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5 Beauty Founder Biographies—And Why All Industry Professionals Should Read Them

September 1, 2022
September 1, 2022
Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash

The abundance of makeup tutorials and product reviews online can never replace the long-form accounts from the people who define the beauty industry. As there are now more brands than ever, there are also more memoirs by beauty brand founders. These are a few of the best.

The Founder: Leonard Lauder
The Brand: Estée Lauder Companies (Estée Lauder, Clinique, Prescriptives, MAC, etc.)
The Book:
The Company I Keep (2020)

The Company I Keep is a firsthand account of a business adapting over several generations, surviving turbulent times economically and culturally. It reads like an autobiography and a business how-to with personal moments peppered in.

Mr. Lauder ran his family’s business guided by the aspiration of becoming "The General Motors of cosmetics." He shares how he developed Clinique, staying ahead of the market by creating his own competition. From acquiring brands like Bobbi Brown, Mac, and La Mer in the ’90s to the closing of Prescriptives in the 2000s, he maintained Estée Lauder’s place as an industry leader.  These events inform how the cosmetics business operates today.

The Founder/Author: Jamie Kern Lima
The Brand: It! Cosmetics
The Book:
Believe It! (2020)

The author's opening message to the reader concludes with: “PS I Love you. PPS You are worthy of love.” While this feels sentimental, reading on, it is easy to become emotionally involved in Jamie Kern's story.  She recounts a brutal rejection she received from a Sephora buyer early on in launching her now iconic brand, It! Cosmetics. The buyer’s disdain toward her is poignant because it was based on appearances, not merit, something many people in the industry have experienced.

This book offers a detailed account of starting a business, growing it, and ultimately selling it, putting equal emphasis on both the personal and professional impact. She speaks plainly about her negotiation process with L'Oréal during their acquisition of It!, a topic often glossed over to align with larger corporate narratives.  She succeeds without losing faith or compromising her belief that women will buy cosmetics from someone who shows her flaws.

The Founder/Author: Maria Hatzistefanis
The Brand: Rodial / Nip+Fab
The Book:
How to Be an Overnight Success (2017)

If you want to start a company or would like to work at a start-up, this is the book to read. Ms. Hatzistefanis shares the challenges of starting a brand and the difficult decisions a brand founder must make.  From choosing PR budgets to single employees running multiple unrelated departments, How to Be an Overnight Success depicts the life of a start-up perfectly. Ms. Hatzistefanis stresses the importance of understanding your own motivations before embarking on entrepreneurship. “If anything, my goal is to go to work every day, be creative, inspire my team and come up with revolutionary beauty products that help women … If along the way we make a profit and I am able to enjoy some nice things for myself … so be it. But I didn’t get into this for the money."

The Founder/Author: Jen Atkin
The Brand: Ouai
The Book:
Blowing My Way to the Top (2020)

Blowing My Way to the Top serves as a guide for young professionals navigating their career. Jen Atkin’s voice is matter of fact and displays immense common sense. She values modern modalities for promotion as well as traditional etiquette like handwritten thank-you notes. Building up her personal brand as a hair stylist before launching her haircare brand Ouai, Atkin stresses that "Discretion is self-preservation." This is key for a hair stylist working on location, especially when working with celebrities.

Whereas Mr. Lauder innovated the industry by creating his own competition, Ms. Atkin innovated by celebrating hers, posting the work of other artists on her social platforms knowing their success would not detract from her own accomplishments.

The Founder/Author: Leslie Blodgett
The Brand: Bare Escentuals
The Book:
Pretty Good Advice (2020)

Blodgett started with her dream job at a makeup counter and progressed to reinventing an industry. She educated clients about ingredients before clean beauty was a thing, and she created a community around her makeup before social media was a thing.

Pretty Good Advice is just that—advice, not a deep dive into the gory details of big business.  Leslie's sense of humor reads like a Stephanie Plum novel. With quips like “Don’t play dead, wear blush,” it is clear why she was able to build her brand on QVC, dominate the beauty stores, and ultimately sell to Shiseido, all while staying pretty humble.


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