Earned Ep. 66: Amika’s Global President Chelsea Riggs on Building the Brand's “A-team” Creator Community and Going Clean at Sephora

Taylor Masket
Taylor Masket
Jan 24, 2023

In Ep. 66 of Earned, Conor sits down with Chelsea Riggs, Global President of professional haircare brand Amika. The brand, which was acquired by Bansk Group last year, achieved $36.4M EMV in 2022, a 13% increase from 2021, and ranked among the year’s top 10 haircare brands. 


To start the episode, we learn what attracted Chelsea, who joined the founding team of Amika out of college, to the then-small startup, and how she worked her way up in six years from being a business development manager to Global Brand President. We then dive into Amika’s standout success on social in recent years, and hear how building a more sophisticated influencer marketing engine—and a dedicated “A-team” creator community—helped propel this growth. Next, Chelsea explains why the sales team is so important to a beauty brand, as they are the “eyes and ears to the customer,” before sharing how Amika leverages its community of professional hair stylists for product feedback. Finally, we learn why Amika, which earned Sephora’s “Clean at Sephora” seal last year, has evolved its product line to include clean, responsibly sourced ingredients—plus, Chelsea reveals that the brand is on its way to receiving a B Corp certification. 

We’ve included a couple of highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, or tune into the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!

The following interview has been lightly edited for concision. 

Building the “A-Team”: The Evolution of Amika’s Influencer Marketing Program

Conor Begley: I want to talk about marketing for a second. You take over marketing in 2016 or so. In terms of the actual stats, at the time, you guys were the number 59th-ranked brand in our EMV rankings, which is just how many influencers are talking about you. Next year, you're number 44. Next year, number 23. The year after that, number 11. Year after that, number 10. Year after that, number seven. During that time, you guys have passed big household names. What was it that you guys did specifically with regards to influencers and social that led to such an impressive and consistent upward trajectory over these last five or six years?

Chelsea Riggs: Well, we probably did a couple of random paid things throughout the years, because I think there was this false understanding that if you pay a YouTube creator who has a million followers, they will come, right? This is going to be our Oprah moment, and then the sales are just going to be banging down our door. That was pre-2016. 

Then 2017 was our first paid campaign. It was called “Wash Your Way.” We were rolling out a whole collection of shampoos and conditioners based on different hair benefits and needs. We looked at it as, “We're going to have a group of creators that have blonde hair for our Bust Your Brass collection.” We had six different collections we were coming out with. That, as you saw, was the first jump in rank that we had. It was very campaign specific. Outside of those campaigns, we weren't really doing that much. We had these moments in time. They were bursts throughout the year. 

In 2018, we relaunched our packaging, and we launched in Sephora stores with our haircare. Prior to that, we'd only been in smaller retailers and professional salons. That was when we really started sinking our teeth into influencer marketing as being our primary marketing expense, because we didn't have huge budgets to spend on any bigger media, like home or even print, which was still relevant at the time. We essentially, from that moment on, looked at influencer marketing as the long game, and looked for people who embodied our brand and held the same values regardless of [following] size, and we started to look at them in groupings. We had the macro [creators], the mid-tier, the micro, and just started reaching out and bringing these people into the fold, into our community, and really building those relationships. We started allocating budget towards bringing everyone together and having these big events that were a way for us to connect on a deeper level. 

Then, in 2019, we started doing more [partnerships] on a contractual level. Before, we were committed on paper, we had this strategy, but then it became more about formalizing those relationships with what we call our Amika Team, our A-team. We've just continued to play into that strategy, working with influencers of all levels and really valuing the relationship building. You can see that. The top-performing content by EMV all comes from creators who are essentially organically posting about Amika because we have that relationship that we've built, whether they were part of a couple of campaigns where they were most relevant, and they're posting about us in between [campaigns] because they just genuinely love the brand and love working with A-team. That's really paid off for us. But a lot of those relationships go back six years or more.

Conor Begley: Yep. I think people underestimate the lifetime value of some of these people. What is one of those creators going to be worth to the brand over the next 20-30 years? It's unbelievable.That long term, relationship-focused, consistent relationship is the pattern that we see work over and over and over again when people do it.

“Consumers are looking for better-for-you products that still have the same performance”: Why Amika Went “Clean at Sephora”

Conor Begley: I think being “Clean at Sephora” has become a very big deal. You can think about it from a consumer perspective: if you've got an aisle that's labeled clean, what's the other aisle? You can see why, as a consumer, it would be such a big deal. You guys obviously attained that seal [in September 2022]. You're only the third haircare brand to get that. So I would love to know what was involved in achieving that status. Secondarily, now that you've had it for a little bit, how have you seen it affect things either in terms of sell-through, in terms of reputation, in terms of interaction with third parties? 

Chelsea Riggs: In terms of how it's performing, it's very early days. We announced it in September. That's when everything started to bear the “Clean at Sephora” seal. We're the second professional brand after Olaplex to receive the seal. There are other haircare brands that Sephora has that either started off “Clean at Sephora,” or eventually got it later like Amika. 

Professional brands have different performance requirements. You have hair stylists who have all types of clients with all types of hair needs. You need to be able to meet [those needs] first and foremost. You can't do that with three or five products. Most professional brands probably have 20. You look at brands like Redken, and I don't even know: 80, maybe. There's usually a reason for that. 

From an ingredient profile perspective, there are different types of ingredients that are synthetic or petroleum-based, and they've been tried and true for a long time. Why change them? But there has been innovation in ingredients. Yes, they are more expensive. Yes, they're harder to source. Sometimes it has just never been done before, and you really have to push for that change. If you have a product that's working really well, why change it? Why risk trying to clean it up and have a clean ingredient profile? Well, that’s what the consumer wants. They're looking for better-for-you products that still—here’s the caveat—still have the same performance of the product that they already love or the current product they use. That really was the biggest challenge for a couple of products, to move them over to a clean profile. 

We also made everything vegan. We changed a lot of the sourcing of ingredients to make sure things were responsibly sourced, which, when you're a small company, it's a lot of work going through every single ingredient and every single product, figuring out who's supplying our supplier of that ingredient, and making sure it was responsibly sourced. There's a lot of legwork on that end. 

There's another seal that we're going after for Sephora. They have their next level, which is “Clean & Planet Positive,” which I think came out earlier [in 2022]. We want to be the first professional brand to receive that seal. There are different buckets, and you have to meet at least three out of the five criteria within that. Then it's like a scoring, similar to B Corp—which we're also going after, by the way. We’re very close to the end of that. 

In terms of “clean versus dirty,” to go back to that piece, I wouldn't necessarily say that the brands who aren't clean are “dirty,” because up until September, we weren't. I think the word “clean” in the eyes of a consumer, depending on the sophistication that you have in beauty, every retailer uses a different designation of clean. The reason why we chose “Clean at Sephora” is we really believed in how they were measuring it. They weren't just saying “clean” if you were free of these five ingredients, but they also weren't going to the nth degree and making an enemy out of ingredients that really aren't necessarily bad for people or bad for the environment. 

Without getting too nuanced or into too many details, the reason why we went after the “Clean at Sephora” seal is exactly that: to clean up our products, and have a third-party verification that we are a brand that cares about high-quality ingredients. We are pushing the envelope to look for things that are better for you, and better for the environment. It's not just about humans. There are a lot of ingredients in beauty products that get into our waterways and have different detrimental effects on marine life, et cetera, et cetera. There are different ingredients that can also have an environmental impact that Sephora is also considering, which is the “Clean & Planet Positive” [seal] that we're going after.


You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. To catch up on our other 65 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Revolve, K18, Instagram, and 2K, visit our Earned Podcast page.