Goop to good: how Supergoop is shaking up sunscreen

Life as a 20-something is most often characterized by excitement, vim, and a bursting passion for the future. It’s a time to explore new places and find (or at least search) for a better sense of self.

Holly Thaggard, however, was forced to witness a very different side to early adulthood when a close friend was diagnosed with melanoma while in his early 20s. In dealing with this experience, Holly took it upon herself to make sun protection an absolute priority.

The San Antonio-based entrepreneur very quickly learned that most cases of skin cancer are caused by daily exposure to the sun, “Yet, very few people incorporate protection into their everyday skincare regimen” she says. “It should be as much of a daily habit as brushing your teeth.”

Determined to share this message with others, Holly created a skincare line dedicated exclusively to UV protection called Supergoop!. Since launching the Supergoop! brand in 2007, Holly has made it her mission to provide products that not only protect, but also feel good on customers’ skin.

The result? A line that has altered many customers’ perceptions of skin treatment and erased many of those awful childhood memories involving sunscreen application.

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Holly’s vision for Supergoop! also involves reaching out to young generations. Prior to Supergoop!, Holly worked as third grade teacher and therefore appreciates the importance of instilling healthy habits at a young age. She also explains that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. “If we’re going to truly stem this epidemic, we must start by establishing healthy sun protection habits from a young age,” says Holly.

Recognizing that this may be easier said than done, Holly has worked to create a formulation that feels good so that children wouldn’t mind getting “gooped up” before heading outdoors.

And because of the line’s unique formulas, Supergoop! is now known both inside and outside the inner cosmetics circle. In fact, Supergoop! is the first skincare brand dedicated to sun protection found in retailers like Sephora, Nordstrom, and Birchbox.

Despite the line’s increasing popularity, Holly remains incredibly humble. “We have really amazing distribution and retail partners, but we’re still very young,” she says. She recalls her team’s first capital raise last April, a task undertaken at a time when Supergoop! was managed by only Holly and a few interns.

After raising enough money to support a larger team, Holly began looking for a Director of Marketing — a role that would be based in New York City. One of her Supergoop! board members (and the former President of the beauty brand Clarisonic) recommended Rachel Stroback as an ideal marketing lead for the budding startup and last June, Holly and Rachel connected for the first time.

Rachel had previously worked at L’Oreal and Clarisonic and her experience proved an indispensible benefit to the fledgling team. Originally planning to take a year hiatus to travel, Rachel found herself drawn to Holly’s infectious personality: “Holly is so passionate. When she was describing the company and its mission to change the perception of UV protection, it really excited me,” recalls Rachel who has since assumed the role as Supergoop!’s Director of Marketing. “We have a such an authentic, impactful, and fun story to tell.”

Shortly after Rachel came on board, the two powwowed in San Antonio to discuss their branding strategy. They sat down with a giant white board, asking each other questions to determine who they were, what their brand was made of, and what they most valued as a team. “Everything we do answers these core questions and ladders up to our values, which is extremely important for building any brand,” says Rachel.

20140508 Holly and Rachel Supergoop-3

This focus on brand identity has allowed Supergoop! to appeal to a very wide audience. The line is fun and lighthearted in spirit, which is evident in their clean, sophisticated packaging and playful signature aesthetic. “We feel strongly that not all serious, efficacious technology or brands have to have a fancy name to them. Think Apple or Google,” says Holly. “These are examples of companies that are fun and playful and are doing amazing things.”

It’s this message that has helped Supergoop! land partners such as TED TalksTesla, C.O. Bigelow, and QVC, all of which embrace the company with open arms. “One of the easiest things for us has been partnering with leading retailers because we’re filling a white space in beauty,” says Holly.

Just recently, the team announced their biggest partnership to date with tennis superstar Maria Sharapova, who has actually been using Supergoop! products for several years. This relationship, Holly and Rachel say, was actually quite easy to facilitate.

“We weren’t looking for a spokesperson for our brand,” Holly says. “But once Maria’s team reached out to us, we felt she would be a great person to spread this big message about sun education and protection.”

Not surprisingly, many other influencers have approached Supergoop! about forming partnerships, a sign of success that the team attributes to staying on brand in every decision they make. Rachel has seen too many small businesses sway when approached by a big brand or retail partner. “A lot of small brands will do anything to please a big partner, even if it means changing what they stand for,” says Rachel.

Now seven years into their launch, Supergoop! shows no signs of slowing down. As Holly and Rachel focus on growing the team, Holly feels that “a great resume is wonderful, but there’s no replacement for intelligence.” Rachel adds that candidate’s personality is key: “When you work in a small, fast-paced environment, you need to have a common vision, work ethic and sense of humor.”

A bulk of Holly’s work takes place in Texas, where she is busy raising her two children, but she makes sure to visit Supergoop!’s Manhattan office at WeWork Soho at least twice a month. She notes that one of the nicest perks about working in the beauty industry is the travel. “It’s a joy to visit fun places like L.A., San Francisco, and London, especially when I have to leave my family,” says Holly. “But the best part is working with passionate people in this industry who love beauty as much as I do.”

Photographs by Lauren Kallen

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