CEW's "How Indie Brands Become Legendary" Sheds Light on the Future of Beauty Retailing

The West Coast event brought together some of the biggest names in indie beauty to discuss one of the industry's fastest growing segments.

On November 28, at the Jonathan Club in Downtown Los Angeles, CEW held its "How Indie Brands Become Legendary" sold-out event. The panel brought together influencers, brand founders, entrepreneurs and retailers to discuss how indie brands have been able to disrupt the beauty industry in recent years, and what's on the horizon for the future of retailing. The following were on the panel (shown from L to R): Tara Simon, senior vice president, merchandising, Ulta Beauty; Laura Nelson, president and founder of Colourpop Cosmetics; Marianna Hewitt, cofounder of Summer Fridays; and John Twichell, managing director of Piper Jaffray. MMC Media's Martha McCully moderated the discussion.

Ulta Beauty's Tara Simon advised indie brands to trust their instincts when making decisions and to ask for help when trying to scale their businesses. "If your gut tells you something's wrong, you're correct. Always listen; do not do something against your gut. I say that all the time about everything in life. If you're not afraid, it's probably not worth doing," she said. Simon added that indie brands should network and get valuable references for everything from the right financial partners to what product to launch next. When searching for new items to carry at Ulta Beauty, she said that a brand's authenticity and story are of the utmost importance, as well as brand's online following, consumer feedback and their ability to embody emerging trends.

In January 2018, Marianna Hewitt cofounded Summer Fridays with fellow beauty influencer Lauren Gores Ireland. As influencers who constantly receive PR packages from established brands, they felt overwhelmed by the amount of products they saw on a daily basis. "A new brand would send me 10 products and I wouldn't even know which one to try first," Hewitt said. "So, when we were thinking about launching our own [brand], we concentrated everything on one product. It worked for us, but it's also a big risk because if people don't like it, they might not ever even try your second product. We felt very confident with our formula, our packaging, our branding and everything, but we put a lot onto one product." Hewitt added that being an agile indie brand made it easier for the pair to run the company as they slowly built up their team. From a retailer's perspective, carrying only SKU rather than an entire collection that requires a lot of value shelf space is also beneficial and cost-saving for both parties, she said. From a PR standpoint, it was also easier to tell a brand and product story with just one item when launching a company. The Summer Fridays Los Angeles-based duo has since translated large social media followings into a digitally savvy brand inspired by the laid-back sensibility of an afternoon in the summertime. Their first product, the Jet Lag Mask, was even picked up by Sephora prior to its debut, and has been one of the retailer's best-selling skincare products ever since.

Laura Nelson launched Colourpop Cosmetics and Seed Beauty (the incubator behind Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty) with her brother, John Nelson, in 2014. Nelson stressed the importance of a brand to have authenticity, but that a brand's story doesn't have to be cliché—or even a story at all. "It's about a conversation, a dialogue. It's authentic; it's real. It doesn't have to be overly crafted. Here's just what the truth is. I think that's what people want because that's what makes them feel connected. I think you have to be authentic, organic and transparent. If that works itself into a story, then great, but probably less packaged than we've traditionally seen," Nelson said. For Colourpop Cosmetics, whimsical packaging, influencer partnerships and high quality at an affordable price tag proved to be a winning recipe for success. The brand is now carried at Ulta Beauty, as are Seed Beauty's Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Fragrance as of this month.

For more information and industry insight from CEW's events, visit cew.org.

[Photo by @cewinsider via Instagram]