A few years ago I moved back to my hometown for 18 months and spent a lot of time thinking. I spent my 30th birthday sitting in the countryside asking myself: “What is it that drives me? Whats my purpose? Whats my lifes work?” I concluded that the thing I’m good at and where I give others pleasure is by helping girls become more economically independent. That is all.
Whether it’s through talks, workshops, mentoring or simply existing as a black woman in the business space, the reason I’m on the planet is to let other women know they can do it too, and give them the tools to achieve their goals.
Right now we are living in the age of the amateur. Anyone with access to the internet is empowered to make their own money, on their own terms. And this is a good thing, especially for women who want to work around their lifestyles. But we are now at peak “influencer”, particularly in the beauty industry where superstar bloggers and vloggers are courted by the brands and given bucket loads of beauty product in the hope that they’ll post it and their fans will buy. The last 10 years has seen power move from the celebrities to the ordinary folk (with extraordinary camera equipment) with unparalleled democratisation in the role of the individual to sell products, but who will be the next wave of influencers in this $445 billion dollar beauty industry?
I believe that the next influencer in the beauty space is: the beauty pro.
Every minute of the day millions of women (and men) all over the world get a beauty treatment. Whether its getting your hair braided in a ramshackle hut in Ethiopia or getting your lips done in a high end Botox clinic on Harley Street or a crew cut from barber in San Fransisco, services drive the industry. But unless you are the hairdresser of a celebrity, or have enough money to start your own product line, you’re basically flotsam in the great ocean of the beauty world.
Beauty pros have the power to create trends, they can increase the economic value of an entire category, they are the human touch in the consumer chain. They are hustlers, they decided to carve out their own career path. They are entrepreneurs, they are creatives. They change peoples lives. They may get recognition, but do they get economic independence? Not what I would call significant vs a blogger earning 6 figure salary just for living.
But people are losing trust in super influencers because they know they’re being paid. If a blogger recommends a moisturiser or your facialist recommends one, who would you lean towards?
Micro brands and micro influencers are having their moment, and we believe that in Beauty, the next generation of micro influencers come from within the industry itself.
“My hairdresser is basically my advisor”
So the beauty influencer is one thing, but what about on the lab side, from the product development POV? How are the beauty pros involved in the product development cycle?
The large beauty conglomerates use the trends created in salons to drive product and the salons make no real income from this.
I know this because it happened to me.
When I started WAH in 2009, the nail industry was not that exciting. I was 24 and just had an idea to create a cool salon for all my girlfriends to hang out and to translate trends from fashion directly onto nails. We pioneered the new wave of nail art and got global recognition. After about a year of existence, I saw the designs we created being use in ads and packaging for giant beauty conglomerates. It was frustrating to say the least. I had no funds/idea how to start a product line. The nail industry in UK grew massively from 2009 directly correlating with our opening until plateauing in 2015 at £244million. Of course no trend is singlehandedly started by one entity, (Beyonce/Rih/Lady Gaga/Katy Perry were bringing mass attention to nail art) but we spearheaded mass adoption in two distinct ways:
1 — By being accessible to the consumer. Celebrities and Session manicurists would do cool things on Rihanna or in Vogue, but where could you actually get it done on the street? At WAH or the handful of new wave nails salons dotted around the world. This made it incredibly viral. Accessibility is incredibly important to the consumption of trends.
2 — By sharing everything online. In 2009, there were like hardly ANY NAIL BLOGS! I shared the whole process, right from the idea phase, all the way to opening. I knew I had to change the perception of nail art from a tacky ghetto thing to a cool girl thing so I invited all the arty friends I had and photographed every single customer, their face AND nails. We used Tumblr, a networked product, from 2010 to share our work. This got us recognition but also spread our style across the world as customers would take our designs to their local salon. If we hadn’t used Tumblr and Instagram (for example if we had built on Wordpress, which is not a network per se), we wouldn’t have been able to shift the perception of nail art and make it a global phenomenon.
To this day, Nails is the most popular beauty search on instagram (26%) because we created a new style of photography and designs worth snapping and sharing. If you know someone who paints their nails in a cool way, we probably had a hand in that somewhere along the persuasion line.
But as the beauty giants started using our nail art designs (by our I mean the wider nail community) in their campaigns, do we get any kickback? Any royalty fees? Anything?
Nope. But again: accessibility of the trend is important. We — as in beauty pros — ignited the trend and made it accessible.
Instead, salon owners hustle every day to make ends meet, make their clients happy and increase their revenue in a service orientated business where there is a glass ceiling to their earnings. I meet, see and talk to these women every day and I have been one myself.
Take, Bleach London… a small influential salon that started in Dalston and created the dip dye trend.
This is Bleach London’s launch campaign in 2010:
And here is L’Oreal Colorista, in 2017.
Global beauty trends are derived from a select group of influential beauty artists in key locations all over the world.
Hot irons were pioneered over 100 years ago in a single salon in France when Marcel Grateau wanted to wave his clients hair. Who knew this discovery of heat+hair from Paris via black hair salons to 3 guys and a South Korean licence, would have eventually become the GHD brand, acquired for £420m by Coty in 2016.
And thats why I’m building Beautystack. How can I help these entrepreneurial creatives have true economic empowerment? How can I help them increase revenue doing the thing they love without increasing their workload? How can I get marketing budgets and recognition to the specialist and niche beauty pros. How can I help partner brands understand whats happening on a street level from the unique insight we have from direct relationships to influential beauty pros and clients on the salon floor? And not spend 7 years wondering if its a real trend or just a fad?
These are the questions I ask myself daily and the initial problems we are working to solve.
Lets make the pie bigger, for everyone.