Josie Maran has landed some of the world's most competitive modeling gigs: the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, the Victoria's Secret catalog, and cover after cover of Glamour, Maxim, Self, and other big-name glossies. These days, though, the porcelain-faced beauty, 33, focuses on promoting her eco-makeup brand and raising her five-year-old daughter, Rumi Joon. A chunk of the proceeds from her company goes to a variety of charities, including ones that help protect polar bears and argan forests.
Q: Why did you start an eco-makeup line?
A: I used to ask makeup artists, "Is there anything that's healthier or more natural?" and they'd always say it's impossible to do. I really wanted it for myself and didn't understand why it couldn't be done. So I did it.
A: I went to a lot of conferences. I talked to people in the natural-beauty realm about ingredients, and they introduced me to labs. So I went to the labs with all the makeup that I wanted but that I considered toxic and said, "I want all these products but without the bad stuff." By talking to a lot of chemists and the Environmental Working Group, I started understanding what the toxic ingredients are. I worked on my line for three years with four labs. It took a long time because they'd never done that before, pull out those ingredients to make a good product. But it was very well worth it.
Q: So what were the ingredients you didn't want in there?
A: You've got to pull out the parabens. But I really think the most toxic ingredients in the world are synthetic fragrances. None of my products ever have synthetic fragrances. Or talc or phlalates or... there's a lot of controversy over what is a petrochemical but I do my best not to have petrochemicals.
Q: What's so bad about synthetic fragrances?
A: What I've read has really scared me. It turns boys into girls.
Q: [laughs] Are you serious?
A: It can affect their genitals so much that, yeah, it's happened. It's very, very toxic and I really believe that a lot of the cancer that we see comes from all the synthetic-fragrance chemicals in our detergents, in our dry-cleaning, in our perfumes, in deodorants. I mean, shampoos, everything.
Q: So have you ever reformulated a product to remove elements?
A: Yeah, a lot, actually. Information comes out every day about ingredients, and we're always on top of it and try to stay as flexible as we can so we can reformulate and take stuff out as information emerges. Right now we're looking for a new preservative. It's interesting because when there's not a lot of information, they just say it's nontoxic. But then someone decides to research it, and it ends up being more toxic than you think.
Q: How often do you reformulate?
A: Once a year for each product. We have about 100 products, so it's hard. You have to change packaging, and you have to change testing. But it's really important to us.
Q: Is the beauty industry on pace with the green movement?
A: There are a lot of great newcomers that are bringing that to the table. But the big, old-school people -- and that's mainly what this industry is -- are not huge proponents for green.
Q: Do you find that if you label your products as being green, you're subject to more criticism than if you don't?
A: Yes. People are very demanding of what they read. They want your integrity to be real and transparent. So it takes a lot of work, and there's a lot of debate about what it means to be completely green. So you do put yourself out there when you say that. I'm often criticized or questioned and I just have to say that I'm doing my best and that I'm constantly working to do better. It's all I can do. But I definitely don't want to overpromise. It's a fine balancing act.
Q: How do you live green in other realms of your life?
A: I try to stay away from synthetic things. I also enjoy being in nature to remind me why we want to keep our beautiful planet alive. It's a lot easier to want to take care of it when you appreciate it. And then just being creative. Recreating and repurposing and finding ways to make something you'd throw away into something you'd use. My mom's so good at this -- she's always like, "What else can we do with it?"
Q: Did becoming a mother change your level of environmentalism?
A: Yes, in a major way. The main thing that changes is that you care a lot more about the future of the world.
Q: Are you trying to instill environmentalism in Rumi?
A: She picks up on it naturally. We live that way so we don't even have to talk about it. She goes to a Waldorf school, which is very holistic and into nature and understanding the cycles of life. There's no plastic allowed, no media allowed, they're not allowed to wear Disney things. It's a very slow, calm way to grow up.
Q: Now that you have a daughter, what do you think of the messages in beauty industry ads?
A: I grew up in the beauty industry and have my own beauty company, but I really just focus on her inside beauty instead of her outside. She's too young to read the magazines, but I'm sure she can pick up on things. We talk about "what is beauty" and hopefully that'll help her.
Q: You curate for Ecomom.com, right? Tell me about your involvement with that.
A: I am a proud eco-mom, so I suggest products that are good for other eco-moms in hopes of encouraging people to become more green.
Q: Your face represented Maybelline for 10 years. Are companies like that making eco-efforts?
A: I know that those big companies do charity work but I'm not sure it's environmental charity. Companies have to care more about making eco-efforts because consumers are asking a lot more of their products and their makers. People are demanding it and companies are listening and they have to do it, even if they don't really care. Even if they're just jumping on the bandwagon, it's better than nothing.
Q: What inspired your decision to give part of your profits to charity?
A: I really believe in doing good by doing well. Why wouldn't you? Everybody needs to do well and have a good life. I don't need it all, so I like to share the wealth, spread the love. Since I was little, I knew that I had the power to help a lot of people. My goal in life is to give back in a major way.
Q: What's the percentage?
A: It depends on the product and organization but with GoGo Natural Volume Mascara, we give $1 for every one sold, and we give one mascara for every one sold. And then with my Bare Naked Whites, we give 5% of sales to NRDC. With the fair trade program that we get our argan oil from in Morocco, we give all the proceeds from [a product called] Chip to them. There's a lot of controversy about whether the money really goes to these women's co-ops in Morocco, but we're very close with our co-op and it really does go back. I've gone there and met with them and saw it happening. And we'll be doing a lot more.
Q: When you were a model or on TV, did you ever see any green measures on set? Is there any movement in the entertainment industry?
A: In Hollywood, there's a lot more. In the modeling industry, which was longer ago for me, and in New York, there was less. L.A. is greener maybe because it's California?
Q: What's your best beauty tip?
A: Less is more.
Photo credit: Peter Graham / courtesy of Josie Maran