Ask the average guy to name five beauty brands off the top of his head and he'll no doubt reel off a list of names you'd spot in the supermarket.
Why the sudden spike in indie beauty brands? Thank (or blame) the internet.
Just a few decades ago the range of brands out there was limited to what you could find in department stores, supermarkets and pharmacies. While the music and fashion scenes both boasted a healthy indie culture, there just wasn't a way for upcoming beauty brands to get noticed.
Then, eBay happened. E-commerce happened. And most recently, social media. Brands no longer had to pay exorbitant amounts to be stocked at eye level on supermarket shelves -- dedicated beauty stores were popping up on the regular (like MECCA in Australia and Sephora overseas at the time) and these stores were approaching the brands, not the other way around.
At that point, everything changed.
Take nail brand Hard Candy for example. It launched back in the 1990s and played a huge part in kicking off the indie beauty movement.
"My business partner, Dineh Mohajer, and I have worked together for 22 years, so we are legitimate beauty veterans," Co-founder of Hard Candy (and now Smith and Cult) Jeanne Chavez told the Huffington Post Australia.
"We first came together because we had a passion to be in the beauty industry. Dineh was still in college, and I had worked in the cosmetic industry for a skincare company, La Prairie, when they were first beginning to launch. With my expertise and Dineh's creative genius, we came together and created one of the first ever indie brands -- Hard Candy. You might remember the ads of a jelly ring on a nail lacquer bottle?"
"That brand was the result of passion and two girls trying to make it in the beauty industry. This was in the 1990s, and it just took off. Then when Sephora came to the U.S, they wanted to stock Hard Candy. That meant we were going to have to make stock for 100 stores and we just couldn't do that at the time. So, Sephora actually acquired the brand so that Hard Candy could produce the amount of stock needed," Chavez said.
"After that we always wondered what might have happened if we hadn't sold our brand. What if we stayed on course and built a brand with full control? So, that's what our second brand, Smith and Cult, really is. It is the same girl, and it's what she wants today. Although there are a lot of indie brands now, there's still a lot of things missing in our industry. We really wanted to pay attention to both formulas and packaging."
And it's that full control that both the creators enjoy about an indie brand, as well as their customers. They set the agenda -- determining what new product launch, why, and how often -- instead of having to meet the demands and targets set by the bosses of big business. The result is truly individual brands and products instead of cookie cutter offerings of the same stuff.
"With Smith and Cult, we were determined to make products with packaging that women would be proud to carry around and show off. So many products have the same packaging and design. Take a look at our beautiful polish bottles for example. They could have had a smooth, round gold lid, but Dineh decided to bang them up a bit and make them unique. It sends the subliminal message that imperfection is beautiful. Beauty doesn't have to be perfect. And it's obvious that it's a Smith and Cult product -- you don't need to see the brand name," Chavez said.
As for how and when products are developed, Smith and Cult's new SKUs are created when inspiration strikes -- not when every other brand creates a contour palette or strobe cream.
"We started out with just polish as a tribute to Hard Candy. Then we followed quickly with other collections. Lip came next, and now we are moving into eye and face. We have collections come out twice a year, but we have been told that we need to speed it up because people want it. That's such a good problem to have," Chavez said.
"When it comes to developing product, we do our own thing. We don't look to other beauty brands. Instead we look to our favourite fashion brands for inspiration. Dineh and I love to shop. So everything from our brand is an accessory to what we like to wear. We love Isabel Marant, she's one of our favorite designers. We also love Vetements which is a new brand were obsessed with, so that inspires us, too."
Another 'backyard' indie brand done good is Zoeva Cosmetics.
"It all started in my living room in Germany. I started with a collection of brushes that I listed on eBay and they sold out right away. After that the brushes just kept selling," Zoe Boikou, CEO and Founder of Zoeva Cosmetics told Huff Post Australia.
From Boikou's lounge room to close to a million followers on Instagram (which is a big figure for a brand -- brands undeniably struggle to reach the high amounts of followers that individuals achieve), the success of the start-up came down to listening to what women wanted. Zoeva now continuously sells out in various markets and it the number three brand in Sephora Australia.
"I think women were looking for the same thing as me, for brushes that were of very high quality but not too expensive."
Boikou noticed that despite a saturated beauty scene, there was still a demand for what she was making. Meaning there was a gap in the market.
"Zoeva grew in popularity I think because of the design as well as the products and formulations. After the brushes came the eyeshadow palettes and I think they are so popular because the palettes are very thin and easy to store or travel with. Back when the brand launched there were only a few other indie brands," Boikou said.
"Zoeva doesn't look to mainstream brands to see what they are doing -- we do the opposite. We create products we feel are missing or need to be available, not what everyone else is doing. We keep products at affordable prices, which is very important to me."
Boikou agrees that the upside of an indie beauty brand is the control over when and how a product in developed -- with quality the non-negotiable.
"It usually takes us around one year to develop a new product, because we go through so many prototypes. I send them back until they are perfect, which is why it takes so long. Sometimes we can make a new product in six months, but mostly it takes a year to refine the product until I am happy with it."
Here's to more start-up successes, authenticity and underdogs rising to the top.
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