Inspiring women in beauty – so is corporate setting us back?

I just spent a really inspiring, great week in L.A. surrounded by brilliant women who have forged a way in the beauty industry and founded great brands, all outside of the realm of the traditional ‘corporate’ atmosphere. These women are doing it all their own way and making huge successes as they go.

Between the jetlag and the time in the hotel room, I get a lot of thinking time when I’m travelling alone, mainly because I don’t have about 10 people saying ‘Mum’, or ‘Love, have you seen my phone/wallet/keys?’.

After every meeting on this trip I came away thinking ‘Wow. This is how I want to do it.’ These women are a formidable force.

Petra Strand, founded Pixi and opened their flagship store in London over 15 years ago and now runs the company from their LA offices, where they service their main account in the USA, Target. The UK business is surging ahead with the launch of the Skintreats range in Marks & Spencer and QVC opening last year to immediate sell-outs. The business continues to go from strength to strength, with Petra guiding the way based solely on her instincts and her knowledge of her customer.

May Lindstrom – I met May for the first time on this trip, and like Petra, May is obviously the Boss in the office, and her staff treat each other like family. Last August May shut down her entire business, including the office and online sales, to give her staff a two week complete break from work. She plans to repeat it this year, acknowledging that the health of her business is dependent on the health and happiness of her team. She has also removed her brand from all discounting across her partner retailers, indirectly positioning herself alongside brands like Chanel, who you simply never see doing ‘sale’. May has a very set plan of where she sees her brand, holding tight onto her retail outlets, preferring quality over quantity.

Michelle Phan, arguably the first YouTube female megastar, launched her own MCN in 2012, has done makeup collaborations with Lancome and helped organise Gen Beauty. Her company Ipsy, has 1.5 million subscribers in the USA and is valued at over $500 million. She’s also very nice IRL. Every single fan at Gen Beauty was greeted with a smile and a selfie without hesitation. She’s smart.

Carisa Janes founded Hourglass Cosmetics 10 years ago, launching one product into Barneys in New York. I spent a good hour in the Hourglass flagship store in Venice, CA on Monday (if you haven’t been, you must) and the attention to detail is beautiful. To my mind, Hourglass OWN the previously-ignored powder market and you just know Lauder, L’Oreal and LVMH have their cheque books ready. And if they don’t, they’re morons.

January Olds, facialist and founder of January Labs, worked behind the scenes of other brands before launching her own line. She develops products that her spa clients want, rather than what marketing teams dream up.


April Gargiulo founded Vintner’s Daughter after searching for a highly active yet natural, potent serum when she couldn’t find what she wanted in her local beauty stores. She is in no rush to develop further products and is completely in control of her brand, something that fits in perfectly while she raises her two very small children.

After spending time with these women, I came away thinking how great it would be if women like this were not only running their own brands, but big ‘corporate’ beauty. Imagine the changes in big business if decisions were based around shared personal experiences, and empathy and understanding for your main client – being women – because you had been through the very same thing yourself. Yes, the men’s market is growing, but women are the biggest beauty consumers. It’s our market.

Time and time again, when you hear of the ‘big’ jobs in beauty becoming available, they nearly always go to men. Middle-aged white men to be exact. Why? Are you telling me that nowhere in the industry was there a female that could do that role? Nonsense. And buyers in certain areas (not all). Too many times I’ve had a meeting with a male buyer that had been transferred from bedding, that literally had no clue what I was talking about when referencing comparative brands.

Even one of our own professional ‘bodies’, previously only open to women, have taken in men, leading to myself and a lot of friends letting our membership slide.

Opening the email ‘informing us of their decision’ like:

I’ll leave on a positive note from my good friend Maleka, the founder of Merumaya, who I spoke to at length today on this subject.

‘How we actively support one another in our endeavours is so important. We need to be doing more of this at every level. Retailers, bloggers/vloggers, media, influencers, customers, women2women; supporting women in business (not just the ones that are already successful or who have a celebrity clientele), supporting small businesses and local businesses and encouraging, with all your heart, those individuals, that had the courage to put all they have on the line and pursue their dreams. And then to celebrate those women when they have been successful, to share those examples of success with each other and our own daughters, so that they are encouraged to be entrepreneurial, brave, secure, unafraid of failure, positive, compassionately supportive, creative, successful and happy.’