Alaska resident Lauren Padawer has made a career out of playing in the mud. Under the brand name Alaska Glacial Mud, her line of luxurious skincare products incorporates the finest natural ingredients her home state has to offer and are sold in spas and retail outlets across the country.
Alaska Glacial’s mission is to “heal, protect and defend both your skin and the Earth’s skin.” Their philosophy can be summed up as, heal yourself and you’ll heal the world. The thinking is that by creating natural skin care products that help people take better care of themselves, customers will develop a deeper connection to the natural world and be better stewards of themselves and the surrounding environment. As their website says: “skincare is self-care.”
But Alaska Glacial Mud is more than just another skincare brand. Not only do their products promote healthy skin and overall wellness, but a portion of the profits goes back to the environment, which, in the company’s words, is “our most generous provider.” The brand sees itself as an advocate for Alaska’s natural resources and its inhabitants, particularly the Copper River area where much of the mud is sourced. Alaska Glacial Mud is committed to blending commerce with environmental and social responsibility and shows that financial profit doesn’t have to come at the expense of the natural world.
A Brand is Born
Padawer was inspired to create skincare products after a rafting trip down the Copper River in her early 20s. The trip included a dip in the glacial pools where she covered her skin with the soft mud underfoot. After experiencing the skin-soothing benefits in the days that followed, Padawer knew she had to find a way to share this spa-like experience with others.
Her first step was to seek out a team of experts. “I had enough background in biology to know that I couldn’t just put mud into a jar,” she says. “I sought a cosmetic chemist to help develop a well-formulated shelf-stable product. I also hired a friend from college who had studied graphic design and had a great sense of brand style.
An early business breakthrough came when Padawer won a rural business award in a statewide competition. A writer with Associated Press did a story on her and the Alaska Glacial brand that was picked up by several papers around the country. From there, her business was off and running.
Another major breakthrough came in 2014 when Padawer appeared on Shark Tank seeking an investment of 100k. Although she gave a great pitch—and gave host Kevin O’Leary an on-air facial—Padawer left without securing the investment. But the exposure alone was enough to boost her business: her orders increased practically overnight and her social media following shot up to 30,000. The additional revenue allowed Padawer to expand Alaska Glacial’s product line.
“I knew going in the exposure to an audience of 6 to 8 million viewers was worth more than the $100K investment I was asking for,” said Padawer. “The ripple effect…was immediately apparent. It was everything from sales to supportive calls from people who don’t know me but just wanted to cheer me on. There were people unaware of Alaska time, calling me in the middle of the night, but I was happy to speak with them. The story of Alaska Glacial Mud inspired them.”
Giving Back: Environmental and Social Responsibility
Padawer has built a brand known for skincare health benefits as well as environmental benefits. She works to maintain high environmental standards beginning with the purity of the ingredients.
Alaska Glacial products begin with natural or certified organic ingredients. Alaska glacial water, a base for much of the product line, is naturally free of impurities and rich in minerals. Potent botanicals such as blueberries, Chaga mushrooms, and kelp are all locally sourced and hand-harvested.
The company has made a commitment to sustainable harvesting methods without the use of heavy machinery. In fact, their star ingredient – mud from the Copper River Delta – is gathered via 5-gallon buckets and spade shovels for minimal impact. According to the company’s website, they harvest less than 1 percent of their permitted resource, the Copper River.
Social responsibility is another key value for Alaska Glacial Mud as a company and for Padawer as an individual. The company donates 10 percent of its net profits to organizations that support the Copper River Watershed through wild salmon preservation, habitat restoration, and sustainable community development.
“I was originally inspired by activist Dune Lankard, who set out to preserve the remaining wild intact ecosystems after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill tragedy,” says Padawer. “He wants to leave a legacy of preservation for the Eyak people who were the indigenous people that called this region where we live home for the last 3500 years.”
Padawer continues: “[I started] Alaska Glacial as a means to preserve the wilderness of the Copper River Watershed through profits generated from the sale of skincare products made with its abundant and sustainable resources. I had been working for a nonprofit and wanted to have a bigger impact.”
It seems she’s made that bigger impact. Some of the organizations Padawer supports through Alaska Glacial Mud profits include the Copper River Watershed Project, Eyak Preservation Council, the Prince William Sound Science Center, and the Wrangell Mountain Center – all located in Cordova, Alaska near the Copper River. This year, Padawer plans to add nonprofits Brooklyn to Alaska and Native Conservancy to the list as she works to expand the conversation around inclusivity and ancestral cultural importance to the region she calls home.