How Ilia’s Sasha Plavsic cracked the code on clean beauty


Several years ago Sasha Plavsic upended her life by breaking her engagement, walking out of her job and moving back home to live with her parents in rural Vancouver. As if that wasn’t startling enough, her mum was promptly on her case about what she was putting on her skin.

“On returning home, my mum asked if I knew what was in my cosmetics,” says Plavsic. “I started researching the ingredient lists on the back of the boxes and I was shocked to learn that my favourite tinted lip balm wasn’t made with safe ingredients. The challenge was set to create a more organic version that was safe and worked.”

That was the beginning of Ilia Beauty, a clean beauty line launched in Vancouver in 2011, which bridges the gap between performance and sustainability. Named after Plavsic’s great-grandfather, who designed chic shoes for European women, Ilia comprises a wide array of items from mascaras to foundations to lip crayons. While the products use natural and certified organic ingredients, their impressive payoff and luxe packaging mean they are as far from the “crunchy” makeup stereotype as one could get.

“Some of our products are all-natural, however in other product categories we introduce small amounts of safe synthetics to enhance the performance and wear,” says Plavsic, who’s now based in Los Angeles. “It’s important to note that in clean beauty not every natural ingredient is good for the skin, nor is every synthetic bad. It usually takes a combination of both to be able to create an outstanding product.”

Miranda Kerr, Marion Cotillard, Thandie Newton and Dakota Fanning are among the fans of the brand that was born of Plavsic’s family’s passion for wellness, a journey that began after her younger brother, Zachary, was diagnosed with acute asthma and allergies. Her mother sought out an alternative to an indefinite hospital stay with organic food and homeopathy, which helped heal her brother who is now Sasha’s business partner in Ilia. “I was lucky enough to grow up with a mum who was a pioneer in organic and natural practices,” says Plavsic. “Wellness is about nurturing your needs, so you can feel better in your life and who doesn’t want that?”

But beauty aficionados also demand results. From personal experience, I’ve found that natural foundations can offer little in the way of real coverage or staying power. But wearing the brand’s new True Skin Serum Foundation offered highly buildable coverage that lasted from lunchtime well into the evening. The “serum” in the name refers to the aloe leaf, rosehip, jojoba and marula oils in the formula, which give it a weightless texture that melts into skin. Ilia’s concealer is similarly fluid and dependable.

“We consider Ilia to be makeup that breathes and offers light to full coverage, yet never looks like heavier makeup,” says Plavsic, who, as you might expect, is often seen sporting a natural-looking base and vibrant lip colour. “I think most women like the flexibility and for their skin to look like skin.”

Ilia products are all easy to use: if you begin with a light hand you basically can’t go wrong. Available in six shades from tangerine to dusty rose, the brand’s Multistick delivers flattering colour to cheeks, lips and eyes. It’s so subtle (no chunky glitter or overt sparkle) that it works as well for the office as the weekend. Limitless Lash Mascara, meanwhile, is gentle enough for even the most sensitive eyes. The product I didn’t know I needed was the Cucumber Water Stick, a cooling toner in a solid form that can be used over or under moisturiser, and is ideal for post-Pilates.

Regardless of the product, Ilia’s packaging is sleek, chic and contemporary, with a strong brand identity that draws on Plavsic’s experience with branding. Sustainability is a theme here too, with recycled aluminium, glass components, and post-consumer recycled paper printed with vegetable dyes. While Ilia’s impressive payoffs, results-based formulas and minimalist packaging set it apart from the competition, Plavsic urges consumers to do a little research when it comes to all the cosmetic claims out there.

“It has to start with reading the ingredients on the back of the box,” she says. “It’s easy to claim something is natural, green or organic, but the question is how much of the product is natural, and if it’s made with organic ingredients or certified organic, which are two different things. With clean beauty, the products are closer in texture, performance and feel to what the consumer is used to in a conventional product, if not better.”

Words by Georgina Safe
September 2018


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