A Visit With the Seed Squad: We’re Not in Paris Anymore
Photography by Aliza Eliazarov
After a decade spent working as a beauty editor, I've come to expect certain things from the headquarters of any cosmetics company. Lots of black and white surfaces, for instance—invariably glossy and always miraculously unspoiled by fingerprints. The higher the office floor, the more powerful the designer-clad employee, who typically arrives breathlessly late for meetings via chauffeured town car.
So you can imagine my shock when industry veteran Shane Wolf offered to give me a ride—via pick-up truck—to the HQ of his latest venture, a skin- and hair-care line called Seed Phytonutrients. Then again, Wolf isn’t doing anything by the book with this particular launch. Every synthetic-free shampoo and hand salve relies on the potent extracts of organically grown seeds and comes packaged in the most environmentally-friendly materials possible. Oh, and the brand’s executive suites? They sit some 90 miles southwest of Manhattan, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, population 8,830.
For Wolf, who grew up on a Kansas farm, the project hits close to home, quite literally. In 2013, he and his husband purchased 10 acres outside Doylestown, where the couple tends chickens, goats, and rescued draft horses. But Wolf is far from the only Seed staffer (or “farmhand” in company parlance) with an ardor for sustainable agriculture. Lead marketing “farmhand” Brad Farrell credits his passion to years pitching in at his uncle’s cider mill in New York’s Catskill Mountains. Mariko Rex, also in the marketing department, became an expert on the healing powers of horticultural oils following her husand’s cancer diagnosis (he’s now in remission, thankfully).
Of Seed’s unusal location, Farrell explains, “The access to farmers is one of the main reasons we’re in Doylestown. If we want to check on a seed plot or ask a question, we’re five minutes away from a farm.” Operations “farmhand” Jen Woodworth agrees. “We can feed off the local culture and vibe,” she says. “Being in a small town allows us to be ourselves and find our own identity.”
Another upside to Seed’s relatively rural address involves immediate, on-the-ground input from the back-to-the-land audience it’s trying to reach. Partnerships with an area salon and organic grocery store have provided consumer commentary that feels far more initimate than anything an impersonal focus group might deliver. Plus, Doylestown is downright adorable. Think Mayberry with money: spotless streets, carefully tended lawns, and charming independent businesses.
Inside the Seed storefront, which once served as the local Obama campaign headquarters, reclaimed wood planks cover the walls, and a well-worn hutch displays the full product line. As Wolf walks me through space, he enthusiastically shares the provenance of each detail. “We built that shelving unit in my barn and loaded it into my truck with a tractor,” he says with a grin.
The overarching effect is friendly and warm, pointedly so. An “All Are Welcome” sign stands close to the entrance. “We’re about inclusion,” Wolf explains, drawing my attention to the all-gender restroom. Putting Seed’s feel-good ethos into practice is, apparently, a priority. The office recycles, of course, and composts, too. (Wolf schleps the day’s waste to his farm’s compost pile, then brings a clean container back the next morning.) Ferns and succulents are planted in organic soil, and the cleaning products are made with essential oils. “I love that I come to work and everything is sustainable, from our mission to the food we eat,” Rex says.
Indeed, the employee kitchen serves organic snacks, drinks, and happy-hour supplies. “The wines are organic, even biodynamic,” Wolf says. “They’re harder to find, and they cost more, but you know what? Some farmer needs me to buy this to keep growing organic grapes.” Suddenly, Wolf catches me eyeing a foam can koozie, and breaks into an impish grin. “It’s a funny story,” he admits. A certain Seedster—Wolf kindly refuses to reveal her identity—is addicted to Diet Coke, a beverage non grata here, and relies on koozies to conceal the habit. “I was sure she was drinking organic sodas,” he recalls. “Then I inspected the recycling bin. I’m slowly converting her.”
“I know the staff thinks I’m crazy sometimes,” he continues. “Maybe I am. This organic and natural lifestyle is at my core. I really believe that we have to start changing, and doing things for our planet.” Nah, Doylestown will probably never become a global beauty capital on the scale of Paris or New York, but if the Wolf has his way, the bucolic village will revolutionize the way we view the beauty biz.