IN FOCUS: Small Business – A clean foundation

Transparency in a local business model leads to worldwide demand

Posted on Dec 1, 2015 :: Small Business Spotlight
Andrew Schaick
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Ashley Prange, owner of Au Naturale, prepares a batch of lipgloss that could potentially be distributed to customers world-wide. Courtesy: Au Naturale

Many business success stories start by filling a need that a market left empty.

For Ashley Prange, a healthy cosmetic line was not easy to come by. When she started creating her own makeup she realized she was onto something that could also help others.

“I never really thought of having a business. I was just blending pigments in my kitchen in (Washington) D.C. for myself after I was taught how to do it,” says Prange, owner and founder of Au Naturale Cosmetics. “From there I thought I could private label with a few people on a few different products.”

Au Naturale products are made from natural ingredients less likely to cause skin irritation and other health problems.

Most makeup is weighted with many synthetics, Prange says, including ingredients deemed toxic in some parts of the world. Her mission is to make a pure makeup line that is professional in endurance, but also in purity, so consumers are not compromising health or beauty.

“Sixty-five percent of what you put on your body ends up inside your body. Makeup should be treated like food, and in Europe, they have many regulations that back up this theory. Here in the U.S. they do not,” Prange says.

Since starting her business four years ago, sales have doubled each year as more clients become aware of the products. Prange says her business goes the extra step to ensure what it is selling is “clean,” meaning, they feel natural on the skin.

“What puts us on the map is we take everything to the next level where we are using many more organic ingredients,” Prange says. “When other companies say their product is ‘organic’ they may be only using one organic ingredient, which legally they can do.”

Prange says she knows exactly where every ingredient comes from.

Even though some locally-sourced products are not yet certified USDA organic, Prange and her team say
they personally know the people who make them.

“Most of the companies are working on getting their certification, and part of our mission is to support other local businesses.”

The goal of Au Naturale is to source ingredients located in the Midwest and in the U.S. If some ingredients are not available here, she and her team travel to the countries where they are sourced.

“I travel all of the time, but it is necessary to understand where we are getting the ingredients so we can educate our customers about the
farm that certain ingredients come from,” says Zach Wilcock, head of operations and CFO for Au Naturale. “There are times we actually stand in the field where our ingredient is being collected.”

When it comes to wearing the products, clients of Au Naturale say the makeup feels different than that
of a larger brand.

“I started using the product because I have sensitive skin, and I immediately fell in love with it,” says Mary Mai, who lives in D.C. and travels to Green Bay frequently for business.

“The best thing about the product is I get the same benefits like color and consistency as I would with a larger brand. The main difference is, my skin feels clean, and it does not react.”

Green Bay is home

Tucked away in a 100-year-old building on Green Bay’s Main Street, Au Naturale employees work around the clock making and shipping cosmetic products worldwide.

Downtown Green Bay officials say Au Naturale not only helps the local economy, but also other entrepreneurs.

“Ashley is a dynamic business leader and she brings a strong energy to her team, and also to the area business community,” says Jeff Mirkes, executive director for Downtown Green Bay. “It is a company that has a national presence, so we are very fortunate that she chose Green Bay as the location for their headquarters. It is a dynamic company with a real outgoing and professional workforce.”

The countries that order the most products are Canada and Australia. Prange says they also ship regularly to Hong Kong, Armenia and Kazakhstan. Here in the U.S., California is the number one state they sell to, followed by New York.

“The opportunities this region has to offer are truly amazing,” Prange says. “I couldn’t think of any other city to operate the business in.”

For Wilcock, it goes beyond community support. “From the quality of people, to the state government, and to the farms nearby, this is exactly where we need to be,” Wilcock says. “The vast majority of the value in the products we sell is created in America, and we are proud to wear that label.”