Words of Women: evolvetogether Founder Cynthia Sakai on Innovation and Bringing People Together

By: Mel Simmons
05/30/2023
en
Cynthia Sakai, founder of evolvetogether
Thumbnail courtesy of evolvetogether.

Regardless of the industry, there are plenty of women who are certified power players in their respective fields. In our series “Words of Women,” EnVi talks to inspiring women in the fashion and beauty industry about their goals, achievements, and journey to success. As Asian American Pacific Island Heritage Month comes to an end, EnVi highlights Japanese American brand owner Cynthia Sakai. The evolvetogether founder discusses her experience as a lifelong designer and how to spark innovation within the littlest of details.

Raised by a mother working in the world of luxury fashion and founding an accessory brand at the young age of 18, Cynthia Sakai has always been destined to become an influential figure in the fashion and lifestyle scene. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit, the designer — who is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America — took a turn from the world of jewelry design to dominate the personal care industry in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a handful of notes taken from Japanese culture, Cynthia became obsessed with the idea of creating purpose-driven products that will last a lifetime. Attaching meaningful thoughts to every detail, evolvetogether paves the way for elevated, sustainable labels, focused on creating mindful products with a large impact.

EnVi: What was the catalyst for you to start your own personal care brand?

Cynthia Sakai: Honestly, we just couldn’t find products that did everything that we (and our customers) cared about — beautiful, high-performing, and daily essentials that were also good for the environment. Instead, we could only find stuff that only had a slice of what we were looking for. Luxe but wasteful. Effective but visually out of place in our daily lives. Sustainable but ineffective, difficult to use, or missing the mark on a modern aesthetic. So, our North Star became an equal focus on product formulation, sustainability, and design so that a single product could encompass all the values modern consumers care about.

How did evolvetogether come to fruition?

We began our company as a way to help people at the start of the pandemic. Our first product, a high-performing everyday mask, was critical to get tested, fairly priced, and quality masks to consumers when they needed it most. From day one, it’s always been about bringing people together to do good and adding value to people’s lives — a mission that’s stayed with us as we’ve expanded into other daily essential and beauty categories.

What were your biggest aspirations and inspirations when starting evolvetogether?

We wanted to create a brand that could bring people together to do good. At first, that was through taking care of people by wearing masks — and reminding people that we’re all connected no matter our race, religion, gender, or where we live. And that led us to things like our tree-planting initiative — $1 at checkout plants a tree, and we’ve planted hundreds of thousands of trees together! We’ve been investing in biodegradable face masks, introducing tree-free outer packaging, and evolving our packaging to minimize plastic waste. Side note, our personal care collection has already saved over 26,700 pounds of plastic!

Did you face any challenges when you were putting your brand together?

Absolutely. Because we began during the pandemic, we had to build a brand from scratch while navigating a 100% remote workforce, global manufacturing and supply chain disruptions, and ever-evolving regulations. It was hard. But, it also allowed us to naturally bake agility, flexibility, and open-mindedness into our DNA — traits that are now core to our ability to be innovative with new materials, processes, products, and categories.

As someone with an extensive background as a designer, has your experience in the fashion industry influenced your choices at evolvetogether?

Yes, as a designer I think it’s been a natural fit for considering all the details that go into a well-loved product. Not only how it looks, but how people live with and use an item, too. It’s also allowed us the freedom to re-imagine what sustainability should look like by casting aside the typical brown box aesthetic of a “green” item to really elevate and incorporate sustainability in a more beautiful way.

From thoughtful packaging to donating at checkout, evolvetogether’s core values are rooted in taking care of people and the planet. Why did you want to highlight this in your brand?

We have this belief that 8 billion of us share this one beautiful world and that when we evolve together our small, daily actions can add up to a lot of good. That idea is grounded in everything we do and has inspired our community tree planting initiative, approach to sustainable packaging, and even the global coordinates we print on each product as a reminder that we’re all connected no matter our race, gender, religion, or where we live.

evolvetogether is a highly innovative brand that is always one step ahead of the market. Where do you get inspiration from when creating new products?

We take inspiration from what’s missing in the market and obsess about ways to make existing things better. And of course, we listen to our customers. We care about the things customers tell us they want and always go back to the question, “How does this product add value to someone’s life?”

It’s AAPI Heritage Month. Has your heritage and cultural background contributed in any way to shaping your brand? If so, how?

Japanese culture is rooted in the thoughtfulness of details — in everything from products and packaging to food and presentation. In Japan, it’s quite beautiful how everyday things are designed in a way to not only look a certain way, but also to add joy, and purpose to your daily life. It’s less about grab-and-go consumerism and more about welcoming something into your life that you will love for a very long time. That mindset has definitely shaped our brand, and something you can see in its minimal aesthetic, functional thoughtfulness, and quality of materials. We make things people will want to keep (and love) until their very last use.

Who are some people from the AAPI community that you look up to?

There are quite a few — on a personal level, my grandma who had such an incredible sense of style and who really instilled in me from a young age to value beauty and quality in all things. And on the other end of the spectrum, there’s my fellow CFDA designer and fashion leader Vera Wang who’s really been the trailblazer for other AAPI designers and is a great role model in entrepreneurship all the way around.

Recommendations of Women

What are some of your personal must-have beauty or fashion items?

evolvetogether nautral deodorant in monaco
evolvetogether’s Natural Deodorant in Monaco

As a mom to a six-week-old and days full of meetings, my days start early and end late – or never! The sheer, rosy scent of Monaco and the hardworking formula that actually works keeps me fresh through (very) long days and nights.
evolvetogether’s Hydrating Lip Balm in Provence 

I love a soft pot of lip butter, but hate dipping my finger into the pot. Our hydrating lip balm has the same buttery softness of my favorite potted balms, but in a convenient stick form that leaves lips soft without any greasy or sticky residue.
evolvetogether hydrating lip balm in provence
hydrating electrolyte sticks by cure
Electrolyte Sticks by Cure

I’m a firm believer that good skin starts from within, and I’ve been depending on Cure’s electrolyte sticks to add that extra hydration boost to my water with natural coconut and Himalayan salt.
Victoria Beckham Primer

This has been my go-to for under makeup lately. It really lasts and gives me such a nice glow that perks up my complexion even after a late night.
victoria beckham primer
orce serum foundation
Orcé Foundation

Founder Yu-Chen Shih makes this line of foundation that’s been in regular rotation since I discovered it. Her brand has a great palette with so many shades that work perfectly for Asian women and men and it layers wonderfully with all my other makeup.

What advice would you give to young people pursuing to start their own brands?

Cynthia Sakai: Have a purpose! As long as you stay true to your purpose, you’ll be on a good path. Having that “why” makes the “how” a lot easier to decide along the way.

Want to read more about inspiring women shaping fashion and beauty? Find out how the Hartanto sisters have led PEGGY HARTANTO to be one of Indonesia’s top fashion brands here.