The accidental whiff of a freshly baked madeleine was enough to get author Marcel Proust dreamy eyed and reminiscent of times gone by – for me it’s Rimmel’s Heather Shimmer lipstick. This was the lipstick that was the epicentre of our school lunch time ritual – and the cause of our teachers’ ire as they insisted on rapid removal in the classroom. I still think I would have got better exam results if I'd been allowed to wear this all day, every day.
From friends' changing room spritzes to cover the smell of twenty B&H cigarettes, to later in life, recovering from several back operations, the absolute, non-negotiation of treating my scar with anything other than Crème de la Mer (my East End butcher father baulking at the price – ‘Do you know how many dinners that would buy?!’ – but handing it over anyway) – beauty has been my first and enduring love.
I love what beauty stands for and how it defines so many moments in my life, so it was no surprise that I turned to beauty for my career. My first real job in beauty was more than fifteen years ago, as a communications co-ordinator for Origins, packing samples to send to journalists, and feeling the thrill of knowing that something I’d sent out had been used in a glossy magazine fashion shoot. I was so excited to have made it onto the first rung of the beauty career ladder that I perhaps took a while to notice that it seemed to be mainly men at the top.
Fast forward to 2021, and I’m CEO of SEEN, a global, specialist beauty communications agency working with some of the most notable powerhouses in beauty and I’m both relieved and thrilled to say that the beauty industry definitely ‘looks’ so very different today that when I first started.
But it’s been a slow and long-coming change.
Can it really be that Revlon and L’Oréal only named their first ever female bosses in 2018 and 2019 respectively? But let’s celebrate that they're there at all and doing a brilliant job. Thankfully, they're no longer the outliers. The beauty industry is finally going through an incredibly positive, female-empowered renaissance made possible by some trailblazing women who are flipping the perception of what the industry is capable of commercially, at C-suite level, as well fully acknowledging the essential role that beauty plays in enabling millions of people to lead, and live, better lives.
In recent years, there have been more and more incredible, innovative, and forward-thinking businesses built by female leaders and leadership teams. This is where the real change is happening. These female founders have understood firstly, that beauty is an emotionally charged category, and secondly, the importance of building teams who recognise the relevance of beauty wholly, and it's been the key to their success.
Take many of the beauty unicorns of the last ten years, for example. Charlotte Tilbury knows the transformational power of make-up and coined the phrase ‘Give everyone the right make-up and they can conquer the world’ - exactly what she herself is doing as a pioneering woman in business. Glossier founder Emily Weiss recognised the significance of a new consumer, the millennial, that was still being served, or rather underserved, by heritage brands who had not been able to reflect their values and new beauty codes. She created a brand that served the consumer great content, conversation and ultimately a new beauty community to be a part of. Unsurprisingly, she is reaping the rewards. Glossier only launched in 2014 and is now worth a staggering £1.3 billion.
Then you've got Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, the launch of which highlighted the importance of inclusive marketing, jolting a sleepy beauty industry into upping their own game and , in turn, shifted the beauty landscape. Her vision was to exclude no-one and the mantra of 'Beauty for all' became their marketing mission.
Historically, a lot of the corporate giants that have dominated the beauty industry have been largely male led, focussing too much on the operational facets of running a beauty business. Time and again they significantly under invested, both in time and spend, in understanding and defining the precise role the brand or product plays in its consumers’ actual life. There are so many ways today to connect with a consumer and make them feel like you care about their journey of spending their money and using your product, which should act as a souvenir of a great experience. For too many of the corporate giants it has taken too long to transition from the old ways of thinking to the new.
The beauty industry now has so many examples of women at the highest level busting out of old restrictive environments. Why? Because these are women who don't just have a brilliant product and marketing idea, but champion change in areas previously not considered a priority or central to success by male-dominated leadership and management. Women have changed the dialogue. Now, it's not longer acceptable to not be asking: 'What does an encouraging return to work post maternity look like?' Or ‘What hybrid working styles can support women in business vs inhibiting them?’
I was super fortunate to be supported by progressive female leadership, returning from maternity leave to a promotion twice and continuing to grow my career whilst bringing up a family. Instead of viewing my obligations to my family as a hinderance, which occurs all too often in the workspace, it was seen as a benefit to my working style and my ability to inspire.
As an agency we give pro bono support to The British Beauty Council, which was founded to represent the voices, opinions and needs of the British beauty industry, an industry that over indexes in female employment, if not leadership. Millie Kendal MBE consistently strives to ensure that the beauty industry is recognised and valued at all levels of government, throughout the wider economy and by consumers. Yet another example of women driving for change in business and using the financial impact of the beauty industry to affect seismic change in the future.
The cynic in me might say that female leaders across the beauty industry are finally getting recognition simply because they actually exist now and numbers make good reading but regardless, this metric still represents the transitioning of old ways of doing business, to new. There's still a long way to go to ensure that the unconscious bias that exists within the industry is continually challenged to eradicate it completely, but it’s an incredible industry to be a part of when so much positive change is being made because of powerful women.
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