The beauty sector has never been more competitive. As an industry we often talk about competitors, but we rarely talk about alliances. The past decade has given rise to founder-driven indie brands that have ushered in a new era of collaboration departing from the super-secretive business practices of the past. We're seeing a new trend emerge where founders are navigating the fine line between collaboration and competition.
We sat down with three founders that believe the power of rivals joining forces should not be underestimated. Allison McNamara, founder of Mara, Kendra Butler, founder of Alpyn Beauty, and Kim van Haaster, founder of Bloomeffects, shared with BeautyMatter how they make collaboration work.
What have been the benefits, both personal or professional, you've experienced from the collaboration?
AM: Both professionally and personally, the biggest benefits are having a sounding board to bounce ideas off of, workshop problems, share findings, and even collaborate our brands to reach new audiences for new customer acquisition and social growth. Day-to-day issues, like supply chain and working with manufacturers, aren't things most people’s immediate family or friends have experience with, so it's comforting knowing you have a group that is going through similar experiences as you—it provides needed validation and a safe space to vent.
KB: It is so beneficial to surround yourself with successful, kind, like-minded entrepreneurs who have similar experiences in owning and operating a brand. There are daily challenges, highs and lows, and it is helpful to have a sounding board that you trust to bounce ideas off of and share insights and experiences.
KH: Overall, one of the biggest benefits in our collaboration has been the sense of belonging. In my personal experience, the journey of being a brand founder can be isolating, and even more so when you take into account living abroad, being a new mother, and then all the negative effects of a global pandemic (especially since we had only just launched Bloomeffects at the end of 2019). Collaborating with my fellow founders helps in not only the practical aspects of getting certain job projects/responsibilities done, but also from a mental health perspective in keeping a positive mindset with all the ups and downs that come from starting a business for the first time. Unlike years ago, we feel that camaraderie and collaborative efforts with like-minded businesses can actually now help grow your business. It also just feels like a genuine friendship in addition to a business collaboration and we hope it inspires other brand founders to be more collaborative with their competitors.
How do you navigate the fine line between collaboration and competition?
AM: I think we're all secure enough in our brands to put the competition aspect aside. For me personally with Mara, I have a very clear vision of the story I want to tell with my brand and my products. I wrote out the direction and cadence of my product launches back in 2016 and have still stayed true to that roadmap, which I think speaks to the very edited curation Mara has today. I also always remind people that when you're in the business of creating and collaborating, you're too busy dreaming up something new to worry about the competition. The creators create the playbook, so those really competing with you will always be behind you, because you're the one forging the path.
KB: Competition is healthy. Other brands often inspire me to be better and do better in terms of our sustainability initiatives, community-building, and the way we communicate our brand messaging and storytelling.
KH: Through common sense, social norms, and respect. Like any type of relationship, there is a clear line with what is appropriate to ask and discuss with fellow brand founders vs. what should be kept proprietary. We can bounce ideas off each other and share certain resources, but we don't share sales information or anything of that nature. At the end of the day, we all want to tell and stay true to our authentic brand stories and identities because that's what consumers want and respect the most.
What suggestions do you have for ensuring collaborations are successful and that consumers and the marketplace receive something of value?
AM: It's important to collaborate with brands that attract your ideal customer. In the way of our collaboration—Alpyn Beauty, Bloomeffects, and Mara share similar ingredient standards and have several retailers in common, which is important because we know that each of our audiences would be excited by each other's brands. There has to be an equal willingness to collaborate from all founders / brands involved in order to make it successful, and if you can go a step further and offer a multi-brand kit, you're adding value to the customer by offering an intro kit that normally would be a single-brand set.
KB: Make sure you are collaborating with brands that are aligned with your corporate culture and values.
KH: Connect on common ground. For us, it is our brands' stance and similar philosophies on clean beauty, sustainability, and our shared key retailers: Credo Beauty and Bluemercury. As an example, Bloomeffects' partnership with Alpyn Beauty and Mara at Credo in celebration of International Women's Day this year featured a 3-piece skincare bundle that included certain skincare products that aren't categorically competitive to our own brands, so the consumer gets access to three different skincare brands, while still knowing they're getting the clean, nontoxic, and sustainable products from a trusted retailer.
Has the spirit of collaboration become part of your brand's culture?
AM: The market is crowded and, in order to grow, it's important to collaborate and tap into new audiences in order to grow together. I have always valued the importance of collaborating since the day we launched. It's something that's ingrained into the Mara brand at the core. The more sure and solid one feels in their own brand, the more willing they are to share and collaborate, so making sure the Mara DNA is grounded and strong, and then collaboration flows naturally.
KB: Collaboration has always been part of our company's culture—whether it be with our retailers, our Alpyn community, our partnership with the Grand Teton National Park Foundation and, most importantly, with each other.
KH: It certainly has! Bloomeffects has continued to partner with like-minded brands in product collaborations, social media giveaways, and more—even with brands outside of the beauty space. However, we aren't a brand that launches “merch’ without meaning—we want there to be a purpose behind each product. For example, Bloomeffects recently partnered with luxury accessories brand Neely & Chloe this year on a limited-edition vegan leather cosmetics case in a Dutch-inspired blue & white tulip print. True to our ethos of creating clean skincare formulas and our commitment to sustainability, this bag is made with cruelty-free vegan leather fabric, and it was Neely & Chloe's first foray into using vegan materials. This was also Neely & Chloe's first collaboration with a beauty brand, and both of our brands really align with the recent "cottagecore" trend/aesthetic, too! We loved offering clients a new way to house their favorite Bloomeffects products and to also provide an even further elevated beauty experience.
Additionally, since I'm of Chinese/Vietnamese heritage, Bloomeffects recently partnered with fellow Asian American / Pacific Islander and female-owned apparel brands this year in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month in May. We collaborated with 12 of these brands, including Emilie Heathe, Everyday Humans, and Pink Moon, for a social media product giveaway, an educational Instagram Live "Founder Friday'' series with fellow AAPI-owned brand founders that I moderate on the Bloomeffects Instagram channel every Friday in May, and charitable donations from product sales of participating brands (including our Bloomeffects Tulip Dew Drops) to AAPI nonprofit collective Gold House.
If you want to hear more from these founders, watch our webinar The Power of Collaboration Over Competition on demand.
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