Founder Story: Cindy Luken Of Lük Beautifood

Lük Beautifood founder Cindy Luken has a mantra for our times: “What goes on, goes in.” It’s her elevator pitch honed to a cooking knife’s edge and encapsulates the brand’s chief selling point. Lük Beautifood’s food-based lipsticks not only promise toxin-free high performance, they’re composed of active ingredients that feed the skin nutrients it needs. It’s a simple, brilliant premise. It’s also a story that starts with food, not beauty.

Luken is an entrepreneur two times over. Hailing from Sydney, she holds a a bachelor of applied science in food and nutrition. She built her first business, Luken and May, by focusing on baking the best biscuits the land of Oz had known. By the time of her exit, Luken and May had produced and sold 30 million biscuits across multiple international channels while garnering awards by the dozens. (Somewhere along the way, she also cooked for Prince Charles and Lady Diana.)

Luken’s pivot to beauty was spurred by a temporary stint running a body-care business for a friend. She arrived at the conclusion that the beauty industry was in need of the type of transformation underway in food production. To her, ridding beauty products of synthetic chemicals was the only logical move for people bent improving their health through the consumption of natural foods. She’s been advocating for awareness on the issue ever since and is using her brand to spread the word.

To help distribute Lük Beautifood lipsticks beyond Australia, Luken became a  stalwart exhibitor at IBE. She was selected for Indie Beauty at Neiman Marcus two years running and, at the most recent show, Indie Beauty Expo NYC 2018, we were able to sit down with her to hear her founder story. In a video that’s a collaboration between Lük Beautifood and Indie Beauty Media Labs, she explains how her love for food and science informs her approach to beauty, fuels her passion and leads to increasingly sophisticated formulations.

Excerpts from the video follow.

On the food-beauty connection

We’re an Australian beauty company that makes 100% natural, toxin-free lipstick from food because we believe in harnessing the beauty in food. I was actually looking for another business, and I saw how lipstick was made and I went, “Ooh, that could be a great idea.” The internet is coming, and it could be a great product to sell online. I went back and researched what the formulations were for making lipsticks because I’m a food scientist and product developer by trade, and I couldn’t read the ingredients. I couldn’t read the formulations. I thought, that’s crazy. When I deciphered the ingredients I went, there are fats and oils and colors and flavors and waxes and emulsifiers and stabilizers. I can make that from food. That’s where my skill set is.

On her aha moment

I have this absolute philosophy about following your passion because, if you have something you love, you’re going to do it well. So, I just went, “Oh my God, I’m going to make lipstick.” And that’s what I did. I actually went into my “beauty” kitchen and took my ingredients out of the pantry, and I also ordered a lot more of different types of oils and colors and waxes and butters and, then, I started formulating. That’s why we have the creamiest, smoothest, softest melting moisturizing lipstick that can there can be.  

On fulfilling natural desires

Our customers put being healthy and wanting a clean and green ingredients list as their top priority. Our products will stay on until you eat or drink. Then, it’s a really good excuse to top up and, because my lipsticks are flavored with cold-pressed organic oil, spices and citrus you actually want to put it back on because you want that little pause moment, you want that little treat and that little delicious yummo, so you pop it on and you go, “Mmm.” It’s actually quite fun to put back on.

On climbing back up indie mountain…

Once I got that base formulation right that was really soft and moisturizing, I sourced the packaging I knew that I wanted beautiful soft-touch casing. I wanted it to be slim. I wanted it to be held in your hand, so you could keep it in your pocket, have it in your handbag—just a really easy, go-to lippie. I then found the contract manufacturers that would be able to make it. That happened in 2012, so from 2012 until 2016, I had the business based at home. I did everything. I had the product manufactured, I would wrap each of the lipsticks in a glass cleaning cloth, so it was repurposed. It also provided the protection for my lipstick when I sold it direct to the consumers.. I designed the website. I did all the accounting, did the picking, packing, shipping. I got the business to a couple of hundred thousand in turnover. Then, I was approached to do a capital raise, which I did in 2016. I had investors invest in the business, and we then invested in people and marketing, and we have taken the brand to where it is today.

…and riding the indie wave

It’s now selling online, but it’s also rolling out to beauty stores and to spas. It’s in the gift and lifestyle channels in Australia. In America, it’s in the new Anthropologie home, body, mind stores. It’s also in Neiman Marcus online, and we do the pop-ups with IBE. So, it’s really an exciting time. We’re growing fast, and we’re rolling out doors, and we’re putting out beautiful product into the hands of customers who absolutely love the product. We are indie beauty. I love it, I feel part of this movement around the world, and I feel like Indie Beauty Expo has created it, and we’re all on this ride together. So, we are indie beauty. It means a lot to me. It means the development of a new way of looking at beauty, not only in the products, but in the way we as women in businesses work together. It’s exciting.