Kendra Kolb Butler really gets her hands dirty—literally. While many beauty brand founders will wile away the afternoon swatching lipsticks or brainstorming packaging, Butler is in the wild forests of Wyoming hand-picking ingredients for her brand Alpyn Beauty. “I’m in the field two to three days a week, from July through early September when we get our first frost,” she says. “I’m foraging arnica, orange sage, calendula and chamomile. I do believe that plants are medicinal and they can apply be applied to every aspect of life. We are going to see benefits wherever our skin touches these plants.”
Though Butler has spent 20 years in the beauty industry, she wasn’t always so hands-on. After close to two decades working in New York City on major brands, in 2015 she wanted a change of pace. “I decided that I needed a break from the stress levels of an urban environment, from the anxiety and the noise,” she says. “I was seeking to press the reset button on life—I needed a life change. I listened to that little voice in my head and made a pretty drastic decision to leave my corporate job.” She and her husband packed up everything they owned and drove west with their baby, seeking fresh air and nature. They landed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
To put all of her industry knowledge to good use, Butler opened a beauty store. She began to notice that her customers suffered from dry, dehydrated skin. “I was selling moisturizers that were the best of the best, top of the line in the clean, clinical space, but nothing was working on this incredibly parched skin that was a result of the climate we live in,” she recalls. “I was sitting in my backyard one day and I started to look at the wild forest behind my house. It was amazing to me that even though these plants lived in the same extreme environment as all the women coming into my store, they were juicy and hydrated and they had the ability to hold their hydration levels without a drop of rain in this very dry climate. I was like, what’s growing here in the wild? How have these plants found a way to adopt? What’s their superpower?”
Butler hired a local botanist and naturalist and they started hiking together. She asked them to teach her about the plants that are indigenous to the land. “It was shocking to me chamomile, calendula and arnica—things that I had always seen in skincare formulas—were growing in the wild, in a community of women suffering from all these skin problems,” Butler says. “It’s ironic that these women are walking around town with dry, aging skin and there’s skincare ingredients growing out of every nook and cranny that they’re stepping on.”
They started wildcrafting, making Alpyn the only skincare line to use wild, active botanicals, sustainably harvested from her land in Jackson Hole. “We believe that these wild plants have an extra gear, they have this ability to survive extremism,” Butler says. “That fight is what I wanted to bring to the surface of the skin to see a difference in results.” At first it was just Butler putting the plants into formulas she created and making lab samples. Finding a lab manufacturer was challenging because they were used to working with plant ingredients in powder form, but Butler knew the secret was in using the whole plant. She started giving out the samples she made in her store for free. “At that point, I couldn’t walk through the grocery store without a woman grabbing me by the shoulders and saying what was in that pot?” she says. “These are the wild plants that have found a way to adapt to this climate faster than we as humans could figure out.”
Butler became obsessed with learning what else was growing out there and how to sustainably harvest it. That snowballed into the launch of Alpyn Beauty. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Butler says. “I needed a solution for my own skin and I was able to find it. It was right in front of me with this glaring, obvious answer, slapping me in the face. I had to do something.”
Sustainability is a foundation of the line. “The ecosystem has to stay balanced and intact, not only for us as humans, but for me as a brand,” Butler explains. “If this ecosystem gets out of whack, the plants aren’t going to flourish the way that they are.” She’s worked with specialists in their field, including botanists, naturalist scientists and local experts from the University of Wyoming on how to perfect their wildcrafting technique. “When wildcrafting something, you never remove the plant from the ground. It’s a tiny piece of the stem, or the flower or a shaving of the bark so the plant is never harmed; it doesn’t affect its ability to continue to grow or flourish because it’s left healthy and intact. Wild crafting is a similar process to a foraging animal. We have mule deer all over my property and when they’re nibbling on plants, they nibble, nibble, nibble and keep moving. You’ve never seen a deer rip an entire plant and eat it from its root systems. Plants, especially wild ones, are very accustomed to this foraging process.” She likens it to getting a haircut—it’ll grow back.
Everything is hand harvested, which certainly has its challenges. “There’s a high barrier to entry here with the wildcrafting process in general because these ingredients grow in a very rugged, arid climate,” Butler says. “When I’m harvesting, I’m climbing up a half of a mountain. I’m sometimes picking choke cherries with one foot in a bush and the other foot balanced on a stump; I feel like I’m going to topple over at any moment.” Working with the short season is also tough, since there are only three months to get everything they need. Weather adds another hurdle, with extremely hot summers.
Another challenging factor is the variations in the harvest. “Depending on the amount of rain in April, that will determine the size of the berry in August; everything goes into play,” Butler says. “It’s almost like a vineyard in the sense that nothing is ever going to be exactly the same. Our customer understands there might be variations in scent or color from year to year because we’re dealing with wild plants. It’s not something that’s been genetically modified or commercially grown to have the same exact environment. The environment is whatever Mother Nature is dishing up to us.”
Close encounters with wildlife are another potential danger. Butler was once charged by a bull moose, which are one of the most dangerous animals in Wyoming. Huckleberries like shade, so they’re very deep in the woods. “When you pick a huckleberry you’re attracting any bear in the area because like a shark smells blood in the water, with the juice of the huckleberries a bear can smell that from miles away. When you’re harvesting there’s a lot of things that go on, but it’s definitely worth it and I would take that every time over getting a powder ingredient.”
Alpyn Beauty works to restore their local national park, the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, with one percent of every purchase going toward park restoration. “Even though I don’t wildcraft from the park, it’s all connected, like the eagle is connected to trees,” Butler says. “If that ecosystem stays intact, my ecosystem on private land is going to stay healthy as well.” So far they’ve restored 900 acres.
Their products also pay homage to the culture of Jackson Hole. When Butler first moved there, she saw huckleberries everywhere and in everything, from ice cream to candy, even at gift shops in the airport. Then she learned it’s packed with off-the-charts levels of vitamin C. “I started to think how come we’re not using the huckleberry in skincare; it’s such a great, nutrient-rich fruit?” That led to the launch of the Alpyn Beauty Wild Huckleberry 8-Acid Polishing Peel Mask. “It’s been a lot of fun to not only use ingredients that the industry knows about, but to try to cover some things that have never seen the light of day in a skincare formula. There’s so much medicine out there.”
Much of that exploration happens at Alpyn Beauty’s Discovery Lab, located at Butler’s private residence in Jackson Hole. It was launched in June 2021, just in time for the harvest season, which is July through September. Led by herself and a team of sustainable farmers, botanists and scientists, it’s where they harvest and test new plants to explore fresh ingredient concepts that aren’t yet found in current formulas. This unique method is different from the beauty industry’s standard practices of testing and adapting new actives. It also allows them to make groundbreaking discoveries for the beauty industry, like juneberry, which will make its debut in a new product launch soon.
As a beauty store owner, Butler was frustrated that she wasn’t seeing innovation in the ingredient space. “How do we move forward as an industry?” she says. “In the clean and natural category you have even more challenges because you aren’t able to use certain things, so an ingredient list that’s 100 gets narrowed down to maybe 40 things. Everybody’s fishing from the same pond. When I found these wild plants, I was like, this is where it’s going.”
Alpyn Beauty is a big believer in science. “We are a clinically focused brand, so I use ingredients in my products that I source from leading suppliers and manufacturers,” Butler says. “I’m using three forms of vitamin C and I’m using the most potent form of hyaluronic acid that I can find. I’m using the same thing that everybody else in the industry is using that have intense clinical studies behind them to prove efficacy and results.
“My secret sauce is this Discovery Lab where I’m out there thinking what are we not using,” Butler continues. “We started the lab to find those outliers that nobody has really tested yet or added to formulas. The whole point is we harvest the indigenous plants only from Jackson Hole, not what everybody else is using. It’s what we take to push the results one step further. But the majority of the bottle is made up with clinical ingredients that are common in the industry. It’s just my touch, my artistic flair on each formula. That’s our signature mark.”
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