Inside the Queer and Woman-Owned Beauty Brand

Inside the Queer and Woman-Owned Beauty Brand

Shop Small is a bi-weekly series highlighting small business owners from diverse backgrounds. This series aims to go deeper than your typical product roundup, diving into the inspirational stories behind some of our favorite brands. By taking a behind-the-scenes look at how their shops came to be and highlighting the products they (and their shoppers!) love, we hope to put a deserving spotlight on these marginalized business owners.


In 2010, Nina Zilka and David Krause, best friends and recent graduates of the Pratt Institute, did what many aspiring fashion designers do post-grad: they started their own fashion brand. In particular, the pair was focused on using vegan materials and local manufacturing.

Business was good until everything changed one holiday season in 2011. Zilka, tired of searching in vain for skin and hair products that didn’t contain animal products, created her own personalized dry shampoo in her free time. The pair added the product to their site, expecting mild results. A week later, they had sold more than 400 bottles. Zilka and Krause continued to add personal products, such as lip balms and other apothecary items, to the site until 2015, when they decided to shut down the fashion line altogether. The friends reintroduced their brand as Alder New York: a vegan independent skincare line designed for all ages and ethnicities.

Founders, Nina Zilka and David Krause, of Alder New York.

Alder New York

“Nina and I founded Alder New York because we wanted a personal care brand that we both wanted to use,” Krause says. “We wanted a brand that wasn’t hyper-gendered and one that utilized ingredients that worked for both of our skin types, and we just couldn’t find that back in 2015.”

Since operations began, Krause says Alder New York has endured some tough times, especially since eco-friendly products have become a major part of the mainstream market. But despite the increase in competition, Alder New York isn’t going anywhere.

The Secret Behind Their Products

Alder New York says all of their products are “clean,” but what does that mean exactly? Krause explains it like this: “There is no such thing as a standardized definition of clean beauty, but we work with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and they verify our products based on their [safety] standards.”

Almost all of Alder’s products are EWG-verified, and the few cleaners and moisturizers that aren’t currently in the process of being approved. Because it can take months for EWG approval, the brand’s commitment to having “clean” products doesn’t start with an “okay” sign from EWG, but rather in the research and development process.

The pair spends weeks and sometimes months researching ingredients to determine if “they bioaccumulate in water, fish, food or in our bodies, [which can] disrupt our hormones,” Krause says. If an ingredient doesn’t match this definition of clean, then Alder won’t use it.

The same goes for “vegan” ingredients. “Our products are not tested on animals, and we don’t use any animal-derived ingredients,” Krause says. “We work with Vegan Action, which is an organization that verifies ingredients are not being tested on animals and that the products are not being tested on animals.”

Krause and Zilka choose ingredients only after research studies in scientific literature to determine if they meet their personal criteria: clean, vegan and whether they have been used on all skin ages, types and shades.

As for sustainability, Alder New York’s commitment doesn’t stop at the product’s contents — they also ensure raw materials are sourced and manufactured locally and choose packaging from recycled materials as much as possible.

“Obviously, the most sustainable product you can make is no product whatsoever,” Krause says. “But, we’re always working on making sure our ingredients and our manufacturing processes have minimal impact on the environment. All of our paper products are Forest Stewardship Council-certified, and many of our cartons are actually made from 100% recycled content. In terms of our bottles, they’re 30% post-consumer recycled plastic, which is the highest percentage we’re able to get without the bottle not functioning as a model anymore.”

What They’ve Learned as Business Owners

Alder is genderless — its branding and marketing don’t cater to a specific audience, and that’s on purpose.

“I have always found the beauty space to be hyper-gendered, and I felt not present and represented [by it],” Krause says. “Working with my female-identifying business partner, we both were like, Why isn’t there something that can appeal to both of us? And that was really a huge catalyst for Alder. We wanted something we both could use and not feel judged by our gender identities or how we identify. That shaped the whole marketing identity and visual experience of our brand.”

While Krause and Zilka saw an open opportunity for genderless skincare, investors at the time weren’t as interested in mending the gap in beauty representation. They had to do “a lot of convincing of why Alder New York was needed.”

So, the two took it upon themselves and “bootstrapped, self-funded and raised a small friends and family round of capital to get going,” Krause says. The end result paid off, but along the way, Krause says he learned one major lesson: flexibility is everything.

“It hasn’t been easy, but we think the ‘slow and steady wins the race’ method versus the ‘big venture capitalist’ strategy has enabled us to be nimble and responsive to our customers,” he says. “Half the battle of running a successful company is sticking with it even when things get tough.”

Furthermore, he adds that it’s okay if the original plan falls through. What matters is how you handle obstacles as they come: “I’ve learned it’s important to be nimble and to be willing to pivot and adjust your plans. COVID has taught me to not be too precious and to remember why I’m doing what I’m doing and to not stray from my values.”

alder new york products

Alder New York

What’s Next for Alder New York

Just like the co-founders moved their brand from apparel to skincare, there’s another transition in the works for Alder New York. The brand has begun offering body care soaps, with the first launch being the cleansing body bar. A spin-off of the everyday cleanser — Krause’s favorite product — the body bar is formulated with 1% glycolic acid and nourishing sea kelp. It’s an ingredient combo that’s designed to exfoliate and moisturize, all in one, Krause says. Though it’s the brand’s first body product, it sure isn’t the last.

Developing more products isn’t the only goal Krause and Zilka have. The next step for Alder is retail expansion, and come this fall, Alder’s products will be available on Shopbop. The objective is to put Alder in small retailers so that customers can have an intimate relationship with the brand and understand their values ​​and priorities as a skincare business.

Furthermore, Krause adds that more retailers and warehouses mean less of a carbon footprint and lower pricing. Currently, the lowest price point is $7.99 while the highest is $30.99. Krause understands that their prices cannot suit everyone, so by expanding their business, Alder will be able to reduce prices and become more affordable to all.

Ultimately, the end goal for Krause and Zilka will always be to support the customer. Krause simply wants his customers to feel good about their skin, and Alder believes is the medium to do it.

“I want our customers to feel comfortable using Alder New York products and I want them to love their healthy, clear skin,” he says. “No matter how you identify, your level of skincare knowledge, your age or ethnicity, Alder New York is here for you.”

alder new york products

Alder New York

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