Beauty Independent Editor-In-Chief Rachel Brown Reflects On First-Year Accomplishments And Anticipates Changes Ahead
The upcoming one-year anniversary of Beauty Independent, which was launched on Aug. 21, 2017, is a cause for celebration. In the last twelve months, the publication has filled a void in the beauty market and surfed the surging crest of the independent beauty wave. More than a news platform, Beauty Independent has proved to be a beacon for beauty innovators and entrepreneurs, who use its wealth of stories and daily newsletters to stay on point, on trend, and in touch with the larger community.
A great part of the operation’s success is directly related to the tireless efforts of its Editor in Chief, Rachel Brown. Having witnessed her force of will and astounding work ethic first hand, we at Indie Beauty Media Group can attest to the essential role she has played in elevating awareness of brands in the larger marketplace. And she’s not done yet. We stole some time from her busy day long enough to ask her to assess what Beauty Independent has been able to accomplish, how brands attract her interest, and what lies in store for Beauty Independent 2.0
Now that you have one year under your belt as Editor in Chief of Beauty Independent, tell us: Is it what you expected it to be?
I don’t think I went into Beauty Independent with any expectations. How can you anticipate what it’s like to start a publication when you’ve never done that before? I knew it would be hard work, and it is. I knew it would be rewarding, and it certainly can be. I knew it would be occasionally frustrating, and it definitely is. I knew I would relish telling the stories of people and brands not covered much elsewhere, and I do more than I ever could have imagined.
Has your perspective on Beauty Independent changed in the past year?
Our role is and was to shed light on amazing indie beauty entrepreneurs shaking up the beauty industry. But we also want to help beauty brand founders thrive by being a platform where they can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. My commitment to exploring the challenges faced by indie beauty entrepreneurs hasn’t wavered, but my perspective on how easy it is to explore those challenges perhaps has. It’s difficult for people to share their failures, but I think we can share failures while still celebrating wins. I encourage entrepreneurs to open up.
The plans for the second year of Beauty Independent are a lot like our plans for year one: highly ambitious, and focused on helping brands grow and succeed.
What’s the best thing you, as an editor, can witness or experience on any given day?
I’ve probably shed countless tears upon receiving positive emails or comments from readers. Days can be extremely hard and long, but, when someone says a Beauty Independent article was a worthwhile, insightful read, it melts away the toil and torment.
Any favorite stories?
I have so many favorite stories. As our readers may be aware, I thoroughly enjoy telling stories about intriguing people that I believe are worthy of coverage, but may not have received it or received very much of it for whatever reason. I am so honored Arianna Johnny-Wadsworth, founder of Quw’utsun’, spoke to me about her personal and brand history. We’ve covered some unbelievable Latina entrepreneurs, including Regina Merson, Aisha Ceballos-Crump and Leticia Cabrera-Calvo. They’re changing the beauty landscape for the better. And who doesn’t love a story of persistence? I think I ugly cried throughout my conversation with Martha Van Inwegen, who has stuck with her brand Life Elements despite incredible ups and downs.
I’m also a huge fan of trendspotting. For some reason, it’s really satisfying to identify a beauty movement as it bubbles up in the consumer goods milieu. While other publications were continuing to examine the vagina product wave, we jumped to the next big body part in beauty – the butt – with a terrific article by my colleague Claire McCormack. I won’t divulge details, but she went to great lengths to ensure she really nailed the story. Once a trend is out there, I’m fascinated by the implications of it. For instance, with sexual health and vulva or vagina products at the forefront, beauty retailers are forced to discuss topics they previously avoided. I delved into the discomfort that might be an issue as they sell previously taboo products to consumers in the story Sex Talk At The Point Of Sale. I can tell you that the effect of the butt beauty product trend is a rash of third-grade humor.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve experienced since BI launched?
Honestly, my biggest surprise is how tough it is to be a manager. I believe many entrepreneurs experience problems with staff when they grow beyond their own labor, and I have experienced problems that they might be familiar with. In my case, it involves coordinating the work of our freelancers and communicating to them what I want in stories.
What can the mainstream beauty business learn from what’s happening in the world of independent beauty innovators and entrepreneurs?
What can’t they learn? I guess they can’t learn about bureaucracy and cushy offices. Big beauty conglomerates are turning to smaller players because smaller players identify niches that haven’t been addressed, cultivate close relationships with consumers and have missions driven by passion rather than merely by profits. Is it any mystery why the wellness and CBD trends in beauty have largely been fueled by upstarts? No, because huge companies can’t pivot to those corners of the market when they’ve got enormous ships to turn. We’ve seen investments in the wellness space because large companies know that they can’t muster the ingenuity of their tinier brethren in this area.
What can indie beauty brands learn from the mainstream beauty business?
Indie beauty brands can learn from everybody in the market, big or small. I think it’s strange when people say they don’t check out their competitors. I adore journalism and checking out the work of my media competitors is something I enjoy, even when they kick my ass, which is frequently. Taking in the excellent writing of others gives me fuel to keep going after untold stories. Beauty brands should constantly be examining how their competitors package, price and distribute their products, communicate about them on shelves and through social media, and seal the deal with customers. If they don’t, their retail partners and customers will. Consumers don’t live in a vacuum. They will choose superior products if yours are subpar. So, make sure you know what a superior product entails.
What would make a beauty exec leave a lucrative and influential position to start their own brand? You’ve written about many such people.
There’s been so much written about the entrepreneurial mindset, and I don’t know if I can offer additional insight. All I can say is that these people have guts. I write about entrepreneurs every day, and I still can’t understand how someone could be one. I am grateful for the support that the Indie Beauty Media Group provides. I would never have the confidence or will to begin my own business. I doubt myself with every word typed. Even as I utter this sentence, I am telling myself how lame it sounds. The chutzpah of the indie beauty entrepreneurial community astounds me.
What are some of the common qualities shared by founders in the indie space?
A love of beauty ties indie beauty entrepreneurs together. There are some exceptions, but most of them don’t get into this market for money. They get into because they love whipping up soaps or creating a cool cat-eye look. Of course, to some extent, they have to be risk averse. If you’re not independently wealthy, it’s a big risk to start a beauty brand. Ask the Kardashians. While Kylie Jenner is apparently a self-made beauty mogul today, her sisters struggled in the beauty industry long before any Kardashian-Jenner had success in it.
How do you find your story subjects?
Some brands reach out to me, and I invite them to do so when they have business news. Mostly, though, I unearth brand news by scouring social media and store websites. I’m constantly trying to identify brands that are new to the beauty scene and those that are gaining at retail. For larger trend stories, I try to follow the products that are entering the market and pick the brains of knowledgeable people in the industry, but I also think about my life and the lives of the people around me. I hate shaving my legs (apologies to my husband), and my hatred sparked the idea for a story about young people who are embracing body hair. Before Beauty Independent, I was a freelance writer, and my experience freelancing was the motivation for the story on how freelancing is shifting beauty habits.
What makes a story newsworthy for you, one that is worth BI pursuing and publishing? (ie, requirements)
A newsworthy story by definition has to have news. I feel a lot of brands don’t understand what news is. News is something new. It’s something that is happening today or tomorrow that didn’t happen yesterday. It’s not a brand’s biography. A biography is constant. When a company launches, that by definition is news: a new company exists that didn’t exist before. Beyond company launches, I’m looking for news related to investment, technology, distribution, executive hiring, manufacturing processes, advertising campaigns, collaborations, bestsellers and innovative behind-the-scenes developments. At Beauty Independent, we haven’t really covered product releases. I figure other publications, particularly consumer ones, cover those very well, so I’ve stayed away from them. We also do profiles and, for profiles, I am not as focused on news, although it’s still helpful. For the profiles, I try to identify subjects who are open and honest. If you’re not willing to talk a bit about the hurdles you’ve faced, then you’re not a good profile subject for BI.
What’s the best type of pitch to hit your inbox?
I like it when founders reach out to me personally and simply say hello. If there’s news of the kind mentioned in my previous answer, they should mention that news. But, even if there’s not, I usually engage them in a dialog, and let them know that, if I’m interested in their brand, I would be happy to cover it when news does arise or a profile might be suitable. Press releases make me queasy. When I see press releases or form emails, I surmise they’re being sent to several editors, and I largely ignore them. My aim at Beauty Independent is to provide the most unique content we can provide. If we’re simply writing news based on press releases, we would never have unique content. As a journalist, it would also make me depressed to view my job as just rewriting press releases. Do you want to read a stream of press releases? There’s a place for that. It’s called PR Newswire.
What are some of the issues you see developing in the world of beauty over the course of the next year?
In a beauty industry that’s largely unregulated, marketing terms aren’t delineated. As reef-safe sunscreens grow in popularity, the definition of reef safe may be increasingly scrutinized, and it’s likely that we may see companies use the reef safe label in deceptive manners. We’ve seen an explosion of M&A within the beauty segment, and it’s hard to imagine that the pace of investments and acquisitions will continue at its current rapidity. In the investment area, the one thing I hope picks up pace is investment in beauty brands founded by women of color. The New Voices Fund is a great example of a fund backing minority-led brands. There are far too few women of color-helmed beauty brands that receive investment, and there is a plethora of awesome beauty brands started by women of color that deserve backing. I keep waiting for new dynamics in social media to arise. Certainly, brands have shifted their attention to micro-influencers and even to regularly engaging loyal customers on digital platforms. I predict we will see some brands tapping social media in unique ways over the next several months. I’m tired of the same influencer marketing. Aren’t you?
What are the common mistakes brands make that you’d like to see them avoid? Now is your chance to tell them.
I have a very basic recommendation. Make your website look good and be functional. I have covered some companies with seriously awful websites. It shouldn’t be that hard to have an acceptable website. Editors and retailers check out your website and, if it isn’t appealing, it will put a stain on your brand. Take good pictures of yourself and your products. In this day and age of digital media, you have to be a spokesperson for your brand. As someone trained in old school newspapers, I don’t want to be doing this interview or be public about my role. I much rather stay behind my byline. But I understand that, at times, my voice and face is important. Your voice and face are crucial. Use them – and take great pictures of yourself so I can use them.
What’s made you happiest about BI in the past year?
Reading great stories produced by other writers for Beauty Independent is always a thrill. Claire McCormack, Jane Carlson, Amanda West Reade, Lindsey Unterberger, Lindsay Kirkman, Kimberly Arnold, Amanda Eisenberg, Alice Mroczkowski, Ashley Ross, Megan McIntyre, Belisa Silva and Caroline Tell have produced some truly phenomenal stories for us. I am beyond grateful for their hard work and writing prowess. The aspect of this job that makes me most happy is spotlighting brand founders whose stories should be told no matter their personal backgrounds, corporate pedigrees or investor backing. People who shouldn’t get overlooked often are. I don’t want to overlook them.
What does the future hold for Beauty Independent?
As far as content goes, I hope to continue to diversify the voices in our stories. Increased coverage of international companies is a goal. I want to pull back the curtain even more on the beauty industry and brands’ businesses. I’m hoping that founders will help me to dig deeper into the crevices of the beauty segment, and let me know topics that they believe Beauty Independent should explore. I would love to ramp up production of our educational stories. It’s a matter of manpower and time and, for that, we need the support of our audience and the indie beauty community.
One thing I’ve learned at Indie Beauty Media Group is that Jillian [Wright] and Nader [Naeymi-Rad] are always looking ahead, seeing the next big opportunities for indie beauty, whether we’re talking about partnerships with retailers like Neiman Marcus and Feelunique (and a new one; look for the announcement soon) or ways to increase demand for indie brands. They’re always rolling whatever resources they generate back into the business. The plans for the second year of Beauty Independent are a lot like our plans for year one: highly ambitious, and focused on helping brands grow and succeed. The success of indie brands will, in turn, help BI’s growth and success. Then, we can provide even more coverage, and help the community gain the tools and knowledge it needs. We’re this close to launching Beauty Independent 2.0, and I can tell you that it will take a big step toward providing brands with resources they need.
Would you do it all over again? If you could do it all over again, anything you’d do differently?
I absolutely would do it all over again. If I had to do it all over again, I might try to schedule my time better and institute more work-life boundaries. I often say there’s an inverse relationship between how much I’ve written about self-care and how much I practice it. I have a tendency to let work creep into every nook and cranny of my life, and Beauty Independent has definitely taken over all the nooks and crannies. I am lucky to have a wonderful husband who picks up the slack at home. Right now, he’s at my daughter’s preschool talking to the kids in her class about what it’s like to surf. He does those activities because I can’t. But journalism and storytelling is a calling that I can’t shake. In an extremely tough industry, I’ve landed in a position that I wouldn’t have ever dreamed of. I have to make the most of it.