The odds of your beauty brand becoming an overnight sensation are pretty slim unless your surname is Kardashian, West or Jenner.
For natural and organic beauty brands, the task might be harder still. While the niche continues to grow, big beauty giants still have the firm-hold. A 2015 study by Roy Morgan revealed only one natural beauty brand made it into the top 10 best-sellers in Australia (shout out to Nude By Nature).
With all its challenges, stories of the ones that do make it BIG are always exceedingly interesting. How did they break into such a saturated market place? How did they avoid being another one-hit wonder? For any enterprising readers, here are two of those extraordinary stories and plenty of insights from their founders.
Rose-Marie Swift, founder cult natural beauty brand, RMS (beloved by Gisele Bündchen, Miranda Kerr and Kate Bosworth) admits it was a slow burn to the top because of people’s preconceived notions about natural beauty.
“Everything went really slow at the beginning and a lot of that wasn’t necessarily because of my brand. It was because of fears associated taking a chance on a green brand,” she says.
Then, in 2014 (six years after the brand had launched), a visionary by the name of Mickey Drexler (former CEO of J.Crew and The Gap) took her products and put it in his stores. “That truly catapulted it,” Swift recalls. “Mickey is regarded as the golden boy of fashion and when he did that, everybody paid attention. WWD and all those industry publications picked up on that,” she adds.
Bree Johnson, co-founder of Aussie cult beauty brand Frank Body also names being picked up by a major beauty outlet as a massive turning point for her biz. “Launching into Mecca Maxima was another huge step for us going mainstream.” she says. Though she notes that “there’s not one point but lots of little moments along the way” to becoming a bona-fide success story.
ESTABLISHING A CULT PRODUCT
How does one create a cult product? That’s the million dollar question. Johnson believes, “Classic products are simply ones that will do what they say they will do”. Sounds simple enough.
With Frank Body’s Original Coffee Scrub (one of the biggest local beauty exports in recent memory), Johnson says her team had a very specific and clear vision. “We wanted a scrub that was grittier than normal exfoliators but didn’t tear or damage the skin so getting the grind right was important,” she shares.
“We also decided to package the scrub in paper kraft bags because firstly, it is a coffee bean bag and also at 200g it was just the right size to post as a large letter. From day one we were able to offer our customers free shipping.”
Ultimately though, it was the first coffee scrub to market – and admittedly there has many a copycat since – and there’s something to be said for being the first in with an idea.
For Swift, years of experience as a makeup artist meant that she knew not only what she wanted but what she needed by the time RMS launched in 2009. “I already had the starting formulas because I worked with a friend of mine in Canada that works in a paint factory so she knew how to do the percentages.”
“We went to the labs and it was really just me dictating. A lot of brands don’t know what they want. They leave it up to the lab to do it and that just doesn’t work. With my Living Luminizer (one of RMS’ best-selling cult products), I didn’t want to do the traditional frosted highlighter. I wanted something where the skin shows through and gives that ethereal, lit-from-within reflecting glow that doesn’t look too cosmetic-y,” she explains.
STICK TO YOUR GUNS
“Nobody knows what they’re doing and everybody is doing the same rehashed shit,” serves Swift, straight-up.
“It’s so rare these day to be honest and say this is why my product is better than yours!”. But, knowing full well that her product is indeed stellar has been a big contributor to her success.
“You have to remember that we’re in the beauty industry and people, including me, want refinement and elegance and I provided that with my Luminizer. I think also a lot brands don’t make it because they’re not makeup artists. They just take what someone else is doing, slap their name on it and they’re not putting in the time, energy and love into doing it properly.”
Clever marketing will also get you ahead of big corporate competitors. Johnson attributes much of Frank Body’s success to its unique personality and voice. If you’re unfamiliar, get acquainted with their Instagram account. “I don’t know any other beauty brands that make me laugh as much as Frank Body does,” she quips.
Back to Swift-Marie who achieved success when she had all but given up, the makeup artist says passion and incredible self-belief sustained her. “I knew it was going to happen, I just didn’t know when,” she says, “I’d basically given up in my 40s. I just kept puttering around with my little products and than all of a sudden – boom. It happened.”
YOU’RE SUCCESSFUL, NOW WHAT?
Johnson says customer feedback will continue to be Frank Body’s driving force. “We reverse engineer our products, which means customer feedback and word of mouth has been our most powerful marketing tool,” she explains. Frank Body’s social media followers now amount to over half a million loyal and engaged “frankfurts”.
Swift says she’ll continue to stick to her guns, not putting anything out until it is truly ready. She’s currently working on a lot of new product but when she gets bored, she’ll “put them away and find them again,” sometimes years later. One thing is for certain: her vision of her own brand is still 20/20. “Nobody can do illuminators like me,” she exclaims. “I’m not telling you to be conceited but everybody’s tried to copy them and make with chemicals and you can’t make them with chemicals so stop trying.” #girlboss
The takeaway from all of this: make good stuff (that actually works) and own your shit.