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EXCLUSIVE: Wende Zomnir Dreams Up California-inspired Beauty Brand

Wende Zomnir is California dreaming.

For the past few years, Zomnir, who is best known as Urban Decay’s founding partner, has been working on a beauty brand, Caliray, inspired by California living. Caliray marks Zomnir’s first beauty venture since Urban Decay, which L’Oréal acquired nearly a decade ago. Zomnir remains involved with various aspects of Urban Decay’s business, including product development, design, strategy and team building.

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Caliray, which Zomnir described as “beauty on a wellness bender,” is born out of what she identified as a “fascination with the West Coast” and the “archetypal freedom that it implies.” She met her business partner, Jenna Dover, while playing volleyball on the beach. Dover now leads Caliray’s brand and marketing; her official title is “vibeologist.”

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“[Dover] was a total muse for me,” Zomnir told Beauty Inc via Zoom. “We wanted to do something that was clean and sustainable [and] wrapped up in this California lifestyle that we love. A lot of times, clean can be serious, and sustainability can be serious. We wanted to bring some joy to that and have fun with beauty, as I always do.”

Caliray will soon launch a long-wear mascara and eyeliner pencils, priced from $13 to $24, via its own website. New product launches will likely occur on a seasonal basis, though Zomnir maintained that Caliray’s launch cadence will be “flexible.” She said she is also “looking outside the beauty space” to supplements, for example, for future launches.

Caliray’s product formulations adhere to the “clean” standards set forth by Sephora’s Clean at Sephora campaign.

“Mascaras that I found in clean aren’t long-wear, they’re not quite as volumizing,” Zomnir said. “I wanted to create something that would give our customer performance within the clean space. I also wanted to bring a hard-core sustainability aspect — I think that’s a real differentiator for us. The mascara case is 100 percent upcycled ocean plastic. It’s sprayed with low-impact decoration and inks so that it can be recycled again.”

Zomnir and Dover funded Caliray via financing from friends and family. Zomnir declined to offer a sales projection, but industry sources estimate Caliray will reach $10 million in first-year retail sales.

A legend in the beauty industry, Zomnir knows the cosmetics space well. She pioneered makeup as a form of self-expression at Urban Decay, building out the brand’s signature Naked franchise and launching unconventional products such as edible body powder. Under Zomnir’s guidance, Urban Decay mushroomed beyond its indie beginnings to become one of the largest makeup brands in the U.S.

Prior to building a team for Caliray, Zomnir approached L’Oréal executives about the brand concept.

“I said, ‘How would you guys feel about me working on entrepreneurial projects? Of course, it would be beauty, I just need a creative outlet,” she said. “They were completely supportive.”

With Caliray, Zomnir is applying lessons she learned at Urban Decay, such as how to temper creative exploration with a business mindset.

“I look back at Urban [Decay], and I was like, ‘If I make cool stuff, people are going to want to buy it.’ Obviously, that’s not the case,” she said. “One of the things I did [with Caliray] was invest in a strong operational person from the get-go. The other thing I did was involve my husband, [Doug Collier], the ex-chief financial officer of Volcom, in the process. It has been great to have him as part of our team.”

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