Melissa Juried Kriebel
“Do you ever see a brand or a product come out, and you’re like, Ugh, I should have thought of that?” That was the reaction from Stephanie Shepherd Suganami (a.k.a. Steph Shep) when she first tried PLUS—a line of dissolvable body wash sachets which, according to the company, are 100 percent free of single-use plastics and made of wood pulp from sustainable forests. She was so enthused that she personally reached out to the team, including Julie Schott, who cofounded PLUS in April 2021. Kardashian hairstylist Jen Atkin had introduced Shepherd to Schott several years prior with the idea that they might work well together. Atkin was right.
Shepherd was appointed chief impact officer (CIO, not to be confused with chief investment officer) of PLUS last year. In this role she combines the expertise gleaned from working on the cosmetic arm of Kardashian West Brands, and from building her climate education platform, Future Earth, which she created in 2018 with Mahtab Moinian. (Shepherd declined to comment on whether she’s an investor in PLUS.)
The role of CIO is a relatively new concept. This person is typically tasked with implementing a culture of corporate social responsibility, which might include spearheading sustainability initiatives and ensuring the company “does good” in communities or on a global scale. The term entered the spotlight in March 2021 when Prince Harry became CIO of Silicon Valley mental health startup BetterUp. Since then, other celebrities have taken on the role at brands old and new—Lil Nas X at Taco Bell and Simone Biles at Cerebral are two notable examples.
But what does a CIO do, in practice? And is the role more than just symbolic?
Shepherd wants to set the record straight on that latter point. “My management always, when I get involved with a brand or if I do a brand deal … or a collaboration … they’re like, ‘She’s actually gonna be really involved, like just so you know, she’s gonna wanna do calls,’ I’m not the person that’s gonna throw my name on something and be like, ‘Yep, I’ll sign off, I’ll sign off,’” she explains. When it comes to her involvement with PLUS, “we talk probably every day” mostly for “brainstorming… and just kind of trying to ideate.”
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Shepherd first made a name for herself as Kim Kardashian’s personal assistant in 2013. Later, she served as chief operating officer for the Kardashian West Brands until 2017, when she was reportedly let go. As COO, she was immersed in the product development process, which is also one of her favorite aspects of working with PLUS. “I love testing scents, and formulas, and packaging, and materials,” she says. “That, for me, when I was working with Kim, was always one of the most fun things that we got to do with KKW Beauty and with fragrance. It’s just a really cool process to have an idea and see it come to life.”
Asked to describe her responsibilities with PLUS, Shepherd says, “I lead the sustainability education as well as give-back initiatives and brand partnerships.” PLUS cofounder Cathryn Woodruff says Shepherd has been impactful in getting the word out about PLUS and its mission, pioneering a donation program, and helping to streamline company messaging.
For example, in August, PLUS donated 500 sachets to The People Concern Access Center, a social services agency in Los Angeles that serves 100 to 400 unhoused people a day, providing a safe space to take a shower, get lunch, see a doctor, and more. On August 28, Shepherd and Schott spent a day volunteering there, packing lunches and toiletry kits with PLUS and other items. Shepherd identified The People Concern as a perfect impact partner for PLUS early on, and the company will continue to support their community in L.A.
“I know [choosing eco-friendly toiletries] is such a small, small thing that we all do as consumers in this capitalism, consumerism world … but I think collectively, those small things lead to big things,” she says.
PLUS retails through its own website as well as in Target stores. While the DTC brand didn’t invent the concept of plastic-free body wash (other sustainable brands carry a tablet version, cleansing bars (opens in new tab), or powder-to-gel wash (opens in new tab)), it is the first to offer a dissolvable, single-use packet, with no microplastics. PLUS is focused on “reaching the masses,” as Shepherd puts it—stocking in Target rather than in, say, Whole Foods, and as keeping price points accessible (products range from $7 to $15).
The brand works with Bluebird Climate to offer (and ideally improve) transparency around its sustainable aspects. Shepherd is serious about eco-activism. She cofounded @futureearth in 2018 to share the bite-sized, digestible, grid-friendly information about climate change that she wasn’t seeing at the time. “It was really scientific or it would go over my head, … there was no vibe,” she says. Today, the self-described “climate club” counts close to 400,000 followers. In latest news, Shepherd has also partnered with fragrance and candle brand Snif (opens in new tab) on a scent named Suganami, the brand’s first to come packaged in 100-percent compostable materials; she celebrated its launch in September, with Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker in attendance.
For Shepherd, the fight to preserve the environment has to be rooted in every individual believing the mantra, “Everything I do affects everyone else.” For her, PLUS’ collaboration with The People Concern embodies those values. ”To be able to provide our product to [a place] like that, that’s what it’s all about to me.” This much-anticipated donation drive can, perhaps, be the first of many projects of hers at PLUS in which she will be able to measure her impact, in quantitative and qualitative terms.