I don't get up there enough. And even though I'm in LA where we have mountains and ocean and stuff, I just think having time to be present and alone in a different space in nature is so important. So, I want more of that.
Elizabeth Stein 47:04
You definitely should get it. Favorite words to live by.
Allison McNamara 47:10
It's never too late.
Elizabeth Stein 47:14
Love it. A favorite book for growth.
Allison McNamara 47:18
Okay, so since my three things already had a book, I have to pick a different book because I do love that book. I think it's an incredible book. I think a lot of business owners specifically, are always reading books about self-help and business. And I love reading. So, I wanted to prioritize stories that were about real people. Nonfiction still, but that wasn't just focused on business all the time. So one that I read recently was called Mountains Beyond Mountains. It's an incredible book about this man who is out to cure the world of tuberculosis, and his work in Haiti is so impressive. The book itself won the Pulitzer Prize. I think it's such an invaluable read because it makes you feel big and small at the same time. Because of small Bs, you're like, wow, this person achieved so much. But also big Bs inspire you to do better.
Elizabeth Stein 48:08
That sounds super interesting. Favorite MARA moment.
Allison McNamara 48:13
Oh, okay. There are so many. I feel my favorite ones have to be launching at Sephora. That was the biggest dream for me. And it was realized in January. So, that was so exciting. There's one other one that I can't share just yet so we'll go with the Sephora one. It was the biggest moment that's happened to me so far.
Elizabeth Stein 48:33
That’s so exciting. Do you feel like you are constantly going to Sephora now and just checking it out?
Allison McNamara 48:39
It never gets old. And I'm sure you feel the same way about your brand. We're all over the place. So even if I'm going to Erewhon or if I'm at a Heyday, it just never gets old seeing your product on the shelves. So cool. But especially cool being in Sephora, because when I was ideating the brand, I would go into Sephora and just visualize my product being there more than any other retailer. So, it was just really a cool moment to see it nationwide Sephoras.
Elizabeth Stein 49:05
It's all about visualizing that and then it coming to be and manifesting. And lastly, what is your number one non-negotiable to thrive on your wellness journey?
Allison McNamara 49:07
My non-negotiable to thrive. Probably three minutes to myself morning and night. If that's all we get, if that's the baseline, I don't have children yet, but the baseline I can get is three minutes to myself to do my skincare and just calm down, I think that's the most important thing.
Elizabeth Stein 49:35
Love it. Allison, in closing, what is next and where can everybody find you?
Allison McNamara 49:41
What is next? Well, we have our new body product which is so exciting. It's out now and you can find us at Sephora or online at the MARA beauty and you can follow us @themarabeauty too.
Elizabeth Stein 49:52
Amazing. Thanks, Allison. This is so great.
Allison McNamara 49:55
Thank you so much.
Elizabeth Stein 49:58
Thanks so much for joining me on Live Purely with Elizabeth. I hope you feel inspired to thrive on your wellness journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, don't forget to rate, subscribe, and review. You can follow us on Instagram @purely_elizabeth to catch up on all the latest. See you next Wednesday on the podcast.