As a beauty journalist, it sometimes feels as though I get an email announcing a new beauty company every other week – and few things make me happier (except, perhaps, a new lip balm).
The vast majority of these companies are led by women. Much like Gwyneth’s Goop, Pat McGrath Labs or Emily Weiss’ Glossier juggernaut, today’s coolest and most zeitgeisty brands are likely to be made for and by women.
On some level this isn’t surprising. After all, a female-focused industry needs, uh, females in the upper ranks to help decide what kind of mascaras and masks consumers are craving.
And yet this hasn’t always been the reality. Although many of us know the names of, and have purchased products from, the industry’s original innovators – women such as Coco Chanel, Elizabeth Arden and Estee Lauder – the most senior ranks of global beauty corporations have too often been filled with men. A 2016 report by American research firm LedBetter found that just 29 per cent of major beauty corporations have gender parity at executive level. Less than a third. Add to that the fact only 10 female CEOs were found on Women’s Wear Daily’s list of the world’s 100 biggest beauty companies, and the industry seems a little less female-focused.
Today, a new wave of female beauty entrepreneurs is changing all of that. Thanks in part to the rising influence of social media, many of the new female-fronted brands are forgoing traditional retail channels like department stores and pharmacies in favour of a direct-to-consumer approach.
But in a highly competitive industry where consumers are becoming mini-chemists and demand that products deliver precisely what they promise, what’s it really like to launch your own beauty brand? I spoke to the founders of three boutique Australian beauty brands about the highs and lows of becoming your own beauty boss.
The beauty PR turned sunscreen queen
Ava Matthews and Rebecca Jeffered created Ultra Violette, a wardrobe of SPF products that combine active skincare ingredients with broad-spectrum sun protection.
We realised there’s nothing sexy about sunscreens
I’ve been in beauty for 13 years, starting in PR and communications, then marketing and strategy, and eventually product development. My co-founder Rebecca and I collectively spent eight years at Mecca, running their private label brands, with a large focus on sun-care. It was there we decided we could do sun in a better way. We felt that sunscreens were rarely considered in context of what is layered before and after, and how women actually wear them in real life, even though they are the most important product in a skincare and beauty regimen, and the one thing every dermatologist will tell you to wear every day.
Nothing about starting your own beauty business is easy
Sunscreen is controlled by the federal government’s Therapeutic Goods AssocIation, and the regulations are among the toughest in the world. But we had a leg up because of our time at Mecca, so we knew which rules were hard and fast, and which could maybe be slightly bent.
It took three years to launch, but it felt like forever
We are self-funded so our capital was a mix of savings, assets and investment from family. We had vetted most of the key chemists and formulators in the Australian industry because of our product development experience, and essentially knew who we did and didn’t want to work with. We finally launched in January this year.
We spent six months working on our business plan
Honing in on the positioning, the commercials, and how much cash you’re going to need is worth the time. I can’t tell you how often I go back to that initial document. And trademark your name. I’ve seen so many people who have the packaging printed, only to discover there’s a tiny business in the US with the same name. That is just money down the drain.
Everything will take longer and cost more than you expect, so plan for it up front
Trying to do everything yourself is a waste of time and energy. If you’re not a coder, get a website agency. Bad with detail and finance? Hire a bookkeeper. There are plenty of professionals and small agencies in different areas of business who primarily work with start-ups. I met loads of people through Mecca, or through friends of friends, who are now freelancing and helping others with various projects. Otherwise, ask around – you’d be amazed what kind of information you can get if you ask.
We’re not taking a salary from the business
We have a consultancy business on the side, but I hope to be able to focus full-time on Ultra Violette within 12 months.
It took months to come up with the name
We’re calling our product skinscreens, the perfect hybrid of skincare and sunscreen. Ultra Violette was one of the first names we considered, and after months of brainstorming, we came back to it. The original name was Ultra Violet, but we couldn’t trademark it, so we’ve stuck with Violette and now she’s kind of developed into her own little character.
The journalist turned fragrance nose
Nedahl Stelio founded Recreation, a collection of natural fragrances, hair and body oils, created in Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
I got over having a big job and working hard for someone else
I had worked in women’s magazines for many years, as editor of Cleo and on other titles, when I decided to take a leap. I wanted to work hard for myself and re-ignite that passion, but also have the flexibility to make time for my two young children.
You learn that nobody will think about your business as much as you will
I was on top of every single aspect because I needed to be. Make sure this is exactly what you want to do because you will spend a lot of time doing it. Familiarise yourself with creating your own website, and have a social marketing strategy. Get used to doing everything yourself because at first, that’s what you’ll do. In the beginning, I thought I’d be able to freelance but it’s impossible as Recreation is taking up all of my time and there is so much involved in day-to-day.
Cost out every detail and then add 20 per cent for mistakes, because they will happen
Make sure you have enough money to live on while you’re in the development/building phase. Have a proper business plan with future goals, and a monetisation strategy for where you want to take it. The business is currently self-funded, and we will start looking for an investor in about 12 months.
Natural fragrance is the last frontier of clean beauty
There aren’t that many competitors in the natural fragrance market and there was no luxury perfume out there with a beautiful bottle that matches up with synthetic perfumes on the market. Our perfumes, and body and hair oils are 100% natural, vegan and cruelty-free, and smell incredible. Because they contain actual flower essences, natural plant resins and oils, rather than synthetic made-in-a-lab copies, they have an uplifting effect on your mood and your day.
The finance whizz-turned-natural skincare sage
Kellie Collis created Salt by Hendrix, a range of plant-based skincare and home fragrance products.
I absolutely loved banking and finance
The work was amazing. I was given so many incredible opportunities and made wonderful friends during my eight-year corporate career, but sometimes I felt as though I didn’t belong. There was always a burning desire to be innovative and create products, so I was torn between living a corporate versus entrepreneurial life.
My son, Hendrix, had eczema and sensitive skin
With a young baby, I became conscious of products and ingredients I was using on his skin and my own. I wanted to give him the purest start I could, so I created and trialed formulations at home to improve his sensitivities. I started with some premium base oils, creams and salts, and got mixing on the dining table, and the line evolved when I could see the results in his skin. I worked at my day job through the planning process, then I left and and we launched in 2016.
I had to be really efficient with my time and focus
Formula creation, branding, packaging and ingredient sourcing – all of this took a lot of time and effort, ups and downs. I was always really motivated and when I had my job hat on, it was my focus, but tiredness occasionally came into play.
We are self-funded – crazy good and crazy scary at the same time
Starting out, you don’t have the volume necessary to work with the suppliers you actually want to partner with, and so the hardest part has been finding suppliers and dealing with the disappointment when things don’t pan out as you hope. Sometimes the products that appear the most simple can be the most complex, so there can be a lot of ‘back to the drawing board’, which is challenging – and exciting – at the same time. Branding was easy as it’s the sort of thing that feels right and is effortless.
You will spend more time than you can imagine on your business
Your life generally becomes the business, and for this to work, you need support from the people around you. I have a very supportive husband who made a lot of sacrifices and has been critical to our success. He is incredibly patient and never once made me feel guilty for the amount of time spent on the business.
Hustle is crucial because you need to chase what you want, on your terms
It’s easier for people to say no than yes, so find the right people to help you achieve it. We spent a lot of time sourcing business partners that can grow with us and assist with cash flow. We have a support network of suppliers we’ve met through various channels, photographers, agencies – there are so many elements that go into each and every product and process. Success and growth is amazing, but with expansion comes additional pressures, so partners who recognise this and collaborate with us are pivotal.
We make really awesome skincare, but we also celebrate women
We aren’t guys in suits; we’re a mix of talented, motivated and creative ladies from all around the world who know we would be nothing without our customer base. We make product for babes, by babes.