Goop’s Canadian invasion kicked off last fall with an In Goop Health summit in Vancouver. For an East Coast crowd, Gwyneth Paltrow's incredibly popular and endlessly polarizing brand planned something a little less woo-woo: a pop-up Goop MRKT in Toronto that opened on June 7 and runs until September 22.
Here, Elise Loehnen — chief content officer and Gwyneth’s second in command — talks to Refinery29 about the first time she met her celebrity boss, why Canada is way ahead of the States on wellness, and how she feels about jade eggs.
Canada is the first country that Goop sold to outside of the U.S. How and why did you come to the decision to go north first?
You guys are our second biggest market outside of the U.S., followed by London. We had a lot of Canadian customers who were shipping stuff to friends in the States and picking it up when they were down here. And we had done a pop-in at Nordstrom in two or three Canadian markets and we did gangbusters. My belief is that it’s because Canada has the better health system and you are a bit ahead of where we are in the States, so the things we’re talking about on Goop are already a little bit more mainstream in Canada.
What kinds of things?
From what I’ve experienced spending time in the western part of Canada, things like Eastern medicine, acupuncture, the integration of the mind and body. Things like that are not perceived as woo-woo as they have been here.
Vancouver is definitely a little more woo-woo than Toronto. Did you approach the two markets differently?
Before we did the wellness summit [last fall] we were deciding between Vancouver and Toronto, and for exactly the reason we knew that the summit would be a much easier entry point out west. There are tons of practitioners out there, a lot of local talent, and as you said, Vancouver is very established and fluent in the things that we talk about on Goop. Whereas with Toronto we thought that a pop-up shop with more fashion would probably be the right way to start. It’s the same with New York versus L.A.
Health Canada regulations are different than the rules governing products in the states. Does that change anything in terms of what you sell here?
The United States is strange in that we are extremely strict on claims around drugs and medical ingredients but then we are not strict about anything in personal care. We have only banned 11 ingredients in the personal care industry whereas Europe has banned 1,100. I don’t know how many chemicals you guys have banned in Canada, but you’re definitely better than we are. At Goop, we are super clean in terms of the ingredients we allow in our products. I don’t know from a labelling perspective what the rules are in Canada.
[On Friday, Health Canada inspectors pulled two products from the new Goop Toronto location. Both were sunscreen products made by U.S.-based clean beauty brand Beautycounter. The products were missing an eight digit Natural Product Number that must appear on the label in order to sell in Canada. In a statement Goop says the issue was a packaging error: “The product itself is compliant with Canadian regulations and is the same formula as sold in the U.S. The packaging issue has been fixed, and we have reached out to Health Canada to ensure our entire assortment exceeds their standards.”]
You have been described as the “heart of Goop.” What does that mean?
Awww. Well, when I started Gwyneth was very clear on what the mission is and the brand values, and I feel like I’ve been in charge of holding that and protecting that while she’s been focused on the business.
Gwyneth started Goop as a smallish-scale venture from her kitchen in London in 2008. When did you enter the picture?
I met Gwyneth in 2013 and I started officially in 2014. When I joined it was still a weekly newsletter with just a few stories a week. She had just moved back from London back to Los Angeles and she was at the first real inflection point where could have come along as a nice little business but she really wanted to do it and go all-in.
What was that first meeting like? Please, spare no detail.
I was nervous, but I had a friend who had gone to work for her and told me Gwyneth was amazing, so I trusted her. I definitely deliberated over what to wear. I had just had a baby so I was like: Aaah, I can’t believe I’m going to run in there 25 pounds over my normal weight, but this is happening. And then she has a shoes-off house and so that threw me because of course I hadn’t gotten a pedicure. We ended up sitting on the floor of her living room and shooting the shit. She was really cool and smart and not at all what I expected. I thought it would be uptight and polished and perfect.
You have said that the idea that Goop is about telling everyone they need to be perfect is a misconception. How would you amend that mission statement?
It’s a very personal brand for everyone who works here even though there are now a lot of us. We’re working on ourselves and sharing what we’re learning. Everything we do is sort of through that lens of getting our own questions answered. The tagline that we still have because we haven’t been able to evolve it is “Making every choice count.” That’s what we care about, from what are you doing with this lifetime to what you buy to what you put on your body to where you’re having dinner. You don’t need to have a bad meal.
Gwyneth has defended some of Goop’s less scientifically verifiable claims by saying that Goop isn’t prescribing; you’re starting conversations. But isn’t it important to conversations around health that are rooted in facts?
Yes and no. For anything where we’re citing medical literature or studies, we have a pretty packed-out science and research team. We have two scientists on the content team now, and we’re focused on being as buttoned-up and bullet-proof as possible.
We’re careful to allow anecdotal information from doctors and experts who we interview. We allow them to describe what they’re seeing in their practices or what their experience is, so we don’t edit that. We’ve always believed it’s hard to argue people’s experiences. And there are things that are unexplainable like that your intuition is real or that people can talk to dead people. We’ll always be Goopy.
Last February, Goop settled a lawsuit filed by the California Food, Drug and Medical Device Task Force regarding the jade vagina eggs that you sold on your site. Did you learn anything from that experience?
We learned that we’ll always be held to a different standard, and that’s fine. Companies across the board get in trouble with this kind of thing all the time. With the jade egg there is no quantifiable proof that using one can affect your hormones [a claim Goop originally made], but an orgasm affects your hormones so doing pelvic weight training would. We have learned that we need to be careful about using certain words. It’s really kind of silly.
I thought one of the interesting criticisms of the jade egg was the perpetuation of oppressive female body standards. The part about how they were once used by concubines to get fit for the emperor. Like: Oh great, now my vag has to live up to the expectation of ancient royalty.
Yeah, that’s totally valid — we probably didn’t need that sentence. I think we meant it more as like a funny historical aside that cannot be proved. On Goop, we talk a lot about pelvic floor strengthening and owning your orgasms and not being incontinent after having babies. You wont find anything on our site about pleasing your man or how to give a good blowjob or how to douche. That is just not our jam. It’s not part of our DNA.
Do you own a jade egg?
You know, I’ve never used a jade egg. And I’ve done vaginal steaming once because I needed to understand it.
If you were a Goop product, what Goop product would you be?
Ha! I’d be the new Goop Glow peel pads. I’m not a beauty product person, and these are the only beauty product that I use. I love them because they are simple: this glycolic acid peel that has a little mitt. You put it on our face and neck and then you go to bed. It’s so powerful and yet so low-maintenance. That’s my goal in life.