How the Seaweed Bath Co. created a ripple effect
by Hannah J. Phillips
Photographs by Holly Cowart and Greta Rybus
By March 2010, Allison and Adam Grossman were used to raised eyebrows and surprised reactions when they talked about leaving their jobs to start a seaweed-based bath-product company. But when a friend’s engagement party serendipitously introduced them to the niece of a New England seaweed harvester, that all changed. Just months later, Adam found himself wading into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine, knee-deep in a new business that would change their lives and the lives of countless consumers.
Allison and Adam met during finals week of their senior year at the University of Texas, then dated long-distance when Adam moved to Miami to pursue a career in finance. Allison stayed in Austin to study law at UT before joining Adam in Florida after she graduated. Adam had always suffered from irritated skin, and by the time the couple married, he had exhausted almost every prescribed medical option with no luck.
Through online research, he discovered seaweed spas in Ireland as an alternative treatment for troubled skin. Wanting to try the products at home, he connected online with a woman selling hand-harvested sea – weed. Adam vividly remembers when the first 20-pound trash bag of it arrived by international mail. He was amazed to see his skin start to clear up after soaking in the healing water, and Allison started using the seaweed, too. Before long, they set out to launch a seaweed-based product company for sensitive-skin sufferers everywhere.
“We wanted to create something that harnessed the ocean and its benefits and made a difference in people’s lives,” says Allison. “Over time, we’ve worked with great scientists to pinpoint exactly why it’s effective, but at the beginning, we just saw the difference it was making to the people we shared it with.”
They started Seaweed Bath Co. in their Austin home (the couple returned to Austin in 2010), packing and shipping the products in a spare bedroom. Included in each seaweed bath is a mesh net, almost like a large tea bag: Dropping the dried seaweed in a bathtub releases more than 65 nutrients and minerals — and the unmistakable smell of the sea. Soon, the product appealed to more than just customers with dry, irritated skin.
“We realized that people were buying the product for their affinity to the ocean and the way it makes them feel physically and mentally,” says Allison.
“People have this innate love of the ocean,” Adam adds, “especially here in landlocked Austin, where a lot of people come from California and the East Coast with deep childhood memories of the sea.”
In response, they expanded the product line to include seaweed powdered baths, a version of the original seaweed bath, combined with sea salt, argan oil, kukui and essential oils for scent. This became their signature product, and from there, they created a head-to-toe regimen that includes body products, hair care and most recently, facial care. Allison shares the common themes across each line: Everything is super-hydrating, non-greasy, a-little-goes-a-long-way and highly effective. Working with a team of scientists and seaweed experts, they strive to find ingredients that strike a balance between natural and efficacious.
“Seventy-five percent of our customers have read the ingredients online or on our labels before they buy,” she says, referring to websites like the Environmental Working Group’s, which rates consumer products based on the safety of ingredients. That Allison can spout that statistic offhand is just one sign of how much the couple prioritizes customer feedback, which she says has been a huge reason behind their evolution and success.
“Our customers are extremely valuable,” she says, “not just for their loyalty, but because their feedback helps guide the brand where it’s going. Whether we are launching new products or making changes to existing products, being nimble as a company allows us to be responsive.”
Both Adam and Allison attribute their rapid growth to working with Whole Foods, whose low-interest local-producer loan allowed them to develop steadily over several years, expanding region by region into a global brand. To pay it forward, the company recently joined the Whole Planet Foundation’s $10K Fund, a nonprofit arm of Whole Foods that provides microcredit loans for primarily female entrepreneurs around the world.
Adam adds that Allison will join the Community Outreach Committee at Whole Planet Foundation this year: “I have to toot her horn because she doesn’t do it for herself. Not only is she the face of the business, we’ve also had two kids since we launched and are due with our first boy in March. She manages to balance family and business on this entrepreneurial roller coaster, and there’s no way we would be here without her being who she is.” Looking ahead, the company plans to keep expanding its current product lines based on customer requests and to keep growing brand awareness.
“We have great retail partners and great distribution,” says Allison, “but we want to keep making more people aware of the benefits of the seaweed and the benefits of our products.”
The personal care industry has come a long way in creating clean products, she adds, noting how Target now has a dedicated natural care aisle. Both Adam and Allison attribute this changing tide in part to the growth of clean eating: beauty and body products followed the farm-to-table movement in a ripple effect. Thanks to the Seaweed Bath Co., that ripple looks as though it will just get wider.