This Boise startup hit $1 million in sales in 5 months. ‘I have no idea where we’ll be in five years.’

The headquarters of Red Aspen LLC is a swirl of activity. Operations lead Joy Bowman packs bright pink bubble mailers with boxes of false eyelashes and stuffs them into large bags for nationwide delivery.

“This is where the magic happens,” quips co-owner Amanda Moore, pulling more lashes off the shelf.

Magic indeed. Owners Jesse McKinney, 31, her sister Genie Reese, 29, and Moore, 34, all Boiseans, launched their false-eyelash business last October. In March, they reported reaching $1 million in sales.

Red Aspen has caught a wave of interest among millennial women in wearing false eyelashes – and is making money selling them.

“When we launched, we forecast that by December we would have about 400 brand ambassadors,” or independent salespeople, said Reese, the company’s strategic officer. “We ended up with more than 1,000.”

Now they have twice that many.

McKinney, Reese and Moore have generated sales at a pace most other small-business founders only dream of, said Dan Faricy, executive director of Trailhead, the Boise startup hub.

“That’s phenomenal,” Faricy said. “Most startups don’t ever get to $1 million in sales.”

For comparison, consider Proof Eyeware, a Boise company that makes hip, wooden eyeglass frames. It launched in 2010. It took the founding Dame brothers two years to hit $1 million in sales. In 2018, Proof expects sales of about $2 million, CEO Tanner Dame said.

Red Aspen’s ascent is about as fast as that being reported by Lovevery, a Boise baby play-gym company that started selling in November. It was co-founded by Jessica Rolph, who found success by launching the Happy Family Brands baby food business, which she sold in 2013 for $230 million to a French food conglomerate. The gym business expects to hit $1 million by the end of April, co-founder Roderick Morris said.

The love of lashes

The eyelash trend is hot, said Danyale Cook, a Boise professional makeup artist.

“It’s getting harder to tell the drag queens from the Instagram teens,” Cook said. “All cosmetics have become more prevalent in fashion. It’s not just accentuating their natural beauty. It’s about standing out, and big lashes are part of that.”

Red Aspen also is part of the nationwide growth of women-owned businesses. They have increased 114 percent since 1997, compared with a 44 percent increase among all businesses, according to the latest data in the American Express Open’s State of Women-Owned Business Report.

Support for women

The aspen in the Red Aspen references the Pando, a quaking aspen grove in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest that is thought to be the largest living organism in the world.

“They look like they’re growing individually, but they share one root system,” Moore said. “We thought that was a great analogy for how we support each other.

“And red just sounded good. Pink Aspen didn’t flow.”

Like Melaleuca and Scentsy, Idaho’s biggest and best-known network-marketing businesses, Red Aspen said it aims to help its salespeople succeed. McKinney said Red Aspen’s mission is to support women.

“We want to ‘Inspire women to stand up, stand out and stand together by uniting passion with purpose,’ ” she said.

The founders honor the women who’ve inspired them with product names. The Mina lash is named for Minako Yamazaki, a high school friend of Moore’s who is training for the 2020 Olympics in karate. The Bella is named for Boise State student Isabella Eck who volunteers in Africa. The Serina is named after Serina Cahue the sister of a brand ambassador who took her own life at age 15.

How it works

Red Aspen sells the lashes and a growing line of cosmetic products through events such as booths at women’s expos and online pop-up parties.

The company now ships about 224 orders daily, and shipments are growing about 30 percent per month, Reese said. Orders average $50 to $60 each. Lashes cost $16 for silk that can be worn three to five times. Faux mink $23 lashes can last for up to 10 wearings, depending on how you care for them, Moore said. Adhesive and tools cost about $10 each.

Red Aspen uses a multilevel marketing format for its sales, but with a twist Moore said.

Brand ambassadors are independent contractors. They can choose a traditional MLM path, bringing people on to their sales teams and advancing through the ranks if they hit monthly sales targets. They earn 25-35 percent on their sales and a bonus for coaching others. No prepurchase of products is required, and sales are through

Or people can just sell, skipping the advancement and targets while earning sales commissions and free product.

There are no traditional at-home product parties. Instead, sales reps produce Facebook Live pop-up parties. They includes eyelash images and application demonstrations. Sometimes Red Aspen beauty consultant Cassie Hackett will offer tips.

“We wanted to take the idea of social sales and ‘millennialize’ it for a younger market,” Moore said.

A starter kit for people who want to become brand ambassadors costs $110. They pay $8.99 per month to access Red Aspen’s online training platform, which is stocked with tutorial videos, images and tips for selling. Team leaders can upgrade to access management tools for $14.99 monthly.

The startup story

McKinney and Reese grew up in Idaho, living in Idaho Falls and Boise. McKinney earned a master’s degree in organizational management at Gonzaga University, and Reese earned a master’s in health care administration from the University of Denver.

Moore grew up in Southern California and went to the University of Idaho on a volleyball scholarship while she earned a business degree in human resources.

McKinney and Moore started Red Aspen in January 2017 after leaving their jobs at another Treasure Valley direct-sales company. Reese was working in medical equipment sales in Utah then and came on board a short while later.

The trio spent seven months building their brand’s infrastructure. Originally, Moore and McKinney were set on a nail product when Reese suggested false eyelashes.

“I had seen tons of growth in the lashes imagery online,” Reese said. “I was wearing them. My friends were wearing them.”

They found no online cosmetic companies offering eyelashes through direct sales, and started to lined up product suppliers. The lashes are made in China, the adhesive in Korea.

In December, Pinterest predicted that eyelashes would be the top beauty trend of 2018. Sales took off.

“We thought we might expand into cosmetics — eventually, down the road — and we’re doing that now,” Reese said.

The trio formed partnership with Ballet Idaho, whose dancers will pose for an ad campaign in exchange for lashes.

“This has been really good for the dancers. I had no idea how much they spend on eyelashes,” said Ballet Idaho Marketing Director Meredith Stead.

Woman to woman

Working with only women has benefits, Moore and Reese say.

“I am more open with my ideas and I know my voice is always heard,” Reese said. “Not to say that I didn’t have good experiences in my previous jobs, but I think in other settings, it’s easy for women’s voices not to be heard.”

Red Aspen is an S corporation, whose four owners are taxed as a partnership: McKinney, Reese, Moore and a fourth woman who is an unnamed silent partner providing capital for the business.

They now have four full-time employees and two part-timers. They hope to hire a creative director.

“We want to hire people who are supportive of our mission,” McKinney said. “It doesn’t matter what gender you are. If you’re aligned with our mission, then come one, come all.”

The future

In January, Red Aspen announced that it would introduce at least one new product each month in 2018. In January and February, new lash styles debuted. March brought Asha’s Ink Eyeliner ($20), and April brought Averie’s Brow Pencils ($20).

Future nonlash products will be made in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

“We’re now talking with labs all over the world,” McKinney said. “We have a lot of connections in Korea. K-beauty is really hot right now.”

A 1,200-square-foot space at 951 E. Front St. serves as Red Aspen’s warehouse, headquarters and production studio. The founders are looking for a larger space.

“We already are so far ahead of our goals, I have no idea where we’ll be in five years,” Reese said.

Dana Oland: 208-377-6442, @DanaOland