As part of the Alder New York Affiliate team, we wanted to give you an inside look into the who, what, where, when, why and how of it all with our co-founder and CEO, Nina Zilka.
How big is the Alder New York Team?
Though people often think we're a somewhat large company (and we take that as a compliment!) we're actually a very small team of 2. David is our co-founder and Chief Creative Officer and handles any visuals you see. That includes our packaging, product photography, Instagrams, newsletters- if you see it, he made it. I am our co-founder and CEO, and I handle everything else- reaching out to and coordinating with retailers, meeting and working with our manufacturing facilities, speaking on panels, and anything else that pops up while running a start-up. We also have our incredible team at Note PR that handles press and partnerships, and we have the wonderful factories that manufacture our products in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont.
How did you start Alder New York?
David and I have best friends for over a decade, and we've been working together from almost the moment we met.
Before we founded Alder New York, we had a clothing line together. During this time, around 2011, I became very passionate about clean skincare and haircare after reading about the complete lack of FDA regulation for it (which is still the case) and learning about the many harmful chemicals often found in personal care products. I decided to try making a dry shampoo in my kitchen for fun. All of a sudden people around me were clamoring for it- first my roommate wanted some, then her mom asked for it, and then David suggested we design a bottle for it and sell it along with our clothes for the holidays. From there we added a few other items, like a lip balm and a hand salve, but we were still focusing most of our energy on our clothing line.
By 2015, neither of us felt that passion for fashion design we'd once had. And David and I had both become huge clean personal care fanatics- but we couldn't find the kind of products we'd want to use. We knew the demand was there- we couldn't keep the personal care products we'd created alongside our clothing line in stock. So at that point we decided to close our clothing line and spend a year researching, formulating, designing, and branding to launch our holistic vision for personal care. And at the end of 2016 we launched Alder New York to the world: a truly clean, vegan, genderless skincare line for all that combines the best in plant powered extracts with dermatologist approved actives.
How do you come up with your formulas?
David and I formulate all of our products in-house at our R&D lab in Brooklyn. This in house formulation means we can be extremely particular about the ingredients we source and create as many iterations of a formula as we need till we deem it perfect.
When we design a product, first we determine it's a product we both want and need and know other people would to- because we never want to create a product just for the sake of launching something new. We usually start by determining what we want the effects of the product to be. Then we spend anywhere from 6-8 months developing the product- this starts with researching ingredients and meeting with ingredient manufacturers to see what is new and exciting in clean skincare and what would be the most effective and beneficial for our product. We'll make anywhere from 6-100 different iterations of a formula till we get it right. At the same time we're working on the packaging and marketing which takes about 6 months on its own.
Is it hard to run a business with your best friend?
Of course it takes work, but it helps that we've spent a lot of time together before this. We became good friends my freshman year and David's sophomore year at Pratt Institute, and we decided to be roommates the following year. Our dorm did a housing lottery, and I actually got the first pick from all students for the top room we wanted, so of course we picked the largest room there was. Move in day, David got there before me, and when he called me he was... less than thrilled there had been some type of mixup and they'd put us together in a tiny single room where we could literally touch each other's arms from our individual beds! And when we went to figure out the mixup, the dorm manager refused to change anything or acknowledge there'd been any type of mixup! So David and I went from being good friends to reallllly small-room-mates which I think helped us figure out each other's quirks really quickly.
The biggest piece of advice or tip I have to making it work is that we set aside friend time that isn't business related. Of course, running a startup, work will never end if you don't let it. So we make it a point to go on vacations all together with our husbands, get dinners that are not for work, and build lots of memories that are non-work so that when we are in the office we have a strong foundation.
How do you pick who you'll accept as an affiliate?
We're always looking for people who really encompass what Alder New York is about. They have a strong personal aesthetic, and talk openly on their social platforms about their values around clean, genderless products for all races, all genders, and all ages. I'm so excited by the community we are building, to the point that I look forward to the affiliate zoom calls where I get to catch up with everyone and hear what they've been up to. That's how I know we're picking the right people- it's so natural when we get a chance to meet, they feel inherently a part of our team.