When former grade-school teacher and professional harpist Holly Thaggard, now 48, launched a line of sunscreen thirteen years ago in San Antonio, sun protection was considered the “sleepy category” of the skin-care world, an afterthought in an industry focused on wrinkle-reducing creams and fountain-of-youth serums. After a friend in her late twenties was diagnosed with melanoma, Thaggard was determined to help fight skin cancer. She set out to change sunscreen’s reputation by giving hers a playful name, Supergoop!; by developing products that weren’t heavy or greasy; and by excluding oxybenzone, a common but controversial chemical that may have negative effects on health and the environment, including our dwindling coral reefs. Today, Supergoop, which generated $40 million in revenue in 2018, is one of the buzziest darlings of the beauty and wellness industry, with more than forty types of SPF-packed moisturizers, mists, and mousses online and at retailers such as Sephora and Nordstrom.
Texas Monthly: Since you started Supergoop, the wellness industry has exploded. Why do you think that is?
Holly Thaggard: We’re all looking for ways to take care of our bodies and our minds, and to lead a more balanced life. And that includes looking at everything from the products that we put on our skin to the food that we ingest to moments of meditation. Having been down this road about fifteen years, we’ve finally broken through to this mindset that applying SPF is just as important as brushing your teeth or even wearing a helmet when you’re skiing. It’s really just about that little bit of mindset change to lead a more healthy lifestyle.
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TM: Your line, which often comes in bright-yellow-and-blue packaging, includes everything from Play Body Mousse to a sunscreen for the scalp called Poof Part Powder, as well as makeup. The name Supergoop is certainly fun, but do you think it, as well as your branding, has ever been an obstacle to being taken seriously?
HT: It was very different when we launched at Sephora in 2011. It was a wall of Dr. Brandt, Dr. Dennis Gross, Perricone MD—just very serious names. It took time for people to fully appreciate us. It again goes back to our authentic mission, which is that we have to raise a generation that understands the importance of protecting their skin. And we aren’t going to do it by scaring people. You don’t inspire change by scaring people or talking about scary things like skin cancer. You have to inspire them.
TM: In 2015 you secured $6.5 million in funding, and the next year, you hired a new president and opened a second office, in New York City. How have those big changes affected your company?
HT: It’s always been about stopping skin cancer, which is one of the most common types of cancer and yet primarily preventable. In that regard, we’ve never been tempted to make decisions that aren’t aligned with that mission. In the early years, my family really bootstrapped the brand, and we poured all of our dollars, time, and energy into product development. And it was really in only the past four years that we have fully built out a team in both New York and San Antonio. While every year, I think, we’ve doubled in revenue, I think that shifting of the mindset of the consumer to think about SPF every single day has really grown in the past four years.
TM: The skin-care and wellness industry is sometimes criticized as being inaccessible and elitist, with expensive products. Is sending free sunscreen to schools through your Ounce by Ounce program a way to make Supergoop more inclusive?
HT: Having options for everyone from a price perspective is important. We do have some multibenefit formulas that have more expensive ingredients, so they’re a little bit pricier. We definitely make sure that we have products that are easily accessible to every demographic. And with Ounce by Ounce, we believe that sunscreen should be in schools across America because that’s where children are in the middle of the day and often in sports after school. It’s important to teach our youth these healthy habits at a very young age. We were set to hit about three thousand classrooms this year, but everything’s a little wonky right now because of the pandemic.
TM: Your New York office has grown to almost thirty employees, compared with a dozen staffers in San Antonio. Why is it important to keep your Texas office?
HT: There aren’t a lot of brands that are national or global in scale that are based in San Antonio. I think that makes us pretty unique and exciting for our city. We’ve kept accounting, operations, and of course product development—the heart and soul of what we do—in San Antonio. Keeping those responsibilities in the San Antonio office has helped me remain very close to what’s most important to me. It’s also important to have that presence in New York City because that is where the heart of the beauty industry lives and where we can attract the talent that we need to be a global brand.
TM: What would you say has been your biggest achievement since you started?
HT: The team that we have in place today, without a doubt. We have a forty-person team, and what each of them contributes to making sunscreen cool and making the magic of Supergoop resonate all over the globe is incredible. What I’ve been most concerned about over these past few months has been the health of my team and keeping everybody mentally in the game with us.
TM: What’s next?
HT: I think we have helped change the way the world thinks about sunscreen. It’s now not an icky, sticky mess you have to put up with when you’re at the beach. We had to do that first. Now we should get people wearing it every single day. We still have a long way to go, but there’s no sign of slowing down.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Block Party.” Subscribe today.