How to launch a make-up brand and sell online: The ultimate guide

I need a new mascara. As loyal as I am to some beauty brands, I’m currently a non-paid agent in the mascara department. I am a loyal customer of certain beauty brands, but currently I’m a free agent in the mascara department.

My local drugstore sells well over 200 beauty brands, with Sephora selling 250+. Each brand may offer 10 different mascaras that promise everything, from curling to lengthening to water resistance to water resistance. A problem I have as a customer is that there are too many options.

This saturation poses a challenge to entrepreneurs looking to start a beauty business.

People who are able to quickly get to market can capitalize on the latest trends in makeup and fill any gaps in the industry.

Is there room for another BB Cream? Is there a matte lipstick? A budding makeup brand founder? How can you make your products stand out in a saturated market? How can a mascara stand out among thousands of other products?

Fortunately, ecommerce solutions have made beauty more accessible and affordable in the last decade. This has opened up an industry that was once dominated only by a handful of large brands. Surprisingly, there is still plenty of room. Every day, new trends and niche markets appear. These trends can be jumped on by those who are able to quickly go to market (we’ll show you how), and fill in gaps in the industry.

 

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We’ll show you how to create a successful makeup line.

Learn More: How To Start Your Own Skincare Product (From Scratch).

Meet the experts in beauty business

To hear their first-hand experiences in building brands, we interviewed four makeup entrepreneurs who sell online and in-store.

Joanna Rosario-Rocha & Leslie Valdivia

Founders, Vive Cosmetics

 

Joanna and Leslie, first-generation Latinas, wanted to create a cosmetics brand that reflected their culture and community. Vive was started as a side business. With a small loan and no industry experience, they bootstrapped and Googled their way to success.

Melissa Butler

Founder Lip Bar

 

Melissa was frustrated at the lack of diversity in beauty products and decided to make a change. To pursue her side job, she quit her Wall Street job and started making inclusive cosmetics in her kitchen. Since then, The Lip Bar has become a major player in the beauty market. Read Melissa’s complete story.

India Daykin

Founder, India Rose Cosmeticary

India started her own beauty shop to showcase her favourite natural and cruelty-free skincare and cosmetic brands in one location. She curates collections for her Vancouver, Canada-based brick-and-mortar as well as online stores.

Learn more: 

Kate Loveless

Founder, Redhead Revolution

Redhead Revolution was created by KateLoveless after she found very few options that would suit her fair skin and short eyelashes. She now sells makeup products such as subtle shade mascaras for redheads all over the globe.

We also drew insights from past articles and include examples of Shopify-enabled makeup sellers: from a science student who became a beauty founder, to the maker of Kylie Cosmetics, to a host of niche brands that sell makeup to athletes, tweens, and women of color.

How to position your makeup line in a competitive market

It’s projected that the global beauty industry will be worth an unfathomable $756 trillion by 2026. You want a piece of this pie? You should try it! First, coffee. It pairs well with pie. Take a sip and ask yourself some questions.

  • What makes your idea different from the already available?
  • Can you identify a customer to your products?
  • Is the customer not represented in current brands
  • Are you a fan of an emerging trend?
  • What is your product’s unique selling point? Your product formula may be similar to other products, but your distinguish yourself by brand, ethos or cause.

“Do your research,” says Melissa. It sounds easy, but it’s surprising how many people go into business without understanding their value proposition and the competition.

How to navigate beauty trends

Research trends are a great way to validate your product idea or to find a business opportunityThere are many ways to do this.

You should be regularly consuming beauty content if you want to get into the beauty industry. Follow beauty bloggers, influencers and YouTubers. To stay up-to-date with emerging trends, subscribe to email lists and create alerts. To see if your idea is getting more attention, you can check Googletrends based on search data.

Don’t tie your entire brand to one fashion. What happens if a trend is a fad that dies quickly? Think about how quickly you can pivot and create new products.

Vive’s brand isn’t affected by beauty trends, as it focuses solely on the needs of its customers. Leslie mentions that diversity is a popular trend for many brands.

Finding niche markets

Brands have built a solid business by targeting specific beauty markets. She focused on India’s difficulty in accessing and importing niche brands from Canada. She says, “It’s very difficult to import to Quebec because of the different laws.” “But, our online store can ship them to them, which I find amazing.”

Vive Cosmetics was focused on an underrepresented population. Leslie says that market research confirmed that Vive Cosmetics’ idea of a cultural brand for beauty was feasible because Latinas are the top consumers in all beauty categories.

Other examples to inspire:

  • Studio10 is targeted at an older customer. It addresses issues that are specific to mature skin.
  • The success of organic brands such as 100% Pure has been aided by a growing awareness about animal welfare and a desire to use chemical-free formulations.
  • Trixie leveraged her influence to create a line cosmetics for drag queens – and anyone who wants “to feel like a legend or icon”
  • Fitness-proof makeup exists, and Sweat Cosmetics targets athletes.
  • Petite ‘n Pretty has found its niche in the teens and tween market with subtle colors and gentle formulations that are suitable for young skin.
  • Makeup for Ever is a resource for professional makeup artists looking for products specifically made for TV and film.
  • Black Opal has been a leader in the industry, offering a wide range of shades for women who are color.
  • Sugarpill is a cosplay audience that uses hyper-pigmented colors to appeal to extreme looks.

There are many things that can go wrong when starting your own makeup business. The time you have available, your skill level and your funding will all play a role in how you choose to produce or procure products. It also depends on the product’s complexity. We’ll show you four methods to procure or produce products for your makeup brand.

1. Make your own cosmetics

You can make some beauty products at home, such as lip creams, bath products and face oils. You should carefully document and test your product before you move to a commercial location.

Your “manufacturing plant” might be your kitchen, but you should ensure that you are still adhering to local regulations. For example, to manufacture cosmetics in the USA, the FDA has guidelines for ventilation, air control and surfaces.

If you are able to make your product, this is a great place to start a new brand. Factories can often require high minimums, which can be difficult to meet. You may eventually move into a more formal manufacturing industry.

It was obvious that I shouldn’t continue doing work that I didn’t know how to do. To sell effectively, we needed to be able produce in masse.

Melissa Butler, The Lip Bar

Melissa says that she didn’t know how to make lipstick. She describes building The Lip Bar, learning from cosmetic chemists and doing research. She tried out early formulations in her apartment, but she eventually gave up. She says, “I realized that it was impossible for me to continue doing something I wasn’t an expert in.” “In order to sell effectively, I had to be able produce en masse.” This allowed her to have more time to create and tell stories.

While making your own cosmetics may bring you joy, if your strengths or interests lie elsewhere in the business, it is time to outsource.

Essential reading Making Lip Balm: How to Turn Natural Lip Care into a Homemade Business

2. White label manufacturing

ColourPop is manufactured in the same facility that produces Kylie Cosmetics. ColourPop

White Label or Private Label refers to generically produced products that can or may not have been customized with color or fragrance. These products are then packaged and sold under your branding. The same formula may be used by many brands, but with subtle variations and different packaging.

A white label is a great option for brands that sell a novelty product or unique idea, rather than a product. If you wanted to open a unicorn-themed shop, you might sell private label lipsticks that have unicorn packaging and magical/fantasy names. The concept or branding is more important than the lipstick.

White labeling is a great way for you to quickly move from an idea to a finished product, especially when you are following a trend. There’s no need to experiment with different formulations or test them over time.

Megan Cox is the founder of lash brand Amalie. She took her experiences building brands and formulas and created Genie Supply. This “beauty laboratory for entrepreneurs” specializes in customizing private label clean cosmetics for small brands that are making their first foray into manufacturing.

The Essential Reading: The Powering the Pout: The (Other Woman) Behind Kylie Cosmetics This case study is about Seed Beauty, a white label manufacturing company behind ColourPop & Kylie Cosmetics.

3. Manufacturing cosmetics (unique formulations)

This is the process of creating formulations from scratch in an industrial facility. While large brands might have their own factories and many manufacturers can produce products for multiple brands from the same area, they may not all be owned by the same manufacturer. Young brands have this option because it is more affordable.

Redhead Revolution was Kate’s home-based business, which sold on online marketplaces. Before she could launch mascaras, she reached out to chemists for help.

It was possible to meet the workers and establish a rapport with them.

Kate Loveless, Redhead Revolution

Kate finally settled on a manufacturer after doing extensive research. She says, “I knew I was looking for companies with higher quality, natural ingredients.” She was able to stay in touch with the manufacturing process by finding a local supplier. “I was able to meet the people at the factory and establish a rapport with them.

When building Vive, Leslie says she and Joanna did research and reached out to several manufacturers–sometimes being ignored–and requested many samples before finally settling on one. “We chose the manufacturer that gave us the best attention and delivered quality products.” Being new to the industry, Leslie and Joanna spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out manufacturing. Leslie’s advice to others? “I recommend that you find a product developer/consultant to guide you through the process.”

Many online resources are available to connect you with North American and international manufacturers.

These are the basics:

The essential How do you find a manufacturer or supplier for your product idea

4. Curating and reselling cosmetics

India Rose

Online makeup sales are possible without the need to go through manufacturing. You can buy wholesale from multiple brands and offer a personalized shopping experience to your customers. You can think about themes like local brands, organic or natural products, or products that are suitable for certain skin types and conditions.

India says that her initial efforts were very low-tech. India says that she started out very low-tech. She had a whiteboard in her dining room where she had a list of brands she wanted to contact. Also, she had a check mark for whether they had responded.

Consider these options if you are looking to curate and sell.

  • Compatibility with brands. Are there any competitors?
  • Availability on your market. For example, if you ship to Canada, which other companies are shipping this brand?
  • Import fees. When pricing your products, be sure to include any fees after the fact. India recommends that you open an account with a shipping company rather than relying upon vendors to ship your products.
  • Dropshipping. Dropshipping is an excellent solution for online cosmetics companies, since you don’t have to manage your inventory or ship.

Essential reading How to Locate and Work with Reliable Dropshipping Wholesalers and Suppliers

Your makeup brand is built

Vive Cosmetics’ brand extends to its visual aesthetic, including photo shoots that represent the founders’ culture and customers. Vive Cosmetics

Brand is essential in any industry that relies on images. This is different than “branding,” which refers to the outward visual representation of your brand through your logo or design guidelines. Think about how packaging, branding and voice can reflect your brand values, tell stories, and create an experience that your customers will love. Your brand is what your customers experience when they interact with you and purchase your products.

Redhead Revolution

Your brand is more important than the product, as we discussed in our white label section. Do you sell a lifestyle or a concept? Are you an influencer who wants to monetize your brand? Do not rush this step.

Think carefully about what sets you apart in a crowded space and tell that story on social, on your website, on packaging–everywhere. Photography can tell a story. Make sure your models and aesthetic reflect the lifestyles and values of your ideal customers.

Ingredients, packaging and labelling

Touchland/India Rose

Cosmetics can be applied to the body so there are risks to reduce and regulations to comply with. Each region has its own laws regarding how cosmetics are manufactured, tested and labeled. To ensure safe and legal practices, you should consult your local laws.

Building formulations and cosmetic ingredients

Research ingredients and suppliers to ensure that your claims on packaging are accurate. Before doing business with any vendor or manufacturer, you may want to hire a third party firm.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you source ingredients.

  • Are the ingredients approved for use in your country’s skincare? Coconut oil, for example, may be available in either food-grade or skincare grade versions.
  • Are you concerned about natural ingredients? How can you make sure that suppliers are claiming the truth?
  • Which preservatives should you use? What will this do to shelf-life?
  • Are your products organic? You should ensure that your supplier has the proper certifications. These certifications will vary from one country to the next.
  • Track the supply chain. Are they reliable? Are they able to provide references?
  • What labelling laws are in place in your country?
  • Is there any common allergens that are known to be in the ingredients?

Working with an experienced manufacturer will help you avoid the common pitfalls that can arise from DIY formulations such as incompatible components. White label manufacturers are likely to have tested and proven results from products already on the market.

It’s more difficult to develop your own formulations but you have greater freedom to create something unique.

Resources:

Packaging development and sourcing

Redhead Revolution

Because makeup products serve multiple purposes, packaging is crucial. If you are just starting your business, it is possible to purchase pre-made containers and create your own labels. You may need to partner with a manufacturer or supplier to design custom packaging to reflect your brand’s aesthetic and distinguish it from others.

Packaging does a lot. It:

  • Represents the brand – this is another way to express your brand’s personality. The packaging integrated into the product (such as a lipstick tube), will still be visible and used by customers after the outer box has been recycled.
  • Protects fragile products such as eyeshadows or pressed powders, from damage during shipping or dropping
  • Doubles for an applicator, such as mascaras or liquid lipsticks
  • Provides important information for customers such as expiry dates, ingredients, and instructions
  • Enhances the customer experience by the unboxing process and unique features (such as a mirror in the lipstick tube).

Stress test your packaging as well as your products. Megan’s experience with Amalie Beauty taught her to test both the formula and packaging together.

For me, packaging was a major problem. Unreliable packaging cost me a lot of customers.

Megan Cox, Founder, Amalie, Genie Labs

She discovered that the glue used in her brush applicator was not compatible with the formula of her brand’s eyelash product, and the brustles started to fall off. She says that packaging was a major problem for her. Megan says that she lost many customers due to unreliable packaging. She also conducted her own quality control by flying regularly to the facilities of her manufacturing partners and maintained a close relationship.

Essential reading:

Specific labelling requirements

Each country has its own packaging regulations for beauty products. There may also be rules specific to your country. These regulations are in place to protect consumers and cover everything including packaging language, weight/volume labels, ingredient lists, safety/allergy warnings, and labelling.

For more information, contact your local government.

General manufacturing resources

Managing inventory

The Lip Bar

India found that managing beauty inventory can be more difficult than managing other products. India Rose has some tips for entrepreneurs who want to stock a lot of SKUs and manage inventory between India Rose’s physical and online stores.

  • Be aware of shelf life. Ingredients and natural products have a shorter shelf-life. Order smaller quantities to prevent waste before you have sales data to assist with forecasting. This is particularly important for organic or natural products with fewer preservatives. She says, “I prefer to buy more often and have newer products than to buy too many at once and let it sit there.”
  • Pay attention to temperature and humidity. Make sure your products are protected from heat, sun, and moisture which could cause them to melt or be damaged. Air conditioning was essential in India’s brick and mortar locations. She says that air conditioning felt like a luxury at the beginning. It was necessary when I saw a customer trying on lipsticks and the lipstick snapped from heat.
  • Keep organized. This is especially important if your fulfillment company is not available and you are handling the product yourself. Sometimes it can be difficult to label cosmetics products between colors. A system should be created that makes it easy to find and identify products. We keep everything in large drawers all over the store. India says that she uses desk dividers and makes her own from small shipping boxes.
  • Rotate stock. Just like any edible product, make sure everyone who handles your stock is aware of the importance rotation.
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