How Karissa Bodnar Built Thrive Cosmetics

If Ms. Bodnar is cagey about specifics, it’s because she has faced controversy. There’s the plaintiff who sued Thrive in 2018, alleging that the company was not donating to charities in the way that it claimed. (The lawsuit resulted in a “stipulated” dismissal; Ms. Bodnar signed a non-disparagement agreement that precludes her from talking about it.) There are the trolls who harassed her on social media when Forbes added her, in 2019, to its “richest women” list.

“It was actually quite scary when that list came out,” said Ms. Bodnar, who splits her time between Seattle and Los Angeles, where Thrive is headquartered.

Ms. Bodnar grew up in rural Washington State. “We went to church every Sunday, but Allure was my bible,” she said. She worked at Sephora to pay her way through community college, which led to a job at the Seattle office of Clarisonic, a maker of a mechanical face brush that L’Oréal acquired in 2011.

“Among all these men on the team, she was very impressive,” Carol Hamilton, the president for acquisitions for L’Oréal U.S.A., recalled. “She wanted to understand the ‘why’ of the work, how big companies operate.”

In 2013, Ms. Bodnar’s close friend, Kristy LeMond, who had been working in the nonprofit sector, died of soft tissue sarcoma, a rare cancer. Ms. Bodnar had a reckoning. She quit L’Oréal. She bought a bunch of makeup. She wrote a business plan in the notes app of her iPhone: vegan makeup with a business model that mimicked Toms and Warby Parker, the pioneers of the buy one, give one model.

She got a day job at Bulletproof, the supplement company, to finance her after-hours innovations, like false eyelashes that “work whether you have lashes or not,” Ms. Bodnar said. “So much of what I heard in the beginning was, ‘If a woman’s going through cancer, we tell her not to wear makeup.’ I was like, ‘That’s not an acceptable response.’”