The billion-dollar beauty industry is as much a slave to change as any other fast-moving, booming industry. But the amount of players, influencers and moving parts means that brands are constantly being pushed to change, adapt and modify based on the notions of the whimsical consumer or controlling retailer.
To adapt to the ever-changing rules of beauty, small brands are reworking the classic business model - invigorating their branding and sales strategies, and challenging the very creativity that got them into the industry.
Below, meet four beauty founders that are rewriting the rules of classic beauty, from perfume, and skincare to nails and cosmetics.
Hope Freeman, Co-founder, Nateeva
Nateeva, the brainchild of partners Hope Freeman and Jay McSherry, was born when they were holidaying in the Caribbean. Freeman, a fragrance evaluator for IFF, had worked on a plethora of famous perfumes on behalf of some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Avon, Coty, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan. “I fell into the fragrance industry in the 70's and I've been doing it ever since," she says.
Hope Freeman. Photo credit: Davi Lewis Taylor
It was during a holiday on St. Martin that her and McSherry decided on the business model - they would create a line of perfumes, to reflect the different scents of the Caribbean islands. Upon her return to the U.S, she decided to leave IFF, but they in turn asked her to stay on as a consultant and they would help to produce the fragrances.
“Each fragrance is so different from one another but they each have a common thread - you know it's about the beach, you know it's about flowers and exotic things growing on the island," says Freeman.
Bottling the scents of each island - St. Martin, Bahamas, and Jamaica thus far, has proved a cathartic and extremely worthwhile venture for the couple. The line has been picked up by the islands' top hotels - the perfect place for consumers to purchase a scent that has the ability to recall all fond holiday memories of their trip. Now the pair are looking toward retailing the within the U.S, with their online sales focused on the bigger market.
Amyling Lin, CEO and founder of Sundays
The nails sector of beauty is one that has come under a lot of heat and scrutiny in the past year, following the release of many articles by The New York Times, describing the horrors workers endured in the salons throughout large cities.
Amyling Lin was in fashion before deciding to take a turn and get into the beauty industry, opening a nail salon on the Upper West Side, before opening a handful more throughout New York City.
“Then I realized, between toxic chemicals, and not many choices in terms of nails salons, with people having very low expectations - rushing in, rushing out, I was inspired to do something totally different," says Lin.
Focused on providing an experience for the customer, rather than a simple service, Lin's new company would look to give their customers a relaxation technique during their manicure, to help them meditate while the technicians work Lin's very own, non-toxic Sundays polish over their nails. She worked for a year on the formula for her high-end, non-toxic polish line that is now sold in stores and online, "we worked with specialists to make everything perfect for both salon and at-home use.
As for the meditation technique the technicians use, Lin says, "we want clients to spend a little longer in the salon." To do this, Lin is basing all the Sundays salons in high end studios, including locations in Saks Fifth Avenue and Brookfield Place.
And if all of the above, wasn't enough of a reason to check out these salons, the nail techs are also trained in nail art, which you can ogle at over on their Instagram.
Maya Ivanjesku, VP of R&D, LaFlore Skincare
Skincare is a wonderful if difficult nut to crack within beauty. The competition is rife and once you've decided on your moisturizer or eye cream, you typically use the same one for the rest of your days.
“The scope of my experience in skincare is quite large," begins Maya Ivanjesku, formulator of new line LaFlore- “I've been been formulating for years for different brands from Lauder, Clinique, to Origins to Bobbi Brown."
Ivanjesku is attempting to charge the industry with a new line based solely on the nutritious values of probiotics. "Every formulator's dream is to have their own line!" she says, "but it's hard." With many of the industry leaders claiming to invest their skincare with powerful nutrients, Ivanjesku asks, how are the products (almost always) white?
The answer is simple, because while they may have added the nutrients in the first instance, they bleach and strip back the value of the nutrients in order to get that crisp white finish.
"We're all about safety. We test for toxicity, we're all natural, but like any natural products - if you use too much of it, it can be bad for you. So one has to know much is good for your skin," she says. Ivanjesku explains that throughout the line of cleanser, serum and moisturizer, no ingredient is used that is higher than number three on the toxicity scale.
“It's the probiotic that's the workhorse," she says, continuing, "the probiotics that we chose will help multiply your skin cells - the more cells you produce the healthier your skin will be." And work they do. The three-part regime is as accessible as it is effective, and really affordable. We really admire Ivanjesku's determination to provide better skincare with the very, very best ingredients and can't wait to see what's coming next for LaFlore.
Emanuela DeFalco, founder, Dirty Little Secret Cosmetics
For those who thought subscription boxes were dead, Emanuela DeFalco and her success story, DLS, prove very much to the contrary.
After completing four-year college degree at the insistence of her parents, DeFalco decided to go makeup artistry school, where she gained much of the experience she needed in order to start a beauty brand. Finishing school and creating her halloween look for that year, she wanted to wear a blue lipstick, but could find none in the drugstores or luxury makeup counters that fit the bill. Luckily, her sister - a professional chemist, was able to help her formulate the shade she wanted. It was wearing the lipstick and receiving a tonne of compliments that made her realize she could turn this quick whimsical decision into a business model. Asking her father for a $10,000 loan, she was ready to start her business.
DeFalco was smart enough to realize that a small, cruelty-free Indie brand would not stand up to the powerhouses of MAC or Lauder, so she decided to approach the industry from a completely different, but far-reaching angle, through subscription boxes. Focusing just on lipsticks and highlighters, hers was an easy and accessible sell for the acquisitions departments of some of the most renowned boxes out there.
"Ipsy was the gateway," she says about her first deal. Following her distribution in these boxes, she signed on with five more subscription companies, including Glossybox, and is in the process of securing further deals.
Emanuela De Falco
DLS comes in hot on the heels of the wave that's sweeping the beauty industry - cruelty-free products. When deciding on her manufacturer and testing facility, she was very careful to meet and uphold these standards. Manufacturing in China, there's always a risk of child or slave labor of course. "I flew to China and I made sure the manufacturer was clean, and I met the workers," she says, "I go every year, every November, and I make sure nothing has changed - they're not hiring children, that kind of thing." Testing her products in the US, she ensures that no animals are harmed in the process. We're really looking forward to seeing what the crafty DeFalco comes out with next.
Growing up, I hated how I looked. My mother is Irish, Polish, German, and Dutch, while my Dad emigrated from Nigeria. I was a biracial girl living in a majority Caucasian town. Not only was I surrounded by people who looked different than me, but I also rarely felt represented in the media. This lack of community during my adolescence gave me little to no self-esteem, self-worth, or self-confidence, which led me to want to change everything about myself: my hair, the accent I picked up from my African family, and even my skin color.
I remember a particular dream I had when I was younger. It started with me at the hair salon getting my hair relaxed straight. Now, in real life, whenever I would get this treatment, my scalp would feel a burning sensation. It felt like firecrackers were exploding on my head. Sometimes, I wouldn't be able to hold in my cries and would tell the hairstylist to wash the chemicals out immediately. Other times, I would wait it out because I wanted straight hair, and as the saying goes: "beauty is pain."
Going back to my dream, the latter would occur, and I would look in the mirror and see that the chemicals in my hair seeped into my pores and turned my skin white. I thought I looked beautiful. I finally looked like all my classmates, and the celebrities in magazines. I was finally the girl I wanted to be. Then I woke up and saw that my skin didn't magically change overnight. I was disappointed...It was a dream too good to become true.
All these years, I thought I was alone in my struggle, but unbeknownst to me, there are millions of people who feel the same way I did about their skin color, primarily in Southeast Asia. Nina Davuluri, an advocate, public speaker, and Miss America 2014, also has been faced with the pressure to have lighter skin.
Growing up as a first-generation Indian in the United States, the issue of diversity and colorism was not foreign to Nina. Like many of us, she wanted to fit in, and being Miss America meant being the "Girl Next Door," which primarily consisted of being blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Knowing she didn't fit that mold, she wanted to use her voice as an activist to change that narrative. So as the winner of the the 2014 Miss America competition, it was important for her to choose a platform that spotlighted an issue that is typically ignored by the media; one that focused on "Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency."
I had the honor to sit down with Nina and talk about the effects colorism had on her upbringing, her platform as Miss America, and her upcoming documentary that explores the intersection of colorism, skin color, and self-acceptance.
Colorism is defined by Merriam-Webster as prejudice or discrimination, especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin. In most groups, the lighter the skin, the higher you are looked at.
"I definitely remember comments from family members relating to my skin color," Nina said. "I grew up with a lot of stereotypes, especially being in a south Asian family where the lighter your skin is, the more beautiful you are considered.
I had relatives say to me, "Don't go out in the sun - you're going to get too dark."
However, it wasn't just comments from her family she had to endure. It surfaced on a national level in 2014 when she was the first contestant of Indian descent to win the Miss America competition. The morning after she won, she remembered reading various newspaper headlines in India that read along the lines of, "Is Miss America too dark to be Miss India?"
Screenshot of Buzzfeed Headline following Nina's Crowning
A study conducted by the World Health Organization found that 61% of women in India regularly use skin lightening creams. In India and many other Southeast Asian countries, a lighter skin tone represents a higher social class. This stems from their history of colonization by Europeans, when fair-skinned people were the rulers and in a higher class. In other words, people who did not have to work all day in the sun and in result, would never get darker skin from the sun. This ideology doesn't only affects India, as according to the same survey, 77% of women in Nigeria use skin lightening products. Nonetheless, in many developing countries, lighter skin is considered the standard of beauty.
"Winning Miss America was really the first time I had a platform to speak out about the skin lightening industry," said Nina. "I think it certainly affects women more than our male counterparts. Not only for our careers, jobs, and opportunities but also for our socioeconomic status. Especially for women living in those countries."
Now, people can only take so much without reaching a breaking point and realizing something needs to change. For me, it was after my hair started to break off. I would wake up at 5 a.m. every day so that I could straighten my kinky curls to fit in with my classmate's long, full, straight hair. It also had to do with the fact that I had gotten my hair chemically straightened since I was nine years old. My once healthy hair was now almost damaged beyond repair and would take nearly ten years to grow back to the same length.
For Nina, she realized something needed to change when she saw a real-life example of colorism affecting someone else's life - a young girl.
"Three years ago, I was in India on behalf of the State Department. I did a lot of work as part of the Obama administration. I was there speaking about empowerment, diversity, education, all the things I advocated for. When I was back in my family's hometown, I remember I saw this woman who clearly came from working in the fields, and she had a daughter who was seven or eight. She stopped at a side street stand and bought a pack of Fair & Lovely for five rupees, one of the most popular skin lightening products that sell on the market. She bought it for her daughter and said to her, 'So you don't have to have the life I have.'"
"I am sure this mother loved her daughter very much, but I think she truly believed that success or opportunities would be better for her if she were lighter-skinned. And this is such a problem, especially in those rural areas and villages," said Nina.
This was the moment that Nina knew this story, and many others had to be shared.
For this reason, Nina and a team from Aurora Vision Films developed the documentary COMPLEXion, a film that explores colorism, diversity, and the skin lightening industry.
"We really wanted this to be a global conversation. To be able to include all groups, colors, all shades, all people, was really important to us as we started really uncovering and unpacking skin and colorism in general. So, what started as several specific instances has involved into something so much bigger and really human acceptance is at the core of it," said Nina.
Colorism doesn't just affect darker skin females, although that is the majority. In a released clip from the upcoming documentary, Nina talks to a fair-skinned Italian man named Matteo, who wishes his skin was darker. Matteo is just one of many stories to be featured that unpack a conversation about the relationship between the environment you grow up and acceptance.
"Depending on what you hear, what you grow up with, what you're constantly seeing in your surroundings, you find a way to either accept that or push back against that ideology" said Nina.
While production for the documentary is still underway, Nina hopes that this documentary brings maximum change not only in the United States but worldwide. We already see this change in the beauty industry. Lines such as Fenty Beauty and Milk Makeup are inclusive to many skin tones and are showing models of all sizes, looks, and colors in their ads.
From my personal experience, more conversations and positive examples are needed, and I believe that this documentary will be a perfect way to achieve both. Growing up, I wish there was a conversation about the relationship between skin color and self-worth and to have known that I wasn't alone in this struggle. And I still wish there were MORE conversations about it. With advocates like Nina Davuluri, films like COMPLEXion, and inclusive beauty lines, I genuinely believe we are about to enter an age of seeing the true beauty of diversity and a society that shows that beauty isn't dependent on skin tone.
To stay up to date on the release date for the documentary, you can follow the documentary's Instagram page.