As part of TLEE Spas ‘Brand Spotlight’ series, our Vice President, Michael Lahm, caught up with Bunnie Gulick, Founder of ISUN Skincare.
When I first met Bunnie, I recall being immediately captivated by her radiant energy and soothing presence. This was the 90s, the heyday of hydroxy acids, and aggressive peels. The concept of clean formulas, natural ingredients, and ethical sourcing was, at best, a blip on my radar. As the industry evolved, I came to realize how prescient and pioneering her original vision was and continues to be.
Having collaborated on numerous projects, I can fully attest that both she and her brand ISUN are the real deal.
What’s your backstory?
I began my career back in the ‘70s as a nutritionist in California, before moving to Arizona to develop a line of nutritional supplements. At the request of one of my clients, I used the nutritional knowledge I’d gained to shift into skincare development. To make sure I was offering something unique, I focused on botanicals and antioxidants, which was pioneering at the time, and joined forces with a cosmetic chemist in San Jose, California, who became my mentor.
Fast-forwarding to the ’90s, I formed a partnership to launch the Astara Skincare brand, which propelled me into the spa world. After a few years, we decided to go our separate ways to pursue our own goals. I took a year off to dedicate to self-discovery, which led me and my daughter to India. I spent time at an Ashram in Bangalore, where alongside furthering my own practice, I began authoring articles about spirituality for the India Times. My guru, sensing my passion, urged me to create a line of products, so I moved to Colorado and created the Shankara line, which is deeply rooted in the ancient healing science of Ayurveda.
In 2006, I decided to create a new line, self-funded, that reflected my own vision, which is how ISUN Skincare was born. ISUN Skincare is wildcrafted, organic, and natural. Rooted in consciousness, the brand is built on integrity, intentional sourcing, and philanthropy. The products feed and fuel the body, reinforcing the mind-body connection. More than just about high-performing products, ISUN is best described as an embodiment of love and a source of positive inspiration.
We met back in the ’90s during my tenure with Bliss, how have you seen the spa industry change since then?
As I perceive it, growth in the spa industry has been mirrored by the growth in consciousness we’ve witnessed in humanity in general. Specifically, a greater awareness of the varied aspects of wellbeing – body, mind, and spirit – as well as a deeper understanding of the importance of sustainability: for all life on our planet and our relationship to all life on our planet.
There can be no doubt that there’s been a growing interest and adapted lifestyle in all things ‘organic’ – primarily in the foods we eat and the products we use on our skin. Many spas now include at least one organic skincare brand in their treatment and retail offerings. Some have adopted a fully organic culture within their spas. To complement that culture, they also typically offer healthful and organic food and beverage choices in their cafes and refreshment selection. Practices such as these were little known or regarded as important in the early ‘90s. Today, it is a shining light in a world where an understanding of higher values and wellbeing are fast becoming mainstream.
What are your top 3 favorite products in the line?
I truly love all 63 products in our line, so narrowing down to three is challenging. However, when I consider my age (early seventies), I first look for skincare products that are focused on repair and prevention. For my skin type (dry), my age, and the harsh high altitude (9500’) environment I’ve lived in for the past 30 years, I can narrow it down to three products that have preserved my skin naturally, with no medical intervention or aggressive skincare. These three products are state-of-the-art in organic, anti-aging skincare.
- Emerald Sun / Hydrosol Serum: as the first deep hydration layer
- Phyto-Infusion / Facial Serum: for targeted repair as well as prevention
- Intense Ultra Restore / Facial Oil Moisturizer: packed with antioxidants, stabilized Vitamin C, herbal-based polyphenols, and therapeutic essential oils
How has the current COVID crisis shifted your focus?
Before COVID, ISUN Skincare was exclusively distributed within high-end spas. When COVID hit and the spa industry came to a halt, so did we, as both the manufacturer and distributor. At that moment, I was faced with a very difficult decision. Having been on the edge of retirement for 10 years already, it could have been an opportunity to seize the moment and simply close our doors – take the money in our savings, sell the equipment and move on in my personal life after having spent a lifetime of hard work in a labor of love… Then, I began to think of all the people who would be out of business if we closed shop, and of our loyal team who would all be out of a job, and I couldn’t do it. Instead, I turned the corner, turned up my steam, joined heads with our general manager, and brainstormed our plan of action.
Our first move, in order to legally keep our business open, was to become an ‘essential business’, which meant creating and producing a hand sanitizer, which we did with great difficulty – ingredients and packaging were incredibly scarce. Second, and most important, was that we had to reinvent ourselves to develop an online retail market to bring in a sustainable income. We quickly created a whole new website with eCommerce functionality. I was the creative and copywriting arm and our tech-savvy general manager and graphic designer managed the backend aspects.
At the same time, I developed a simplified, all-organic skincare brand strictly for retail to help support our survival efforts called OM Pur. Thankfully it was embraced by the Erewhon Market, a high-end health store chain in Southern California. Our next steps are to launch a start-up website for this sister brand of ISUN, which will include a strong educational component, along with additional products that support a healthy lifestyle.
If we hadn’t quickly and aggressively changed our business focus, we wouldn’t have survived the pandemic. Our decisive action has given us the hope that we will come out shining on the other side. As September begins, the Asian spa market has begun to open, which will bring new opportunities.