“Indie brands are changing the beauty landscape and entrepreneurs are making this period of time more interesting. Companies don’t come to market anymore, you have to be in the know,” said moderator Elana Drell-Szyfer, CEO, RéVive, and operating advisor Tengram Partners.
By way of introduction, she acknowledged three key founders in the beauty industry, namely, “Estée, Helena, and then you have Frédéric. The Fekkai name has long been associated with hair care,” Drell-Szyfer said, noting, “He was first in personal touch and service and he is now embarking on something new.”
That something new is Bastide, a natural beauty and lifestyle collection made in Provence. In 2015 Fekkai and his wife acquired Cote Bastide and reframed it as a beauty and well-being brand. Made in France, Bastide celebrates its terroir and local ingredients. It was founded on a commitment to clean, toxin-free living and is an homage to Fekkai’s native Aix-en-Provence home.
Jamie O’Banion, founder and CEO, Beauty Bioscience, created her company in collaboration with her father, Dr. Terry James, who worked in research and development in skin care. Beauty Bioscience offers advanced skin care products and anti-aging solutions, with high quality ingredients. O’Banion sells her products in prestige channels, as well as on HSN. She described her mission of “radical transparency,” as she creates products that customers want, and formulates with ingredients that answer the customers’ desire for ingredient purity.
Malin, co-founder, Malin + Goetz, originally launched cosmetics and skin care products at Barney’s, then moved to Kiehl’s, and along with his partner Andrew Goetz, founded Malin + Goetz. The brand offers simple skin care solutions, made with natural ingredients, packaged in an apothecary style. He described the journey of a brand turning 14 years old, noting that he and his partner, an architect and designer, were able to blend their design and beauty backgrounds to create a regimen that was easy and simple. Malin, who had rosacea, wanted to focus on sensitive skin, and both wanted to deliver on performance.
Twine, founder of Briogeo, created a range of natural, cruelty-free hair care products for individual hair types. Briogeo products are fortified with healthy ingredients, contain no sulfates, silicones, or parabens, and are solution-based. Twine described formulating natural products at home, as did her mother and grandmother. She said she was motivated to create the brand after noticing that there weren’t many hair care products made with natural ingredients.
Right or Wrong
In response to a question about when to start a business, Fekkai replied, “I don’t think there is a right time. An opportunity is when you have a passion. Bastide was right for me. When I saw that Cote Bastide was for sale, I thought it would be an opportunity to rebrand the line, to run it like a family, but on a global scale.”
Twine, who worked on Wall Street for seven years before starting Briogeo, needed time to save, develop products and prove her concept before quitting her Wall Street job, which she did when she had her first product placement at Sephora.
“That was the right time. The hustle of being an entrepreneur is a different lifestyle hustle every day,” she said.
Malin said that Goetz convinced him to make the leap. He had approached his own conservative Midwestern family, which supported him when they saw his resolve; in contrast, Goetz’s family was supportive from the start. Regarding that entrepreneurial hustle, Malin recalled that “fear drove me to work like a dog.”
O’Banion provided a personal metaphor when describing the decision to go it alone.
“It’s almost like childbirth. The right time is the right time for you,” she said.
She noted that her father, with a long career in R&D, was a self-made success, started his own lab and introduced her to the business at an early age.
“Starting your own business is a choice. Go big or go home. You have to define what success is for you. It’s personal. When the opportunity is in front of you, you may not even have a business card, but you pivot, be agile, be decisive, pick up, pivot, and move on. From an indie brand perspective, this is the journey. Organize, prepare, plan, and jump off the cliff. Build an airplane as you go down,” she said.
Naturals that Perform
O’Banion described a clear snapshot of direction for her business.
“We have a lot of organic materials that we make. Whether topical or ingestible, there’s a strong desire to know what’s in a product and what it is formulated without. That we can provide transparency to our customer is key,” she said.
Efficacy, was key for Malin, who insisted that Malin + Goetz has always been transparent. The company’s formulas, then, often contain natural and high-tech ingredients to ensure better performance.
He explained, that whether parabens are good or bad, “customers don’t want them and we don’t use them.”
Twine said Briogeo creates high performance hair care products that also cater to specific hair texture needs.
“We are six-free. Our products contain no sulfates, no silicones, no phthalates, parabens, DEA, or synthetic dyes,” said Twine, explaining that Briogeo uses 94% naturally-derived ingredients, and the company does extra due diligence to make sure that the other percentage doesn’t do anything harmful.
“Anything now that is not natural would be a recipe for disaster,” said Fekkai. “It goes beyond beauty products. It’s a way of life.”
He explained that while everyone talks about nutrition, sleep patterns, and transparency, these things should be integral to life.
Fekkai also acknowledged that having run a business prior to creating Bastide was helpful in creating something new. “Creating an idea and a product that are exciting from the consumer side, as well as internally, is the challenge,” he said.
Business and Family
As a mother of three, O’Banion addressed the personal side of success, noting, “We carry enormous stones of guilt, as mothers. The truth is that some days I’m a kick-ass CEO, and some days, I’m an excellent mother.”
She said to get rid of those rocks of guilt, you have to live for yourself.
Malin + Goetz is a collaborative brand. Malin, with dry, sensitive skin, and Goetz, with oily, resilient skin, created the brand to encompass their own skin care needs. Life partners for a quarter of a century, Malin explained that “We don’t trust anyone more than we do each other, and over the course of 14 years in business, we’ve had to figure out balance in our lives.”
Love & Money
The business of Bastide is a family affair for Fekkai.
“I wouldn’t have done Fekkai without an investor, but for Bastide, we’re choosing to do this with family and friends only. It depends on your strategy, long-term, short-term, who knows what will happen in the next few years? Unless you’re a company like Chanel, where you don’t need money, then you’re open to investors.”
Malin explained how his investors have allowed himself and his partner to find more balance in their lives, as well as provide advice.
“Manzanita took a majority investment in our business three years ago, and I have to say, it’s been great. We chose wisely. They have a network of brands that aren’t competing with us, and there’s a real synergy,” he said.
Fekkai noted the importance of finding the right partner.
“We’re blessed to have the right people who have their heart in the right place,” he said.
Twine insisted that passion is at the heart of the Briogeo enterprise—for the entire staff.
“It’s not just the resume, I want to know what fuels people and I always tell my team to dig deep,” she explained. “We don’t have much of a hierarchy at Briogeo. I’m trying to give my team an opportunity that feeds their drive, that they might not get at a big company.”
A dedicated staff is crucial, but at the end of the day, no one will care about your brand the way you do, warned O’Banion.
“It’s not fair to expect them to share your level of passion,” she explained. “If you’re engaged, they’ll feel motivated.”
She explained how companies go through different stages. With start-ups there’s great energy with young staff, but you need to understand where you are, and understand the risk you’re willing to take with your brand.
“I’ve done every single job in my business, which has given me insight,” she said.
Malin noted that young impassioned individuals give 100%, but, you have to mentor them.
“To me, it’s key to hire people who live and breathe our culture and love it,” he said.
Fekkai likened his business to a home, saying, “Figure out what you’re not good at your company. Your company is like a home. If your home is not welcoming, people will come in, but they’ll get out fast. So, your environment should be desirable.”
O’Banion emphasized the importance of learning as much as you can about your business and understanding your own strengths and those around you.
“Understand the strengths that will complement yours,” she told attendees. “You’ve got to understand the business to keep what you have created.”
“Being an entrepreneur is wonderful when you create a desirable business, but the toughest part is distribution,” said Fekkai. “Today, department stores aren’t that healthy, so today, for Bastide, we’re banking on e-commerce, digital, and retail stores, as well as partners who want to showcase the brand the way we like it. We want to keep the brand prestigious,” he added.
Twine said the environment for business was very different when she launched Briogeo in 2013.
“Now, it’s all digital, it’s press, it’s social, it’s Instagram, and it’s video content. For our product pages, we love content, and everyone loves taking photos and being part of the content aspect of what we do. We are now the number two digital hair care brand on Sephora.com,” she said.
“If yours is a business that has taken on funding, unlike mine, which is self-funded, you’ve got to have a team to get your message out. You have to have every leg of the stool, if you want to have a strong brand,” said O’Banion, who started with HSN/QVC, and then went into Nordstrom with her products. “Your strategy must be replicable and scalable, but it’s different for everyone. The hierarchy of your placement is absolutely critical, so being passionate and strategic are key. Knock on doors, hop on a plane, make it happen,” she said.
Malin describes a strategy that began close to home, in the couple’s Chelsea building in New York City. Next, Malin + Goetz went to Barney’s, followed by London and e-commerce.
“We were diversifying. We did hotels, and airlines, and garnered a lot of attention for the brand,” he recalled.
Malin + Goetz also has an individual specialty store, 11 other doors, as well as a growing retail network.
“Press is also key, magazines and digital, and we also have a network where we deliver pieces of our business uniquely,” he added.
Fekkai noted the importance of listening.
“To me, it’s all about listening. People have forgotten how to listen. Take time to listen,” he said.
Twine emphasized the core message and remaining true to it.
“One of the things to do is slow down and get to your core to make a strong decision with conviction,” she said.
“Slowing down and focusing are key,” agreed Malin, who described gardening as a distraction that allows him to separate from everything else, and to see results.
The most important message is to remain captain of your own ship, insisted O’Banion.
“We all have 24 hours in a day. When you start owning that your decision today will drive the next day, that’s an important lesson. Put a stake in the ground and keep captaining,” she concluded. “That is how I run the business and my life. I’m choosing to do this. Reframing will help you define what success looks like to you.”