“Every mistake is a stepping stone in the river of life” I said to a bus driver this weekend. We were talking about the silver linings of failures, and I’ve seen a lot on this on social media recently – which is great. Perfection can be exhausting and it doesn’t happen overnight. And if you’re launching a beauty or wellbeing brand, (any brand!) what are the big pointers on the road to getting it right?

This year, for some reason, a lot more new brands have been entering the 2018 Beauty Shortlist Awards (probably because there are so many more around). I love this time of year – the 5-6 months of judging – as the awards give us a really sharp, eagle eye view of what really works and stands out in a big, very crowded arena.

There’s so much to get right.  Formulas, packaging (I’m the harshest judge on the packaging front…barely readable brand names in thin, pale grey font on all-white boxes – !) Faulty or  stiff body oil beak pumps, stick-on labels not stuck on properly, fire hydrant facial “mists” (?), lip balms that don’t twist up properly, balms so hard an elf could skate on them. A never-ending list!

Creating a brand, marketing it (properly) and getting to the point where it’s (finally) profitable is no easy road. But there’s no let up in the number of new launches around at the moment. The skincare market has been saturated for years already, but brave fledgling brands emerge it seems almost every other week. Some are yes “same old, same old”, others are as fresh as the beach outside your bedroom window on the first morning of your holiday.

If you’re thinking of launching a brand soon, or you’ve just launched and are still testing the waters, here are some pointers which I hope will help.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that many brands including the big global giants have rebranded sooner or later and there’s no shame in that (costs aside).

If you have a question or comment, feel free post it below or on Twitter/Instagram @BeautyShortlist! 

  1. Why are you launching your brand? (Probably best answered very honestly over a very long cup of tea and it helps to have a wall to bounce off, aka a friend). And – brutal truth – do you have the time, because welcome to the world of two jobs/juggling, unless you have the funds to pay others to do some of this for you. You need to be very clear on this: why are you launching your own brand? How would your Dragons Den pitch go?
  2. What are the main USPs that set your baby apart/will appeal to consumers, convince retail beauty buyers,interest jaded journalists and basically excite everyone else who should know about it? Strengths? Weaknesses? There are hundreds of rosehip facial oils. But fewer raspberry, chia and rosehip facial oils. And so it goes. Are you different, are you better? And why?
  3. Does the branding reflect the product/formulas/the audience you’re targeting? And the name? Too complex and hard to spell and people won’t remember it or find it on Google. PACKAGING. The obvious packaging trends/messages here include but are not limited to: the blacks and golds = luxe, masculine at heart, often seen in the Arabic beauty market. The greens and pretty nature designs = natural/organic, wildcrafted, healing, phyto-powered, more country-house, while white, ultra-zen packaging spans clean beauty as well as dermatologist-led/spa/Swiss skincare. Then we’ve got those lovely MIRON Violetglass/black/amber glass bottles = very herbal/modern apothecary, the more alchemy-style brands. Rarer, and very stand-out, are bright block colours like Prismologie or ila Spa’s boxes and each product in a different one-colour can work really well especially when there’s a chakra or crystal healing connection/message).  Too LA hippie and you’ll alienate the New York urbanite. Too urban/masculine and there probably won’t be much chemistry between your products and organic brand fans. Also, what about giving back? Donating even 1% of sales is better than none, and it’s an extra story to tell.
  4. How does your range look on a retail shelf? Stand out or drowned out? Sitting on your kitchen table is one thing. On a shelf in a store among other brands is quite another. Beware the trap of barely visible brand names gently imprinted on all-white boxes, I remember seeing this at Space.NK, all you could see was an array of white boxes, it was a lovely brand I know well, but it had literally snowed itself out – and you couldn’t decipher what brand it was until you were actually holding a box in your hand! Good luck if you didn’t bring your glasses with you. It was such an obvious drawback. Shame. The same goes for overly-fussy design, bordering on hallucinogenic when you’ve got 10 products lined up, all in the same full-on, ornate, here-comes-colour (loud) screaming boxes. And the big beware: generic, cheap and cheap-looking packaging with printed labels. (No!!) Packaging isn’t cheap but if you use cheap packaging however good the ingredients/texture/formula all are inside that tube, you’ll look cheap and you are shooting yourself in the foot. That’s what No. 5 coming up next is about. Extra points these days for recyclable packaging. Or do you even need packaging? The tide’s turning (particularly in the organic market) towards zero waste, so minimalist packaging is a trend that’s on the up right now. I’m not seeing nearly enough recyclable, or more to the point reusable or refillable packaging/products. Some good ideas include wildflower seeds embedded in British artisan brand Mel Millis’s plantable packaging, beauty that comes with free wildflowers, how lovely! Colour wise, beauty is still dominated by dark glass bottles and white jars – increasingly so – but if you’re brave enough to go for the rarer colours like turquoise, violet, fuschia or orange, make sure you can live with that colour long term.  One idea, to offset colour fatigue for example might be white tubes of say a hand cream, but with thick strip of colour on the end of the boxes. If you’re a candle brand and your black-white box feels a little boring, just adding one colour even subtly (often better subtly) can make a huge difference. And products in jars are better with spatulas (or even better in airtight clean pumps or squeezable tubes) from a freshness/hygiene perspective.
  5. And your budget is…?  Things change, obstacles and delays manifest when you least need them, unexpected good opportunities arise. Life!! Build that extra cushion in for yourself for things like rebranding, entering awards, or paying someone to handle social media for you. Time is part of your budget. How best can you optimise the number of hours in a day?
  6. Functionality. Things like…Thick balms in tubes that refuse to come out? Tall shower gels or shampoos with stiff beak pumps that tip over in the shower soap grid tray when you press down on them (tubes, for me anyway, win every time). Baby bubble baths in glass bottles? OK for some but a no-no for many mums. Packaging design that actually prevents the product from coming out, oh dear. Dr Jackson’s cool, lipped neck little amber bottles were a case in point a few years ago. I liked the formulas, the brand had literally just launched and the story was interesting. But you had to tip the bottles over and tap them and leave them for minutes until gravity started to work because the bottle necks were so slim. Ain’t nobody got time for that and the other judges had the same problem. Good designs include ARK Skincare’s clever, comfortable metered dose chubby jar-pumps, REN and Mette Picaut which are quite similar (light, travel-friendly, easy to pump). But those crowd control hydrant face spritzers (…nooo?!)
  7. What’s your brand story? (Is there one?) My daughter had eczema and I tried everything on the market but couldn’t find anything that really worked.  How many times have we heard that- even if it’s true? It’s just not a winning backstory (anymore). There’s a gorgeous US brand, ISUN, a big Beauty Shortlist Awards winner in March, who just posted on Instagram about wildcrafted v. organic (wildcrafted is even closer to nature for the purists, and more potent) and they eloquently explained why they’re not organic certified. The wildcrafted story is still fresh. That’s one of ISUN’s points of difference.
  8. Who’s your target buyer/audience? Age 17 and Korean or 55 and French? Affluent or limited income? The Liberty’s customer (typically lives in London, an early adopter, keen to discover new things first and loves checking out a brand she’s not heard of before)? Or John Lewis – more conventional, more “comfort zone”, more value-orientated, more into the “tried, tested, everyone knows this brand” kind of beauty brands like Weleda, Dr Hauschka, REN, etc.
  9. How will you reach your audience? Bloggers? PR Agency? Ads? Digital agency/social media? Local fairs? When do you appoint a PR agency, and when do you approach the beauty buyers, at what stage in the game? Are you happy selling at local fairs or is the end goal Barneys NY and Liberty of London? Are you planning on crossing the pond – e.g. US to UK or UK to US?
  10. Ingredients. Particularly if you’re organic… make the ingredients list visible (and readable to the naked eye) so the purists can read them. Make your organic certifications visible (most are, to be fair, and it usually costs money to get certified). Same goes for How To Use – explain how to get the most out of that face mask/self-tanner. How many drops? Avoid the sun? 

There’s so much more to cover, but perhaps for another post! I’ve seen brand new brands win a Beauty Shortlist Award almost off the bat (even with just one product – Vanderohe Beauty’s artisan facial oil was an example back in March). And just months after I met Ada, founder of 001 Skincare for a cup of tea in Selfridges when she introduced the brand to me, she quickly went on to win awards and get some fantastic press coverage in the glossies and British Sunday mags.

Despite the crowded beauty market, there’s never been more interest in green and small batch, artisan brands than right now which is excellent news if this is your path and you’re going it alone. But the first couple of years are the hardest (and often the most exciting). It’s tough! Just when you’re ready to call it a day and have never been more sleep deprived, you win an award, you get into a big etailer,  then into a store and it all starts to take off on an upward curve.

Here’s a light sprinkling of Beauty Shortlist Awards winners who’ve got it right (and for everyone asking last week, here’s the Entry Form for 2018 – samples must be with us by Friday 17 Nov. We’re reviewing some of our favourites along the way, too, so you may want to send your samples in sooner rather than later!)




Easy, spill-proof little black caps for the shower, recyclable and Plant Apothecary gives back – many of its products are made by people with disabilities.

Yoga, spa, and chakra-bright colours :: ila SPA




2016 SWEDISH BEAUTY AWARDS & 2017 BEAUTY SHORTLIST WINNER – M. PICAUT :: Clean, Luminous, Fresh and Light (and lightweight, brilliant for travel) and we loved the easy to use pumps. Clear, personalised brand name in black on white but product names in orange for that extra Vitamin C-style lift). The labels would still look good without the orange, but it’s the orange that makes them.

I hope these tips are helpful!

I’ll post a 2018 Beauty Shortlist Awards FAQ later this week to answer some of the questions we’ve had coming in – entries are looking very strong already, with Australia, the UK and France dominating but we’ve had some promising looking brands in from Spain and Korea, too.

Note: We do not enter into correspondence with brands in the lead up to the Awards. Shortlisted Brands will be announced mid February and next year’s Awards will be on Friday 2nd March, so save the date and join us for a beauty-packed day, from timeless heroes  to the brightest new stars of the year.







No Sponsors, No Ads, No Voting

Tried. Loved. Won.

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