Photographer: Michael Bloom

From Farm to Face, With Help From Sephora

A rare plant discovered 16 years ago has led to a line of skin-care products.

It all began with a mutant flower. In 1999, Mark Veeder noticed a strange green bloom among the purple echinacea plants growing on his seven-acre spread in upstate New York. A Manhattan-based event planner—he’s created glitzy affairs for the Oscars and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week—he also is a lifelong amateur horticulturalist. “In the plant world, green flowers are very rare,” says Veeder, who maintains sprawling gardens at his country home.

He sent the flower to top horticultural labs for testing. The results showed he’d discovered a new variety of the standard Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower, containing a much higher concentration of echinacea’s vaunted immune-boosting and restorative properties.

“I knew that I wanted to do more than just breed it and sell it,” Veeder says of his discovery, which he patented and trademarked Echinacea Green Envy. He wanted to develop all-natural skin-care and other products to reduce wrinkles and fine lines using the green plant as the principal ingredient. “I didn’t want this to just be one of those ‘Oh, my grandma made this from granola in a wood stove, and it works,’ ” he says. “I wanted scientists to extract the echinacea in a way that would make it a more efficacious product.”

Farmacy, a line of skin serum, exfoliating cleansers, and lip balms made with Green Envy, was introduced on QVC on Sept. 8. A thousand anti-aging serum bottles sold in eight minutes. And on Sept. 18, Farmacy went on sale in Sephora stores across the U.S. The eight-product line, priced from $16.50 for lip balm to $65 for the serum, is on track to reach $6.5 million in sales next year, according to Veeder.

Farmacy’s line of beauty products.
Farmacy’s line of beauty products.
Photographer: Michael Bloom

Getting Green Envy out of Veeder’s garden, into a bottle, and to consumers took 16 years and more than $1 million, plus connections and a dose of luck. In 2006, Veeder’s friend Marcia Kilgore, founder of the Bliss Spa chain and beauty line, took him to several international cosmetic trade shows and introduced him to industry players. “I had a plant, but I couldn’t say, ‘Here’s the ingredient, and this is what it does,’ ” he says. “I was carrying around my flower and saying, ‘Here’s the root, look at this!’ ” The response from everyone he met was the same. “OK, come back when you have an actual ingredient.” Veeder had success cultivating and selling the plant to nurseries, but by 2007 he decided to put the enterprise on the back burner.

Then in January 2014 he met David Chung, an engineer and the owner of Englewood Lab in Englewood, N.J., a manufacturer and distributor of cosmetics for major brands, including Estée Lauder. Chung had developed his own high-end, high-tech skin-care line, 3Lab (it includes a $460 stem cell moisturizer) and was considering starting a line of natural skin products. “It’s not unusual to find a new active ingredient,” says Chung, who had his chemists test Green Envy. “But you don’t find too many unique ingredients with that kind of efficacy.”

The pair struck a licensing agreement in May of that year. Chung would be Veeder’s main backer, investing an initial $1 million to make products with Green Envy. Veeder had already poured $100,000 of his own money into the venture, which would eventually be called Farmacy Beauty. In December, the pair reformulated their relationship and are now equity partners.

Veeder would handle the marketing and harvesting of the plants. He joined forces with Robert Beyfuss, a retired Cornell agricultural specialist. Beyfuss was cultivating wild Catskill ginseng for a group of Chinese investors on land that was once a private airport in Cairo, N.Y., two hours north of Englewood Lab, but he agreed to devote a quarter-mile of what was once the runway for Veeder to farm the Green Envy plants. Veeder pays him to tend the farm and harvest the flowers.

The affiliation with Chung got Veeder in the door at Sephora. The retailer receives dozens of brand pitches every week, but Green Envy stood out with its American-made back story and what Veeder calls its “farmer-cultivated, scientist-activated” ethos. The prestige skin-care market generated $4.2 billion in the U.S. last year, with natural botanicals the fastest-growing segment.

“Mark did a presentation heavy on imagery of the farm with pictures of seeds and roots and what this could be,” says Cindy Deily, Sephora’s senior director for skin-care merchandising. She says Veeder’s pitch in the summer last year had authenticity. The company, which has a track record of making hit products out of new brands, signed on as Farmacy’s exclusive retailer.

In the year since, as Chung and his chemists developed the products, Deily and her team worked with Veeder to select a lineup (such as masks and lip balms) and on positioning and branding. “Sephora is good at building a lot of energy and excitement around brands you’ve never heard of before,” says Karen Grant, global industry analyst for beauty at NPD. “It’s not unlike them to get involved in a new brand when they really believe in it.” Deily was the one who came up with the name Farmacy.

Sephora usually takes a slower approach, rolling out a product in 30 to 50 stores at first. With Farmacy, the full line of eight products hit 140 U.S. stores in early September. Its lip balms and masks will be sold in all 320 U.S. Sephora stores.

Veeder says he wants to position Farmacy as an umbrella brand with several all-natural lines based on raw ingredients from around the world. His team is looking at a resin found in the bark of a tree in Somalia with purported healing properties. “Along the way we want to find and support farmers that can be key growers of new ingredients,” he says. The long-term goal is to turn the brand’s farm-to-face crusade into a worldwide movement.

The bottom line: Farmacy, a brand of skin-care products made from a rare echinacea plant, is projected to make $6.5 million in sales in 2016.

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