If you follow us on Instagram you know that our latest company crush is Ursa Major of Vermont. We absolutely needed to know more about UM's "super natural" products and the story behind one of our favorite #TRUTHBEAUTY partners. Oliver Sweatman and Emily Doyle answer our questions below and share insights on skincare, sustainability and "shareable" products that meet the needs of both men and women. Enjoy! Xoxo Alexis
1. Tell us about how Ursa Major was founded and why?
We founded Ursa Major after moving to Vermont from New York four years ago. At the time we were both going through a big health kick and during this period we started learning about all the unhealthy ingredients in conventional skin care. It was a real revelation, one of those Eureka moments. From that point on we became borderline obsessed with finding truly natural products to replace all the toxic stuff we had been using. That in itself became a very frustrating process because most of what we bought wasn’t in fact natural and/or it was lackluster in some way. After a while we both said, this has to be possible – we’re going to try and do this ourselves. That’s how UM was born. We wanted to create products that checked all three boxes – effective, healthy, sublime – and in so doing make it easy for people to “go natural” without sacrificing efficacy or experience.
2. We love that your line is unisex. What was the inspiration for creating products that appeal to both men and women?
Actually we launched with a shave cream, so we were initially pegged as a men’s brand. Over time, as we’ve expanded our line, more and more women have been discovering Ursa Major, either directly or via their husbands/boyfriends – we now have a lot of very loyal female customers and this is something we’re proud of. We don’t like the word ‘unisex’ but we’ve embraced this “shareable” dynamic because that’s actually how we all use the products in the office. Overall we think the transition from a men’s shaving brand to a ‘super natural’ skin care line for discerning, health-conscious men and women is a very exciting evolution for Ursa Major.
3. Tell us about your ingredients! How does being based in Vermont inspire your formulations?
Overall we use 87 ingredients across our product line, 85 of which are natural including mainstays like organic aloe, birch sap, green tea, kendi seed, ginger root and lavender. Occasionally our formulators will use dehydroacetic acid and sodium benzoate - both approved as inert and safe preservatives by Ecocert, COSMOS, NaTrue and the Soils Association - in very small doses (less than 1%) to help preserve a product’s stability.
Vermont’s a great place for us to be. Between the thriving natural food scene, the boom in organic agriculture, the ready access to the outdoors and the emphasis on healthy, sustainable living, there’s plenty of inspiration for developing our products. Plus there aren’t too many distractions up here so it’s really easy to get into a rhythm and focus on your craft, whatever that may be.
4. How do we get more people to make the connection between skincare and sustainability? What is Ursa Major doing to promote sustainable practices?
I think it starts by creating more awareness around the toxins used in conventional skin care products - and the associated health risks - and offering natural alternatives that deliver on efficacy and experience. Beyond that we need more transparency around ingredients and sourcing to make the connection clear. This is all beginning to happen as health-conscious consumers, brands, media, NGOs, etc. leverage the web to bring more light to what has previously been a rather dark and mysterious process.
For our part we formulate as close to 100%-natural as possible and are now aiming for 70% or more organic. We use recyclable packaging and we pay a premium to incorporate the highest possible load of post-consumer recycled material (PCR). We also go out of our way to work with like-minded partners – for example all our secondary packaging is made in carbon neutral facility which is 100% wind-powered. This is all just a start, of course. We can and need to be doing much more on this front and ultimately hope to be a true sustainability leader in our market. We have a long way to go!
5. What's next for Ursa Major?
Where do we start!? We have a lot on the cooker this year. Obviously the shift to being a ‘shareable’ brand is a big transition for us. We’re working on a bunch of exciting new products we’re really fired up about (hopefully we’ll see at least a few launches this year). We’re also taking a hard look at our packaging to see how we can improve it and make it more sustainable. We’re reworking our gift set program…. And there’s so much more… it never stops!
-Emily + Oliver