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Working with Bijou Karman

16 Apr

Out of the many hats I wear as an entrepreneur (and I know many of you will be familiar with this – from trying to make sense of all your accounts, being your own bookkeeper, organizing the logistics, packing the products, designing your packaging, making sales pitches, updating your website, etc…), my one favourite thing I truly truly delight in is working directly with illustrators. They are an integral part of the So Susan brand, not only as a direct contributor to many of our packaging and collateral designs, but once a day, for an hour or 2, I allow myself to simply switch my emails off, turn my phone silent and browse Behance, Pinterest and my ultimate favourite Trendland for inspirational artists who really have a story to tell.

so susan banner

When I first came across Bijou Karman’s illustrations via, I just knew I had to work with her, have her tell the story of So Susan and by extension our unique formulations. Her works have such a haunting, unconventional yet beautiful, delicate quality to it that I couldn’t stop looking at her girls, each facial expression and thoughtful gaze conveying their life stories, making you wonder where they came from, what their dreams were, what or who they were thinking about at that moment in time. I immediately drew parallels with the whole ethos of So Susan, that we are a cosmetics company but one with soul, with a story to tell, with one-of-a-kind formulations that are made not to cover imperfections, but to reveal the beauty of skin and celebrate the whole idea of uniqueness.


I keep going back to the phrase “telling a story”, but honestly this is what makes a brand tick. If you don’t have a story to tell, it’s as though your brand has no voice and when it has no voice, it’s unable to shout out to the masses and make them gather round, listen and be captivated. So thank you Bijou for being such an amazing ‘collaboratrice’, you’ve made our products come alive and you have inspired me no end. Here are some of my favourite works of hers :

concealer quad box

UniversalBlush-Secondary Screenshot 2014-04-16 13.02.48

edgar allan poe quote


Collaborating with Amazing Illustrators

21 Nov

In this business where I have to say I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many talented artists, graphic designers and creative minds, it’s sometimes so difficult to decide with whom I’d like to collaborate most. However once in a while, the stars align, the creative gods smile upon me, and I have the honour of meeting incredible illustrators who just epitomize our brand and the message we want to send out. One such person is Lucy Joy Oldfield, whom I worked with over a year ago to develop some illustrations for Jelly Pong Pong’s catalogue.

I spend hours upon hours reading design blogs, sitting on my sofa with a cup of rooibos tea & going through these blogs are a HUGE part of my life! It’s one of the ways I inspire myself and my team to create wonderful products in unique, one-of-a-kind packaging. It was through one of these blogs (I’m sorry, I completely forgot which one as I go through too many!) that I spotted Lucy’s playful yet sophisticated illustration for a tea company and I just knew I had to meet and work with her. You’ll see why below :

I love everything to do with desserts! Lucy very beautifully incorporated our Soap Popsicles (below) into this particular illustration of the inside of a girly fridge. It cemented the fact that she really thought about the design and about making it relevant to the Jelly Pong Pong brand.




Our irresistible Soap Popsicles lovingly made by hand, which we could never keep in stock, each time we brought them out, they’d sell out! I love that Lucy drew them upside down in the fridge, as though they were just being made & were still freezing in their little moulds.




My other favourite image is this baking scene with magical sprinkles, our “Jelly Pong Pong” branded mixing bowl and a little recipe book inspired by our Gourmet Lip Therapy spy-book packaging. The detailed patterns on the cleverly placed fork, salt & pepper shakers and butterflies are just incredible.




Simply the most girlish, adorable bubblegum machine in the world. This particular image so captured everyone’s imagination and hearts in the office that we decided to further immortalize it in the form of a product, an ingenious lip & cheek stain by the name Jelly Stain (see below).


This is the new Jelly Stain with Lucy’s incredibly sweet rendition of a bubble gum machine. Due to printing restrictions, we had to limit the entire tube to just 3 colours, but it works really well together with the unique, multifunctional formulation, sending a consistent brand message and creating excellent shelf presence. The lower count print also financially made sense for us without jeopardizing overall product impact.

A big Thank You to you Lucy, our design heroine!

Reader Question : Who Develops Our Formulations?

10 Mar

“I absolutely love your blog. I get so much information from reading it! I’m trying to look into creating my own cosmetics line and boy is it a lot of work. I noticed in one of your posts you talked about how you should connect with a cosmetic chemist to get things going. Do you have an advice on how to find a cosmetic chemist to work with? I’m just wondering how to start without using a private label and simply re-packing their products and calling them my own. I’m not a chemist myself but I still want products that will be my own on a limited budget. Any advice?”

After my last few posts on developing our formulations in a lab, I’ve been receiving lots of emails asking for advice on who best to develop customized formulations with, and in smaller, more practical quantities. The above email sums up your sentiments very well : Private label companies may be able to provide you with choice and the ability to start a range on a tighter budget, but there is just something not quite right about repacking someone else’s formula (a formula that hundreds of other companies are using) and calling it your own.

If that echoes what you feel, then here’s an alternative which I hope will help. We work with 4-5 different contract manufacturers at any given time, some very large (from whom we order in volumes to capitalize on their huge formulation choices & lower prices), some who specialize in amazing powders or emulsions (because I really am quite anal about the product I put on my own skin, and I road-test every single colour and SKU on myself), some with proprietary ingredients or formulations, who do in-house clinical tests, and ONE which I call an “artisanal” laboratory with an amazingly gifted founder and chemist. Her name is Larisa Rossi and she started her own manufacturing facility in Bergamo, Italy (where her parents are from), with her own office & warehouse in the UK. I met her quite by accident last year when she was looking for an office space in the same block as where Jelly Pong Pong‘s offices were, and it was simply a dream come true for me. We could finally develop strong, proprietary formulations in small batches in order to test the market and gauge consumer response.

There is a caveat however. You need to be aware that customized formulations require some investment, you probably would not be able to do anything without a minimum investment of GBP 2000 – GBP 3000 per formulation in perhaps 2-3 different shades (unlike taking a starter pack from a private label company, where you may end up spending less than GBP 500 in total for a whole host of products). If this is something you’re willing to take up, you can continue reading for an indication of Larisa’s prices and quantities (I’m only quoting it from previous dealings with her in order to give you an indication, so please bear in mind that this may change drastically depending on what you develop).

Powders pressed in a pan (this includes eye shadows, blushers, bronzers, illuminizers, etc…) : 1000 pcs /shade @ GBP 0.70 each

Hot pour emulsions in a pan (pan concealers, lip/cheek stains, lip balms, cream blushers, etc…) : 1000 pcs / shade @ GBP 0.80 each

Liquid emulsions (liquid foundations, concealers, luminizers, anything in a cream format) : 15 kgs/ shade @ GBP 60/kg

As you can see, the quantities are below industry average (which are 3 to 4 times more), prices per piece (or per kg) are a little higher but achievable if you are determined to have something fully customized and completely yours.

You need to be aware that like many contract manufacturers based in Europe (other than really large ones who have specialty packaging departments to offer full, turnkey services), Larisa only offers formulations and not primary or secondary packaging. I believe I have spoken at length about primary and more particularly secondary packaging providers. If you have the means to order bulk formulations, make time and hand-pour them into your own bottles or jars right in your kitchen sink to keep your overall budget to a minimum.

So drum roll please, here comes Larisa’s email!

Larisa Rossi :

Reader Question

19 Dec

“I am a makeup artist and clinical esthetician. I have been researching products and companies for two years now with my site on opening my own cosmetic/makeup line. I want it to be unique and different from the many lines in the industry so I am taking my time. I do find it hard to find a company who will design my labels with no minimums. Do you have any suggestions? I need labels for my different products and all the companies I find require a large order. Thank you for your inspiring blog and makeup line:)”


You will find it extremely difficult to find a label company with no minimums. I honestly don’t believe the concept of “no minimums” exists in the cosmetics industry, especially if you want a customized product, be it packaging, labels or formulations. And I’d be wary of any printing company which claims it doesn’t impose minimum quantities, this simply means they may “hide” all their costs into setup fees, plate charges, administrative / document charges, hourly charges for tweaking your artwork, etc…

The only printer I trust is one based in Malaysia (where incidentally I’m from), and about whom I’ve written before in a previous post. A family business, I’ve never seen any other bulk printer who is as passionate about paper and ink, as much as I am about cosmetics. Another little secret which I’m sure you’re dying to know and which I didn’t let on in my previous post is that he isn’t expensive at all. His minimums are normally 1000 pcs per print run (very small compared to the 5k which some start at), and range from GBP 0.20 for something simple like a printed lipstick box with gold accents. Simple peel & stick labels are cheaper (also minimums of 1000 pcs), it goes right down to pennies for each. Nothing that will dent your budget or bank account.

Perhaps the only major cost you need to consider is courier-ing the finished goods over. It may sometimes cost more than your labels or packaging itself, but if your packaging is designed to be flat-packed (and it always should!), then this will save you a considerable amount of money. In any case, as a company policy, we do comparison costs every year to ensure we’re on the right track with all our suppliers in terms of cost (and are not paying more than necessary), and Optima Printers has consistently been the most economical, including shipping.



Inspirational Entrepreneurs : Jeanine Lobell

3 Nov

I’m really loving this article here about Jeanine Lobell and how she first founded Stila Cosmetics. It wasn’t the same brand it is now (the entire line really is full of copycat products, non-inspiring, unimaginative in all sense of the word, whether it’s to do with the product concepts, ingredients or philosophy. What do you expect from an owner who manages a private equity firm for a living?).

In 1994 when Jeanine founded the line, like all great entrepreneurs passionate about making their ideas work regardless of how little money they had, she packaged her lipsticks and eyeshadows in little paper tubes sourced from Custom Paper Tubes (in their website, they continue to show Stila off as the pioneer in this type of packaging). Jeanine also talks about how they managed to get a contract manufacturer to do only 500 pieces per shade for them, an amazing feat considering minimums are now 3000 per shade! When I manage to find out who this lab is, I will sing its praises right here.

I remember coveting every single thing Stila came out with, from the incredible eyeshadows with inspiring quotes from women inside the caps (genius, genius, genius!), to the All Over Shimmer (the blue tube that Jeanine talks about in her interview), I swear it was the world’s first illuminizer.

It was because of women like Jeanine and her incredible story of creation and success that I was inspired later on in life to create Jelly Pong Pong. A line with soul, that tells a story, and that inspires the creative in you.

Ever the avid Stila fan, here are some catalogue pages I still keep (scanned and forever etched in my hard drive!) :

OK, so the concealer pots and loose powders were teeny-tiny, but you can imagine how covetable they were in a sea of boring plastic packaging and super serious makeup lines.

And here the wonderful All Over Shimmers in blue metal tubes. Whoever thought of using metal tubes to packaging cosmetics in those days?

And remember these awesome Stila cans, used to hold everything from brushes to sets of their products? Cans were big in the 90’s, remember Jaqua Girls? The (now defunct line) had a line of Spa Pamper kits (miniature bath soaks, creams, sponges and toe separators) all packaged in a giant paint can for women to have DIY spa days together at home, and was so popular that even Oprah featured them on her show!

Amazing women with amazing stories of entrepreneurship in the cosmetics industry. Thank you Jeanine for having inspired me and so many others to follow their dreams, for always breaking barriers and for creating a line worth touting.

Who Prints Our Packaging?

6 Oct

Just received delivery of the secondaries of our new mineral foundation SPF 15 range. After all this time, I still get excited at the littlest things. It’s a culmination of months of working at every single detail, from formulating with the right ingredients, to designing the packaging (and rejecting soooo many prototypes), getting the text right, proof-reading,proof-reading,proof-reading. I am a stickler for the perfect text with zero typos. Getting every single colour right, this is particularly difficult when working with gradient backgrounds (colours that run from one shade to another, mixing in the middle to create a different one).

OK, one of the questions I constantly get asked by customers, trade press & everyone in between is where we source our fantastic packaging. This is an early Christmas present for you guys, I am finally going to reveal our printing source (yes, we have exclusively been working with ONE printer since we started, literally unheard of in this extremely price-sensitive, fickle industry). His name is… (long drumroll here)…

Chan of Optima Printers and he’s based in little ole Penang, my beautiful island in Malaysia. Here’s his email :

Sorry no website, Optima is a family business that he runs single-handedly and he’s been with us right from the very beginning. There is absolutely nothing in paper he can’t make – remember those boxes with zips that we designed for our Teint Sublime primer? Or what about those 3D pop-up boxes for Gourmet Lip Therapy? Not to mention those cloth-bound, mini spy-books that we made together for Milk & Liquorice.

Here’s a big THANK YOU shout-out to Chan, we love working with you!