BUILD YOUR OWN EM­PIRE

By the in­tern who did it in un­der 3 years

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents - Words IN­GE­BORG VAN LOTRIN­GEN

Clever beauty ideas aren’t all that rare. But con­cepts that change the way we think and feel about beauty? Those hardly ever come around. So why, like buses, have they now ar­rived all at once, set­ting off a seis­mic shift in the way you’ll be con­sum­ing your beauty in years to come?

If you be­lieve their in­sti­ga­tors, it was sim­ply a mat­ter of frus­tra­tion. “I had no in­ten­tion to start a brand,” says Emily Weiss of the brand on ev­ery­one’s lips and shelves, Glossier. “But the lack of change in the beauty in­dus­try prompted me to do so.” Bran­don Tru­axe’s par­a­digm-shift­ing NIOD and The Or­di­nary skin­care ranges were in­spired by “frus­tra­tion with peo­ple pay­ing over the odds for skin­care that couldn’t work”. As for se­rial beauty en­tre­pre­neur Mar­cia Kil­gore, she cred­its be­ing fed up with re­tail prac­tices for her cre­at­ing Beauty Pie, an in­dus­try-de­fy­ing idea that lets you buy pres­tige beauty for peanuts.

Their con­cepts aren’t re­motely the same, but what they have in com­mon is that they hand power to the beauty con­sumer in ways that haven’t been dared be­fore. In some cases, that has meant scep­ti­cism and dis­be­lief on the part of po­ten­tial cus­tomers – but only for a mo­ment.“The peo­ple who em­brace us have been called mil­len­nial con­sumers, but I just call them en­light­ened shop­pers,” says Tru­axe. By that, he means peo­ple who do their re­search price-wise and for­mula-wise, and won’t be sold a pup. Con­sumers who no longer sub­scribe to the smoke, mir­rors and snake oil that have made the beauty world go round for a cen­tury, and de­mand hon­esty and trans­parency over any­thing else. Like so many pi­o­neer­ing brands in other

in­dus­tries (Net­flix, Ama­zon, Uniqlo), beauty’s dis­rup­tors saw con­sumer habits chang­ing and moulded their vi­sion around new needs be­fore their cus­tomers even for­mu­lated them. Here’s how they did it…

A NEW AT­TI­TUDE

One ma­jor global beauty trend Min­tel iden­ti­fied for 2018 is the shift­ing of con­trol in the beauty in­dus­try. It’s the con­sumer, the mar­ket re­searcher says, who now dic­tates to brands what beauty is, in­stead of the other way around. Ahead of the curve, Weiss launched beauty re­tail site Glossier in 2014 to of­fer cus­tomers a pared-down, skin-first al­ter­na­tive to the age-old ‘brand knows best’ ap­proach that fo­cuses on telling women how to look and what to use.“I sensed girls no longer wanted to be sold a pre­scrip­tive rou­tine, but in­stead, cu­rate their own beauty stash from prod­ucts that were ap­proach­able, ef­fec­tive and lived with them by im­prov­ing skin health on a gen­tle, daily ba­sis, as op­posed to ones full of woolly prom­ises of trans­for­ma­tion that never hap­pened.”

It was rather more than a sense: Weiss had been edi­tor of beauty site Into The Gloss for over three years at this point, which pro­vided her with price­less (lit­er­ally: think three years of free mar­ket re­search) in­sights in to what makes beauty ad­dicts of the in­ter­net age tick. It helped her cre­ate a brand she al­ready knew was ex­actly what her fol­low­ers would love. And it goes fur­ther than that: Weiss says she in­cludes them in ev­ery as­pect of the busi­ness.“We will dis­till thou­sands of com­ments into prod­ucts they want. This is about the democrati­sa­tion of beauty.” Well, democ­racy brought us Don­ald Trump. Surely not ev­ery item is made, or axed, on the whim of po­ten­tially fickle con­sumers? “We think about what’s es­sen­tial, what works and what our cus­tomer prefers.”

The model isn’t unique – skin­care brand Julep is do­ing roughly the same thing, and beauty brands built on a loyal In­sta­gram fan base, such as Spec­trum make-up brushes, are sprout­ing like mush­rooms. But Weiss saw the shift in the way women shop and en­gage with brands be­fore most. Plus, she teamed ‘on­line com­mu­ni­ty­based’ prod­uct de­vel­op­ment with a keen sense of her cus­tomers’ chang­ing aes­thetic and values. The lu­mi­nous, barely made-up Glossier Girl comes in all shapes and sizes and looks ‘nor­mal,’ if some­what slicker than your av­er­age. Weiss has made hers the poster brand for the in­clu­sive, health­i­est-look­ing-you beauty tribe that ev­ery­one now wants to be­long to. And clev­erly, she’s mar­keted it as a no-mar­ket­ing,‘less trans­ac­tional,’ you-have-the power space: “We are peo­ple like you just try­ing to change the in­dus­try and hav­ing fun,” de­clares the Glossier site. Peo­ple who are rak­ing in the money by own­ing a beauty move­ment – canny in­deed.

CHEAP CHIC

But what if you could go fur­ther with your beauty site, of­fer­ing your fans not just the feel-good fac­tor, but spec­tac­u­lar dis­counts as well, while claim­ing your prod­ucts are as good as those by pres­tige brands? What if you were to earn noth­ing from the sale of these prod­ucts, but made your prof­its from a mem­ber­ship fee you charged your cus­tomers?

“Many po­ten­tial cus­tomers smelled a rat,” ad­mits Kil­gore, the hu­man dy­namo who brought you Bliss, FitFlop, Soap & Glory and, since late 2016, Beauty Pie. “It sounds too good to be true, right?” It’s not, but it’s easy to see how break­ing open one of beauty’s best-kept se­crets – the real cost of your prod­ucts – would make peo­ple’s minds bog­gle. She ex­plains how it works, re­veal­ing some more se­crets along the way: “Most lux­ury brands buy their prod­ucts from in­de­pen­dent labs and fac­to­ries around the world. These third-party sup­pli­ers are the ge­nius mix-masters be­hind your cos­met­ics. The brands? They are the mar­ke­teers. When a sup­plier sells a fin­ished prod­uct to a lux­ury brand for £10, the brand might re­tail it for £100. So, 90% of what you pay is added after the fi­nal prod­uct leaves the fac­tory. But we don’t think you should pay for re­tailer mar­gins, sales com­mis­sions or celebrity faces. So after sourc­ing the best prod­ucts we can find, we sell

them to our mem­bers at the fac­tory price.” For £10 a month, you can buy up to £100 monthly – at £8.54 for a po­tent serum and £2.18 for a pre­mium pen­cil, that’s a lot of stuff.

“Peo­ple do go,‘Why should I pay a mem­ber­ship [fee]?’ – but that’s what they said about Net­flix,” says Kil­gore. “Once you start adding up what you spend and cal­cu­late the sav­ings [help­fully, Beauty Pie shows you what you’d have to cough up were you to pay the re­tail value of its mer­chan­dise], you won’t go back.” Bobbi Brown and Jo Malone (the women, not the brands) are mem­bers, as are most of the beauty jour­nal­ists I know. Nonethe­less, Kil­gore is not sure the idea would have worked even five years ago: “Big on­line com­pa­nies have paved my way in terms of chang­ing shop­ping habits, and there’s a US fash­ion brand [Ever­lane] that breaks down its prices like I do. In­for­ma­tion is ev­ery­where on­line and con­stant chat be­tween cus­tomers means there’s nowhere to hide. So if my con­cept was a scam, I’d be found out pretty smartly. In­stead, my on­line com­mu­nity does my mar­ket­ing for me!”

Also, she points out, shop­ping ain’t what it used to be: “You go to a store and some vac­u­ous sales girl can’t tell you what’s in a serum, while you could re­search it on your phone – what do I want to pay her com­mis­sion for? Peo­ple have been so ready for an al­ter­na­tive, but big brands didn’t come up with one.”

But – how can one put this – isn’t all this barefaced hon­esty tak­ing the joy out of lux­ury cos­met­ics? Do we not, in fact, want to feel a bit spe­cial, buy­ing a dream prod­uct in a gotta-have-it com­pact? “It’s out there if you want it,” says Kil­gore. “But I like to think smart peo­ple won­der what the point of it is any longer. From a busi­ness point of view, we know greed is the great­est shop­ping mo­ti­va­tor, lux­ury only the fifth – so the fact that you can get so many great cos­met­ics for lit­tle money will ben­e­fit my brand. As for seek­ing to iden­tify our­selves by the great brands we pull out of our bag: to­day’s shop­per is all about ‘Brand Me’ in­stead. Our In­sta­gram pic­tures and the clever choices we’ve made to look good are what counts now.”

As much as she values her opin­ion­ated cus­tomers, Kil­gore wouldn’t, like Weiss, fol­low their lead on what prod­ucts to cre­ate, quot­ing (as she is wont to do) a lead­ing au­thor­ity who said ‘cus­tomers are the ex­perts of yes­ter­day.’“We are about the best and the lat­est, and for that I rely on the most vi­sion­ary minds in the in­dus­try, not on con­sumers who tend to ask for what they’ve al­ready seen.”

When Kil­gore first told me her idea, I asked her if she’d hired a body­guard. Surely, the in­dus­try would be up in arms over her break­ing their Magic Cir­cle-like code of se­crecy – what pos­sessed her to do some­thing so con­trary? “I’m a prod­uct of a tough

“Mil­len­nial con­sumers? I call them en­light­ened shop­pers"

child­hood – I only feel good when things are hard,” she smiles. “I’d rather bang my head against a wall than not try to change an in­dus­try that’s hope­lessly stuck in its ways.”

TRUTH IN SKIN­CARE

“I don’t think I looked at the grain and went against it. I just did what I thought was a sen­si­ble thing to do,” says Bran­don Tru­axe of the ex­plainthe-science-and-show-us-the-proof gauntlet he threw down to the in­dus­try with NIOD (sub­ti­tle: ‘skin­care for the hy­per-ed­u­cated’). Our first con­ver­sa­tion in­volved him rat­tling off in­dig­nantly the rea­sons why most vi­ta­min-C skin­care was in­ac­tive and the wrong hyaluronic acid would dry out your skin. Three years on, he hasn’t changed, but the in­dus­try has, and so have con­sumers: be­ing a skin­care geek is hot. My in­box is re­plete with re­for­mu­lated, reimag­ined prod­ucts by the world’s top brands, declar­ing their lev­els of ac­tives, ex­plain­ing their for­mu­las and putting words like ‘acetyl hexapep­tide-8’ on their bot­tles. And Tru­axe is in no small way re­spon­si­ble.

“I have noth­ing against beau­ti­ful tex­tures and prod­uct sto­ry­telling,” he in­sists.“But then sell it as a thing that gives you plea­sure and don’t make claims that don’t even add up. I want to charge for what works, not for mar­ket­ing that ob­scures the fact that some­thing doesn’t. The age of brain­wash­ing is over: en­quir­ing minds ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing trusted to un­der­stand the science.” That doesn’t mean prod­ucts have to be dour: “I think sim­plic­ity, beau­ti­fully done, is very lux­u­ri­ous. In the same way that we don’t need to see gold and mar­ble [decor] in­side ho­tels any more, but think a farm­house aes­thetic the ul­ti­mate lux­ury.”

After cre­at­ing an em­pire by re-ed­u­cat­ing the cus­tomer, Tru­axe dis­rupted the in­dus­try some more with The Or­di­nary. Mis­sion: to ex­plain that tried-and-tested skin­care ac­tives in sim­ple for­mu­las cost a pit­tance to pro­duce [all his prod­ucts are de­vel­oped and man­u­fac­tured in-house], so should be priced ac­cord­ingly.“I don’t think The Or­di­nary could have hap­pened with­out NIOD,” he says. “NIOD built the trust that al­lowed peo­ple to be­lieve skin­care as cheap as The Or­di­nary could work.” But is it fi­nan­cially vi­able at those prices? “Of course: I’m at­tract­ing a very large de­mo­graphic that was sim­ply not be­ing served, be­cause they couldn’t af­ford skin­care with mas­sively in­flated mar­gins. If I can make a profit by sell­ing straight­for­ward stuff that works to peo­ple who don’t care for the smoke and mir­rors, then every­body wins.”

It is, he says, on a par with hav­ing enough food to feed the world – if we would just not limit its dis­tri­bu­tion only to where we can earn the most for it. A lofty state­ment, per­haps, but it’s hard not to be­lieve him (or Kil­gore, who talks in much the same way) when he says life, and busi­ness, is so much eas­ier when you come from a place of hon­esty and fair­ness. Could this be the busi­ness tem­plate of the fu­ture? We can but hope.

Mar­cia Kil­gore: ground-break­ing

Bran­don Tru­axe: dis­rup­tive

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