Clean Beauty: Lisa Fennessy Of The New Knew On 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Clean Beauty Brand

Clean Beauty: Lisa Fennessy Of The New Knew On 5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Clean Beauty Brand

You need tenacity. It’s not easy to create a beauty brand. I know because I tried! From the branding to the packaging to the ingredients to the manufacturing to the minimums to the marketing to the money to the roadblocks and the digital / technical knowhow and the showing up every. dang. day….I mean, if you don’t have a good therapist, sleep routine and workout schedule, you don’t stand a chance.

The clean beauty movement is transforming the beauty industry by emphasizing the importance of safe, non-toxic ingredients. Consumers are increasingly concerned about what they put on their skin, leading to a demand for transparency and high standards in beauty products. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lisa Fennessy.

With a B.S. in Journalism and minor in PR + Advertising from Northeastern University, Lisa Fennessy started The New Knew in 2016. She has been blogging professionally, authoring over 400 posts on the topics of clean beauty, sustainable living and gray hair, for the past 8 years. What started as a personal outlet has now become a multi-six-figure business with a robust core team of 5, additional contributing writers, consultants, SEO professionals and more.

Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Hi! I’m Lisa Fennessy, the Founder + CEO of The New Knew, a multi-six-figure blogging and content creation business. TNK’s mission is to empower women to make informed decisions about their health, their lives and their relationships with others, as well as themselves.

TNK is in its 10th year now and has gone through many eras. Right now, we’re in our gray hair era. In 2017, I decided to stop dyeing my hair — and share the process publicly. Once the pandemic hit, this content went viral and to this day it, by far, earns the most pageviews and clicks to our site.

I like to show up online and keep it real, straightforward and fun and yes, gray hair can be all of those things! When I’m not behind the screen, I’m playing tennis, reading the latest from Sarah J. Mass, cheering on my two boys or taking a nap.

Our work has been featured in Well + Good, Beauty Independent, Parade Magazine, Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens, CNN Underscored, Real Simple, Shondaland, True Roots (a book by Ronnie Citron-Fink) and more.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Documenting my gray hair grow-out on and watching it BLOW UP online is the most interesting story of my blogging career. I originally did it to process the journey for myself and didn’t expect that series to explode in popularity — it was a story that needed to be told because our content went viral, our Facebook community tripled in size and our message now reaches millions of people. I still can’t believe how far-reaching and powerful it’s been!

Plus, the online spaces that I’ve created have been so innovative and unique that a doctoral journalism candidate used my Facebook community as an example of a rhetorical space used to create a positive counter-narrative to ageism and sexism. Her abstract won the 2023 Top Abstract from the Commission on the Status of Women (at the AEJMC Midwinter Conference).

My personal journey of going gray opened up a new world, enlightening me with a deeper understanding of what this seemingly innocuous decision to “go gray” actually means. It’s a direct rebuttal to the insidious ways ageism inserts itself into our (but women’s especially) lives. Ageism is something we might not really think about until it starts happening to us. And even then, we’re blind to it because it’s so normalized.

  • “I didn’t even know going gray was an option.”
  • “I didn’t even know I could go gray until I saw you going gray.”
  • “I want to thank you because, with all your posts, you have supported, encouraged and ensured me in my decision.”

These are real messages from women who decided to go gray because I decided to create the space to talk about it. *Let that sink in.*

The biggest lesson I’m learning from this is that this gray hair work is needed, it’s necessary and it’s about way more than hair. Accepting your white, gray or silver hair bumps up against centuries of external stigma, oppression and othering that needs a practical, supportive solution.

Capitalism and an ageist society prey on consumers using marketing slogans like “Gray Hair — The Heartless Dictator” (Clairol, 1943) and “You’re Worth It” (L’Oreal, 1971-present). There isn’t enough space here to break down why these are so harmful, but it’s clear they impact how we feel about who is valuable in society.

Two recent examples: Canadian broadcaster Lisa LaFlamme was fired from her decades-long career presumably because she stopped dyeing her hair, and Miranda, a character on “And Just Like That…” dyed her grown-out-gray hair back to red, in what viewers interpreted as “taking back” her life.

This long-standing, deep-rooted societal issue will prevail unless we’re brave enough to innovate, fostering connection amongst women who are ready to push back, stand up and create change.

You are a successful individual. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Leadership: Every day I show up as the founder and leader of a multi-six-figure business with a robust core team of 4, additional contributing writers, consultants, SEO professionals and more. On the outside this looks “fun” but over the past 8 years, I’ve survived a double lawsuit (personal and business) for alleged trademark infringement that lasted over 2 years; a full soup to nuts rebrand; and a pivot from Instagram-only business to a multi-pronged approach that’s still in motion. I’ve leveraged affiliate marketing, brand sponsorships, ad revenue, selling physical products, offering consults, booking speaking engagements and more to find the sweet spot in my sector.

These strategic pivots are essential as there is nothing static about the internet and how people conduct business on it. Over the past 8 years, my team and I have been able to innovate and stay afloat through ups and downs like Google’s massive 2023–2024 algorithm updates, compliance with new bulk email sender guidelines, the debut of AI and the constant shifting of social media. We do this by staying abreast of the latest tech and SEO recommendations; deciphering metrics; listening to our readers and responding in kind; watching others; and taking risks.

All of this takes leadership. Not just the kind of leadership that merely delegates, maintaining a big-picture perspective at all times, but also the leadership intrinsic to heading up a small-but-mighty team: digging into the details where I can; bringing the right people together; creating an atmosphere where people are valued, heard and respected; listening to and letting others lead when it benefits the business. It’s about so much more than navigating The New Knew’s next steps. It’s about creating a space where people are inspired and excited to show up every day.

2. Resilience: I commissioned a trademark lawyer to apply for a mark for my original business name. I was awarded the trademark — but in the final stretch of the opposition stage, a brand contested my claim, despite proof that I was operating in a vertical that predated their trademark. They went on to sue me (personally) and my business for trademark infringement. This was a significant challenge professionally, but it was also personally difficult; my house and my family’s security was on the line. The lawsuit was so robust, my lawyer said, “It’s something you’d see if Levi’s sued Gap.”

My team and I spent more than 18 months rebranding, directing all resources to that effort, including hiring additional contractors to support the massive shift. It was make or break. In the end, I chose to settle, letting go of our original brand name and accepting the challenge of recreating the business in my new vision. Our current Google rankings and unique visitors per month confirms my leadership, resilience and all of our hard work which has brought us to a place where the brand and website are just as trustworthy and impactful as before the rebrand.

3. Pragmatism: A pretty boring trait if you take it at face value, but it’s been key to my success. It’s taking a more measured approach to the changes happening in the industry and not being lured into the newest, trendiest, shiniest thing — because that’s going to change a lot faster than my business can. That’s actually kind of why we named the brand The New Knew: yes, it’s about the “new,” but just as important to us is the “knew” or the why. If we think changes in the industry, whether they be ingredients or technological advancements, are sticking around, we have no problem turning the S.S. TNK into the wind. But we don’t jump on the bandwagon of every new trend because we know it won’t last — and we know that’s a recipe for burnout.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Yes! We are gearing up to launch Going Gray on Your Terms. This is a never-before-seen course for women to embrace their gray hair, receiving guidance through personal stories, mindset work & expert tips to go from a place of perceived weakness & embrace empowerment.

I’ve been working on this inclusive, completely original course that fosters connection and empowerment for more than 2 years, and we are finally bringing it to fruition this summer.

My vision is to help 100s of thousands of women to avoid feeling shame, embarrassment and insecurity when they engage in the natural process of having gray hair, and eventually widen the scope of this work to not only support individual women, but also help create cultural change for women across the globe.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. What inspired your brand to focus on clean beauty, and how do you define ‘clean’ in the context of your products?

I wasn’t always an organic living-clean beauty advocate. After my son Quinn was born with eczema, the docs prescribed him a steroid cream that ended up discoloring his skin. We soon realized his symptoms were being treated, but not the root cause. We played around with some holistic remedies but when we decided to remove dairy from his diet, his skin cleared up in two weeks and our world changed.

Around the same time, I was experiencing IBS. I got all the tests and the docs were calling it “microscopic colitis.” They were basically saying my intestines were inflamed. Again, identifying the symptom but not getting to the root. I eventually realized I needed more testing and when I saw a functional medicine practitioner, they diagnosed me with celiac disease. That was the last day I intentionally ate gluten (I miss real pizza!).

Both of these experiences taught me that no one is going to come and hand us a solution. If we want health, we need to seek it out. If we want access to clean food, we need to support non-GMO, organic and biodynamic growing practices. If we want clean beauty and personal care, we need to do the work and find out what that really means to us.

What I’ve learned is there is typically no “perfect” solution. But there are certainly a ton of great options.

And what’s perfect for one person may not be perfect for another. But, as a team, we are committed to continuing the better beauty and organic lifestyle conversation in hopes of empowering everyone to feel confident about what they are consuming.

How do you ensure the ingredients in your products meet clean beauty standards, and what criteria do you use to select them?

While we hold a few unshakeable, foundational values, we’re also acutely aware that better beauty is a living concept that evolves as technology and knowledge progress. We also acknowledge that because the beauty industry as a whole is loosely regulated, defining “clean beauty” or “better beauty” therefore comes with an X factor of personal standards, values and interpretation. That’s why we’ve taken the time to clearly define what clean beauty means to us and the criteria we use to vet products in our TNK Credo.

Ultimately we value progress over perfection, and we aim to work with brands that strive to do the best they can, while keeping up with industry advances. Determining if a brand meets our standards takes critical thinking, a bigger understanding of the process and the ability to refrain from drawing a line in the sand.

We consider ourselves contributors to the clean beauty conversation. Our hope is that our conversations continue to create awareness, continue to get consumers and brands asking questions, and continue to better the industry as a whole.

What steps do you take to educate consumers about the importance of clean ingredients and how they can make informed choices when purchasing beauty products?

The TNK NO THANKS List is a resource that I’ve wanted to make available to the TNK community for a long time now. To be honest, my hesitation in publishing a page like this was equal parts fear in taking on such a big project, as well as subscribing to fear-based messaging.

My hope is that readers use this list as a tool to make informed choices rather than inspire limitations, fear and additional stress. For this reason, we’ve abbreviated this list to just a few ingredients — ones we believe to be either the most prevalent and/or the most egregious.

In a perfect world, you would be able to pick up a label, see one of these ingredients or not and then be able to make a decision that’s right for you.

We’re not here to police anyone — but we do think that the more you know, the more informed your choices can be. And ultimately, THAT’S what moves the needle: more people asking for better ingredients and more transparency from brands.

What innovative or unconventional ingredients are you most excited about in the clean beauty space, and why?

I’m completely obsessed with plum seed oil. We’ve found studies that have shown that plum seed oil naturally has protection of 18–22 SPF. When added to an SPF formula, you only have to use a very small amount of zinc to get a full SPF 30 when the right amount of plum seed oil is used. It’s literally magic when I see brands take advantage of natural ingredients like this.

Ashwagandha is another one that brands are using in more unconventional ways — a few years ago, it was just in consumables like tea blends, energy powders and coffee replacements. Now, brands are putting it into their topicals, like in the Moon Juice Cosmic Cream moisturizer. Ashwagandha has great research behind it, especially around its ability to help with the tolls of stress and anxiety.

“Sunscreen boosting pills” contain the extract of a fern from South America called Polypodium Leucotomos. I mean, a CONSUMABLE SUNSCREEN?! This is the height of innovation. Some of these have approval/endorsement from various board certified dermatologists (Dr. Dray has a video on it), and while they don’t replace wearing hats and putting on sunscreen, they can help if someone has very fair/light skin. Incredible, if you ask me.

Custom ingredients always make me drool too. When a brand can’t find what they want and goes out of their way to create it? That’s amazing! I’m specifically thinking of the Mara proprietary algae blend in their SPF. Brilliant. Also doing that costs a TON of money and gets a nod from me regardless.

Can you share a story where switching to clean beauty ingredients led to a significant and unexpected benefit for your customers?

I have so many women email me and say they had to stop dyeing their hair because either they had an allergic reaction to hair dye or because they were going through chemo and that was the impetus for them to finally go gray. They always go on to say that the decision to stop dyeing their hair ultimately became the best decision of their lives. I always love getting these emails and they often leave me in tears of joy.

Based on your research or experience, can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Clean Beauty Brand”?

1 . Knowledge or access to it. So many brands link up with a contract manufacturer and employ them to create their clean beauty products. They lean on the contract manufacturer to create clean beauty for them, but 11 times out of 10, the contractor doesn’t really know about the best of clean beauty OR their standards won’t be your standards OR they will convince you to use an ingredient that doesn’t really fit your ethos, but you won’t know it because you are trusting that they know what they are doing. I see it all the time. A brand says they are “clean” and have “the highest

2 . You need to stand out. The world doesn’t need another clean soap brand or another SLS-free shampoo, but if you can find a way to create something that doesn’t exist, you have a chance! Some things that don’t exist in clean beauty yet (read: these are golden opportunities!): a clean foaming shaving cream, clean aftershave, a good hair spray, a truly waterproof mascara, clean hair dye and a clear mineral spray SPF.

3 . You need connections. Of course anything is possible, but if you know people who influence the clean beauty industry, it’s going to be A LOT EASIER! Who are these people? Clean beauty chemists, influencers, retail curators, fellow brand owners and more. How can you get connected? Trade shows, industry meetups, conferences, engaging on social and more. Find something to attend in the space you want to create in and start shaking hands and making friends! When you have people who you can ask questions and who can connect you with resources, it saves you from hitting a bunch of dead ends. Also having a true friend in this space will save you, trust me!

4 . You need tenacity. It’s not easy to create a beauty brand. I know because I tried! From the branding to the packaging to the ingredients to the manufacturing to the minimums to the marketing to the money to the roadblocks and the digital / technical knowhow and the showing up every. dang. day….I mean, if you don’t have a good therapist, sleep routine and workout schedule, you don’t stand a chance.

5 . Really sexy branding. This is not a hot take but people shop with their eyes and if your branding doesn’t make me melt with “I want that” vibes…you are signing up to be the last one picked for 6th grade gym class dodgeball. Don’t do that to yourself! You have to grab people’s attention with a look. Hire this out to a professional (and a good one!) and make sure you know your target audience — don’t brand your products to look like a princess fairy if your audience is women over 40!

How do you foresee the clean beauty movement evolving in the next decade, and what role do you see your brand playing in that future?

I see it getting really blurry and super messy. Sustainable and clean is not a trend; it’s the future and it’s where the money is so as more and more brands start to jump on that bandwagon, the harder it will be to decipher what is real and what is real fake. “Clean” or “green” or “natural” are merely marketing terms that have no regulation or certification behind them, so any brand can use that language to sell products — even if their ingredients aren’t clean, green or natural.

A recent real-life example: While doing research for our SPF coverage, we took a second look at an ingredient called butyloctyl salicylate. It’s a newer additive that’s used to “boost” SPF, and once you start looking for it, it’s EVERYwhere including brands we typically see no ingredient issues with.

We say no to butyloctyl salicylate because it shows moderate binding to estrogen receptors (similar to the binding strength of Bisphenol A — a.k.a BPA) and on top of that, salicylates in general are teratogens (an agent that causes an abnormality following fetal exposure during pregnancy) and therefore should not be used while pregnant.

Since I’m seeing this ingredient show up in big clean beauty brands, I know more ingredients like this will go under the radar, until we have more regulation in the beauty industry. Did you know that until 2022’s Modernization of Cosmetics Regulations Act, brands weren’t required by law to recall products that caused reactions or contained dangerous contaminants — and the FDA couldn’t require brands to recall products, they could only request? All the onus was on the brands to report and recall, which made navigating the beauty aisle a little tricky.

We need MORE legislation like this to regulate this industry, and until then, I hope The New Knew can help consumers figure out what’s best for them and their families, with knowledgeable levity and humor, not scarcity and fear.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

The best place to follow along is via our weekly newsletter. That’s where the party is and where we offer exclusives from our fave brands, insider content and I get more vulnerable there. But of course you can always follow along on and @thenew.knew on Instagram (and most social channels).

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at

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