Quick Question

How This Brand Founder Is Tackling The Beauty Industry's Waste Problem

“We’re hoping to influence a shift away from single-use plastic — but actually making that shift, not greenwashing.”

Uni founder Alexandra Keating's career has been all about solving problems.
Alexandra Keating

In Bustle’s Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they’ve ever gotten to what they’re still figuring out. Here, Alexandra Keating shares her journey from tech entrepreneur to beauty founder.

After spending 12 years as an entrepreneur in the tech world, Alexandra Keating decided to pivot her career into the beauty industry where she could offer products that have a more tangible impact on consumers. But she’s not one of the hundreds of beauty brands that launch simply to cash in on the vast demand within the skin care market. Keating is looking to address the industry’s massive waste dilemma.

“I get obsessed with problems,” the 36-year-old Australia native tells Bustle over Zoom. That’s how she came to launch GoFundraise at age 20, a digital nonprofit platform for fundraising that streamlines the convoluted process of collecting and raising money for charities. It was also her impetus behind forming DWNLD, a publishing technology that morphed websites into phone-friendly apps at a time when iPhones were just taking off and nothing like that existed.

To apply her keen problem-solving skills to the beauty world, Keating created Uni, a just-launched body care line that features innovative refillable packaging and a closed-loop (zero-waste) system. The collection — which includes personal care staples like body wash, shampoo, and conditioner — was also formulated and designed with the planet in mind. “If we were going to build this system, it had to be sustainable in every aspect,” she says. And the packaging is chic, proving beauty products can be covetable, effective, and sustainably produced.

Here, Keating chats with Bustle about to-do lists, preparing for big meetings, and how she unplugs.

You had great success in the tech industry. What motivated such a big career change?

Besides the beauty industry’s waste problem, there was a separate pain point: At the time when I moved to New York City in 2010, I’d go buy really expensive products for my house. And I went through them so quickly. I remember spending, I don’t know, $400 on hand soaps and body wash and it just seemed like a crazy thing to do. That stuck with me. Then I started refilling the container and realized it was like, an 18-cent container.

That year I happened to go to the Great Barrier Reef, and they asked me to scrub off my sunscreen because, in the areas you swim, it was directly affecting the coral reef. So there were all these aha moments. I want Uni to be the new standard in formulation and in packaging. If people buy it and like it, other brands will be like, “Hey, we could do it too.” We’re hoping to influence a shift away from single-use plastic — but actually making that shift, not greenwashing.

What are your main pain points with competitors in the beauty space?

It’s almost like a film studio world: The vast majority of the industry is run by the [same few] companies. I went through 23 different versions of my formulations and it took us three years to do five SKUs.

Another thing is, brands get a better rate if they use certain packaging. A base, an inner cup, a pump, a lidthey’re all different kinds of plastic. You put all that into one unit, and it’s going to last forever. It’s the turnkey solutions that are perpetuating the [waste] problem.

Clearly, it’s taken a lot of time and effort to come up with a line that doesn’t follow the industry’s traditional formulating and manufacturing processes. How do you manage a massive to-do list?

The last thing I do every night is prioritize my next day, and then I have a pre-morning. My first hour before work, I already have the tasks that I know I’m definitely going to do rather than have a weighty long task list for the whole day. I just look at the most important things I need to do to start the day, then get those done immediately because you never know what’s going to happen during the day.

Do you have a morning routine before you jump into work?

I’d be lying if I said yes. I jump into this morning thing: I don’t like to do anything until my important tasks are done, and so then I can squeeze out whatever those other activities are, like walking the dog or having a coffee.

How do you pump yourself up before a big meeting or presentation?

I usually try to do the opposite and go for a walk to calm myself down because I’m usually popping with what I want to say. So I don’t try to excite; I try to stay calm.

What do you do to unplug?

I’m very fortunate that I have a place by the beach, and so I walk on the beach. I have two dogs, one of them is a rescue and she’s huge, so she probably forces me to take her for long walks. I don’t put music on or listen to podcasts. I just walk.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Be really close with your lawyer. Spend time with them. People focus on the valuations of their company and not the dynamics that are in the documents. So preferences and things like that start to become really important more so than the valuation.

What would you tell someone who’s just starting out in the industry or wants to start a company?

Go for it. I think if I came from this industry, I wouldn’t have started Uni. Starting a company is such an all-consuming and difficult thing to do, no matter what industry you’re in, but I always try to encourage people.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.