When Carina Liebeknecht decided to concoct a line of all-natural skin-care products, she wasn’t aiming to go mainstream. “I just wanted to make something my skin would tolerate,” says Liebeknecht, a former Madison Avenue advertising executive who spent the bulk of her adult life dealing with sensitive-skin issues. The products she’d been using were causing major irritation, and finding a solution became her personal passion project. “I soon realized that even expensive lotions could have really bad ingredients in them, and so I started researching alternatives.”
That was a year and a half ago. In a whirlwind 18 months, Liebeknecht’s Lockwood New York label has gone from beta testing to the big time, landing coveted shelf space on the Barneys beauty floor. It’s been a crazy ride for Liebeknecht, who splits her time between the family farm in Stanfordville, New York, and her home in Dumbo, which she shares with her husband and kids. What’s it like creating a skin-care line from scratch? Liebeknecht shares the highlights of her journey:
I set out to create a simple maintenance routine that would be appropriate for any skin type. Because of my extremely sensitive skin, I wanted the products to be all natural. But when I looked at what was on the market at the time, “all natural” brands looked like the stuff you see sold in health-food markets. I didn’t understand why natural products couldn’t be chic and elegantly packaged, too.
The idea was pretty fluid at first—just something I could do for myself. I wanted it to feel personal. That’s why 75% of our raw materials come from within a 200-mile radius of the farm. The bottles are produced in upstate New York, the fragrance is custom-blended in Connecticut. My candlemaker is just 20 miles from my house. And all the formulas are made at the farm.
We launched in January 2017 with a streamlined selection of products. The first one we made was the body wash—everyone uses body wash! The second was our multipurpose hair-plus-body cleanser. The last item we made was the lotion. It’s my favorite product in the line—super rich but not sticky.
In the beginning, I hired a cosmetic chemist who specializes in natural and organic formulas to teach me the ropes. I do it myself now. It’s a lot less glamorous than you might think! The testing is endless, and even a 1 or 2% increase in this ingredient or that can make a huge difference. That’s where the number on each bottle comes from, by the way: It’s the batch that worked best in testing.
In 2015, I wrote a note to myself defining what was going to be included in this brand and what I was going to leave out. What types of fragrances? What kind of products? Which ingredients? I wanted it to be a natural brand. Of course, several months into testing I was having a really hard time figuring out how to stabilize the natural components in the fragrances. In frustration, I made a batch using synthetics. When I opened the bottle, though, I could tell. I was just like, “No,” and I threw it away. Even if it was going to take me three years to figure it out, I wanted to do it the right way—the way I’d laid out in my note to myself. I still reread it to remind myself what we are, and what we are not.
THE GROWTH SPURT
When you have a corporate job, you know you’re supposed to do A, B, and C. In my advertising career, I was really good at A, B, and C, but with Lockwood New York now I needed to do D–Z as well. It forced me to see what I wasn’t good at, where my weaknesses were. I had to put myself out there and try things I’d never done before.
Lockwood Farms is located two hours north of New York City in the Hudson Valley. In the 1800s, it used to be a working dairy farm with 1,000 acres. Today, we still live in the original farmhouse, and have about 167 acres. We’ve owned the place for eight years now, and donated the development rights so that this land will always be farmland.
We’re in the process of rehabilitating about 100 acres back into farmable fields. We are growing hay, and I’m thinking about growing rye, too—there are a lot of small distilleries in that area. Also, I make a very nice cordial from the berries and black currants we grow at the farm. I learned how from my grandmother when I was growing up in Germany.
I went pretty quickly from making 20 bottles to making 200 bottles. I reached a moment where I didn’t know which way to go. We were doing okay, but the brand was still small. Something needed to happen to make it bigger. If people had told me in the beginning how hard this would be, I’m honestly not sure I would have done it. You need someone like Barneys to take a chance on you. When we met, they loved the way the products smelled, and it fit into the mindful care concept they were looking for. It was good timing, and it’s changed everything.
THE BEST PART
I love getting to know my customers. They send me thank-you emails, and some people include strange pictures of their bathrooms with the bottles. I think people are drawn to both what’s in the products themselves and to the aesthetic of how it looks in their home. A lot of natural companies go for that neutral palette and soft look. I’m not one for subtlety. I wanted a look that was both artisanal and minimal.
My dream is to expand our facilities as we grow, hiring more local people to work for Lockwood. It is an economically depressed area, and I would love to help bring business to the community. As far as the actual products, I am thinking about a fragrance-free formula. Also on my radar: hand wash and hand cream. They are still in the ideas stage, though. Product development for a small label is expensive, so I like to take it one step at a time.