Customers Are Mad About Dana and Sam Stewart’s Mad Hippie Skin Care Products

Sam and Dana Stewart.

Sam and Dana Stewart were mad about the impurity of commercial skin care products and the ineffectiveness of natural ones, so they created a line they called Mad Hippie to symbolize just how countercultural their products were.

Many Thought Dana and Sam Stewart Were Mad When They Created the Mad Hippie Skin Care Line

Sam and Dana Stewart loved to surf, swim, and spend as much time as possible outdoors in Nicaragua, where the cost of living for five years had meant they could get by on part-time jobs. 

“I was always the guy who covered myself in bright white pigmented zinc instead of synthetic sunscreens, and Dana always used natural cosmetics, but by 2009, we had noticed changes in our skin, like discoloration and wrinkles,” Sam told Startup Savant. “We realized that at least 90% of what everyone considered skin aging was really damage by the sun, but as we did research, we could not find skin care products that were a combination of safe, clean, and effective.”

They had a friend who was a chemist and asked him to help them develop products that would protect the skin after the sunscreen was washed off and started with a face cream.

“We believed that what you put on your body was as important as what you put into it, so we were excited by creating a line that would include such ingredients as resveratrol, pomegranate seed oil, and vitamin C, which can build up a reservoir in the skin where they can help fend off oxidative stress for up to 72 hours,” Dana recalled. “We eventually consulted with dermatologists, naturopaths, and pharmacologists as we expanded.”

Today, 13 years later, their company, Mad Hippie, based in Austin, Texas, now has dozens of products, from moisturizers and cleansers to eye creams and vitamin serums, which can be found in thousands of stores in North America, as well as retailers from the UAE to Thailand.

“We have been growing steadily each year, and according to SPINS, which reports on the natural and wellness industries, we are the most productive brand in the skin care category, meaning that per inch of shelf space, we outsell all others in our sphere,” said Sam.

Roots of Their Mad Adventure

Dana grew up on a small farm in Fredericksburg, Texas, with five siblings but went to high school in Austin on a scholarship in the 1990s. She witnessed the blossoming of the natural food industry there, where Whole Foods was headquartered and her mom shopped.

Sam was a competitive snowboarder as a teen in Portland, Maine. One of his first jobs was at a juice company called Fresh Samantha (later acquired by Odwalla Inc.). “They were legendary in New England, and watching the owners grow the company had a big impact on me,” he said.

They met at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where Sam majored in psychology (his father is a clinical psychologist and professor at the Tufts School of Medicine, while his mother is a psychiatric nurse). Dana was working towards a degree in Spanish literature.

Sam transferred to Hawaii for his final year, and that’s where he discovered surfing, the Polynesian sport that had been internationally popularized by the author Jack London in a book in 1911. He also got into DJing vinyl records and still does it.

“After college, we moved to Nicaragua because we loved the culture, the people, the landscape, the rawness of it all,” he said. “I had lived in Costa Rica, and this was less discovered and more affordable. Dana taught English to schoolchildren, I worked in real estate, and we ran a bed and breakfast for a while. We both have adventurous spirits and wanted to see the world.”

They returned to Austin, having managed to save enough money to launch Mad Hippie and just reinvest their modest profits. “We only wanted to answer to our customers and did not want to bring in people who might have a different agenda,” Dana explained. “However, we did have to exist on canned soup and peanut butter sandwiches for a long time!”

They thought their fellow surfers would be eager to adopt a better way to protect their skin, but ads on surfing sites produced meager results, and they discovered that their real base was women interested in a healthy lifestyle. They decided to create a new product package that would be more appealing to this audience (their original featured a VW bus, a symbol of the brand’s “hippie” origins). Discussing ideas with a graphic designer, they told her they wanted the brand to portray a brand that was fun, approachable, and reflective of their high-quality ingredients. 

“She said, ‘I’m inspired by this little juice company from a couple of decades ago, which you’ve probably never heard of, Fresh Samantha,’ and I burst out laughing,” recalled Sam. 

His skills in search engine optimization (SEO), learned from a friend in Nicaragua, relied on searches for keywords like “face cream,” and their site attracted about 30,000 visitors a month for the first few years. But Google kept changing the algorithm for ranking results without providing clear guidance to SEO programmers, so Mad Hippie needed to find other ways to reach potential customers. 

“We wanted to get onto the shelves of natural food stores, which seemed a great fit for our products, but we didn’t know how to break in,” Sam said. “I emailed dozens of brokers trying to get someone interested in distributing our products and only had rejections. Then Sol Solomon, the godfather of the industry for decades who knew everyone, agreed, and he helped us build a great team of representatives.” 

By the time they began a push into their first stores, starting with Whole Foods and some independents in the northeast, they had just four products. Now they can be found in national chains like Sprouts, Vitamin Shoppe, Natural Grocers, Fresh Thyme, and ULTA, as well as regional retailers.

Managing Growth Beyond the Pandemic Madness

In 2014, they moved Mad Hippie’s headquarters to Portland, Oregon, and enjoyed living there. However, at the beginning of the pandemic, they decided to return to Austin with their two kids and two bulldogs to be near family and enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit of the city. They still maintain a warehouse in Portland.

“In the first couple of years of the pandemic, we had big challenges with getting the ingredients we needed, but by buying in bulk to meet the needs of our continuing growth and working with great vendors and our team, we managed to get just enough of what we needed,” Sam said. “Now things are pretty stable, and we recently added a suncare line, but we’re planning to only add a couple of products a year to keep growth manageable. We have 50 employees and would like to keep it that way, making everyone more productive with more sophisticated technology and better processes. It’s been fun to watch everyone grow into their roles.”

Mad Hippie products not only include all-natural ingredients, but are vegan (except for beeswax in the sunscreen) and not tested on animals, as well as GMO-free, They also operate their facilities on alternative energy, switched to soy inks, changed their airless pumps to be fully recyclable, and keep reducing their carbon footprint, the business counterculture of the 21st century.

Skin care and beauty media, such as Marie Claire and Allure, have praised the line’s alternatives to mainstream products that have cheap fillers and petrochemicals disguised in technical terms. 

An extensive review of some of Mad Hippie’s bestsellers in “The Dermatology Review” described the science behind some of the ingredients and formulas, such as this explanation of the value of vitamin C:

“It is a potent antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals, the unstable molecules that contribute to the formation of premature wrinkles and fine lines. It can also help fade dark spots, evening out skin tone, and increasing radiance. Research suggests that when applied to the skin, it significantly reverses age-related structural changes by influencing collagen and elastin synthesis … Our favorite vitamin C serum is Carrot & Stick: The Defence Serum, which contains three distinct types of vitamin C that work together to help fight free radical damage. We recommend using it every morning.”

The company plans to open a flagship store in Austin in mid-2024 that will give them direct hands-on feedback from the general public and insights into effective retail marketing, as well as provide another source of revenue, according to Dana.

Have they ever had push-back on their name from culturally conservative areas?

“Our branding is very lighthearted, and our messaging of a healthy lifestyle and caring for one another really seems to resonate with a wide variety of customers,” she said. “We were initially worried about how the name might affect how we could connect with people in other countries, but so far, it hasn’t been a problem at all. You don’t need to be a hippie or even know what one is to enjoy the benefits of the Mad Hippie line! We expect that customers who have adopted a healthier lifestyle when it comes to food, supplements, exercise, and positive thinking will be ready to embrace the next wave for the wellness movement, which is natural personal care.”

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Scott S. Smith

Scott S. Smith has had over 2,000 articles and interviews published in nearly 200 media, including Los Angeles Magazine, American Airlines’ American Way, and Investor’s Business Daily. His interview subjects have included Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Meg Whitman, Reed Hastings, Howard Schultz, Larry Ellison, Kathy Ireland, and Quincy Jones.

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