It’s official, the axis of beauty influence has shifted. It seems that every time you look, an emergent independent beauty brand has cut through the ever-increasing industry noise, carving out their own new niche and cementing themselves as a major player in the beauty landscape.
Aided by the social media revolution, these brands have disrupted the status quo by connecting directly to their consumers with a strong digital presence. This phenomenon has allowed newbies to bypass the need for the big budgets, as well as break down traditional barriers to enter the market.
What these brands also have in common is an untempered, clear vision and set of values that resonate with consumers—particularly so with generation millennial—and, to put it simply, just really damn good products. We spoke to some of these burgeoning pioneers on how they got their start and why the independents are changing the beauty game.
Created in 2017 by Venice Beach local Shelby Wild, Playa Hair Care is all about that cool-girl hair with minimal effort—and no drying or styling—required. Initially offering just five products in the range, Wild focussed on hair essentials for the everyday woman. “When I started Playa, there were no other clean haircare brands that focussed on California-cool, beach waves,” explains Wild. “I knew that if I could hone in on products that worked for multiple hair textures, were easy to work into a busy lifestyle, and that were filled with powerful, naturally-derived ingredients, I could create something special.”
With a clear vision in mind for Playa, Wild knew that launching independently, and remaining so, would be essential to its ongoing success. “Things move much faster in Indie beauty,” she explains. “There’s less red tape and long-standing processes in place so we are able to research and develop new products at a faster pace, and be able to take risks that some companies aren’t willing to take.” Ever a believer in the power of social media, Wild says that its ability to place consumers in a seat at the table has changed the beauty industry for the better. “It’s no longer enough for brands to have impressive displays, an effective product and strong product placement,” shares Wild. “We’re seeing consumers look past the content they see on social media and they want to know what brands have to say. What’s the brand voice? What initiatives for social change do they support? Social media is a great platform for brands to answer those questions, engage with consumers, and bring in sales.”
Launching in 2010 from her farm in Vermont, USA, Tata Harper is renowned for its powerful green formulations that challenge the idea that ‘clean’ beauty was not as efficacious as its competitors. “After examining what I was putting in and on my body after my stepfather’s cancer diagnosis, I couldn’t find any natural products that gave me the results and the luxury experience I was looking for, so I set out to create my own,” shares Harper. “I believe no one should have to sacrifice their health for beauty, so I wanted to create products that both nourished and pampered consumers, and that they could get amazing results with natural products.”
Accumulating notable fans including the likes of Gwenyth Paltrow and prolific skin-guru Caroline Hirons, her line has resonated not only those dedicated to a ‘clean’ lifestyle, but all kinds of skincare devotees across the globe. “I think what resonates most with our customers is our comprehensive approach to engineering green beauty,” says Harper. “We don’t believe in compromising or taking shortcuts, and our clients are people who feel the same way—they expect more from the products they buy, the best results and they don’t want to settle for toxic ingredients.”
Arguably one of the first to venture successfully into the clean beauty space, Harper argues that her success is by no means riding the wave of the latest trend. “Natural beauty is here to stay,” states Harper. “It is no longer just a trend but the way the industry as a whole is headed. To that end, I think it’s our brand philosophy that people love. There is transparency in our process and consumers respond to that.”
Cheryl Foland was no stranger to the cosmetics industry when she launched lilah b. in 2015. Having worked on marketing strategy for prestige and mass brands for more than a decade, she desired a more pared-back approach to makeup. “The beauty space intrigued me and I learned a lot—particularly how cluttered and confusing the world of colour cosmetics had become,” explains Foland. “lilah b. is truly the result of my desire to bring things back to basics, believing it was more important to create a collection to make beauty simple again for the modern-day woman.”
Known for its luxurious pebble-shaped packaging and premium, clean formulations, Foland’s line heroes multi-use, glow-inducing base products such as their bestselling Divine Duo Lip & Cheek and Aglow Face Mist, which are designed to create subtle, buildable complexion colour. “Women obviously want to look fabulous, but it’s refreshing to know that you can achieve that with fewer products. Our minimalistic collection offers two, three, if not four products in one. It’s uncomplicated, carefree and easy, which is what beauty should be.”
While her fierce business acumen and belief in her vision for lilah b. propelled her to success a mere four years after launching, Foland also believes that a dependable personal network is vital to success: “Surround yourself with people who will root for you along the way, there’s no time for naysayers,” says Foland. “However, always vet the advice you receive carefully; the industry shifts constantly and what might have been a good decision yesterday may not be aligned with where you are heading today.”
Starting as a lipstick-exclusive brand in 2015, Kosas founder Sheena Yaitanes ventured into colour cosmetics after studying chemistry, biology and fine arts, and coming to the realisation that all of her skills could help her create what she saw was missing the market—cutting-edge, yet wearable colour. “I strongly believed that comfortable, flattering, easy-to-use makeup was achievable but not available,” explains Yaitanes. “I knew it was something I wanted and I felt that others did too.”
While her expertise could get her business off the ground, Yaitanes strongly desired to create products that women really wanted, for which she saw the perfect opportunity in utilising social media, namely Instagram. “I make products based on how people live their lives,” explains Yaitanes. “I want to know what they like and don’t like, what they wish for, how much time they have, what their goals are. I can only find all of that out through a two-way conversation.”
She also believes it’s this power of instant feedback and community powered by social media platforms that has seen indie beauty brands step into the limelight. “The indie brands of the past had to rely on retail distribution to tell their story,” says Yaitanes. “Now, brands can tell that story themselves via their own social media, but also through their fans who share on their own channels. The effect is powerful, and I love it because I have always been one to fight for the underdog.”
Whilst scouring the best cosmetics on the market to use on her high-profile clientele like Rosie Huntington Whiteley and Bella Hadid, makeup artist Nikki DeRoest didn’t come across clean, high-quality eyeshadows. Her solution? Create them herself. “I had yet to find a completely clean line that still felt luxurious and actually worked. Unfortunately, until now, most clean, vegan brands didn’t have the formulas that held up not only on the red carpet, but also in daily life.”
Launching in March of this year, RÓEN has quickly been added to the makeup kits and bags of artists, editors and fans alike, demonstrating the implicit trust that DeRoest’s community have in her expertise. “My followers know that beauty is my passion,” says DeRoest. “I get to try so many products and use everything. My approach is real and my feedback has always been honest so when I launched my brand, I hope and believe that people knew I would never [create] something that wasn’t going to be anything but amazing.”
She believes now that any willing entrepreneur can break through the noise given the accessibility of production and marketing tools, but there has to be a clear-cut need that a brand has to answer from a place of genuineness. “For anyone wanting to build a beauty brand, I would advise that it has to come from a place of truth,” says DeRoest. “Don’t put something out there as a way to get rich or famous. Create things you love and believe in and hopefully the community will stand behind you.”
Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Gores Island were initially influencers and foremost, friends, before they launched Summer Fridays in 2018. They were never aiming to revolutionise beauty but to create something they’d love to use themselves. “We weren’t necessarily addressing a gap in the market because there are so many incredible skincare brands,” shares Hewitt. “It was that we wanted to create something we loved: from the packaging to the branding, messaging, and ingredients we used and didn’t use. It was a combination of all of the things we love.”
Initially launching with one product, the Jet Lag Mask, the brand was—and still is—an instant hit, which quickly caught the attention of global retailers. With their ever on-brand Instagram feed and loyal followers, the duo believe they wouldn’t have seen the level of success without social media. “The power of community is huge,” says Gores Ireland. “It’s at the core of who we are and our brand wouldn’t exist without the people who continue to support us. They give us the opportunity to do what we do.”
While it’s easy to compare independent beauty brands and mass-market companies, they insist that a future exists for both in the industry. “I don’t feel like we are in competition,” says Gores Ireland. “I believe there is room for all of us—the big brands, the decades-old brands, the indie brands, and the barely-off-the-grounds brands. I use a number of different beauty brands on any given day, and I assume most others do as well!”
As for advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators; simply just start.“There’s never a perfect time when you have all the answers, the funds, or your plans are perfectly aligned, but once you begin, you’re pushed to figure it out,” shares Gores Ireland. “Worst case, it doesn’t work as well as you had planned. Then you try again, or go down a different path. That’s a whole lot better than wondering ‘what if’ your whole life.” Touché.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Gritty Pretty Magazine.
Which female entrepreneur inspires you the most? Let us know by leaving a comment down below.