Meet Melanie Bender, Clean Beauty Advocate and Kickass General Manager of Versed
To Melanie Bender, the founding general manager of popular clean skin-care brand Versed, beauty is nothing but a state of mind, and we wholeheartedly agree. We got the opportunity to sit down with the kickass beauty entrepreneur to talk all things Versed, how she got started in the industry, her current skin-care routine and, of course, what the future of clean beauty looks like to her.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in the fashion and beauty industry?
It was the result of a quarter-life crisis! My first job out of college was working in sustainability consulting in Honolulu — I'm from Hawaii originally. While the purpose was there, I really missed feeling creative and connected to my work. So I stopped thinking about what I “should” do and paid attention to what I wanted to do, and that led to a 180 into marketing. I started with a boutique marketing and digital agency in New York and immediately loved the fast pace and problem-solving. They weren’t doing work in fashion and beauty — the things I unquestionably loved — but I thought they should be.
Within six months, I pitched the CEO on launching beauty and fashion as a new vertical for them, and a year later it had become such a high-growth business that we spun it out into a new agency with me as co-founding partner. Running that business, I worked with Sephora, Make Up For Ever, the largest beauty manufacturer in the US and a number of sustainable fashion brands. It was an incredible way to learn the industry, and it all happened because I leaned into my curiosity and wasn’t afraid to think differently.
What made you start Versed?
Honestly, after founding my first company, I swore I would never do it again! Building something from the ground up is a 24/7 undertaking with high highs and low lows. I decided I wanted to transition from my agency to in-house at a brand, and my next few roles were more intrapreneurial than entrepreneurial. Then came an opportunity to lead marketing and brand development at Who What Wear, which I jumped at. At Who What Wear, we knew we wanted to develop a new brand with their incredible community, but the rest was really unwritten. So we dug into the data and found that the majority of people really felt excluded from good skin and clean products — either they didn’t have the right discretionary income, didn’t have the right access or didn’t want to spend two hours Googling ingredients. We knew we had to change that, and our mission became to make results-driven, non-toxic skin- care, and make it for everyone.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It starts early and sweaty. I have to get going every day with exercise, usually a run or pilates on the reformer. When I was younger, exercise was about trying to be a certain size or shape, but now it’s for feeling my best, thinking clearly and having energy throughout the day. I drop my daughter off at school and then head into the office around 8AM. A typical day is five or six hours of meetings, which could be reviewing marketing plans, actioning new community insights or troubleshooting the unexpected, like delays in a new product being developed. Our team is incredible, so the meetings are something I really value versus feeling bogged down by them. I could easily spend another six hours catching up on email, so I’ve learned to block off time for the things that are important but not urgent — like catching up on industry news in WWD and Glossy, and working on the big picture, like what our product assortment and sustainability footprint could look like in three years.
What does your skin-care routine look like?
I have every skin concern under the sun — hormonal acne from a thyroid condition, sun damage from growing up in Hawaii and oiliness and dryness depending on what’s happening any given day. It makes me a good guinea pig for new products. My AM routine starts with Versed Wash It Out Gel Cleanser, followed by Versed Hydration Station Booster with HA, Cosmedix Opti Crystal Liquid Eye Serum, Versed Dew Point Gel-Cream, and topped off with La Roche-Posay Anthelios UltraLight Tinted Mineral Sunscreen. For evening, I double cleanse with our Wash It Out Gel Cleanser, and Cosmedix Purity Clean Exfoliating Cleanser, followed by Hydration Station Booster with HA, Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum and top it off with Biba Los Angeles Cream B. Then I use my NuFace Toning Device every other night and exfoliate with Stacked Skincare Dermaplaning Tool weekly. OK, by my standards, that’s pretty low maintenance.
Which Versed product do you carry with you or use every single day?
How has working on Versed impacted your life, and what moment in your career are you most proud of so far?
Well my family now gets what I do for a living because they all use the products! Sure, there are the big moments — like hearing about Lizzo using Versed, or learning we’re the top brand in our category. But what really stands out are the moments we fought for as a team. We’ve worked hard to incorporate post-consumer recycled materials into our products, to eliminate excess plastic from our supply chain and to make the brand that we all wish existed. We heard a community member say, “Versed is the cool kid who invites everyone else to sit at their table,” and that is a feeling I will never forget.
If you weren't in beauty, what would you be doing?
I studied aerospace engineering and global environmental science in college, so now feels like a good time to be putting that to use helping develop better solutions to fight climate change.
What's your favorite skin-care ingredient of the moment?
I’m less into the trendy ingredients and instead focus on the heavy hitters like retinol, hyaluronic acid and AHAs. Tried-and-true ingredients have earned their rep for a reason.
What does the future of Versed look like to you?
It looks like cleaner, sustainable products on more people’s shelves and more smiles in the mirror! For us that means making more results-driven, non-toxic formulas we love, and also empowering people to make the best decisions for their skin, their body and their planet.
What's your advice for an aspiring beauty or fashion industry leader?
Don’t be afraid to take a different path or put out an unconventional idea. Consumers are demanding more from brands, every leader is feeling the pressure to innovate, and nothing changes if nothing changes. Also don’t be afraid to trust other people and invite them into your vision — diverse viewpoints will only make your work better.
And finally, what does beauty mean to you?
Nothing but a state of mind.