How Indie Beauty Brands Identify The Right Contract Manufacturers For Them

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 15 brand founders and executives: How did you choose your contract manufacturer?

Tina Rudolf Founder, Strange Bird

The lab I'm working with to help create my formula is also manufacturing my products. I knew I wanted to own my formula, work with an organic certified lab who had a lot of experience creating excellent natural products and, also, had the ability to offer very low MOQs. With those things being my criteria, it narrowed down my options to only about two or three companies that I could find, and I searched long and hard! 

I went with AE Labs because they checked all of my boxes. You have to know your must-haves. Mine were owning my own formula and a low MOQ. Owning my own formula was a non-negotiable, and I only had enough money to produce 500 units of each product, so that ultimately made my decision for me with which manufacturer/lab I went with.  

I'd say know what your non-negotiables are. Find, if you can, a few manufacturers that align. If people you know worked with them in the past and have had positive experiences that's huge! Go with your intuition. Remember, everything is a learning process and, though mistakes can be costly, I think they are inevitable at this stage in the game.  

I have peace of mind that, even though it took a lot longer than expected to get to launch, in the end, I own my formula and can launch with the amount of units I feel comfortable with. You can't control everything, so just be clear about your non-negotiables and make those a no-brainer.

Lisa Pineiro Founder and CEO, Glotrition

If you only knew how many sleepless nights this topic has caused! The partnership with your manufacturer is arguably the most important when developing a unique product, and usually the most difficult to find the right fit. We’ve used several different contract manufacturers, searching tirelessly for a “one size fits all” solution. 

Here’s what I’ve learned: there isn’t one contract manufacturer that can do everything and do it well.  So, we have two separate manufacturers that can fill and pack our ingestible blends, and two manufacturers that can fill and pack our topical blends. It was a must for me to have all of our manufacturing in Dallas. It’s vitally important to have easy access to your products to assure high quality. I learned that one the hard way, just as I learned how important it is to have more than one facility that can make your products.

Roxane Pekelharing Co-Founder, Cleban

Like all the best courtship stories, our relationship was complicated. We had an immediate connection and shared love for the magic of pure ingredients (and belief in fairies), but he didn’t want to commit as our MOQs were too high for him. After a failed relationship with another contract manufacturer who just couldn’t meet our quality standards, we reconnected, and it’s been a beautiful journey ever since. 

Ultimately our first priority is quality and an insane attention to detail, and he naturally is the same way. We geek out to ingredients all the time. He fuels our creative energy, and we are grateful to have him as a partner. It may sound cheesy, but your relationship with your manufacturer should feel a little like a love story. If it doesn’t, then be true to your brand and your product and move on, even if it does take years to find the right one.

Heather D. Rogers Founder and CEO, Doctor Rogers

It was important to me to have my products made in the U.S. at an FDA-certified facility to ensure the highest quality and consistency. I also wanted to use eco-conscious packaging made of recyclable aluminum instead of the cheaper and easier to fill plastic option. But, as a self-funded startup, I needed to start with small batches. I quickly discovered the manufacturers I wanted to work with did not want to work with me.

The aluminum tube minimum orders ranged from 500,000 to 1 million, and just getting someone on the phone to discuss what I was doing was met with resistance. It got to the point where I was going to have to give up or go plastic. Finally, the 51st manufacturer I contacted was a family business in the Midwest that I had heard about from an earlier facility as they were saying no.

I still remember where I was sitting when I pitched my dream to this company. The son of the founder, who now ran the company, answered the phone. He listened and then laughed saying it made no sense for him to take me on, but he liked my passion and thought I was on to something, so they would give it a shot. I started crying on the phone. I was so grateful.

Ever since that first phone call, more than two years ago, it has been a joy to work with them. They have been true to their word and are invested in what I am trying to do. They help me problem solve with ingredients and packaging. This adventure would not be possible without them, and I’m hopeful that, as my brand grows, they will benefit from taking a risk on me.

Eugene He Founder, Ceramiracle

It's almost like dating really. I'd make multiple visits to their facilities, have meals with the owners to understand their business vision and goals, meet all their staff before finally deciding to work with them. The entire process can last up to half a year. 

It is so important for us to work with the right manufacturers since our products are registered in multiple countries. I don't pick a manufacturer just because they have the latest facilities or big-name customers. Ultimately, integrity is most important, and I need to feel that coming from the entire team.

Anju Rupal CEO and Founder, Abhati Suisse

I wanted to build a relationship with a partner that supported our mission and was aligned to our values around clean beauty. They also had to work with our Indian raw materials that we source and power with Swiss technology. 

Each of our products are developed and made from scratch. This is unusual in the beauty industry today, so finding a partner was a challenge, but we got lucky thanks to our team connections and are able to keep our production in-house here in Switzerland. Also, being a B Corp, we took it to the next level and are now ISO certified.

Laura Stearn CEO and Founder, Just Pure Essentials 

We came to choose ours after searching for a suitable partner that met our requirements and matched our principles of clean manufacturing practices. They needed to be certified organic to properly handle our organic ingredients. They needed to be small enough to handle smaller productions with a caring hand and, yet, large enough to scale up with us and have fairly quick production turnaround times.

One of the obstacles we had to overcome a couple years later was, when they got bought out, the new directors changed the way things were working. It took some negotiating to come up with compromises like allowing them to supply our ingredients (upon our approval of their sources) so that they could also make a markup on purchasing. Our costs went up, but, in the end, we were able to negotiate pricing that was not too painful for us and satisfied them.

Tess Taylor Founder, Taylor + Tess

We chose our manufacturers using referrals and the personal connections of individuals on our team who have been in the cannabis industry for over ten years: Cure Designs and White Buffalo. Those individuals prioritize quality of product and integrity of the people we work with above all else. 

We also wanted to make sure our manufacturers were reliable because their timeliness determines our deadlines and ability to fulfill orders. It was crucial for us to connect with a manufacturer that has the ability to grow with us when we begin to scale our business and add new brand extensions. We hope to enter the wellness industry as Taylor + Florence for my mother and pain management with THC in the distant future under Taylor + Russell for my father.

Jamie Steenbakkers Co-Founder and COO, Busy Beauty

We found our first manufacturer through a family friend who owned a skincare company. This manufacturer is in California, which has the strictest safety standards and laboratory accreditations, which was a reason why we wanted to work with them. 

However, the biggest reason why we chose them was because of their flexibility and clear communication with us during our product formulation and development process. This manufacturer then gave us referrals for products that they don't specialize in, which is how we developed our global supply chain.

Mariska Nicholson Founder, Olive + M

Choosing our contract manufacturer was an important task for the brand since we are a direct reflection on each other. We started the search by reaching out to our trusted network for some recommendations. We hopped on a call with the finalists and asked a few key questions, and chose the one that we felt best fit. 

Our contract manufacturer spoke almost word for word to one of the core ideals of Olive + M: good people do good. Simple, but so powerful. It’s important for our lab to truly understand our brand, and it became clear from that first conversation that this partnership was meant to be.

MICHELLE VIDAL Founder, Alkaglam

Our manufacturer specializes in engineering and chemistry in water. Sometimes, when you want to create a different product, you have to look for unconventional ways to stand out. I needed to create molds and a formula from scratch, and many cosmetic companies have a set way of doing things, and our product is more of a device, so we needed to make a mold and an engineer to help us create the vision I had for this product.

Pedro Dias Founder and CEO, FOLS For Men

From the get-go, we wanted to focus on sourcing the most natural products possible. Once we narrowed down the list of suppliers to the ones using organic and natural ingredients only, there were really only a few left, especially since we are based in Europe. From there, we ordered a few samples and based on the response from the supplier and quality of the products, we ended up choosing two manufacturers that now produce all our range.

PILAR QUINTERO Co-Founder, Care Skincare

We spent a lot of time interviewing and validating different options, big and small. Our objective was to find a lab that had the capabilities, talent pool and professional experience to develop unique formulas with us. We did not want off-the-shelf formulas, but rather develop our own. We had very specific product development objectives in terms of product lineup, benefits, textures and ingredients.

Sebastien Tardif CEO, Veil Cosmetics

We chose the contract manufacturer based on the chemist I work with and his/her abilities to comprehend and render to life my product creations and vision, but also for their indie brand fulfillment affinity (smaller batching versus massive minimum order quantities).

Anne Kukkohovi Founder, Supermood

When we started we picked a partner from Finland who worked side by side with us. As we are scaling up, I found a similar partner on a larger scale in the U.S. It was critical to feel that we have a close relationship, so everyone felt invested in the business.  

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to editor@beautyindependent.com.