NOTO Botanics didn’t become LA’s hottest beauty and skincare brand overnight. Rather, the story of the brand is more of a slow burn, a mirror of founder Gloria Noto’s own life and career.
Born in Detroit to Italian parents, Gloria Noto’s childhood was different from her peers. “I grew up using olive oil to eat and to hydrate my skin. Summers in Sicily with fresh herbs and food straight from gardens, and salty water in my hair. In Michigan I experienced the beauty of forests, wet mossy ground, and the hard work ethic of Detroit.”
It laid the foundation for her future, an outsider inclined to imbue her point of view and experiences on all she touched.
By age 10 Noto had discovered fashion, triggering a lifelong interest in the arts, and by the time she went off to school, she had set her sights on conceptual furniture design. While working at a thrift store during those formative years, someone dropped off Kevyn Aucoin books and her world changed: she had no idea makeup could be done in that way.
Honing her skills as a makeup artist since that encounter, Noto relocated to LA in 2006, soon signing with Jed Root Agency, which brought her all over the world for editorial, celebrity, and commercial work. Her signature aesthetic—self-expression in place of traditional beauty standards—became recognizable and sought after, and her work started to appear in era-defining cultural magazines such as i-D and Dazed.
A few years later while her makeup career continued to climb, Noto launched The Work Magazine, a publication dedicated to showcasing the processes of creative people across different media. The magazine served a dual purpose: creative outlet and cultural journal.
By the early 2010s, “clean beauty” was becoming a buzzed-about term in the skincare industry. The movement championed transparent practices and non-toxic ingredients but it had its shortcomings. “There was a gap between clean beauty and inclusive representation.”
Noto had been in the beauty industry for a decade at that point and while she had reservations about introducing her own brand into a packed field, she decided to push forward, as determined as ever to highlight the stories behind those historically underrepresented by the wellness industry.
“There was a gap between clean beauty and inclusive representation.”
Her experiments in creating products that would ultimately go on to define the brand as a reflection of her own life began with her personal exploration of herbalism. “My love for plants and their power, and my curiosity of understanding them guided me towards figuring out formulas because I wasn’t able to find anything that helped my extremely troubled skin.”
NOTO Botanics officially launched in 2016, standing out in an increasingly crowded space with an aggressively inclusive approach and an unwavering commitment to causes it believes in. Four years on and it’s this track record Noto is most proud of. To date the company has donated nearly $30,000 to social charities from sales of its popular Agender Oil while outwardly supporting inclusivity, BIPOC lives, queer safety, and representation.
Although these are all topics the clean beauty movement has attached itself to, Noto’s journey as a gay first-generation American woman navigating the clean beauty world far before it became so accepting is something insiders have been paying attention to since day one.
Today her products can be found in the trendiest businesses in the most progressive cities around the world, something that can be at least partially explained by this steadfast point of view.
Visually, Noto captures this perspective in each of the brand’s campaigns. “I try to capture the subject’s true essence, who they are and their story. I want to create a story with each shoot that draws you into a little world. A place for you to feel seen.”
“Everything we do has power in it and is a vote towards what we care about and what we want to see our world becoming.”
It’s this last sentence that fans of the brand feel whenever they use NOTO products, even if they’re unable to put it into words. Beyond that, it’s a feeling that connects with fans and draws them into NOTO’s larger purpose. “Everything we do has power in it and is a vote towards what we care about and what we want to see our world becoming. I want to be part of that evolution and to connect with those who also share this value.”
It’s a message that has become familiar in the world of clean beauty. The difference is that it feels authentic with NOTO, not rushed to the frontlines in the wake of recent events. Scrolling through NOTO’s Instagram, it’s plain these values have indeed defined the brand since 2016. Artists and activists are given a platform to tell their stories. Users are encouraged to tag BIPOC creatives. Events with spiritual healers take place over Instagram Live.
NOTO’s first store, located in LA’s historic and trendy Highland Park neighborhood, brings these values, and the value of the actual products, into the physical world. “It’s very close to the feeling of what the product feels like on the skin: calming, inspiring, genderless, with a bit of grit and a lot of taste.” Once it’s safe to do so again, it’ll also serve as a hub for creative dialogue, a place where everyone can feel seen.
Just like it took years for the industry to catch up to what Noto has been advocating for all along, don’t be surprised to see today’s biggest beauty brands take notes from the NOTO playbook years from now.
Put simply, NOTO is a crystal ball into the future of inclusive cosmetics.
All images courtesy of NOTO.
Brock Cardiner is the Content Director of HERO® and the Editor-in-Chief of Elsewhere. Previously Brock was the Editorial Director of Highsnobiety.