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A Beauty Disruptor with Big Beauty Pedigree and Indie Beauty Cred

Published October 30, 2022
Published October 30, 2022
Voyant Beauty

The state of the current beauty landscape is one of evolution and disruption where emerging brands can scale fast, keeping the big beauty guys in a scramble to compete. There is no turning back—everything moves faster, the stakes are higher, and consumers simply don’t shop for beauty the way they have in the past.

Lorne Lucree refers to his career as a "portfolio approach", which might not appear linear on paper, but each end has led to a new beginning. His big beauty pedigree and indie beauty cred create a unique perspective and the ability to seamlessly navigate both worlds.

In his current role as Chief Innovation Officer at Voyant Beauty, Lucree’s aim is to partner with challenger brands and redefine what it looks like to shake up the industry, enabling them to move fast and be innovative with the safety net of a manufacturing partner that’s been in their shoes. After all, disruption without intention is just noise—Lorne Lucree understands the difference.

Tell us a little about your career. How did you find your way into the beauty industry?

I've always been a product guy and fascinated by consumer behavior. This led me to my first job out of undergrad working in advertising on Charmin toilet paper, a Procter & Gamble brand. I always say that if you find toilet paper interesting, you'll be able to sell anything. P&G, at the time, was at the forefront of consumer-centric marketing, with a mantra entitled “consumer is boss” and a focus on a deep understanding of the “who” behind a brand. It was here that the importance and power of consumer insights were instilled in me. It also inspired me to return to school full-time for my MBA.

During an orientation event at NYU Stern, I happened to meet a recruiter from L’Oréal, and we ended up chatting the entire time about products, trends, and pop culture. Not the usual MBA talk, but it all felt so natural for me—and from a beauty recruiter's point of view, it was the perfect mix of interests for a global marketing and product development candidate. I soon accepted a summer internship in the DMI team at Matrix, a professional haircare brand within the L'Oréal Professional Products Division.

I spent nearly three years at L’Oréal, a beauty boot camp (in a great way). I learned global marketing through a product lens but soon realized that while casting models and shooting ads was sexy, what I really loved was the product. This realization led me to move to Clinique, working within the product development team. The experience was totally different at Clinique as PD was under the Research and Development pillar, so the labs led the approach, not the marketing teams. This provided a new vantage point as I was given visibility to long-term technology and true, custom upstream formula development. The focus on science meant I had to evolve my communication skills to be able to translate complex concepts into average consumer speak.

L’Oréal and Clinique gave me the foundation I needed for my next step—joining Luxury Brand Partners, one of the OG brand incubators within the beauty space. At the time, their biggest brand Oribe had been on my radar, but I had no idea who was behind it. When I joined LBP as a Product Developer, I remember this inflection point happening about six months in, where I realized this was an opportunity to put everything I had learned at L’Oréal and Lauder into practice, but on my terms. Being at a start-up meant I could move as fast as I wanted and could influence and shape the role. My scope expanded to include packaging and an overall innovation role developing for brands like R+Co, IGK, and One/Size by Patrick Starrr. It felt like my career went on hyperspeed, and I was exactly where I needed to be.

There has been a trend over the past few years of marketers and innovation talent moving from the brand side to the supply side of the ecosystem. What do you attribute this trend to, and in your case, what was the impetus for the career move?

In general, indie beauty has given rise to multiple industries where talent from big beauty like L’Oréal and Estée Lauder can exit and continue their career path instead of staying where they’re at. This is most often at contract manufacturers, incubators, packaging suppliers, and fragrance houses.

These industries have given folks who didn’t see themselves as “lifers” at the big beauty companies the ability to leverage their talents in specialized ways, free from a lot of the layers, meetings, processes, and constraints they might have experienced—which can be really exciting to those looking for that freedom.

For me, I liken my career to a “portfolio approach” where, on paper, it might not appear linear—i.e., progressing directly up the ladder at L’Oréal—but to me, it has been deeply connected and purposeful. Each end has led me to a new beginning, and in the case of Voyant, I had reached a point at Luxury Brand Partners where one of the most enjoyable parts of my job was interfacing with my contract manufacturing partners. With those I worked well with, it was organic and unstructured, and I saw a massive opportunity in having the chance to formalize that approach and better connect the dots. This is what I found so exciting about the opportunity at Voyant and the impetus for the move.

In your previous career incarnation as a global marketing and product development leader with extensive experience at every step of the beauty and personal care value chain, you worked closely with suppliers. What shifts have you seen in the role or relationships between brands and contract manufacturing partners?

The beauty ecosystem is small, and contract manufacturers' consolidation and growth are due to their critical role in the democratization of beauty, enabling indie brands to break through and compete with the big guys with high-performance formulations. This has evolved the interaction with contract manufacturers from transactional to relationship-based, as they are, in many ways, an extension of the brand's operations and product development teams.

When I began working with contract manufacturers, it was the early days of indie brands. There was this excitement around discovery, as few contract manufacturers even had a website, let alone branding and marketing. It was all word of mouth and who you knew. You'd show up to these scary warehouse-looking facilities, nervous about going inside, but once you walked in, you saw the wall of first productions of these really cool products and realized that's where it all happened.

After nearly six years of working with over 40 contract manufacturers across skin, body, hair, color, fragrance, candles, and tools while at Luxury Brand Partners, I had the opportunity to create this virtual lab of the chemists that I loved working with the most across multiple labs, that I could text or call with an idea and who would allow me on site to be at the bench with them to test and ideate. It was the best part of my job, and I still keep in touch with many of them today.

I think that’s where we are now. Brands want and need to feel like their contract manufacturer partner is an extension of their team—whether it be the Account Manager being part of the operations team, or the Lab feeling like an in-house lab for the Product Developers. Connectivity and closeness are key. One quote I heard during my research with a COO of a hyper growth haircare brand in Sephora stuck out to me—he/she said, “We are moving so fast, we don’t have time for a contract manufacturer to catch up with us.” Simple, but true on the need to be truly lockstep.

You just unveiled a new business division that you are leading called Atelier by Voyant Beauty. What were the lessons you learned during your time on the brand side of the beauty equation that informed the creation of Atelier by Voyant Beauty?

I’ve seen firsthand how powerful partnering with an amazing contract manufacturing partner can be to win on social and in the Sephora and Ulta environment, and that experience was really the impetus for the creation of Atelier. We wanted to optimize ways of working with coman partners, but also address the common disconnects within the indie beauty ecosystem.

The most significant disconnect I found when I came from the brand over to the contract manufacturer side is that contract manufacturers more often think like manufacturers, not brands—or think in a way they believe brands think. For example, do fast-growth indie brands really only want ready-to-go “innovative” formulations, or for some of those brands, could employing big data to inform their choices in benchmarks or raw material technology actually be more useful? While we as manufacturers must be focused on operational excellence, to truly align ourselves with brands, we must think like them and fully understand their ecosystem. To service these brands effectively, you need to be obsessed! Checking what's new on Sephora and Ulta daily, reading all the industry pubs, shopping in-store when you can. It takes a level of passion to really serve and understand these brands, as the pace in which the industry is evolving is often breakneck.

Another disconnect we are trying to solve with Atelier is between retailers and brands. I believe having experience getting merchants at Sephora and Ulta excited about the product is invaluable. At Atelier, we are helping brands with data and industry relationships to further amplify their market meetings with impactful data and demos to help them be successful.

Lastly, and in some ways most importantly, is the disconnect with fast-growth indie investors. In my research, many of the investors I spoke with mentioned how surprised they were to speak with a contract manufacturer. The opportunity to align our interests is vast, and Atelier is just the beginning of creating a new ecosystem.

"The beauty ecosystem is small, and contract manufacturers' consolidation and growth are due to their critical role in the democratization of beauty, enabling indie brands to break through and compete with the big guys with high-performance formulations."
By Lorne Lucree, Chief Innovation Officer, Voyant Beauty

In the process of taking the concept from idea to launch, you also did a tremendous amount of research to validate the opportunity. Can you share some of those learnings?

Absolutely. The first significant learning was that indie brands are professionalizing earlier, which is evident in investors writing checks earlier and earlier. This means they are looking for partners who are professional as well. They care about formula innovation, but now they need much more than that—they are looking for scale, cost optimization, quality and regulatory support, formula ownership, and friendly contract terms. With Atelier, we can now have a more robust conversation earlier on about what really matters to them.

Another significant learning was actually for us internally. We realized that what Atelier offers is actually best for specific types of fast-growth indies. The indie beauty market is not one-size-fits-all, nor can our approach be. So, from a business development perspective, part of Atelier's magic is making sure the brands we are partnering with are best suited for our offerings so everyone wins. Like dating, we might not be suitable for everyone, and that’s OK.

Accelerators for indie beauty brands have become a trend in their own right, from investors to retailers, and even other contract manufacturers have launched them. You've made the point that what Voyant has launched is not an accelerator. Why is this distinction so important?

To be clear, I think accelerators are additive and necessary! They are helping to fuel a lot of the speed-to-market you are seeing, and I do see a place for them in the ecosystem.

In our case, during the initial stages of building the Atelier model, words like “accelerator” and “incubator” got thrown around. However, during our research, we quickly heard from brands and investors alike that while having a high-performing innovative speed-to-market formula is critical, just as important is access to manufacturing scale and cross-category formulation capabilities, operational support, supply chain leverage, and access to data and research.

We soon realized that the idea is much bigger than just having an innovative formula you can launch quickly—it includes all the factors that impact cost, quality, and the ability to scale quickly.  Therefore, we think of Atelier not just as an accelerator, but a true growth partner, providing all the facets of formulation and manufacturing that a brand needs for frictionless scale-up.

In Atelier Voyant Beauty's role as a growth partner, what are the pain points you can help indie beauty brands navigate?

Overall, the big insight we heard from the brands and investors we interviewed was that fast-growth indies that are scaling quickly are making decisions to get product on shelf—not necessarily thinking about future scale and associated needs.

With Atelier, our hypothesis was, what if a fast-growth indie brand could make a smarter contract manufacturer partnership decision earlier on, that then made scale-up frictionless for the long term? Benefits would then be threefold—from the perspective of the product, the retailer, and the investor.

For product, we heard what a nightmare it was for a brand to switch contract manufacturers once it outgrows its initial partner, and we feel we provide a more innovative option for the brands most likely to scale. Our unique manufacturing scale, ranging from 5K units to 500K+ units, allows us to frictionlessly scale a brand. Furthermore, our data resources can help them make smarter decisions as the stakes get higher and they grow in size and have to answer to a more extensive consumer base, retailer partners, and investors. Critical here though is the right partnership—we have to be right for the brand, and the brand has to be right for us. Our offering and scale isn’t right for everyone, but for those who are experiencing hyper growth and significant investment, we are an ideal partner.

From a retailer perspective, we are seeing a lot of fast-growth indies being asked to diversify their offerings across categories to drive growth and excitement—especially in the shift to omnichannel. The ability to formulate and fill skin, body, hair, fragrance, and home allows us to meet this need—and our data toolbox and retailer relationships can help brands make more intelligent decisions on where to go, who to get inspired by, and how to enter a new category. This learning and exploration is often independent of formulation and is happening before a product gets to the “the bench.”

From an investment standpoint, we learned a pain point for investors is weakness in supplier partners that can hinder the growth of the brands they invest in. One former investor from VMG I interviewed could not get over the fact he was even talking to someone from contract manufacturing. Having a high-quality partner that strategics feel comfortable working with can make investment due diligence and decisions much more straightforward and give brands an immediate signal of operational credibility.

You bring the superpower of having been in your client's shoes. How does this experience provide the brands you work with a competitive edge?

I’ve recently been serving as the Product Development Mentor for the inaugural Ulta MUSE Accelerator since mid-September, and it’s been so fun connecting with the brand founders, answering questions, hearing their concerns, and understanding their challenges. Each takes me back to a different place in my career and reminds of an issue I thought was insurmountable at the time, but I solved my way through.

I’ve had to get merchants at Sephora and Ulta excited about new products. I’ve been on the phone with raw material suppliers on a Sunday trying to track shipments. I’ve had to partner with marketing to write compelling copy for the product page. I’ve worked through expanding via global distribution. I’ve walked Cosmoprof Asia trying to find packaging suppliers. I’ve evaluated contract manufacturers, been challenged on formula ownership, and had to get my formula costs in line.

These experiences have helped provide focus in building out our Atelier service model and approach— focusing on what brands actually want and need, versus reapplying our existing service model while saying we are “innovative.”

Most contract manufacturers use blue-sky innovation as their business development calling card. You've flipped this tactic on its head, positioning Voyant Beauty as playing a supporting role in the NPD process. Can you share your thinking and what this looks like in execution?

Atelier chemists are some of the most innovative chemists in the industry and we do have a full suite of breakthrough proactive innovation formulas; however, we know by talking to fast-growth indie brands that they are the product and marketing experts. They have a vision that resonates, have done the work to confirm product-market fit, and need a partner to help translate that vision into finished goods via data, formulation capabilities, raw material and packaging partners, and manufacturing. What we can offer is a suite of data-driven tools and resources to help supplement and augment decisions being made even before the formulation is started at the bench, informing at the ideation and brief stage.

No brand wants an off-the-shelf formulation, and to be honest, the issue with speed-to-market now is not about time to formulate—it’s about supply chain disruptions and obtaining raw materials and packaging to actually make the product. Having a partner that can formulate innovation, but also has the scale and supplier leverage to get it made, is critical to get a product on the shelf and enable frictionless growth for a brand.

Innovation is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around a lot. Innovation can create a significant competitive edge for businesses where the word is more than a descriptor and box to check off. What does it take to create a culture that not only supports innovation but has the ability to operationalize it?

Innovation can mean many things to many different people. In contract manufacturing, saying you’re “innovative” can manifest itself into a wide range of initiatives, messaging, or approaches that might end up being meaningless if it isn’t actually what the market needs.

With Atelier, we started with a deep understanding of our place in the innovation cycle and how to best service that. We know that if we stay true to that vision, building the culture and operationalizing it becomes easier because we can consistently articulate what our purpose is and stay true to that. Our internal teams believe in what we’ve built because we are able to communicate it to them in a way that makes sense, and it allows us as an organization to remain faithful and close to the core need of providing exactly what fast-growth indies need for frictionless scale-up.

What excites you about the future of the beauty industry?

What doesn’t excite me?! The shift back to brick-and-mortar and the importance of omnichannel is so exciting to me. It feels similar to how it did years ago when direct-to-consumer beauty created a seismic shift in the industry. Navigating what clean means and the shift from sustainable packaging to sustainable ingredients will impact how we view formulation. Lastly, I remain curious about future acquisition activity and what it will take to be the big acquired indie, and am so excited Atelier is along for the ride.