Ogee, a Burlington-based organic makeup company, has been growing rapidly for the past few years.
Investors bet more than $4 million on Ogee in 2017 after the small company won the 2016 LaunchVT pitch competition. Ogee raised another $7 million in capital last year, most of it from the Vermont investment community.
Now the beauty company, which focuses on all-natural makeup and skin care products, is poised to expand. Starting in February, Ogee products will be found on shelves in Bluemercury, a chain of high-end beauty stores. And later next year, the products will be available at Saks Fifth Avenue department stores.
The company manufactures most of its products in California and New Jersey, but it also makes some at Winooski-based Twincraft Skincare, which manufactures lotions and creams on contract for 150 brands. Next year, Ogee plans to move some of its product manufacturing from out of state to Essex-based Autumn Harp, another contract manufacturer.
Vermont has a small but strong beauty industry, according to Ogee cofounder and CEO Mark Rice, who graduated from Middlebury College. He said the company is committed to keeping its headquarters in the state and expanding its manufacturing presence here, as well. Ogee has about a dozen employees, most of them in Vermont.
“Our long-term plans are to never leave Vermont,” Rice said.
When it comes to business, beauty products don’t always get the attention in Vermont that maple products, skiing and flannel pajamas do. But some beauty startups have found a place in the state’s economy. Tata Harper, a Whiting-based luxury beauty products company that launched in 2010, was sold this fall to a Korean conglomerate called Amorepacific for a reported $125 million. Like Ogee, Tata Harper steers clear of genetically modified products, synthetic chemicals, and artificial colors or fragrances.
Ursa Major in Waterbury, another natural products skin care company, received $5 million from an outside investor for its own expansion in 2019.
While Vermont is far removed from fashion and beauty hot spots, it helps that businesses in the state have a reputation for making sustainable and premium products, said Michele Asch, a vice president at Twincraft.
“Sustainability is huge; our brands are always looking for what packaging is more sustainable and reusable,” she said. “The innovation is really in the sustainable, clean market.”
Online sales also make a big difference. Even with a small brick-and-mortar presence — Ogee is sold locally at Burlington’s Mirror Mirror and a few other stores — the company saw its sales increase 80 percent last year and expects them to increase another 100 percent this year, all through online marketing, Rice said.
He founded Ogee with brothers Abbott and Alex Stark in 2014. The company spent more than two years developing its products and obtaining organic certification before launching its first offerings in 2016.
The Stark brothers grew up in Brandon. Abbott had worked at Autumn Harp and knew how to formulate makeup; Alex had experience with supply chain management. Rice brought decades of experience in the beauty business, including a stint as president and co-owner of the design brand John Galliano.
Now, “we’re creating formulas that don’t exist anywhere else,” Rice said.
One of the obstacles homegrown beauty products companies face is access to the capital needed to create inventory, said T.J. Whalen, general partner and managing director at FreshTracks Capital. In that way, the beauty business is like so many other cottage industries that start in Vermont.
“You can develop almost any hobby business in food or beverage, but to get it to really grow from zero to $15 million in revenue in five years is uncommon,” Whalen said of Ogee.
Correction, December 1, 2022: An earlier version of this story misstated where Autumn Harp is located.