The beauty industry can be traced back to 4,000 BC, characterised by the ancient Egyptians with their dramatic kohl-lined eyes. Little did Cleopatra know that her innovative use of natural minerals as eye, lip and cheek enhancers would become a global industry estimated to be worth $425 billion. The last few decades has seen this industry dominated by industry giants, such as L’Oréal and Max Factor. Just as Cleopatra - possibly the world’s very first beauty influencer – influenced the women of her time and led the beauty revolution, today’s influencers are once again taking over.  

Let’s bring ourselves back to the present day, where we’re seeing beauty influencers make their mark in ways that only a few years ago would appear to be impossible. In June 2020, celebrity make-up brand, Charlotte Tilbury, sold a majority stake to Spanish company Puig, in a deal rumoured to be worth $1 billion. A London based make-up artist with a handful of famous clients, Tilbury launched her namesake brand in 2013, quickly becoming the It List’s make up of choice. Indeed, shortly after becoming an insider beauty secret for editors and celebs alike, Tilbury’s Pillow Talk lip liner sold somewhere in the world every two minutes; its popularity spreading to the girl on the street, faster than they could say “get me on the waiting list”.

Then we have Kylie Jenner. A member of the worldwide phenomenon that is the Kardashian family, at the age of 22 Kylie sold 51% of her Kylie Jenner Cosmetics brand to US company Coty for $600 million, valuing the business at $1.2 billion. That was just five years after launch.  And Pat McGrath Labs - the makeup line created by legendary make-up artist Pat McGrath - in 2015 was valued at $1 billion. It was the biggest selling beauty line in Selfridges during 2019.

These brands threw a beauty bomb at an industry dominated by huge global conglomerates. But what did they have in common? And how did they succeed so soon after launch? We take a look at the factors behind their success.

Transforming followers into customers


Despite many being household names before launching their beauty brands, even a decade ago the speed and growth of these companies wouldn’t have been possible without Instagram. The launch of the major social media platforms gave Charlotte Tilbury and Pat McGrath the opportunity to attract a serious community of new fans and followers, with 3.5 million and 3.2 million Instagram followers, respectively. By offering free makeup masterclasses and leveraging the ability to personally promote new products directly to their audiences, they skipped the decades-old marketing strategies deployed by the industry giants to rapidly build a cult following that quickly translated into repeat sales.

Embracing personality and passion


The most successful brands are the ones driven by a single-minded focus and passion. Pat Magrath summed it up succinctly: “The entire planet is just as cosmetics obsessed as I am…[as I brought my brand to life] my mantra has been obsession, inspiration and addiction”. With an estimated 4.1 billion people using Instagram every month, showing your passion is essential when it comes to standing out among the constant stream of faces your audience scrolls through. Embracing passion and making it work for you through clever content is the secret to success. Charlotte Tilbury’s trademark “Darlings!” helped capture attention repeatedly.

Combining disruptive D2C with retail


Retail isn’t dead. Bad retail is dead. One of Charlotte Tilbury’s major successes was the creation of her 10 colour-curated ‘Looks’, which sold whole packages for aspiring ‘Bombshells’ or ‘Ingenues’ at  traditional high street retailers. Pat McGrath launched in the UK through Selfridges with her retail concept of ‘A technical Odyssey’. This concept included her complete product line, limited edition collectibles and an all-encompassing experience that combined trend-led products with street hype, and a campaign that ran throughout the entire store. Retail theatre gives customers the one aspect that social platforms can’t – the ability to experience the products in reality before making a purchasing decision. Retail will always have a role to play in giving influencers the additional edge when it comes to growing $100 million businesses; the trick is in how to harness the aspects of retail theatre that complements an online offering.

The use of cosmetics may date back more than 6,000 years, but this is only the beginning. As more influencers demonstrate their expertise and passion, trust and purchasing power will be transferred directly into the hands of the consumer: the currency of success is fast becoming an ‘audience’.

And it’s already happening: just as Cleopatra used her powers of influence (and carefully applied make up) to win over Marc Antony’s fleet (and heart), we expect to see new waves of influencer-owned businesses win over consumers and investors alike and emerge from social media platforms with multi-million-pound valuations over the next decade.

While the rest of the world is now playing catchup to the knowledge and power of influencer owned brands, we at Genflow noticed and predicted several years ago how profitable these businesses could truly be. The brands we develop for our clients, not only stand up next to big industry names, but are secretly (or not so secretly) winning! With multiple beauty lines in production under our umbrella, we think you’ll find the next $1 billion beauty brand sale will be developed by Genflow...