Cosmetics giant, Jane Iredale, builds a solid foundation in the Community.
Google Jane Iredale. Page after page of entries roll out for her mineral-cosmetics company. Iredale’s media footprint represents a company brand that tweets from the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, just a handful of the 40 countries where the product is found. Click on YouTube and glean easy beauty tips. Or go to her regular makeup blog. This is the commercial image of Iredale, the one known to distributors, customers, and competitors. In the Berkshires, though, where she resides, it’s not the just the brand but the person who is known well, as someone who takes good care of her employees and the community around her.
Growing up in a working-class family in the suburbs of north London, Iredale was a poor scholar. By 16, she’d left school without any academic accolades to her name, and, without qualifications, her options were limited. She attended a technical college for a year, but nothing called out to her. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, other forces were at work. Friends in the British foreign service introduced her to some Americans, who sparked her interest in the United States. Eager to visit but without the money to fund such a trip, she joined a travel agency as an employee to get discounted tickets.
Once in the U.S., through contacts, she landed a job as a junior casting director—even though she had no idea what the position actually entailed. It was just a minor detail that didn’t stop Iredale from eventually establishing herself in the industry, working with stars such as Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and William Shatner. Not one for sitting back, she gained a graduate degree from New York University during this time. Successful, yes. But not satisfied, and exhausted from show-biz burnout. With no particular professional career in mind, she began to explore other interests, one of which was a line of healthy cosmetics.
In 1994 with $10,000 and an interest in holistic health, she began her business in one room of her Austerlitz house where she was living. Her first step was finding a chemist to develop her original mineral-cosmetic line. Then, without a business plan or any staff, she began selling over the phone. Twenty years on, Iredale mineral cosmetics is a thriving, global business with 103 local employees plus 70 team members across the country.
The question many ask is: How did Iredale—solo, with little start-up money, let alone any significant financial backing or business acumen—manage to succeed? Some say it was luck; others credit being in the right place at the right time, or having a solid business instinct. The real truth is, Iredale says, “I knew I could sell, and I knew I had a good product because of my involvement with actors.” Actors often experienced skin problems from heavy makeup they used, and her solution was to create a skin-friendly product. Passion about her product combined with a fierce tenacity boosted her success.
“Early on I made mistakes, learned from them, and moved on,” Iredale says. The mistakes kept her grounded—she’s loved by her employees because she treats them like family. Jamie Roberts, a successful marketer herself, has remained with Iredale for 12 years. “Jane is not just my boss. She’s an inspiration. She gives 100 percent of herself to whatever she does. She is one of the most dynamic, elegant, and sincere individuals I’ve ever worked with.” Lucy Prashker, an attorney and managing partner at Cain Hibbard & Myers, also has nothing but praise for Iredale. Prashker sees her friend as a pioneer who “inspires and motivates everyone around her.”
Iredale isn’t one to draw attention to herself, though, quietly giving support where she can. Take a stroll down Church Street in Great Barrington. A once-dreary car park has been landscaped by Iredale. In the far corner, one of Great Barrington’s three remaining American elm trees thrives, thanks to Iredale, who has them annually immunized against Dutch elm disease. Further along on the left are her company gardens, complete with fruit-bearing peach trees and a beehive, reflecting Iredale’s concern for the diminishing bee population.
She spreads her philanthropy throughout the Berkshires, and the Mahaiwe will honor her with an October 12 gala. Tina Packer, founder of Shakespeare & Company and another friend of Iredale, says, “The creative spirit of Jane Iredale has been running through Berkshire County for the past 25 years. As a filmmaker she created documentaries, as a writer she created plays, as an innovator she created the best line of makeup I have ever known. She is a real example of someone who is able to think creatively and can turn her mind to almost anything.”
Like Packer, people take notice of what Iredale does. The lengthy conversion of the former Bryant Elementary School into Iredale’s 20,000-square-foot global headquarters to be completed late November has been a work in progress watched by townsfolk like Scott Gwiazdzinski, barista at the nearby Berkshire Co-op, where Iredale shops. He believes Jane and Bob Montgomery, Iredale’s husband, are “some of the most personable and sincere customers I’ve had the pleasure of serving. They are about the community and it shows.” The couple can be seen around Great Barrington enjoying and supporting local businesses, cultural events and restaurants with their canine companion, Cookie, neatly stowed in a backpack.
There’s more to Iredale, though, than her commercial enterprise and community service. She’s also a caregiver. In 1990, she brought her mother from England to live in Great Barrington. At first, Tess Iredale lived in a West Avenue condominium. Without pavements, there was a risk of her getting hit by cars as she walked. Rather than tempt fate, Iredale purchased and renovated a house directly across from her Great Barrington offices on Church Street. Here, her “Mum” is safe—able to walk her dog, shop, and lead and independent life. Honored by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth on reaching her centennial birthday, Tess, 101 on October 9, sometimes still puts in a day’s work packaging the company’s face mitts.
Maggie Buchwald, chair of the Mahaiwe board and a close friend of Iredale, recalls her first board meeting and being introduced to “this wonderfully glamorous, impeccably groomed and sophisticated-sounding woman.” Back at home, she told her husband, Don, about her. “Jane Iredale?” he asked. “Not the Jane Iredale who used to work in advertising?” It turned out Buchwald’s husband had known Jane for years when she used his clients for commercials.
“Since then,” says Buchwald, “Jane and Bob have become among our closest friends. Small world.”