I don't like to play favorites when it comes to our Founder Stories, because each founder we've featured has brought something new to the table; whether they were a TV villain in a previous life, a beauty editor, a Victoria Secret Angel, or a copy editor with a knack for chemistry, I have loved all of them (and their products) wholeheartedly.
But this story has a special place in my heart, not only because of the brand's genius concept, but because Emily Parr is completely gimmick-adverse, and isn't afraid to point out bullsh*t when she sees it. That's because she also has her own PR company, one that's represented some of the biggest names in beauty including Drunk Elephant, Briogeo, and Farmacy, so the knowledge she's accrued about the industry over the course of her career (that she shares with us throughout this interview) will blow your mind. It may seem like a long read, but this Founder Story is a non-stop balm-drop of knowledge (get it?!).
Keep reading to learn more about what Parr calls "situational cleansing" (it will change how you view washing your face forever) and check our reward drops for the next 4 days for the chance to own all 4 HoliFrog cleansers!
On her career background
I own Poke PR, which I started almost seven and a half years ago, and I really specialized in indie brands. I feel like the word indie is a very buzzy word. When we started representing indie brands, I don't even know that we were calling them indie, it wasn't a term that was overly familiarized. Right out of the gate, I just had a passion for these smaller brands that had really compelling stories. They were looking at the beauty industry from a different lens, versus these very large corporate brands that didn't feel like they had a human breathing life into them.
The other aspect about Poke PR is that we represent clean brands that are founder-led. I work with all founders, so for me transitioning into becoming one myself felt pretty natural because I worked directly with all of them and they’ve become friends. Now it feels like I'm becoming even more of a peer with the people that I already worked so closely with.
The truth of the matter is that I had such an insider's lens, but it's not like I knew where any of my clients’ manufacturing vendors were, I didn't know anything about vendors. I couldn't tell you the name of a pump company, of a tube company, of a lab...But I knew what a brand needed to be successful. And I knew that because every time brands would come to poke PR for representation, I had some core tenants that, if you didn't fall within my own personal principles, I likely wouldn't take on your brand.
On her core brand principles
One of them is the founder story. Is it new, different, exciting, or is it an iteration on other founders stories? There are a couple of founders stories that are pretty common. There are a lot of indie brands where the founder used to work at Estée Lauder or L'Oréal. That’s a big one, many were started by former corporate executives. The other one is, a lot of founders in the clean beauty space talk about how they discovered clean beauty when they became pregnant, and then became much more ingredient aware. The third one is a lot of clean indie brands, and I don't mean to sound heartless here I'm just pegging it as a trend, but it’s that either they or someone close to them became sick. Then the fourth is a relatively common story where a grandmother or a mother used to make products in their kitchen and that inspired a founder.
I just know that when I'm taking on a brand, if you're coming to me and your story is similar to one of my other clients, I can't take you on. Otherwise, as a publicist, I'm telling the same story over again. I knew that when it came time to tell my own story, it had to be different; I own a beauty PR agency. What other beauty publicist out there is running a PR agency and launching her own brand simultaneously, and who grew up in the indie and social media era? I knew enough about the beauty industry in that I knew the white spaces.
As a PR agency, I've spent my entire career picking the best of the best brands in the industry. I really do represent the best brands. I represented Drunk Elephant for four years, I represented Beautycounter, I represent Briogeo, Summer Fridays, Farmacy, Allies of Skin. There are very few brands on the market that I haven't represented, but wish that I did.
On what makes her brand different
HoliFrog is all face washes right now. We entered into the market with only cleanser, which I guess to some would be deemed a bold move. But what I knew was that brands don't put a lot of money into their face washes. It's like a throw in product. We knew that if we can win the client over with the afterthought category and they become very impressed by our cleansers, well wait until you see what we can make when we move beyond cleansers. We’ve launched four face washes and we have two more coming out. We're launching one in February and we have one more coming out in May, and then our one year anniversary product will be our first product that's not a cleanser.
Cleansers have so many different textures. You don’t have all these different textures for creams, you have light and heavy, you know what I mean? Masks are pretty much the same texture, like sure, you can throw into some apricot seed but it's generally a similar consistency. It needs to be goopy enough to sit on top of your face and treat it. But with the cleanser category you have the most common, which is gel, and within that you have foaming and jelly. Then you have milk and or cream, milk is a little thinner, but I would classify them in the same category. Then you have the oil cleanser, in that you have liquid oil or a balm. And then you have powder, so derma exfoliants like powders or scrubs. So there are seven different textures. So for us, before we moved on from cleansers—and I think you can probably deduce the next two that we're launching based off of that list—we didn't really want to move in until we finished disrupting the category with the next few textures.
You get what you pay for. If you're paying $15 for a cleanser, there is a major difference in the quality of the ingredients. When we started formulating our product, I literally said to our chemist “I want every single one of our ingredients to be a key ingredient.” I don’t want filler ingredients, that’s junk food. I just want the perimeter of the grocery store.
From left: Shasta, Tashmoo, Superior, Kissimmee.
On the four cleansers (all rewards this week)
I wash my face three times a day Monday through Friday and four times a day on weekends. It’s because of my workout schedule. I wake up in the morning and I like to wash my face, I don't like to just rinse it with water. When I wake up I want something really gentle and light,and if you think about it you're sleeping nine hours but you're not drinking any water. So when you wake up your body is dehydrated, and any nutritionist will tell you to wake up and drink water. So in the morning topically, I want to flood my skin with something really hydrating so I use our Tashmoo milk cleanser.
Instead of looking at cleansers as which one is best for which skin type, we look at it as situational cleansing. Our cleansers are formulated for all skin types and the reason for that is because they're very low in surfactants, which are the cleansing agents. The higher the percentage of surfactant, the more drying and stripping it’s going to be. A standard gel cleanser is 30 to 40% surfactant. Our face washes are 3 to 8%. So if a normal cleanser is 30 to 40% and ours is 3 to 8%, you better believe that anyone can use these cleansers. I tell everyone that it's great to wash your face in the morning, and brands that are telling you not to wash your face in the morning are saying that because their cleanser is too stripping.
That is the first thing I do, then I go work out, and after that I use our Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash. I like to think of our acid wash like a serum, it doesn't lather and it doesn't foam. It's literally like an acid gel serum with cleansing agents in it. It has 5% AHA acid, so if we added enough surfactant to make it lathery, that would strip your skin. So the option was to either dial your acids down to 1% or less like every other brand who has an acid cleanser on the market, or keep it at 5% but it just can't have a lather. Well I opted to keep it highly acid.
Then at night I always recommend—and you don't have to double cleanse at night, I do just because I like the feeling of it—people who wear makeup should double cleanse. I recommend using our Kissimmee balm followed by our Superior gel wash. Our Kissimmee balm is very different than most balms on the market. And the first reason is a lot of people are like, "Oh, I love this because it's in a tube versus a jar." Balms in jars are really hard, they even come with a spatula. But think about it; oil in your kitchen doesn’t get hard like that. So in order to make a balm that’s hard, you have to add tons of binders at really high percentages. We didn't want to do that. So this is slightly over 85% pure oil. Any of those balms that are sitting on the market that require a spatula, the first and second ingredients aren't even oil.
So because it’s so oil dense, think of it as dropping salad dressing on the kitchen floor. You can’t just take a sponge and wipe it up like you’d be able to wipe up coffee. In order to dislodge the oil from the floor, you have to emulsify it with water. So in order to properly emulsify and lift the oil off your skin, I always recommend you make sure to go through with two or three sweeps of fresh water to lift it off your skin. And then you're left with just a really nice, hydrated supple, clean face. Then you follow it with Superior, which is our most universal face wash, it’s a gel cleanser that will remove your makeup but it'll keep your skin toned and balanced without stripping your skin.
On the brand’s naming
About a week before my business partner and I had decided we were going to run with this concept, I was touring this integral health and wellness Center in New York City. It had just opened and the man who was giving me the tour of the space was talking about the effects of pollution on skin and he said “When people are trying to determine the pollution levels in a specific area, they look to frogs.” Frogs are an environmental gage because of their thin permeable skin, they literally can't live in toxic environments because they absorb everything. And it stuck with me because we're very ingredient focused. I thought that was a great way of telling a story without fear mongering, because you're telling it through the lens of a frog. And then holi is a play on holistic but also a nod to holy.
All of our products are named after lakes. Lakes are fresh bodies of water and frogs live near fresh bodies of water. There's no specific reason why we chose Kissimmee for the balm and whatnot, we were just looking at lakes from around the world and the first four all happened to be in the U.S. The fifth one is not, but it's really hard to find lakes that don't have a person's first name, like Lake David or Lake George. We're just using names that are beautiful and have a melodious flow to them.
There's a real story behind everything we’ve done, even the artwork. We chose an artists who I found on Instagram and she went to UCLA and majored in geography and environmental studies. Her Instagram handle is @dirty_eraser.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. Head over to the drops section of the app to redeem the Kissimmee cleansing balm today at 7PM EST! You'll also have the chance to redeem HoliFrog's Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash, Superior Omega Nutritive Gel Wash, and Tashmoo Water Lily Nourishing Milky Wash over the course of the next 4 days on the app. 🐸