Photography by Brit Gill
By Alison Sinkewicz
Skincare is a ritual, and Harlow Skin Co. CEO and creative director Chrystal Macleod is a dutiful practitioner. But rather than preaching brighter, dewier, or clearer skin, Macleod’s whole ingredient line of products a has beautiful complexion as the end result, but it’s not entirely the point. Instead, her line, which is made entirely in Vancouver, focuses on building an exercise of consciousness, with intention at the core. Using only the essential ingredients, Harlow products are designed to fit into a life of intention, for believers in real ingredients grown by real people.
In the Spring of 2017, Macleod opened her Mount Pleasant atelier which hawks her own line, as well as body and home goods from local makers such as Woodlot and Strathcona Stockings, as well as frequent workshops, pop-ups and events. On a sunny afternoon, Loose Lips caught up with Macleod to talk shop.
Loose Lips: So tell me a bit about the founding of Harlow?
Chrystal Macleod: My background is in makeup, and I was behind the counter and in the back, and a lot of what I connected to with makeup was you can make someone feel really good about themselves by putting makeup on them, but more so you can make someone feel good by teaching them how to do it themselves, it empowers and makes them feel good about themselves.
I also always remember turning around products and reading the back of them, and at the time parabens were a big part of the conversation, and people were becoming a lot more aware. I had been trained and knew what was in the products and what the ingredients do, but it was always on the positive side. No one is going to tell you the negative side effects. And then I became aware of all of this information, researching more on the Internet, and I started noticing that water was the first ingredient on all of these products, water, water, water, and when you add water to a product you actually introduce the need for a preservative. Without water, you can forgo the preservative to a degree.
LL: So with Harlow, the perspective then was to start with all very purposeful ingredients.
CM: To me that was my light bulb moment. I had been working with prestige brands my entire career and then, overnight, I just didn’t relate luxury to these brands anymore. I related luxury to whole ingredients, no preservatives, nothing that wasn’t necessary, nothing that wasn’t raw and good for your skin and the planet. So it just started with the body. We wanted to make a product that was free from water and that went on your entire body because your skin is your biggest organ. And when you do that you can’t, I really cant, turn away.
So, our body balms have grown to be only four ingredients and those ingredients are all sourced from social enterprises. It’s the best body balm you can get for people and for the planet. It’s all about the connection. I realized that my entire career even though I had intention, I had been investing time into these rituals—putting lotion on my body, products in my hair, putting makeup on—I wasn’t really connecting to it. So that was an hour of my day that I had just lost, it wasn’t fruitful at all for me. I wanted to create something that didn’t look like a hippie brand, not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I wanted it to be real luxury.
LL: How did you learn to create the products?
CM: I love to cook. I’ve been cooking my whole life. My mother was always in the kitchen and I’ve always been a mad scientist chef. I’ve always been a chef, and a taster. I’ve always had a special magical power to create…I don’t really know how to even put it in words.
LL: You know when something is good. You have the cooking intuition.
CM: Yes, exactly. When it comes to potions or food, I just kind of know.
LL: What’s been the most challenging product?
CM: The body balms. Those are very labor intensive. They take the most time, with the smallest mark-up. We recently went through a re-brand, taking a good hard look at the products we have and editing. We put all this time into skincare self-care, and most of what manifests on our skin is internal. So education has become a really big part of the brand for me, educating people more and learning that you don’t need to put as much product on your skin. And that’s how the store was born.
LL: How has the store changed your business?
CM: We decided to do the shop and do the rebrand. The re-brand was essentially looking at the ingredients and cutting out products and scents, we pulled back on a lot of ingredients so we could make an even higher quality product. We opened the store in April , and it’s an extension of the brand itself: the connection of people and planet, sourcing everything from a good place. It’s a good, pure sanctuary where you could experience everything with intention. And you can feel it when you walk in the store.
LL: And the events are a big part of that too.
CM: Yeah, all of the events are educational that can help you in your holistic endeavors in life, and to make good choices. So we try to run three or four a month and do pop-ups that aren’t really educational but are clean body, beauty, home. We try to keep it to a tight-knit family here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The Harlow Skin Co. atelier is located at 655 East 15th Ave. The next workshop happening is on Wednesday, September 27th featuring Tori Holmes on Adaptogens. Get your tickets to the Adaptogen workshop and check-out future events at Harlow here.
Alison Sinkewicz is a writer and curator based in Vancouver, BC but from Vancouver, WA. Her words can be found in VICE, Pitchfork’s October, Nuvo Magazine, MONTECRISTO Magazine and emails to her mom, Debra.