By Amy Ferguson
Photos by Kate Zills
Is there anything more humiliating to admit at age 32, as a hard-working mother and wife, that you’ve fallen victim to the phenomenon that is TikTok? I’m strictly asking for a friend, a friend who has been convinced over and over again that she needs certain beauty products because complete strangers (who are half her age, by the way) say so. But 28-year-old Kate Zills, who runs an online clean beauty store called MADE, isn’t here to judge my friend or me or anyone else who has been influenced by TikTok. In fact, she completely gets it.
“In my attempts to research clean and effective skincare products, I became so frustrated with the entire process,” Kate says. “It would take me 30 minutes to find one product I could use in a single store, and then I’d get furious as to why some ingredients were even allowed on the shelves. I kept thinking there had to be an easier way.”
For some, that easier way is trusting the advice of random users on TikTok, who may or may not know what they are talking about. But Kate had deeper motivations to take things into her own hands. As a full-time environmental engineer with Hazen and Sawyer, a company focused on controlling water pollution, Kate’s thoughts about the world quickly changed when her eyes were opened to the amount of hazardous waste and contamination constantly threatening all types of communities, both near and far. “I’ve seen first-hand how damaging chemicals can be to us and to our environment,” Kate says. “People just don’t know how fairly unregulated the market is.”
And that’s why Kate walked away from the comforts of her secure career to become an entrepreneur in the clean beauty industry. Enter MADE, a digital clean beauty boutique with hand-picked products featuring what she has found to be the cleanest of ingredients. Operated out of a spare bedroom in her Bluff Park home that she shares with her husband and four-legged fur child, MADE’s products are tested for effectiveness, and only the ones she finds to be the best make it into the store. “[The store] is like an online art gallery,” Kate says. “I’m always trying new products, so it’s like an ever-evolving resource for clean beauty.”
Still don’t quite understand exactly what clean beauty means? That’s okay, because despite what many mainstream brands would have you believe, there is not a legal or official definition of “clean beauty.” Often described with buzzwords like “organic,” “green,” “natural” and “environmentally-conscious,” the truth is that clean beauty means something different to every person, every manufacturer and every retailer.
“There is a common understanding of certain ingredients that are considered harmful, but not everyone agrees on what those are,” Kate says. For her, it’s a rather lengthy list of parabens and phthalates along with other elements like formaldehyde, hydroquinone, oxybenzone and resorcinol, to name a few. But it’s also a lot more than that. “To me, clean beauty is conscious beauty,” she says. “I don’t settle for just good enough. I want to be proactive and aware about what I’m putting on my body.”
Growing up in Florence, Alabama, Kate was always fascinated with beauty. As a teenager, she devoured magazines like Cosmopolitan and Seventeen and always gravitated towards headlines that promised to reveal “The No. 1 Secret to Perfect Hair” and “The Best Way to Achieve Glowy Skin.” She was even wearing daily sunscreen at age 15. But her natural interest in the beauty industry doesn’t mean the journey with MADE has been smooth sailing. Actually, it’s been quite the opposite because of that global pandemic that won’t seem to go away.
A few months before COVID-19 turned the world upside down, MADE went online in August 2019 after a countless number of late and long nights (Kate’s daytime hours were still devoted to Hazen and Sawyer at the time). With a handful of successes under her belt, Kate felt comfortable enough to officially resign from her engineering role, and on March 1, 2020, she signed a lease for a small space in The Mercantile, a marketplace designed especially for local vendors located off of Highway 280. And then, two weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. She was devastated, but not discouraged.
“In a perfect world, it wouldn’t have happened that way,” Kate says. “If you had told me that in a few short months after starting a business, the entire world would stop due to a pandemic, I would have never made the leap of faith that I did, and MADE wouldn’t exist today. I would have missed out on so many wonderful opportunities. Things really do have a way of working themselves out.”
Graciously, The Mercantile’s landlord released her from their agreement, leaving Kate at a pivotal crossroad in her life. Instead of giving up on her dream and returning to the security of the engineering world , she pressed on. “You have to be your own cheerleader,” Kate says. “I’m so thankful that I have a supportive husband, and I cannot imagine doing this without him, but at the end of the day, you have to be your own advocate.”
Caleb Zills, a risk control consultant for an insurance company, acknowledges he was hesitant when his wife chose to step away from a job in which she had dedicated a large portion of her life. “When [Kate] decided to launch MADE, many people doubted her,” Caleb says. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any doubts. But, what everyone didn’t know, and I had forgotten, is that Kate isn’t a normal person. She is special. She used all those doubts as fuel.”
Determined to keep on keeping on, Kate built upon MADE’s momentum on the website and its social media platforms, which began to capture the attention of several local clean beauty enthusiasts, including Carlie Billingsley who resides in Chelsea. Fascinated with the idea of clean beauty, but overwhelmed with all the available options from which to choose, 28-year old Carlie reached out to Kate for guidance. “She helped steer me in the right direction and helped me choose makeup and skincare products for the benefit of my specific skin type,” Carlie says.
As a full-time neonatal ICU nurse at Grandview Medical Center, Carlie was drawn to the fact that Kate tried all the products herself first, making it easier to browse through the MADE store and trust that the products are both safe and effective. Carlie even responded to Kate’s recent request for part-time help with things like packaging and inventory,.
“I’ve been blown away,” Carlie says. “I had no idea the amount of work and dedication it takes to start your own business. I learn new things each time we get together. It’s been so fun to get to know Kate and the heart behind MADE.”
Consider Caleb blown away as well. For two years, he has watched as his wife committed 110 percent of herself into this dream and proved all the doubters wrong, himself included. “I’m so proud of her,” Caleb says. “I’m so lucky to have such an inspirational, motivated, dedicated wife. It doesn’t hurt that she’s pretty attractive too.”
Passionate about this work she describes as “feeding her soul,” Kate is more than excited about what is in store for MADE, including the release of its first skincare product later this year. “I am learning to lean into the unknown and to truly trust God with my future,” Kate says. “For now, I’m just enjoying bringing people the very best in clean beauty.”
Learn more about MADE products at madesimpleliving.com.
Kate’s Skincare Routine
Interested in how Kate cares for her own complexion? Check out some of her tried and true favorites from her daily skincare routine, which includes products that cleanse, exfoliate, moisturize and protect.
Pamplemousse Cleansing Oil by Leahlani Skincare
Kate starts and ends her day by cleansing her face with this daily cleanser, which dissolves excess oil, impurities and makeup and leaves skin feeling fresh and hydrated.
Eye C Firm by Fitglow Beauty
This plant-based cream can be kept in the fridge and works to reduce the look of lines, dark circles and puffiness. Kate also uses this product both in the morning and evening.
Beauty Sleep Elixir by Beuti Skincare
This product can be used both at night and during the day to give your skin a natural smooth glow. It also acts as a primer under your makeup and helps treat one-off breakouts.
Honey Love Exfoliator by Leahlani Skincare
Kate swears this weekly exfoliating treatment will transform and polish your skin.
Impeccable Skin by Suntegrity
Available in six different shades, this product provides foundation-like coverage and features SPF 30 to help prevent damage from the sun (aka fine lines and wrinkles).
Age Clear Serum Pads by Fitglow Beauty
These preloaded pads are filled with age-defying and blemish-fighting ingredients that clean out pores, remove impurities and encourage skin renewal. Kate uses this product at night after cleansing.
Cloud Comfort Cream by Fitglow Beauty
This moisturizer works to rebuild skin strength and provide moisture. It works well for those of us whose skin needs a little extra love during dry winter months.
Mermaid Mask by Leahlani Skincare
Use this mask once a week to boost circulation, purify pores and revitalize dull skin for a refreshed glow.