Tracey Woodward just stepped down as the global CEO of Aromatherapy Associates and The Refinery last month. It’s the latest move in her 36-year career in the beauty industry, which began on beauty counters. Tracey made strides through the industry, working her way up with brands like Estée Lauder, Clinique and Aveda. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and an extremely thorough understanding of what it takes to create a successful brand in a time when consumers are so educated about things like sustainability. We chatted with Tracey about sustainability, balancing her career with her personal life, and what it takes to make it in an always-evolving industry.
I’m working with Equi Botanics, Kalmar Lifestyle, and a brand called Lebon Toothpaste, which is a beautiful toothpaste brand that is all about sustainability and clean ingredients. I’ve been on the board of Cosmetic Executive Women for the last eight years where I specialise in niche brands. I’m an executive director there and we are all about mentoring, future-proofing the industry, helping people and identifying cool brands.
Clean beauty is the future. People keep saying to me ‘How do you feel working in a niche market?’ But I’m not actually specialised in a niche market, his is an evolution of beauty. When I ran Aveda and Donna Karan, they had an ethos and a vision to change the perception of women and what self-care really looks like. You know, Marie Antoinette used arsenic on her face because she was told it would make her skin glow. A few hundred years on, we know we can’t do that. We’re learning as we are going along. We understand that we’re polluting the world and people and that we have to address it. That’s the challenge brands face. We’ve done so much to make money but we haven’t thought about what does the future really looks like. From our employee’s mental health to sustainability of ingredients to the overuse of products.
Having been in the industry for 36 years, I can see the trend moving away from the trendy ingredients that used to sell products. People don’t want the those ingredients at any cost. I think they want authenticity and a brand that they can trust. They want as little ingredients as possible doing as much as possible for them, and I think they want to have less stuff.
Step up and say that they are not as perfect as they claim to be and that they are looking to make a difference. Identity what their differences are. It’s not just about the product on the shelf, it’s not the consumers and the end game, it’s how you treat your people in your company. It’s how you behave consciously within your community, city, country, and continent.
I was illiterate until I was 14, so my challenge has been to learn every single job from the bottom up, but it’s also been my joy. It’s also allowed me to go from counter girl to CEO. It held me back for a while because I didn’t explain why I didn’t understand. Then I thought, I don’t really want to be ashamed of who I am or where I come from. A lot had nothing to do with me and as soon as I opened up to learning and engaging and understanding, it benefited my career. I made women look good and feel good, and it just became a joy. I’m fortunate enough that in my entire 36-year career there has only been one job that I’ve ever taken that has not felt right.
You have to have confidence. You have to walk into a room and look like you belong. It’s about knowing the brand, and loving it, because there are so many people in this industry that truly love it so if you are just looking for a job, stop and do something else. It takes a lot of passion. Keep an eye on all the new brands that are coming up. The biggest opportunities tend to be when you learn from a corporate brand but then you jump into a niche or a startup. As long as you are prepared to work hard, because that’s what is required. Don’t be afraid to step out of the corporate world. Years ago, I asked myself ‘Do I really enjoy working with founders? They drive me mad!’ But actually, I recognise know at 54 how much I love founders, because they are so passionate, they are so committed, they are so energetic.
I do a lot of walking, I stretch, and I meditate every morning. I’ve always tried to make family time, set dates, although I have been known to go to the cinema and fall asleep because I was so exhausted. But it is about balance. It’s not easy to do but you have to have plans, because when you have a career there is always so much to do all the time. I try to be a really good role model for my teams because I don’t want people to think they have to work 80 hours a week. I want them to do really really great stuff when they are supposed to and then enjoy their family and friends the rest of the time. We all need to be energised by life because that’s where the best ideas come from.
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