An Indie Uprising: How Indie Beauty is Changing the Market

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The companies themselves may be small, but indie beauty as a whole is big business— and is only getting bigger. “The 52 acquisitions in the beauty and personal-care industry last year were the most in a decade, and some of the hottest targets were private brands with massive social media fan bases,” Bloomberg Businessweek reported in March. More proof: The Indie Beauty Expo, launched two years ago in New York City and Los Angeles, has expanded to Dallas and boasts more vendors and participants than ever before. “Each market shows substantial growth every year in size and attendance,” says Indie Beauty Media Group cofounder Jillian Wright. “In 2015, our New York show had 80 brands and 300 shoppers. In 2017, we’ll have 200 brands and more than 1,000 shoppers.” A substantial portion of the indie customer base is millennial, a generation whose penchant for engagement has changed the industry. Here, indie beauty brands discuss strategies for reaching this influential demographic.

If one thing resonates, it’s a sense of authenticity. “The millennial generation is very adept at cutting through advertising fluff,” says Kayvon Tavakoli, brand manager for anti-hair loss line PRODjin. “Indie brands appeal, because they’re seen as more real.” Kristen O’Connell, founder and chief of Flora•py Beauty, says that’s because millennials are looking for connection. “It’s like choosing someone to be a part of your life, and indie brands feel more authentic than the big giants,” she says. Indeed, adds Neil MacQuarrie, vice president of Shunly Skin Care, “Millennials are independent thinkers and don’t necessarily trust the old or aging institutions that have dominated the marketplace for decades.”

According to Lisa Cohorn, founder and CEO of Camille Coton, it’s often the very essence of indie beauty that’s attractive. “These brands don’t just exist to sell somebody another beauty product—they typically have a soul and reason for being,” she says. That soulfulness can be integral to success. “Indie brands have excelled by showcasing genuine founder stories and taking their audience on a journey,” says Tavakoli. “Millennials want to know who makes the product, where it’s from, and how it’s made. With smaller indie brands, it’s much easier to portray that.” Per Pamela Friedman, president and CEO of CV Skinlabs, knowing how to show heart can draw an audience. “Indie brands tend to be more transparent, not just about ingredients but often about their personal lives too, so millennials can participate in the lifestyle of a brand in an intimate way,” she says. Messaging also matters, as millennials like to use their dollars for good. “Indie brands are generally more authentically social, and millennials care about social issues—they’re receptive to companies that have a clear purpose, stand for something, and give back to society in some way, whether it’s a contribution to the planet or the community,” says Friedman.


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According to Bonnie Campbell, director of marketing and outreach for KM Herbals, brands with a conscience have an edge. “What makes indie beauty brands distinctive from the corporate mainstream is their embodiment of a lifestyle and a mission—something that we all seek on a personal level,” she says. Millennials may even be more open and informed consumers than their predecessors. “They care not only about what they’re purchasing but also who and what they’re supporting with that purchase,” says Wright. “Older generations are more set in their ways and have already determined their brand loyalties.” Notes ECO Modern Essentials marketing and brand manager Jessica Abraham, millennials “are less driven by mass-marketing, and there’s more of a demand to support local and independent—millennials are always looking for something a little different.” That desire to stand out can open wallets. “Everyone thinks they’re special and different and deserving of something special and different that no one else has,” says Wright. “Exclusivity has infiltrated even the most private of rituals.”

Read more from our third edition of Indie Beauty by American Spa in our latest digital edition.