Independents’ Beauty Day at FGI

It was “Independent’s Day” at the FGI offices across from Bryant Park yesterday as a panel of five women who have successfully launched their independent beauty lines or concepts shared their knowledge on the topic. The panel included Christy Prunier, Founder and CEO of Willa, Patti Pao, Founder and CEO of Restorsea, Rebecca Perkins and Stephanie March, Founders of Rouge, NY and Elana Drell Szyfer, CEO of Laura Geller and the moderator was Karen Young, CEO of The Young Group. The event was sponsored by Conde Nast.

Photo: L-R
Elana Drell Szyfer, Christy Prunier, Rebecca
Stephanie March, Patti Pao

These women have all made their own business models; whether they sell through social selling models, social media, e commerce or a brick and mortar store. In the case of Christy Prunier of Willa, a cosmetics and skin care line for teens named after Ms. Prunier’s daughter(which I previously wrote about here: in-market-report-by-laurel-marcus) all selling is done through a teen girl’s number one influencer. If you guessed it was her friends, you are correct…not her mother as panelist Elana had hoped (she has three daughters, one a teenager so you can’t blame her for trying).

Willa sales get-togethers are social events complete with Instagram and Snapchat adding a new twist; this is not your mother’s Tupperware party. Girls take a training course and earn money in the form of a Willa debit card. They use an app on their phones to track orders and sales. Willa is also a company which supports matching funds; in this case, the money goes towards college. Speaking of Insta, Christy mentioned that teens didn’t like to wear sunscreen because of how it tended to look shiny when photographed, so they created a product that goes on without shine. When the line first was developed they tried selling at Henri Bendel and Harrod’s but realized that a teen doesn’t relate to “a 35 year old salesperson and a high-end retailer.” Next they tried Target, but that too failed until they came up with their current sales plan which was begun in Connecticut with eight girls and is now in 14 states with a waiting list of girls wishing to be sales reps. Christy credits selling the products as a self-confidence boost as well as a way to gain some financial independence for these young girls.

Patti Pao’s story is quite an interesting one; a graduate of Harvard Business School, she worked at developing anti aging products for Guerlain and Avon, then founded her own consulting firm: The Pao Principle. She was working with a client on one of her many business trips to Norway when, in order to get out of a hiking trip (“As an Asian, I am genetically predisposed to dislike the outdoors” she says) she spied a little building and asked to take a tour of that instead. It turned out to be a salmon hatchery which practiced “Darwin’s 2nd Principle” meaning that the salmon were hatched in synchronicity by using light and were all the same size. “It was the Chanel of hatcheries” she said. While taking the tour she saw that the workers who had their hands immersed in the salmon hatchery water helping to remove the eggshells and herding the just emerging salmon, had hands that looked 20 years younger than their faces.

She discovered that as the salmon are hatched out of their shell they release an enzyme “that selectively exfoliates only the dead skin cells leaving the living cells to flourish.” See her tell her story here: and on her website: She was able to buy the exclusive rights to this ingredient and to find financial backers however she found that her own website was the best vehicle for sales. “I love Bergdorf’s but I lost money when my product was there” she admitted as well as at Saks, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Macy’s. On how she developed an e commerce site: “I was a Luddite and only emailed” Patti claims, but had to expand her internet knowledge quickly in order to grow her brand. She also has celebrity spokesperson/ devotee Gwyneth Paltrow who promotes the line.

Stephanie March and Rebecca Perkins were longtime friends who met on the set of “Law and Order SVU” as Stephanie plays ADA Alexandra Cabot on the show and Rebecca is the show’s resident makeup artist. Their company Rouge NY came about as a makeup version of Drybar or Blow where women go to get a quick hair blowout without an appointment. They wanted to get out the word that having your makeup done ” isn’t just for weddings” and unlike a makeup counter they are not interested in “pushing product” as they call it. Using only their favorites of different lines as well as having developed a few of their own products, the emphasis is still on the technique of makeup application rather than the products themselves. They cite The New York Times article which claimed they are “first to market” with this concept however I remember back in the day, a place called “Beauty Checkers” run by makeup artist Amy Greene (former beauty editor at Glamour) inside the old Henri Bendel on West 57th Street and this reminds me a bit of their concept although they would encourage you to bring your own makeup for application. Their Thompson Street store has been open since last December and they are considering expanding uptown, then perhaps go national and then who knows: “We always say that global domination is the plan.” Here is an article about Rouge NY that appeared in Elle.

Elana Drell Szyfer came to Laura Geller Beauy by way of L’Oreal, Estee Lauder and Avon. She spoke of the fast paced and incessant need for newness and innovation as their customer on QVC demands it. “A brand is a living breathing thing and is always changing. How many times have you changed your hair in the past 17 years?” she asked referring to how many years the company has been in business. Laura Geller who originally started with event and theatre makeup, now has brick and mortar stores as well as sells online and on QVC where the brand is a top seller internationally. Coming soon: a brick and mortar store in the UK. She claims that Laura Geller herself is very “intuitive” and can predict “what will resonate and what won’t” in terms of new product. Referring to the fact that there is never any downtime: “Your foot is really always on the gas,” Elana explained.

In conclusion, Karen Young, pointed out that these “independents” are all about “creating relationships directly with the consumer. The companies that are growing are the smaller companies. Sometimes they are owned by the larger companies which is where their growth is coming from.” She also mentioned that she had expressed interest in doing a panel such as this for the past two or three years to FGI President Margaret Hayes who was skeptical. “They’re not really known…do you think you could fill a room?” Ms. Hayes reportedly said.

I’m happy to report that the room was full.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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