How Coola's Setbacks Made It a Stronger Brand

Chris Birchby, Coola's founder and chief eco-entrepreneur.
Chris Birchby, Coola's founder and chief eco-entrepreneur.

Coola is passionate about making healthy sun care products that people love to wear every day. Company founder and chief eco-entrepreneur, Chris Birchby, recognized the public’s general perception of sunscreen as being heavy, greasy and a hassle, so he set out to create a lightweight, organic sunscreen that could be easily added to a daily routine.

While Birchby grew up spending summers outside in Long Island where sunburns were second nature, he hadn’t been fully attentive to the dangers of the sun until both of his parents were diagnosed with melanoma. When he moved to California for graduate school, Birchby experienced an organic lifestyle for the first time and instantly connected with the area’s quintessential laid-back attitude, which became the inspiration for the Coola brand.

Coola had to navigate several hurdles in the three years it took to get to market, including production and manufacturing issues, false promises from labs and a devastating warehouse fire. With a great deal of patience and willpower, the brand was finally able to hit the market with an organic product in 2007.

Birchby notes that while the setbacks delayed growth, they ended up benefiting the company in the long run.

He explained, “By this point, we had reformulated and crafted our mission statement in a way that we had much more success the second time than if we had gone to market with the first run."

The company was also able to take the time to target a more niche market of resorts and spas, which became truly invested partners, lending feedback and constructive criticism as the brand continued to grow. Coola was eventually able to expand to larger retail partners like Sephora, Ulta and Nordstrom, as well as create a partnership with Target for its sister brand, Bare Republic.

The steady approach paid off. Coola is now offered in more than 40 countries. Its distribution goals include expanding to national grocery chains like Walmart, HEB and Whole Foods Market, and aesthetic lifestyle stores like REI, eventually serving the entire sun care industry with innovative products.

In addition, the company always seeks to improve its product and processes. Coola is unique in that it owns all its processes in-house, including product development, sales, marketing, creative, finance, accounting, analytics and logistics. Thanks to the challenges experienced early on, Coola embedded the idea of overseeing as much as possible and limiting the use of third parties, allowing them to manage the brand as they see fit. Birchby credits the success of this model to his exceptional team at all levels, which includes a new VP of innovation and a network of employees and partners around the country that provide feedback directly from the field. This spirit of collaboration allows for greater creativity and innovation.

“We house all of this information internally and work continuously to create our roadmap for the future. It really is the world’s greatest focus group,” Birchby says.

More information about Coola can be found online at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Pamela Busiek is the president and CEO of The Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors (ICMAD), a non-profit trade association supporting creative, innovative companies, from startups to established multinational businesses of all sizes. ICMAD’s goal is to help its members succeed in the rapidly changing, highly competitive global cosmetics and personal care industry. Since 1974, ICMAD has provided essential guidance and support through business tools, publications, education, networking opportunities, and key advocacy support. Stay on top of the latest industry regulations, news and events with ICMAD online at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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