FGI Frontliners Panel “The Making of A Beauty Entrepreneur”

What does it take to become a beauty entrepreneur in today’s economy? What is it like to launch a new beauty initiative into this already overcrowded market?  This was the subject of Tuesday night’s FGI Frontliners panel entitled “The Making of A Beauty Entrepreneur” sponsored by Cosmoprof. A sold out crowd gathered at FGI headquarters for a panel discussion featuring Elana Drell-Szyfer, CEO RéVive Skincare as moderator; Frédéric Fekkai, Co-Founder & CEO, Bastide; Matthew Malin, Co-Founder, Malin + Goetz; Jamie O’Banion, Founder & CEO, Bioscience, and Nancy Twine, Founder, Briogeo.

Karen Young, FGI, Matthew Malin, Jamie O’Banion, Frederic Fekkai, Elana Drell-Szyfer, Nancy Twine

Drell-Szyfer opened the discussion with a shout-out to a WWD special edition on mergers & acquisitions of beauty brands and their entrepreneurs. “Companies don’t come to market anymore, you have to be in the know,” she said. The four panelists would certainly fit that description. Of course, Frederic Fekkai, the celebrity hairstylist is basically a household name. “There’s Estee, Helena and Frederic,” quipped Drell-Szyfer. Tonight’s focus was not on his eponymous brand but on his 2015 launch of Bastide, a French skin-care line (he purchased the company Cote Bastide based in his hometown of Aix-en-Provence) for which he has developed his own products. Matthew Malin, once a buyer at Barneys and a developer of products for lines such as Kiehls, is one half of the personal and professional partnership with Andrew Goetz, an architect. Jamie O’Banion is the daughter of a chemist who worked on products for private label dermatologists as well as for “the big four” — together they developed Beauty Bioscience, a pioneer of various skin advances including a micro-needling patent. Her products are sold on HSN as well as in the prestige market. Nancy Twine started formulating her products in 2010 but worked her high-level job in finance until 2014, “I didn’t quit my Wall Street job until I had press and landed Sephora.” She developed Biogeo hair care in her studio apartment kitchen after realizing there was a need for products to address a diversity of hair types.

Capacity audience

Is there a right time to start your business? “No, it’s when you have a passion and an idea,” said Fekkai. He knew the time was right when he saw Cote Bastide was for sale giving him an opportunity to “rebrand an authentic brand and make it transparent, run like a family business at a global scale.” Twine remarked on the importance of filling a void in the market. And if you think it will be easier being your own boss, everyone on the panel agreed with her statement “It’s a hustle every single day!” Malin thinks there is a right time to launch adding that he is from a very risk averse family as opposed to Goetz who grew up in a family of entrepreneurs.”Fear drove me to work like a dog,” he added of his now 14- year old company. Stunning model, former Miss Teen Texas and Miss Teen America runner-up, mother of three O’Banion said it’s similar to the question of “Is there ever a right time to start a family?” Her father was a “self-made millionaire” so science was always in her blood. “When people tell me they want to start their own companies so they can make their own hours, when they complain about working 12-hour days — how do I delicately and politely tell them I wish for their 12-hour days?” She adds that it’s important to “organize, prepare and plan” as well as to make mistakes but learn to “pivot before you run out of money.”

What about the focus on formulating products with a “natural transparency and performance balance?” “We make a lot of organic raw materials — there’s radical transparency with what’s in it and what it is formatted without” said O’Banion, adding that she would never formulate a product with parabens or sulfates. Malin mentions his brand’s “modern apothecary look. It’s how people shopped a hundred years ago — you went to the chemist and he mixed something and put his chemist labels on it.” He agreed that “the customer has become educated or even over-educated.” Twine says her products contain “no synthetics and are six-free. We check in with the EWG (Environmental Working Group) — everything is cruelty free and vegan certified.” Fekkai added “I don’t think today we have a choice to include non natural products. Everyone is so educated today. Technology for natural products is developed so well to be toxic free.”

What advice would you give to anyone considering becoming a beauty entrepreneur? “The good news about being an entrepreneur is you allow yourself to make a mistake but not to repeat the mistake. What can I do to be different and surprising to the customer? [It’s about] creating ideas with product that is exciting and innovative?” O’Banion addressed the guilty mother issue: “Sometimes I’m a kick-ass CEO and sometimes I’m a great mother but they’re never on the same day. I’m on a plane every week and I used to apologize to my kids intimating that what I’m doing is wrong so I changed the dialogue. I’ve re-framed it by saying ‘I’m going to go work so hard and you go work so hard at school and we’ll high five each other when I get home.'” Malin advises working with someone who possesses different skills than you — a yin and yang relationship. “I’m dry and sensitive, Goetz is oily and resilient — we balance each other out although we do butt heads at times.”

Other topics such as who to go to for advice (Twine said “everyone who’s close to me,”) if and when to take on investors (“Finding people to share your passion — you must seek out the right partner,”) the need to diversify the brand (Malin + Goetz has a freestanding store, a website/social media, national and international distributors — department and specialty stores and an amenity program for the service industry). The importance of knowing and understanding the business operation of your creative endeavor coupled with hiring the right people, and corporate culture were also discussed. Fekkai may have put it best when he offered this piece of wisdom: “You must make it like a home — if it’s not welcoming, people may come in but they will soon get out.”

Final words of advice? Fekkai stressed the importance of listening saying “People forget to listen.” Twine: “Stay true to your core — slow and steady wins the race. What is our mission? What are we trying to do?” Malin spoke of the farmhouse in upstate New York where the couple of 25 years goes to retreat and he has taken up gardening. “I’m doing something just for me — it’s something that helps me recharge.” O’Banion spoke of “captaining your own ship. We all have 24 hours in a day. It’s important to own your own decisions, to put a stake in the ground. No one else can run your life — define for yourself what success looks like.” If that’s supposed to be a pep talk it failed on me — I feel like a slacker!

– Laurel Marcus

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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