Growing up, Alli Reed was blessed with good skin. As is the case for most teenagers, her clear complexion was the outcome of a genetic lottery, not the product of an established skin-care regimen — so when other people would ask her how she did it, her advice wasn't always serviceable. "I once told someone they should just wash their face with body wash and a loofah in the shower," she says. "I feel like a lot of this is atonement for the monster I used to be."
Reed is talking about her skin-care brand, Stratia, which launched in May of 2016 as a personal side project and has since exploded into an internet phenomenon and Reed's full-time job. A self-described chemistry nerd, Reed didn't grow up with an interest in beauty or skin care. But in her early 20s, all those years of enjoying good skin with zero effort caught up to her, so she started to do some research.
"When I get into something, I do it in a really scientific way," Reed says. "I was reading everything I could, and learning about what the skin problems I was seeing were actually caused by, and what topical ingredients and formulations could actually impact it." That's what led her to Reddit, and its various skin-care subforums. "Reddit is a place where, if you want to get super deep into research, there are really good communities to be involved in," she says. "I discovered this very niche group of people online who were making their own skin-care products in a very scientific way — less 'mash up an avocado and put it on your face' and more like 'here are some places to buy propylene glycol in small amounts.'"
Through that newfound knowledge, Reed began making her own skin care for herself, and started a blog to share her formulas. Whenever she had leftovers from her personal batches, she'd send them out to readers who wanted to try them. They kept wanting more, so Reed launched two products to the public, including the $24 Liquid Gold moisturizer, which has since become a cult favorite for its unparalleled ability to leave skin feeling replenished, healthy, and baby-smooth — like the skin of someone who's never accidentally used a retinoid immediately after an AHA peel. "I planned for it to just be a fun little side hobby," she says. "I figured I'd get a couple orders and ship them out on the weekend."
It didn't stay that way for long. For that initial release, Reed made eight bottles of Liquid Gold; during a single day last week, she made 1,300. Through word of mouth and effusive support from the social-media communities she'd become involved with, Stratia, and its small lineup of affordable skin care backed by hard science, soared.
Less than a year after the launch, the demand was so high that Reed left her full-time advertising job to focus on the brand. Because she does all of her own research and development and formulation, the startup costs were low, and Reed was able to build the company out of her savings. Today, she has two full-time employees, and just started doing Facebook advertising in the past couple of weeks; up until that point, she had not paid for any advertising or marketing whatsoever.
"[Stratia] happened to hit this missing need in the Reddit and Instagram communities that people really responded to, and they just loved it so much and shared it, which I'm so grateful for," Reed says. "The real guiding focus of the products that I release is that I want to create things that I don't think there's an equivalent [to] on the market yet — products that I want to see as a consumer that don't already exist."
Part of that is what Reed calls a "disconnect" between marketing departments and cosmetic chemists, who want to make the most elegant, longest-lasting, best-smelling products, and biology researchers and dermatologists, who are looking into the nitty-gritty of how skin works and what it needs. Liquid Gold is a prime example of that: The 3:1:1 ratio of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids has been shown to mimic the fatty matrix that holds the skin's moisture barrier, the stratum corneum, together to help strengthen and balance the skin, but you'd be hard-pressed to find it anywhere else on the market.
To that end, Reed says she doesn't foresee launching something like a glycolic acid toner, because there are already enough excellent options out there at affordable price points. "I just don't think I could do something unique with that," she says. "I think that's what has helped the existing products take off — they're a little unique." What also separates Stratia from many other brands is Reed's insistence that she be able to control every aspect of the company, to the degree that she's turned away large retailers who've shown interest in stocking the brand. "I'm the full owner," she says. "We don't have any investors, and no one is telling us what we have to formulate or what we have to release next. I only want to release a product if it's good."
Reed has come a long way from her body-wash-and-a-loofah skin-care routine — and Stratia has progressed, too, from being a tiny brand best known on Reddit to a serious contender in the indie beauty space. "We definitely have a few new products in the pipeline," Reed says, including a vitamin C serum... which she first announced to fans over a year and a half ago, before she knew how many challenges the formulation would present. "It's taught me not to talk about a product that's in development until it's really close to being launched because so many things can happen," she says. "There are some things I'm really, really excited about — but I'm not going to say what they are."