The Disruptors: Thirsty Naturals works outside gender binaries

The new line of all-natural hygiene products aims to fill a void in CPG.

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Jen Carlson says she was dissatisfied with the offerings in the skincare category, arguing that there are gender binaries among certain skin and body care products.

“You have products for men, women and babies, but nothing in the 9 to 19 unisex space. There’s Axe body spray for boys, and Dove for girls,” says the entrepreneur. She also believes that skincare products contain ingredients that consumers are increasingly looking to steer clear of, from drying alcohols to pore-blocking silicone and petrochemicals.

So sensing an opportunity to offer something different, Carlson launched Thirsty Naturals earlier this year, introducing all-natural skin and body care products designed specifically for teens of any gender.

Studies suggest the green skincare market is growing, as consumers come to associate overall health with beauty and skin care products, just as they do with eco-friendly and sustainable ingredients. That presents an opportunity for brands like Thirsty, which will launch nationwide at Loblaw, Sobeys, Safeway, Calgary Co-op and a number of independent stores on August 19.

Carlson says the brand’s logo was informed by a desire to be unisex, as well as designed to promote the products’ natural plant-based properties. The company considered 80 different packaging designs, before settling on a look that it feels works for both young men and women.

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Many teens don’t want to be defined by gender, says Carlson, adding that the company’s research shows girls frequently use men’s deodorant without thinking twice about it. It’s a sentiment that appears to be backed by industry research. For example, according to a 2016 survey conducted by J. Walter Thompson in the U.S., Generation Z is more likely to reject gender binaries while shopping: 44% said they always bought clothes designed for their own gender, for example, versus 54% of millennials.

“I think that we are targeting and owning and being the foundation of a segment that’s underdeveloped,” she adds. “It is where we are hoping to get our foothold… It’d be different if I was coming out with yet another skincare product for women.”

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The founder (pictured, right) has taken a two-pronged approach to communicating the message behind Thirsty Naturals: the first is focused on health and affordability aimed at parents (which have always been and remain the primary household purchasers), the second is focused on speaking to teens in their own voice and using social media to convey how easy it is to use the products.

“I used teens to develop the brand,” notes Carlson. “I have a board of teen ambassadors that advises on scents, product development, social media, and packaging. Our chief brand ambassador is 16.” Even the name was inspired by a brainstorming session of nine- to 20-year-olds, she says, adding that someone in that group came up with “thirsty,” which in teen vernacular means “desired” (among other connotations). It was “funny, catchy, and it stuck.”

According to Carlson, Thirsty is driven by function and simplicity, because what she learned from her own teens is that “they’re kind of lazy, and the easier you make a product, the more likely they’ll take it on.”

Thirsty Naturals has grown from a product only available at independent retailers and Well.ca, to a brand that’s now entering major retailers. Carlson says she appreciates being aligned with the likes of Loblaw, as it has a natural health section that’s geared to the masses. She hopes to connect with the masses in-store through profit panels, floor stands, shelf displays, as well as communication strips. She is hopeful that these will resonate with parents looking for healthy alternatives to big CPG brands.