A/Behind the Scenes: Aja Frierson

Aja Frierson is the queen of captivating people with her hues and happy feels. Not only is she a creator of colour, she is also an advocate for clean beauty. The Founder of Habit Cosmetics, and one of the first brands to support Allmanac Beauty, we couldn't wait for her to educate us on topics we'd otherwise have not been oblivious to! 

FR: Who is Aja?

AF: Hi Everyone! My name is Aja Frierson, and I’m the Founder of Habit CosmeticsI’ve always loved makeup for its ability to express your personality and for its place in the self care ritual. Then as a teenager, I became dependent on makeup to hide my acne. I had terrible skin, and nothing that I tried topically seemed to resolve it. It was only until I went away to college and began researching detox diets that my skin started to change. I began eating minimally processed organic and vegan foods, and my skin began to glow.

But when I decided to detox my makeup routine along with my diet, I discovered the world of clean beauty, but I was hard-pressed to find brands representing women that looked like me, my friends and my family.

Fast forward to my first job after college, where I trained to become a colorist for a major fashion brand. I learned to put together trend relevant yet wearable color palettes that flatter every skin tone. And a lightbulb went off: I could use this new knowledge to create a space for all women to feel represented, and find belonging and healing in fun, health-promoting products.

In that moment, I began development on Habit Cosmetics, and launched the brand in 2013 as a vegan and cruelty-free, toxin free and sustainably packaged line of makeup and nail polish!

FR: Can you tell us a little bit more about how you came to know the benefits of Myrrh to nails?

AF: Through doing research and looking to the plant world for solutions to problems I was having. In the period before developing Habit, I was so obsessed with nail polish and painting my nails all the time that they began to dry and split, so discovering Myrrh extract and applying it to my nails became a solution for that problem. And I thought: someone should be putting this in nail polish!

We’re all busy and I feel like our products should be doing more than one thing. So all of our products contain skincare ingredients that nurture your nails and skin in addition to giving you that pop of color!

FR: As a clean beauty cutie, in what ways would you like to see this industry change and improve?

AF: Mica sourcing and child labor is a problem that will not go away on its own, and there’s no avoiding it; even if you abstain from using cosmetics, about 10-15% of all mica mined is used in the cosmetic industry, while the rest is used in products like house paint, car paint, electrical cables and plugs, solar panels, electric cars and in asphalt.

Both of our cosmetic manufacturers (currently we work with two) have sent us documentation ensuring they do everything in their power to make sure that their mica is ethically sourced. However, regardless of what they say, there is still a lot of progress to be made on this front.

Mica sourcing is not completely transparent - the same is true of tin oxide, iron oxide and titanium dioxide sourcing too - and any brand claiming with 100% certainty that children were not present while their mica was mined is not being entirely honest. First, manufacturers (and brands for that matter) are often very secretive about their sources. And if they're willing to disclose their sources to you, unless you visit the mine in person, you can't know for sure what's happening on the ground at the moment that the mica is being mined. To give you some idea of how difficult this is to control, the bath and body company Lush attempted to control their mica supply chain and, failing to do so, opted to stop using natural mica altogether. In spite of the fact that Lush grosses somewhere around $500 million dollars in sales every year, with all of their resources even they couldn't maintain control over their mines. Lush now uses synthetic mica, but they've still had issues with ensuring it's ethically produced.

We've thought about following in Lush's footsteps and using only synthetic mica in our line, but we're not sure that's the solution either. As I mentioned before, there are some issues with insuring that synthetic mica is being ethically produced. Plant pigments are not a viable substitute because they have very high bacterial loads which are a concern when it comes to product spoilage, they're not soluble in oil-based formulas, and they don't produce bright colors anyway (think about the color of dried fruit; these are earth tones!). Additionally, in many of the regions where mica is mined, it's the main source of industry. If everyone ceases to use natural mica, the local economies in these areas would be gutted. A Child Rights Expert whose spoken on this matter says that the solution is not to avoid mica, but to make sure that the people mining the mica receive living wages (and to ensure that children are not being used to mine it).

As far as being apart of an ethical mica program, the group we've looked into, Responsible Mica Initiative, is attempting to work towards this goal. However, they aren't even close to forming any solutions at this point, and the yearly membership fee is over $8,000 just for the chance to participate in the discussion. While their efforts are valuable and worth supporting, as an indie beauty brand with a team of 3 people at the moment, the cost of joining is prohibitive for us, especially as they aren't currently solving anything.

This is just my honest perspective as to what's going on in the industry right now, and unfortunately, there are no easy solutions at the moment. But I do think that the only way to begin making progress is to shed light on the issue!

FR: Why do you think people are still hesitant when it comes to trying vegan nail polish?

AF: I think people might be operating under the assumption that vegan/ toxin-free means that the formula will not perform in the same way that standard nail polish does, and I get it! With regards to makeup, sometimes choosing the cleaner option has meant compromising on performance. For example, there are clean polishes with alcohol or water-based formulas that you could almost drink, but they come off your nails when you wash the dishes and the colors are limited.

It was important for me for Habit to deliver on color payoff as well as longevity, so we went with a more traditional polish formula but removed toxins, animal products and added Myrrh extract to boost nail strength!

FR: Enlighten us on some at home nail care tips you swear by!

AF: The best overall tip is to keep your nails (and hands) moisturized! In this period of time where we’re all washing our hands so often, our nails can get especially dry which contributes to them splitting. The easiest way to make sure you’re moisturizing is to make it easy and routine. I keep hand cream by my bed and apply it every night so that I don’t have to think about it.

Aside from that, to get the best wear out of your manis:

  • Before painting, wash your nails with soap and water, then dry them thoroughly
  • Apply one coat of a base coat, making sure to glide your brush past the edge of your nail. Base coat helps the polish stick to your nails
  • Paint on one to three thin coats of your polish color, still making sure to paint over the edge of each nail. Thin coats of polish prevent bubbles and long drying times. This technique also keeps your polish job silky smooth!
  • Apply one layer of top coat to seal your mani and get the best wear time
A/Behind the Scenes interview series will focus on the movers and shakers of the beauty and wellness industry - hoping to inspire others and cultivate a community of beauty cuties! 
Interview questions by our very own Head of Social Media, Fatima Rana
illustration by the ever so talented @_frdesign