For April Gargiulo, altering the beauty industry was a passion project. The California-based creative, who stems from a family of Napa Valley vintners, had struggled with cystic acne her entire life. After decades of vainly trying every product under the sun (and ultimately learning that the luxury skincare industry was injecting toxic, low-quality fillers into their products), Gargiulo embarked on a two-year journey to devise one perfect powerhouse formula for all skin types and concerns. She launched the resulting Active Botanical Serum in 2011 as the sole product in her Vintner’s Daughter label, which has since garnered a cult following for its game-changing results.
Here, Gargiulo lets us in on the ideology that drove her passion, how she created an obsession, and what’s next.
What makes Active Botanical Serum so special? What sets it apart?
It was designed to be my “desert island” product, the thing I would never leave home without. We start with the most nutrient-dense whole plants in the world. We source these 22 ingredients from farmers and producers from around the world, who have been growing and producing their particular ingredients for centuries, literally. (From winemaking, I believe in this idea of terroir.) Our formulation process takes three weeks—most formulas are made in less than three hours.
Our serum has very low molecular weight, which means it has a small particle size, so it’s not going to sit on top of your skin; it’s going to penetrate. And we have naturally occurring compounds in our formulas that temporarily break up the surface tension of your skin, which allows our product to dive in. Every angle of this product was thought out.
Tell us about growing up in a winemaking family. How did that upbringing shape your passions and foundation as an entrepreneur?
Vintner’s Daughter absolutely sits on this philosophical foundation that comes from Napa. Napa was built on this audacious dream that it was going to be one of the very finest winemaking regions in the world—what it is today. But when they began, back in the early ’60s, that was not the case. So that commitment—to the absolute finest quality, to honoring your ingredients, to never cutting corners, to creating something world-class that people look to as a model for the very, very best—is what I grew up in. It’s that ideology that I brought into Vintner’s Daughter. It wasn’t about marketing, it wasn’t about filling a space; it wasn’t about anything other than “I want to make the very, very finest skincare in the world.”
What challenges did you face while getting your business off the ground?
It was very difficult to get people to understand my vision. I got turned away from every lab under the sun. Everyone said, “No, no, no, that’s not how you do it. You have to come out with five products at once; you have to use these powders and extracts, it’s way faster and way cheaper.” No one wanted to take a chance on Vintner’s Daughter. But this was something I had to do, and I had to do it exactly the way I saw it.
What was your plan for marketing? How did you get your product to be so coveted?
We don’t have a marketing budget. We’ve never before paid for marketing—ever. We’ve grown girlfriend to girlfriend, sister to sister, daughter to daughter, coworker to coworker. It’s grown through people being stopped on the street and getting asked, “What are you doing with your skin?” We’ve been so incredibly lucky that people have had the experience they’ve had. It has offered their skin dramatic results, and they’re [satisfied enough] to tell their friends about it.
How did you manage to stand out in such a saturated industry?
Maybe other companies are doing it now, after seeing the success of Vintner’s Daughter, but seven years ago, when I started this journey, there was no one doing this. And at the same time that I was creating Active Botanical Serum, you had all these independent retailers like Cap Beauty, the Detox Market, and Violet Grey all coming on to the scene. Had it just been traditional department stores that I’d been able to sell through, we would have never been able to stand out. We were so fortunate to not only have this life-changing product, but we had the platform to sell it.
You’ve built a mini empire with Active Botanical Serum. Do you think you’ll ever expand with another product?
Actually, yes! We have a new product [slated for] early 2019. It’s another stand-on-its-own, game-changing, category-defining product. That’s all we do.