After noticing a lack of high-quality makeup and brush options available to Brazilian consumers, Dr. Simone and Rene Xavier took matters into their own hands. Born out of their basement in 2009, the Xaviers created Sigma Beauty, a full line of brushes and color cosmetics for consumers that are now available across the globe. What started as a single brush set has grown to dozens of SKUs spanning makeup, brushes and brush care, as well as a sister brand of beauty tools called Practk by Sigma Beauty. We sat down to talk with Sigma cofounder Dr. Simone Xavier to learn more about how the brand leveraged influencer marketing in its growth to finally “find its place,” and what it’s like working with a predominantly female team.
Beauty Store Business: How did you go from being a molecular bacteriologist to beauty entrepreneur?
Dr. Simone Xavier: Being in the academic and research field was always my professional goal. I came to the U.S. 19 years ago to complete a Ph.D. in molecular bacteriology and infectious diseases; at that time, I’d already completed a degree in veterinary medicine and a master’s in veterinary pathology. After completing my Ph.D., I remained at the University of Minnesota for seven more years as a professor.
While I was studying and working at the university, my husband, Rene Xavier, and I made frequent trips to Brazil to visit friends and family. They requested we bring along items that weren’t available in Brazil–many of these requests were beauty products like makeup and brushes. We saw an opportunity to offer these products to the Brazilian market online. At that time, Rene was working as a property manager and had an import/export business for painting tools, so he had experience with manufacturing brushes. Once he saw the makeup brushes that Brazilian customers wanted, he realized we could produce higher quality brushes–for a better price. From there, I went to YouTube and started to research the brushes beauty bloggers used most for essential functions and we created the first Sigma Beauty brush set. I sent these sets to top beauty bloggers and asked for feedback. They absolutely loved the brush set, made videos about it and [when the product became available for sale] we sold out in two hours! With that, we decided to invest more time in this new business and, 10 years later, Sigma is the authority in quality makeup brushes worldwide.
“Know the beauty trends, but learn to recognize those that will be gone in a few months and aren’t worth your time.”
What inspired you to start your own company?
Both my husband and I are very solution-oriented. My research at the university has always been very applied and Rene has always been a true entrepreneur. He had his first business in Brazil when he was 23. What inspired us to start our own company was a combination of identifying a niche in the beauty industry combined with my drive to put together a functional brush set and Rene’s passion for creating new businesses. All of these factors still contribute to our success today.
You started Sigma Beauty out of your basement. What were some of the biggest challenges?
The main challenge was time. Both Rene and I had full-time jobs when we started Sigma. We basically worked overnight to grow the business. It was a time when we both were getting four hours of sleep per night, but growing this business was so exciting that it kept us going.
What is the meaning behind the brand’s name?
Rene is a civil engineer, so he loves math. Sigma is the mathematical symbol that represents the “sum of all.” Rene and I spent a year in Spain and at that time he created a consulting business, which he called Sigma. When we started our online business, we decided to stay with the name Sigma. Today, Sigma encompasses our passion to develop functional products of the highest quality, while offering the best customer service to our clients. It represents the “sum of all” the qualities that make Sigma the great company it is today.
Sigma Beauty started with one brush set. When did you expand to color cosmetics?
When we first introduced color cosmetics to our product line six years ago, Sigma had already built a reputation for creating the best makeup brushes in the industry. Creating color is more challenging than creating functional tools. Color is more personal; it requires that you know your client and cater to their preferences and beauty routine. Today, we have a clear view of who our clients are and their preferences in color. Capitalizing on this knowledge is the next phase in Sigma’s growth. We’re heavily investing in developing the highest-quality color cosmetics for our clients’ everyday needs, and we plan to keep our color collection fresh by introducing fun and surprising limited- edition collections every year.
Where do you see Sigma Beauty in five years?
We continue to expand globally. We’re absolutely thrilled to have Sigma in every major department store in the U.S. market and multiple top beauty stores spanning the globe, such as Sephora Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia. Today, we have 250-plus retailers in 73 countries. We plan to continue expanding, giving clients access to our brand around the world and continuing to create a solid product line of top-quality brushes, color makeup and brush care accessories. We’re also very excited to have started a new brand targeting a more budget-conscious client, Practk by Sigma Beauty. Practk offers the same Sigma quality in affordable products perfect for the mass beauty market. We’re developing a full line of affordable brushes, makeup and brush care for Practk.
“Master social media, but don’t forget clients who aren’t social savvy.”
What are your top care tips for consumers to maintain their makeup brushes?
Clean them frequently. Brush care is a very important category for us; we have changed the status quo for how brushes are cleaned with a variety of products to keep them like new. The patented textures on all of our brush care tools are unique and when combined with our 100 percent natural Sigmagic Brushampoo, it’s easy to remove the toughest stains from makeup brushes. We also created the Sigma Dry’N Shape Tower, which uses patented technology to dry and reshape brushes in record time, while keeping water out of the handle, and ferrule junction to prevent damage that weakens your brushes. We recommend cleaning your makeup brushes at least once a week. I sometimes clean mine after each use–using fresh brushes is so satisfying!
Has influencer marketing helped Sigma grow?
We love to partner with our affiliates for curated sets! We think it’s important for our top affiliates to be able to share their favorites with their audiences. Our goal is to foster a true connection between the influencer and their fans. Influencer marketing is definitely a very important part of growing and maintaining our business and we continue to find innovative ways to engage our partners.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that creating a long-lasting and successful brand is a process, and that a brand matures and finds its niche with time. Sigma has found its place in our 10 years of brand development. We know who we are, who our clients are and we are ready to cater to our clients’ needs in a very consistent way. It’s this stability that has created the opportunity for our second brand, Practk. We’re using that expertise to cater to a different audience.
What has been the highlight of your career?
The highlight of my career will always be the fact that an engineer and a veterinarian continue to challenge and push the beauty industry forward. We’re the most proud when we’re able to introduce new concepts that change and improve our clients’ beauty routines. We’re very proud to have been awarded 63 worldwide patents for our innovative products and we’ll continue to challenge the status quo.
“Influencer marketing is definitely a very important part of growing and maintaining our business and we continue to find innovative ways to engage our partners.”
Your team is over 90 percent female. Tell us about the company culture.
At Sigma we believe in hard work, dedication, drive and passion for creating a successful brand and a profitable business. We believe in trying new concepts, even if they aren’t immediately obvious. We believe in innovation, in wearing several hats, in being hands-on and being driven to succeed. We’re lucky to have so many women, and some very talented guys, who are dedicated to our success. We’re proud to empower women and entrust them with top positions within our company. But more importantly, we’re proud to offer them the opportunity to grow a business with their own hands.
What advice can you offer to others in the beauty industry?
Trust your vision and develop projects you’re truly passionate about. Don’t be afraid of introducing new concepts to your clients–give innovation a chance. Quality should be a core value; it will assure that clients will stay loyal to your brand. Know the beauty trends, but learn to recognize those that will be gone in a few months and aren’t worth your time. Keep focused on clients’ long-term needs. Master social media, but don’t forget clients who aren’t social savvy. We’ve created a successful beauty brand by listening to our clients and having the courage to change the way things were done. What matters to you will matter to thousands of people out there. Find your crowd!