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Interviews

How This Minimalist Makeup Brand Built A Community Around Simplifying Beauty

by Blair Wagner

@olioeosso

• By Blair Wagner

Nowadays, a brand’s ethos can be as impactful as the product itself. A prime example: Olio E Osso, a Portland-based beauty company that focuses on using sustainable practices to create clean skincare and makeup. Founded by Paola LaMorticella, the brand’s nourishing and versatile formulas have already earned their popular balms a “cult-fave” status among beauty editors. Yet it’s their dedication to supporting local communities and collaborating with non-profits that really sets Olio apart. I chatted with Paola about her journey with Olio, her views on sustainability in the skincare industry, and how she defines clean beauty.

BW

Tell me about yourself and your background. How did you enter the world of skincare and beauty?

PL

I grew up in the woods with amazing artist parents — not exactly off the grid but very close. We didn’t have a television and it was before most people had computers in the home. I was surrounded by art, books and art supplies. What we didn’t have or couldn’t get, we made. 

As I grew up I became obsessed with pop culture and the media I wasn’t exposed to when I was younger — specifically what makes people feel good about themselves and empowered. I started working with a great costumer at eighteen and was styling commercials by twenty. I’ve been a costumer and stylist now all over the world for over thirty years and am mainly mentor taught. About twenty five years ago, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing makeup artist who took me under her wing. I loved how makeup and wardrobe affected people, how they can be tools to help support a person’s psyche. I started splitting my time between makeup and wardrobe departments as I was drawn to the synergy between both departments, all along making or tweaking things that I couldn’t find but needed.

Years later I had my son, Romeo. He had horribly sensitive skin as a baby. The doctors kept prescribing different steroidal creams and ointments that all had a petroleum base. It would help some of the symptoms, but also caused a whole new set of issues time and again. I decided to try and make something on my own that would help soothe and heal his skin. I wanted to try to make a formulation that only had ingredients I knew and trusted, as well as something that was portable and easy to use.

Olive Oil was an obvious start for me. As an Italian, I have always used olive oil for almost everything. It is a natural humectant, super nourishing, and easily accessible. I also knew I wanted to use beeswax, which is also a natural humectant and naturally protective. When you use so few ingredients it has to be exactly right as there is nothing to hide behind. It had to be soft but have staying power, be easy to use, and above all be supportive and healing. I worked on the formula for months.

BW

What inspired you to launch Olio E Osso?

PL

I found myself using my own formulas not only on my son, but also on clients. They loved it as well, so I started making extras to give to them and other makeup artists. The responses were so positive that I started experimenting with color pigments for clients who didn’t dig “makeup” — I could hardly keep up with demand. During this time I met my business partner May Albano through our designer Joanna Bean Martin, who was helping with our initial packaging. Before I knew it Olio e Osso was born!

BW

You’re also a chef and sustainability advocate. How do these roles influence the way you approach skincare and beauty?

PL

I grew up believing that if you have good food, good friends, and good family, you will always be okay. For me, these three things are intimately linked. Cooking food for people is such a joy and a meditation. It is a time for me to nourish my community and communicate my caring, and it’s a way to facilitate conversations between those I’m feeding. This is very similar to when I am formulating for Olio e Osso. I think about how these products will help people by nourishing their skin and bringing them joy to help support one’s sense of self. 

As a company, we are all about supporting communities. A big part of our sustainability as a brand is being thoughtful with all of our sourcing. We always start local, then extend out to regional if needed, then national. If we still can’t find what we need, we pause before moving forward to make sure we are making choices that align with our ethos. We believe that supporting smaller, local businesses helps empower communities to make better and more sustainable choices. I know this is not the obvious sustainability answer, but we think its one of the most essential components to lasting change.

BW

You recently partnered with Portland non-profit Wild Diversity to create a signature balm, Lab 03 “Rooted”. Tell me about your experience with this collaboration.

PL

I credit growing up in nature for becoming the creative woman I am today. I have no doubt of its importance to who I am. Wild Diversity’s mission is to help create safe spaces for LGBTQ and BIPOC community members to be in nature. This mission spoke strongly to all of us at team Olio, and we knew we wanted to support the cause and figure out how to make a lasting partnership to show our commitment to their organization. I worked directly with Wild Diversity’s founder Mercy M’fon Shammah to create a color especially for them. It’s a richly pigmented violet brown, and the shade looks great on a wide variety of skin tones. Once the color was finalized, we brought in the immensely talented illustrator Reesa Baxter to design the artwork for the packaging. This collaboration will live forever on our site, and Wild Diversity will receive 50% of its sales forever.  I love the balm so much and the whole process was beautiful to be a part of, start to finish. 

Clean beauty is a thoughtful way to give yourself a little peace of mind.

BW

Your balms have become a cult favorite for many. What are some essential beauty products for you?

PL

Oh that’s so hard – they are all my babies! I’m not kidding, my bag is like a clown car full of Olio e Osso. Here are some of the products I’m loving right now:

BW

What is your best piece of skincare advice?

PL

Drink lots of water. Always wear sunscreen. Wear what makes you feel good, not what people say you should wear. Pay attention to quality, not quantity.

BW

What do you hope to see more of in the skincare and beauty industry?

PL

True transparency. I hope to see less green washing and more honest conversations within the industry and with our customers about the hard work that needs to be done. The idea of what is natural and sustainable is nuanced. We need to dig in deeper where applicable and help educate each other. 

BW

What does clean beauty mean to you?

PL

Clean beauty is a thoughtful way to give yourself a little peace of mind. It’s one less thing to worry about. It’s a celebration of self. It should be a strengthening addition to your daily life. 
olio e osso paola lamorticella