The Amazon Advocate: Francisco Costa

The founder of Costa Brazil
The Amazon Advocate: Francisco Costa
For Francisco Costa, the founder of Costa Brazil—an eco-friendly and ultra-luxe line of home and body products—getting into the beauty game isn’t a comeback story. It’s equal parts evolution and escape. The former creative director of Calvin Klein Collection’s womenswear said that building his own brand was the “light at the end of the tunnel” after a grueling career as a designer, which included stints at Oscar de la Renta and Gucci. “After so long in fashion, I was honestly burned out,” said Costa. “This project is what kept me going.” Influenced by avant-garde artist Piero Manzoni (which can be seen in the brand’s reusable silver packaging reminiscent of one of Manzoni’s most ironic works, Artist’s Shit.), Costa started conceptualizing his new company before he parted ways with Calvin Klein. Asked why he made the switch from fashion to beauty, Costa laughed: “I didn’t decide—the transition was decided for me!”

Similarly, the founder says Costa Brazil’s ultra-lush formulas were “dictated” by nature instead of marketing. “I didn’t know how to put together a collection of products,” he said. “I had a lot of questions and had to do a lot of digging.” Despite building a name for himself in the fashion industry, he didn’t exactly sashay straight into the beauty sphere. “The confidence people have in you is different when you’re on your own,” Costa explained. “There were many unsuccessful trips to Los Angeles. I would go, schedule an appointment, and then people would cancel on me and shut the door.” Angelenos being flaky and superficial? Never. Always persistent, Costa kept knocking until doors slowly started to crack open. (One of those doors just happened to belong to David Pirrotta, Materiae’s founder.) The hunt for a lab that “resonated with the idea of the brand itself, which is purity, cleanliness, and modernity,” was equally difficult. “I kept challenging but couldn’t find the ingredients I needed. Well, I didn’t know what I needed, but I knew they weren’t right!” said Costa.

A lot of beauty brands just slap a label on something and that didn’t feel authentic to me.

Marius w Hansen

In an effort to discover the “soul” of his company, Costa returned to his roots: Brazil. After taking a canoe six and a half hours to Acre, a remote area of the country, he spent ten days with the indigenous Yaminawá tribe where he immersed himself in the sounds and smells of the Amazon rainforest. “There are so many things I never imagined, like the fact that the forest is alive at night,” he explained. “It’s loud, almost as if you’re in New York City in the middle of the day.” He also experienced the tribe’s customs and ritualistic way of life, which included plumes of aromatic smoke billowing from around an enormous Almacega tree day and night. “Initially, I believed the fragrance was coming from the wood, but on the fifth day with the tribe, I realized it was breu, a resin,” he said. “I thought it was a spiritual [practice], but it’s actually a mosquito repellant, which is why they burn it all the time. The tribe also believes it helps activate the sixth chakra.” Whether you’re attempting to open your third eye or keep pesky bugs away, this antimicrobial wonder that smells like an earthy combination of wood and crushed leaves does it all. “I knew it had to be my first ingredient,” said Costa of the resin that is sold both in its natural state and infused into every product in his line. “It’s a ritual and minute of calm that you can bring to urban spaces,” he said of black and white resin that, much like Palo Santo, can be burned to soothe the senses.

In addition to breu, Costa uncovered two other key ingredients in his native Brazil that would help him develop the brand’s jungle complex: cacay (an oil revered for its naturally high retinol content) and kaya (a rich source of essential fatty acids). With help from Conservation International, an organization that Costa is proud to be a part of, he was able to source cacay from a community near the Colombian border. “Cacay became a substantial fountain of resources for the people and changed the way that they live, so it’s a very good vibe,” he said. Kaya, a large pod from the Sapucaia tree that looks like a prehistoric coconut, is exclusive to Costa Brazil and has never been used in beauty products before. “We made a cold-pressed oil out of it and it’s extremely powerful,” he said of the hydrating elixir that helps improve skin’s texture and tone.

This Amazonian trifecta isn’t the only thing that’s responsibly sourced. Every aspect of the cruelty-free brand is thoughtful in its approach, from the reusable and recyclable packaging to the other Ecocert and USDA-certified ingredients that are often wild harvested to prevent trees from being cut down. “I think the conversation surrounding what it means to be a clean and natural beauty brand is interesting,” said Costa. “Everything from manufacturing to packaging is now being considered. It is no longer enough to just say you are sustainable and that is very motivating and inspiring to see.”

Here, the designer once renowned for his minimal approach to fashion shares his equally straightforward beauty routine and explains why “slow luxury” is the ultimate indulgence.

His beauty mantra: “Less but better.”

His best business advice: “Take your time! Ever since I was a child, I’ve been thinking sustainably. It’s something my mother instilled in me. When I first started finding suppliers and manufacturers, it took some time to find ones that followed through on the level and principles of sustainability we wanted to adhere to. With the guidance of Conservation International and the Brazil Foundation, we were eventually able to find the right ethical partners. I want the business to have longevity, so my team and I take our time in considering every element down to the most minute detail. We focus on slow luxury.”

His biggest beauty indulgence: “A facial with Joanna Czech.”

His top drugstore discovery: “Epsom salt with eucalyptus.”

His ride-or-die beauty product: “Our new Costa Brazil body cream. It’s incredibly soft and luxurious.”

His skin trio: “I wash my face with cold water and some Epsom salt to balance my skin’s pH. Then I put on some Kaya Face Oil. Very simple!”

His go-to pros: “Joanna Czech and my local barber.”

His biggest beauty mistake: “Not sleeping!”

His #1 beauty lesson: “Beauty is about time. It takes time to accomplish real beauty.”

His beauty icons: “Christy Turlington and Harrison Ford. Harrison does a lot of work with Conservation International.”

His Brazilian beauty observation: “Brazilian culture exudes a more democratic perception of beauty. You see all skin colors and all body types on the beach in Rio. Everyone is together, there’s no separation.”

His favorite escape: “Anywhere by the beach or water. I bring my Costa Brazil Body Oil to keep my skin feeling its best.”

His thoughts on the Amazon fires: “The outrage and increased awareness as a result of these fires will have lasting impact on the beauty world. People are going to hold businesses more accountable and really do their research to make sure we’re following through on the promises we’re making. Conservation International is helping to guide Costa Brazil, not only as our partner but as the leading non-profit organization of the reforestation effort in South America.”

Written by Amber Kallor

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