Marcia Kilgore: ‘Instead of luxury labels, what people want to portray is their own brand’
Marcia Kilgore was watching telly when she had the idea. “I thought, what about Netflix but for beauty – so everyone could get a bigger piece of the beauty pie?” The woman behind Bliss Spas, FitFlops and Soap & Glory, Kilgore has long been renowned for “disrupting” the industry, but this project threatened to go even further, toppling it on its side, skidding into a hedge.
I’d heard a rumour that Kilgore’s new venture was such a threat to established beauty brands that she’d received death threats. She chuckles. “There’s room for us and for them. After all, Netflix exists, but people still go to the cinema, right?”
This is how Beauty Pie works: you pay £10 a month for membership, and then you can purchase its carefully curated collection of make-up and skincare at factory prices. So, that’s £20 lipsticks for £2.24, excellent foundation (in Armani-esque bottles) for £4.75, and the new “Super-Eye Energy Peptide Infusion Cream” for £5.65. The pricing is totally transparent, and the products are comparable to those in the fanciest beauty halls.
As Beauty Pie nears its first anniversary, now with tens of thousands of members, Kilgore says the key to its success lies in the “personal brand”. Rather than define themselves through designer labels, she says: “What people really want to portray is their own brand.”
Only a fraction of the cost of a luxury product is the product itself. The rest is what Kilgore calls LMAO, or “Landfill Marketing and Overheads.” Kilgore spends days at cosmetics factories: one will produce a perfect lipstick, at another she knows a product mixer who specialises in foundation. “You become quite elitist in terms of the quality. If something doesn’t have good colour payoff or the pencil is a bit too dry, I reject them.”
Of the luxury brands, she says, her voice dropping a little, 95% buy the same products she does, tweaking the colours slightly, whacking it in their own packaging and adding a few zeroes to the price – often 30 times the price it costs to make. “We had this skin brush from Korea, a rechargeable one in soft-touch rubber, for £18,” Kilgore says. “In shops it would be more than £80. I’ve seen things like it in the airport for £300.” Is there a company she finds particularly disingenuous? She puts her hand over the tape recorder and mouths the name of a brand whose moisturisers sell for £200, and whose formulations can be found for a 10th of that through Beauty Pie.
“This is luxury, but for everybody,” says Kilgore. She raises her chin, proud. “We call it ‘massperational’.”
Ozohu Adoh: ‘The luxury market was not meeting the needs of women of colour’
This year Ozohu Adoh, a Nigerian-born ex-accountant, launched Epara, the first luxury beauty brand specifically targeting women of colour. The line has already been bought by Harrods, which knows its audience: in 2015, says Adoh, every £1 in £3 spent in the store was by a Nigerian.
It began by accident. “I had excessive dry skin on my face. I tried all the luxury skincare brands and they just didn’t work.” She researched ingredients, making her own concoctions using mainly oils. “It took several iterations before I got something that worked,” says Adoh. When her skin cleared up “friends started to ask me for this thing in a nondescript jar.” That was three years ago. She has since developed a line including cleansers, a mask, serums and eye cream. Many of her ingredients, such as marula and moringa oils, and mango butter, are found on African soil. “I want to take them mainstream,” she says.
Some have asked why women of colour need their own skincare line. “The market was not addressing our needs,” says Adoh. “Due to higher levels of melanin, typical problems present differently in darker skin tones. Uneven skin tone caused by hormonal issues or acne scarring can take much longer to heal.”
The controversy of toxic ingredients in beauty products aimed at non-Caucasian women has been topical of late. Many beauty care products targeting this demographic, particularly those products that perpetuate the western ideal of beauty (skin lightening, hair relaxers or straighteners, etc), often include harmful ingredients, such as steroids and oestrogen, which go on to cause reproductive harm.
Creating efficacious and “clean” products for women of colour is an ethos Adoh hopes others will adopt. It will, she says, help change the beauty landscape.
Tricia Cudsen: ‘Society hasn’t yet come to terms with the fact that we’re living longer’
“The beauty industry assumes we are all engaged in an anti-ageing battle,” says an emphatic Tricia Cudsen, the 70-year-old founder of mature make-up brand Look Fabulous Forever. “I am determined to change this.”
Cudsen, a former management consultant from south London, has a “pro-ageing” attitude to beauty. She launched Look Fabulous Forever in 2013, “after wasting £50 on products meant for skin a lot younger than mine” and becoming “increasingly exercised” by the “insulting” rhetoric around older women and their beauty routine. Cudsen’s mission was two-fold: create products and imagery that were “honest, featuring women over the age of 55”; and to use “positive language, to represent ageing as something to embrace, not to fight against”.
Look Fabulous Forever was developed with a cosmetics manufacturer based in Suffolk, to specifically flatter mature skin, which has less collagen and is therefore more porous. The top three sellers are all primers. “Older skin is bumpy, meaning that make-up gets sucked into the skin faster.” A lip primer “seals the edges of the lips so that the lipstick doesn’t feather and bleed” while matte eye shadow, Cudsen notes, “is much more flattering on older women”.
These tips are delivered via her “how to” videos, which have had more than 4.2m views. Cudsen wants to create a platform where she can “talk about confidence and risk taking”. Her forthcoming book, Living the Life More Fabulous: Beauty, Style and Empowerment for Older Women, will be out in February. Cudsen describes it as a “handbook for empowerment”.
“Society has not yet come to terms with the fact that everyone is leading much longer lives. Ageing is still associated with catastrophe. We need to re-frame longevity,” she says. Cudsen admits that her mission may sound “incredibly grandiose – I am one woman, in her 70th year” but it’s an essential one. “Ageism has appalling consequences. It feeds into all sorts of issues, like older women not being able to get jobs.”
The success of the brand has been “staggering” says Cudsen, who put £40,000 into the business when she launched it. Less than four years later Look Fabulous Forever turns over £2m. She puts its success down to one thing: “no trickery”. And she’s only just got going. “If I’m going to live until I’m 90, I have another 20 years ahead of me. And I intend to make them really productive.”