Departure Series - Meet the Founder: Nina Zilka

Welcome back to another Meet the Founders series, where we highlight some of our incredible founders. 

This first series is in honor of International Woman's Month and the launch of THE WINGWOMAN. 

Today, please meet Nina Zilka, the Co-Founder of Alder New York. Alder New York is a brand that is uncomplicated, natural skincare and haircare products that will leave you feeling your best. What's not to like?

Anyways... let's meet Nina! 


Name: Nina Zilka

Position: Co-Founder & CEO

Company: Alder New York

Location: New York City

100mL:  What inspired you to start your business?

NZ: In 2010 I read this life-changing book called No More Dirty Looks, which was the first time I learned about the lack of FDA regulation in the personal care industry. It inspired me to start making my own products, completely as a side project, while I worked full time in the fashion industry (I had a clothing line at the time). But, the side project took on a life of its own, as I gifted products to friends, who shared with their friends, and suddenly stores were asking about carrying the products. My (still) business partner, David Krause, suggested we start selling some of these products- things like a lip balm (which is not that different that the Lip Balm Alder New York currently sells)- on our website along with our clothes.

Cut to 2015, when we started to feel like we should seriously pursue this product line full time. We took a year to develop the current formulas (things way more advanced than what I was making in my kitchen in 2010), source ingredients, and meet and start working with factories to produce the packaging and products. In 2016 we launched Alder New York, our gender-inclusive skincare line that does things differently, because skincare should not be complicated. It should be safe-to-use, effective, look beautiful on your shelf, and make you look and feel amazing.

100mL:  Which female figure in your life has inspired you?

NZ: In my personal life, my grandma, who I called Oma, inspires me every day. She actually just passed away this past week, at 95 years old after living this full life. She was born in Germany and was put on the kinder-transport at 9 years old to escape the Nazis. She grew up as an orphan in England, then at 16 took a ship to the United States where she got a college degree (very unusual for women at that time), and then became a librarian in NYC. She had a stoicism and kindness to her that I emulate- she took very hard life experiences in stride, and somehow never let them make her bitter. If anything she spent her life working to connect with people on an emotional level. The way she walked through the world inspires me.

100mL:  What does being a female founder mean to you?

NZ:  Because I identify as a woman and founded a company and that's just my reality, I don't actually think about the fact that I'm a "female founder" that often. But sometimes, I'll end up at a very male dominated space and I'm reminded how important it is that we have women in leadership roles, women founding companies. There is real sexism in business, and the best way I know to combat it is to be a woman in a position where I can try to fight that by hiring, promoting, and working with women and other marginalized groups.

100mL: What has been a high and a low in your career?

NZ:A high-point of my career so far is when I've received validation for the products we've created. I know they're amazing, but to hear from publications and organizations in positions of authority affirm that really is the best feeling. We're won product awards from Ask Men, Byrdie, The Strategist, Vogue, Good Housekeeping, and Self Magazine, and I don't think I'll ever get used to/not-excited by things like that.
A low point has been these past two years, watching small-businesses and stores who have supported us from the beginning struggle in this really weird economic time. We feel really close to a lot of our retailers- we've always partnered with stores who align with our values, and have really great people behind them. So that is a low point for sure.

100mL:  What is the one trait you think as a female founder needs to have?

NZ: As a female founder in what is factually a male-dominated world takes a lot of inner confidence. You deal with a lot of people doubting your vision, so you need to have a sense of confidence in yourself and your ideas. So, I also think having a strong support system to reinforce that confidence is key- sometimes you're gonna feel down, and you need people that believe in you around to remind you why you do what you do, and that you're good at it.

100mL: What is your favorite product from your brand?

NZ: Alder New York's Everyday Cleanser is without question my favorite product in the whole world. It has this gel texture and uses 1% glycolic acid- so it's safe to use twice a day, and very gently removes dead skin. I've been using it for about 7 years now, and it definitively changed my skin for the better. I always get compliments on my skin and that cleanser is a huge reason why.

100mL: Where is your favorite destination?

NZ: I'm pretty in love with coastal Maine. My mother-in-law moved to Maine a few years ago so now we get to spend a lot of time there, exploring up and down the coast. Even in the coldest months I love walking along the rocky beaches. I feel very at-peace when I'm there and it's such a restorative break from the bustle of NYC.

100mL:  What is you one piece advice to the younger generations of women?

NZ: Don't compare yourself to other people. It's a pointless exercise and it will only get you into trouble- and I say that from first-hand experience. The older I get the more I understand that how someone's life looks from the outside says nothing about their daily struggles, or the choices they've made to get to where they are. Pick a phrase that you like: "Keep your eyes on your own paper," "Stay in your lane," and use that as your mantra.

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