Nina Zilka is CEO and co-founder of Alder New York, a truly clean, vegan, and genderless skincare and haircare line that is a sleek as it is effective. In a few short years she’s grown Alder New York into a cult brand sold at Goop, Free People, Anthropologie, as well as over 100 boutiques nationwide. Before founding Alder New York, Nina worked in the fashion industry for over a decade. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what inspired you to start Alder New York?
I was inspired to create Alder New York while working in the fashion industry. About a decade ago I became passionate about clean skincare and haircare, after learning about the lack of FDA regulation in cosmetics through the book No More Dirty Looks. At the time, Alder New York’s Chief Creative Officer, David, and I had a clothing line, and as a relaxing hobby when I’d come home from work, I started making my own personal care products. One of those products was a dry shampoo that immediately took on a life of its own. I gave some to my roommate who then gave some to her mom, who then asked for her friends to have some, and at some point David suggested we make a bottle and sell it along with our clothes.
A few years later David and I were both burnt out on the fashion industry, and really excited about where we thought the world of personal care could go. We knew we wanted truly clean products that matched our personal aesthetic for sleek, clean design, and that’s when we decided we wanted to create Alder New York. Three years later, it’s amazing to see what we’ve achieved since we had that idea.
What does your typical day look like?
I get up around 6:45 and usually try to meditate for 15 minutes before I check my phone or do anything else. If I manage to get up 45 minutes earlier, I’ll do some yoga in our study, and then it’s a quick breakfast and I head to the train to get into the office by 9. Every day at a small business looks different, so some days I’m at the computer the whole day responding to emails, but another day I might be on the train to New Jersey to meet with a new factory about production, or I might be headed to an editor’s breakfast- there’s really no consistency to the what the day looks like. But, unless we have a tight deadline or event, I try to leave work by 6 so I can be home by 7. Then my husband and I usually cook dinner, drink wine, hang with our cats, and watch whatever current show we’re obsessed with- it was Succession, now it’s Watchmen.
What was the worst piece of advice you've ever received?
“You’re not thinking big enough.” Right around when we launched Alder New York, I kept hearing that, mainly from men, and it was all based around this start-up mentality where you take a ton of VC money and grow, grow, grow with the idea that you’ll lose money now so that down the line you’ll make billions. I think this year in the world of business has shown that that plan often doesn’t work- and I knew that if we made high quality products at Alder New York that people wanted, we didn’t need to go that route. It’s been validating to see how right I was.
What does success mean to you?
I’m learning that achievement oriented ideas of success are a moving goal post; achievements I thought in the past would make me feel so successful don’t, because I’m already unto the next goal. I’m realizing success is about feeling fulfilled in the day to day- if you have that, you’re successful. If you don’t feel fulfilled regularly, it’s worth thinking about why not, and changing it, because life is too short.
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
Through my support system. They’re people who love me and believe in me, and when I question my abilities, they have no patience for it- and that tough love is really helpful. They don’t let me wallow in my self doubt- they’re like, ok, well, you’re gonna do this thing you’re worried about, just like you always do, so skip the self pity part and get working.
Do you have any morning routines or evening rituals to help you stay balanced?
Meditation and yoga keep me balanced. I’ve done yoga as part of my daily routine since I was 16- it became such a strong habit because I noice how terrible I feel when I don’t do it 4-5 times a week, and I make it really doable by practicing with online streaming classes, so I can do it anytime, anywhere (I am a big fan of ekhartyoga.com). Meditation is a new thing- I started it mid year, and have slowly found the right practice and what works for me. I try to do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening- I’ve got the morning down, but that afternoon one has been a bit trickier to fit in. But when I do it, I notice I can handle business problems a lot better- they don’t ruin my day the way they otherwise might.
What are your go-to Alder New York products?
Obviously I recommend each and every one of them; they’re designed to work together in a system, so I really do think they each enhance the others. But if I had to pick a few, I’d say our Everyday Face Cleanser is a product that has changed my skin- it’s low dose glycolic acid, so it very gently exfoliates, and leaves my complexion so bright. For the winter I’m also obsessed with our Fortifying Face Oil. It’s made with 6 different plant oils including vegan squalane, and it’s both lightweight and deeply nourishing- a hard balance to strike. Last week when I got a cold, it saved me from a chapped nose and lips- something that has happened to me every year till now.
Shop Alder New York.
If you liked this interview, you might like our recent interview with Lulu Liang, founder of Luxy Hair.