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Published June 7, 2019
Published June 7, 2019
Jason Leung via Unsplash

Gone are the days when the biggest decision you had to make while buying makeup was waterproof or not waterproof. Now consumers are drowning in terms like “Clean,” “Natural,” “Organic,” “Green,” “Conscious,” “Biodegradable,” “Vegan,” “Cruelty-Free” and more! As if it isn’t overwhelming enough to find the perfect shade of lipstick or foundation, we’re now faced with hundreds of “new” terms on our labels. It’s time to get real about decoding beauty terms, so Able Cosmetics asked two industry insiders to give us their thoughts on the situation and on the industry overall.

Who are our industry insiders?

Kelly Kovack is the founder of BeautyMatter and Co-Founder of award-winning niche fragrance brand Odin New York.

Mary Futher spent years at YSL Beauty before founding Kaia Naturals a 100% cruelty-free & non-toxic beauty brand with essentials for busy and active women on-the-go.

What is the difference between “Natural” & “Organic”?

Kelly Kovack: “Some brands play free and easy making these claims because they make for compelling marketing and packaging. It’s challenging because there may be implied meaning but in the simplest terms the difference comes down to regulation. Shockingly there is no current regulation around making a “natural” claim. However, certified organic claims are heavily regulated by the USDA. It’s also really important for consumers to understand that not all things that are natural are safe.”

What is the difference between “Vegan” & “Cruelty-Free”?

Mary Futher: “Cruelty-Free products do not test their raw ingredients or finished products on animals. Vegan products do not use raw materials from animal sources.”

Is it possible for a product to be 100% “Biodegradable”? If yes; What about the outer packaging?

Mary Futher: “It is possible for some products to be biodegradable but packaging is always a challenge as it depends on what the product is (for example wipes are wet so if they were in biodegradable packaging the product would start to break down on the shelf). This really depends on many variables and the availability of the technology to produce biodegradable packaging.”

Would you say a product that is labeled “Green” is the same as being labeled “Conscious?”

Mary Futher: “This is very difficult to answer as no one or no regulating body has defined these terms therefore they are open to interpretation.”

Would you agree that terms like the ones above are used mainly for marketing purposes? If yes; do you think these terms are being misused?

Mary Futher: “Yes I do believe that some companies just want to capitalize on consumer trends so they will misrepresent product claims …I think that these companies should be called out when they do this as this will serve as a Deter-rant from doing this.”

Even brands sold in stores with strict ingredient guidelines come in plastic packaging. Some even come in glass or frosted glass which is even worse for the environment. What do you think about retailers who exclude some brands for not meeting their “green” or “natural” formula guidelines but allow others whose outer packaging is doing just as much damage? Do you think they will eventually need to change their tone? Or is the consumer content with what’s in the bottle being “safe” and will not care about the actual bottle?

Mary Futher: “I believe that packaging is very difficult for small companies as this industry is very focussed on demand. Small companies do not have the buying power to invent packaging that does not exist. Glass packaging can be recycled and is sometimes key for the stability of the product especially if it contains large percentages of essential oils. It is very complicated subject. Consumers are not demanding it enough and when they do – manufactures will respond.”

Kelly Kovack: “Well, that’s a loaded question! The glass half full perspective is that it’s a start and I think we’ve made tremendous progress because consumers are rewarding brands with ethical, sustainable and transparent products and practices but it’s a process. I would agree that the conversion at the moment is not holistic, meaning formulation claims and brand positioning aren’t always in line with the packaging, and currently, retailers guidelines focus on ingredients rather than packaging. One answer might be that R&D from a formulation standpoint has moved faster and is far more evolved than R&D that has happened in packaging, but that is beginning to change. In the past two years, I have seen a tremendous amount of innovation happening in sustainable packaging, but a lot of it has yet to really be commercialized. The brands that are walking the walk from the inside out are the zero waste brands, those foregoing packaging and others with innovative refill concepts. At the end of the day, there will probably always be a conversation related if a product is truly clean, organic or natural or how sustainable packaging is but as innovation happens the standard of what is possible continues to push the industry forward.”

Is Indie really in? And why?

Mary Futher: “YES INDIE beauty is in and the reason is consumers want a more personalized experience. They want to know the person behind the brand.”

Kelly Kovack: “My belief is that indie brands are not a trend, they are a part of the beauty business cycle, even Estee Lauder would have been considered an indie brand at one point. Indie beauty brands have always been an important part of the beauty landscape pushing the envelope on innovation and capturing the attention of strategic buyers. What has changed and why there is a perception that indie brands are a new trend is that there are SO many of them and because they have the potential of scaling fast fueling a tremendous amount of M&A activity. Technology and social media have leveled the playing field and lowered the barrier to entry, however, I would argue it’s also never been more competitive and or difficult to self-finance a beauty brand to scale. Indie brands had a moment in the early 90’s too when Nars, La Mer, Bliss, Bobbi Brown, etc were all indie brands scooped up in an M&A frenzy by strategics. Like most things in life perhaps it’s cyclical or maybe it’s the new normal but either way indie beauty brands are not going anywhere. The current evaluations and multiples of indie beauty can give the impression that building and exiting a beauty business with a bunch of money in the bank is easy – it’s not.’”

What is the future of the industry on social media?

Kelly Kovack: “I think we are going to see consumers craving meaningful and real content. Influencers have become the new celebrities and most consumers realize they are paid by the brands for products they endorse. I predict we will see the rise of more real beauty experts hairstylists, colorists, estheticians and makeup artists – people with training, licenses and years of hands-on expertise being sought out and building followings. On the flip side I think we’ll see more and more brands engage their employees and nano-influencers with a focus on real meaningful engagement rather than made chase for influencers with the highest follower we’ve witnessed.”

These days everyone wants to know everything about ingredients, origins of ingredients, about the brand founder(s), the brand story, etc. What do you think the consumer will want to know next? How close can the consumer really get?

Kelly Kovack: “Consumers have always wanted to connect with the brands they are passionate about and they reward them with loyalty, word of mouth and sales. Creating an emotional connection with consumers is the holy grail of branding. However, social media initiated a paradigm shift that allows brands to get closer to consumers than ever before while putting consumers in the driver’s seat. While consumers demand transparency they also inherently want honesty as well so brands need to navigate the relationship with consumers carefully. Without naming names – I think businesses got a lesson that there is such a thing as too much transparency from a brand founder.”

With so much clutter and so many products on the markets – where do you think the beauty, skin and wellness industry is heading?

Kelly Kovack: “The beauty landscape is certainly cluttered and the merging of beauty and wellness has only multiplied the amount of products and increased the noise. We will certainly continue to see the merging of beauty and wellness, the growth of clean, green and everything in-between, but conversely, there will always be a segment of the beauty category driven by, price speed to market and trend. As a beauty brand trying to compete it’s important to pick your lane and know who you are because trying to be everything for everyone has never worked.”

Any final thoughts?

Mary Futher: “I believe that there has been no better time to start a small business than now as the internet and social media have made small business much more possible than it was even 5 years ago.”

Kelly Kovack: “On a personal level I am inspired and compelled by the social entrepreneurs that are emerging in the beauty industry. I can’t think of a more perfect scenario than doing what you love and making the world a better place at the same time.”


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