Tag Archives: starting a business

Follow Your Passion : Key Steps To Developing Great Cosmetics

26 Aug

I was struggling to put together content for my next blog post because as you know I can get really technical (and ultimately pedantic!) on the formulations we receive and come up with every other day and I really would like this blog to serve those of you who aren’t necessarily cosmetics chemists (for those of you who are, ChemistsCorner is a great resource), and who would just like to either start their own cosmetics business or peek into the everyday life of So Susan Cosmetics and what we get up to.

This morning, the struggle continued as I stared at a blank screen trying to decide whether it would be better for me to write something (as I’ve now committed to publishing a post every 2 weeks), or wait till inspiration hits and put something out there that will really benefit you (and ultimately myself as I too learn so much with every thought and action I put down on “paper”). Of course the Universe always gives us a reason to pause and put things on hold no matter how hard we try to be productive so I waited till I got to work. And what should pop up in my email the minute I opened it this morning was none other than an excellent piece on the Foundation of Good Formulation Development from Innovadex (another amazing resource for ingredient suppliers).

I thought it was such a great, comprehensive list but so totally focused on just formulators that I’m just going to take little excerpts from it, and add a few of my own especially when it comes to the aesthetics of the final product since I believe beautiful, functional packaging and the right pricing is just as important as the formulation of any great cosmetic product. So here is my Key Checklist to creating a product that I believe in and am inspired by :

  • Formulations must be cosmetically appealing and delight the consumer. When beginning a project, put together a formulation strategy outlining the various approaches you are considering along with a technical rationale. Ensure also that you have researched the right packaging for a consistent brand story.
  • Don’t fall in love with technology, fall in love with consumer benefits. Creating product stories is easier when you’re delivering real benefits.
  • Treat each product like a little fairytale or a good book, with a beginning (delight your customers with unique, beautiful packaging which is the first thing they see), a juicy middle (ensure the formulation feels and looks superior on the skin, do not compromise!) and a great ending (price it correctly, according to your target demographic and your brand positioning to secure that sale).
  • Be responsible for the product that you’re putting out there in the market. Label your products accurately and in accordance with all labelling guidelines in the country you want to market them in. Start stability testing and packaging compatibility tests as early as possible. Always do your final stability testing in the package you will market.
  • Never kill technology because of costs and naysayers. Push your chemist and packaging supplier for the best that you can afford and know that a truly great product is always a series of trade-offs between product aesthetics (which includes your primary and secondary packaging), safety, optimum formulation performance and cost.

It is truly less complicated and scary than it all seems, so for all you budding cosmetics entrepreneurs out there, I say : What are you waiting for? As always, I’m leaving you with a Beauty Tweet about following your passion that has always inspired me by an amazing teacher, author, poet & novelist… Franz Kafka. Tweet and share it if you agree!

TODAY’S BEAUTY TWEET : “Don’t bend, don’t water it down, don’t try to make it logical. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly” @sosusanbeauty




Choosing Bottles for So Susan and Test-Filling Them

7 Mar

As you all may or may not know, I’m working on a new (semi-eponymous) cosmetics line called So Susan which not only allows me to indulge in my love & new-found obsession of combining skincare with colour (I turned 30 in 2011 and anti-aging peptides are my new best friends!), but also enables me to really blog about my progress right from the beginning.

I am truly devoted right now to developing the best foundations for different skin dilemmas (mine is extremely dry with the occasional breakouts when I’m stressed, and I want soft, flawless DEWY skin), packaging them in luxurious, upscale glass bottles. Some of the decisions I have to make involve the make & colour of every single component of the botte, from the cap to the rim, to the pump head, to the bottle, to whether it should be an airless pump, to the colour, size & positioning of the logo, whether it should be silkscreened or foil-stamped or engraved, how the bottle is to be labeled (to abide by cosmetics directives & regulations), etc… It’s not uncommon to find myself sitting down for hours, staring at bottles, turning them around in my hands, pouring different coloured oils & foundations in just to see whether the logo shows through nicely.

Just so you know, there are minute differences in the picture of the 4 bottles above (which I probably didn’t manage to capture on camera very well) i.e. the colour of the gold rims, the positioning of the So Susan logo & the colour of the pump head.

Being already a stickler for beautiful packaging, when the line carries your own name, you really want to get it right. Hence the huge amount of samples after samples I’ve requested from my chinese manufacturer (I will name them once production is finalized and I am definitely assured of their quality) in order to compare different printing effects or colours.

The other thing you need to do is to do a test-fill yourself. Obviously, your contract manufacturer will have their own test-filling procedures, some put them under different heat conditions, with the tests lasting for a month, some for 3 months, some in between. But doing it yourself ensures you know without a shadow of a doubt how the product looks like in your primary packaging & more importantly, the manner of which it is dispensed (does it squirt a good amount out? How many pumps does it take for the product to finally show?). Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and gauge their expectations after having spent money on a product.

By the way, if you’re worried about high courier costs from China for samples (I hardly ever come across asian manufacturers who courier samples at their cost, unless you’re committing to large orders) , I’ve finally, finally found a great, low-cost courier service provider by the name of Fast Lane International. I really need to spread the word about these guys because what they do is truly exceptional : pushing the cost of couriering small packages from the Far East all the way down (GBP25 for small 0.5kg packages). Which is amazing news for us cosmetic brand owners as we rely so much on China, Taiwan & Hong Kong for our components. Register online for another 10% off their quoted price, it really doesn’t get any better than that!

A good contract manufacturer should be able (and want!) to send small bulk samples of the final formulation to you. It doesn’t have to be a whole vat, anything between 80g – 150g should do very nicely. If you were to test-fill 30ml bottles (most likely the industry average for face emulsions), that would give you 2 – 3 filled samples, including some product loss during the hand-filling procedure. What you could also do is make sure they’re filled neatly, and then get them over to be photographed professionally (please do NOT do it yourself unless you are a professional photographer. A good picture does credit to your brand commitment and helps you sell your range, don’t skimp on this). You’re then ready to upload it onto your website, or do some nice “coming soon” social media marketing to get customers excited about your new product.

Reader Question

13 Feb

“I’m about to lose it. I’ve been looking for a site like yours EVERYWHERE. I think the clouds opened up and you came down. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what just happened.

I read in one of your posts that the most expensive manufacturing component is the actual cases that hold the makeup. I am young – 22 years old – and looking to start my own cosmetic line with a niche clientele. The problem is the innovative part of my line is the custom design of the palettes.

Do you know any companies that offer cheap custom design? Or in what other areas should I keep costs low in order to be able to afford nice palettes?

Thanks so much! You’re AHmazing!

It’s been a great start to the year, I’m getting lots of reader questions and comments, and just generally lots of wonderful emails thanking me for creating this blog. I suppose it just never occurred to me that this kind of information would generate so much interest among all you budding entrepreneurs, and I’m genuinely honoured you take the time out to read, digest and to comment. And hopefully, to finally take that first step to creating your very own brand!


OK now, back to the question at hand. Custom designing your own plastic components takes a lot of time and a lot of financial resources. There is just no two ways around it, and there is no short cut. In my 10 years in the business, thinking of all sorts of ingenious ways of reducing costs (when I first started the business, and then as the economic crisis hit & I decided the company needed to be more lean), I have never come across any manufacturer (small ones, large ones, artisans working from home, from the UK to USA, from China to Malaysia to India), who could customize a component without huge tooling costs. The smallest tooling cost we ever paid was for a single lipstick mould, and that was USD 1200. An average quote is $8000. I can think of far better ways of using that sort of money, especially when you’re starting out. You could purchase an entire starter range from a private label company to sell & generate you income!


OK, now the good news. You mentioned wanting to customize palettes. The one way we were able to fully design our own palettes was to have them made out of paperboard (or chipboard as some call it). We could have as many cavities as we wanted, with the option of having a mirror in any size we wanted, in any artwork, or covered in any material, with a multitude of closure options (magnetic, with ribbons, elastic, buckle, button, etc…). Don’t expect to purchase them in small qtys though (2000 pcs & above per design, and you really need to negotiate for this qty), and bear in mind paperboard components are generally more expensive (20 – 40% more) than their plastic counterparts. You would be looking at an investment of perhaps $2000 – $3000. A few paperboard manufacturers we’ve worked with before in the past (all based in China, I don’t know of any UK- or US-based manufacturers who will negotiate on small qtys at small prices) are Shantou Huajian Paper Production and Cass & Co (absolutely beautiful palettes & boxes, but more expensive than Shantou).



Reader Question

8 Feb

“I’m so glad I’ve come across your blog I’ve been looking everywhere for help! I’m a 16 year-old looking to start a small business-like system just to make a small profit and possibly mess around and see if starting a makeup business could be long term. I’m at the great age where people respect kids with big ideas and where there’s no taxes and not too many consequences should it fail. I am so ready to start this, makeovers, makeup for dances and descent priced makeup etc. is in a good demand in my area. However, I’m going to need makeup that I can re-sell.I have money to invest for the cost of makeup but I’d still like to keep it low budget. Help?”

You could definitely start with all the private label manufacturers that I mention in previous posts. Another great way of getting started if you’re on a really low budget (and this is great for anyone at any age, in fact the younger you start a business, the more you learn at a greater pace), is to make your own. Go to a website like Bramble Berry where you can learn to mix & hot pour your own lip balms, lipsticks, soaps, etc… Another great website is TKB Trading, I’ve actually bought some pigments from them before to mix before I hand over to the lab to further develop into larger vats. They’re a a great place to start if you want to make your own nail polishes (it’s really quite ingenious!), eye shadows (and I mean those you press in a pan, very professional-looking albeit tedious), mineral powders, lipsticks (complete with metal lipstick moulds which are SO difficult to source for!), etc… I am quite impressed with their array of products. The only problem I find is the inconsistency in their colour pigments. Once we re-ordered the exact same red (I think it was red 7 lake), and it came out in an entirely different shade. On the whole though, cheap & cheerful ingredients to start you off.
Best of luck!
xx Susan.

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.

Jelly Pong Pong’s Very First Website!

10 Oct

I can’t even begin to tell you how many memories finding this piece of my very first website brings me. Because I was on such a shoestring budget, I couldn’t afford a website designer, and had to develop the entire thing myself. Paying for the domain name & hosting it was all I could afford with my teeny tiny budget of GBP 700. I borrowed a friend’s copy of JShopPro (can’t believe they’re still in business after so many years), which allowed me to put shopping baskets into my HTML pages created in Microsoft Frontpage. I don’t know if you recognize the colour swatches, they were nicked from Sephora.com! I see that Sephora’s now changed all their swatches into rectangular little pieces, I honestly prefer them as they were so many years ago.

I didn’t know how to program discount codes or customer loyalty programs, and couldn’t afford any sort of value-added services (such as free shipping), so I offered our little paper bags free instead, thinking if it didn’t generate sales, then at least people would use it & carry it around, doing some form of marketing for me.

At that time, HSBC’s online transaction costs were really expensive compared to their offline ones (meant for a brick-and-mortar store, with a physical credit card terminal). So I applied for a physical card terminal, and fixed that right at home on my work desk (yes, was very much still working from my little apartment). It could take CNP (Cardholder Not Present) transactions, like catalogue and phone orders, which I did. So in actual fact, my website took “catalogue orders” instead of live, online ones!

I spent nights upon sleepless nights just building that website up, page by page. I had a total of 11 pages by the end of it, an accomplishment as far as I was concerned, and launched it to the world by 2001. It would take me another 4 years to build the business up so I could comfortably afford a proper website developer, but I will always remember my first homemade one.

Business on a budget

29 Aug

One question I get asked most is ‘how did you manage to get started with so little?’. As you may have known, Jelly Pong Pong was started on a GBP 700 budget & a laptop, in my rented London apartment. When I say “started”, I mean getting a website up with 2 products (lip gloss & eye shadow) & securing my first sale on either. It was really a headlong, almost naive plunge into the unknown, and putting all pride aside by asking help from anyone I knew (my sister drew everything for free), searching for free website hosting (anyone remembers Geocities? Ahh..memories) & cold-calling suppliers to ask for overrun stocks.

This blog (thank you Cindy for persuading me to write it) gives you a little insight on the trials, tribulations, intricacies and inspiration in setting up a cosmetics brand and why this is a truly beautiful industry to be in.