Indie Beauty Check-Up: Brand Founders Give Their Reads On The Segment’s Health

According to NielsenIQ, indie beauty brands hold at least a quarter of the market share of every category in beauty. In cosmetics and nail care, the categories in which indie beauty brands hold the most share, the consumer insights firm pegs that share at 40.3%. In fragrance, the category in which indie beauty brands hold the least share, that share is 26.2%.

NielsenIQ loosely defines indie beauty brands as brands not owned by conglomerates that are primarily the sole focus on their parent company. Dr. Squatch, Thrive Causemetics, Peach & Lily, Dieux, Dossier, Dime and Milani are brands it considers indie beauty brands.

“There’s a lot of positive momentum for indie brands. If you look at the big conglomerates, they are developing new brands in-house less and less. They are watching to see which indies blow up, and they are acquiring them to bring into their portfolios,” says Anna Mayo, VP of the beauty vertical at NielsenIQ. “Especially with how social media and TikTok is moving right now, if you have the right founder with the right story, you can make a viral moment to get attention.”

With its positive momentum, indie beauty is expected to continue to grab market share from legacy players. However, it’s never been an easy path for indie beauty brands to go up against larger competitors—and today is no exception. Indie beauty brands are contending with elevated customer acquisition and retail costs, economic uncertainty, an early-stage funding squeeze and a myriad of other factors complicating business.

To get a better sense of the health of the segment, for the the latest edition of our ongoing series posing questions relevant to indie beauty, we asked 24 brand founders the following question: What’s your take on the state of indie beauty?

Melodie Reynolds Founder, Eluma Beauty and Elate Cosmetics

In a word: tumultuous. Discretionary spending has fallen off due to rising interest rates and a rise in the cost of living. The necessities have taken the front seat, meaning your coveted indie beauty product may need to wait.

For those of us independently owned companies, this means less sales, while we also deal with increased interest rates and expenses. For many folks, it means minimizing or shuttering their businesses or seeking investment opportunities to shore up cash flow shortages. It’s hard.

We do see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now more than ever it is important to keep indie beauty alive, pushing the industry forward in terms of sustainability, better business practices and removing fear and shame-based marketing tactics.

Treating our customers like citizens and not consumers, meeting people where they are at with products that bring joy that make the world better, that is what keeps indies beauty strong. We have an unwavering commitment to our customers and our world.

Because of this, I know we will survive, and those that don’t, we will continue their legacy with the good work needed to change the world.

Arielle Brown Founder, Bea's Bayou Skincare

Bea's Bayou will be three years old this month, and I'm grateful to have launched at a time when the beauty community was so fired up about counteracting the disparities that exist for indie founders. The increase in targeted funding opportunities and training programs is the reason Bea's Bayou is here.

I still feel that energy and get so excited to learn about new brands launching with amazing solutions! But, with any period of change, there's eventually a period of getting comfortable with the new reality we created, and I feel like that is where we are now.

Indie brands are here and resourceful, but now the test is ensuring our longevity in ever-changing world markets that affect everything we do and the investors we may attract or not.

With all of the geopolitical and financial pressures around us, we are expected to prove our ability to withstand them, and that's the nature of business, but I hope we all don't lose sight of making indie brands lasting brands!

Lisa Mattam Founder, Sahajan

I’m so excited about indie beauty. While the recent indie brand closures have been disheartening, the innovation and excitement in the indie beauty community remains strong.

The reality is that it takes more capital than before to sustain and grow momentum, so it’s important that founders are equipped with that knowledge as they launch. I am particularly excited about the increased emphasis on efficacy and clinicals.

Clean beauty is taking over and that kind of growth is only possible when clean products can sit beside their convention counterparts and not j compete on sustainability and chemical load, but ultimately on efficacy.

Shannon Davenport Founder, Esker

The market is definitely crowded these days, and macro shifts in the economy, go-to-market strategy and digital acquisition have made the landscape more complex. I still think the indie beauty space is thriving, but there are a lot of forces that make doing business today more challenging than a year or two ago.

What is really encouraging to me is how strong and resilient beauty has been compared to other consumer categories, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. This new emphasis on wellness and self-care, which exists in so many forms, is the driving force behind the success of the category, and I think it's a foundational shift that still has room to grow.

I do think that some of the traditional growth strategies are going to have to be reexamined, and indie brands need to be really thoughtful about partnerships, distribution and the best ways to reach their target market, even if it's a bit different than the typical path. Adaptability and really strong product are the name of the game!

Munemi Imai Founder, MŪN

The indie beauty brands landscape has witnessed significant changes over the past decade, driven by the rise of the green beauty movement around 2014, followed by the momentum gained by the clean beauty category in 2017.

This surge in consumer demand for sustainable and eco-friendly products led to increased investment and acquisition activities by venture capital firms (VC) and global corporations in the indie beauty space.

It is important to acknowledge that the indie beauty space has become oversaturated with a rapid increase in the number of new brands. The market has become highly competitive, making it increasingly challenging for indie brands to sustain their business operations.

The oversaturation of the indie beauty space has created difficulties for both established and emerging brands. It became much harder to capture consumer’s attention and stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Also, the pressure to constantly innovate and differentiate oneself adds to the complexity of sustaining a successful indie beauty brand. Indie beauty brands need to find ways to stand out, build strong brand loyalty, and foster sustainability in order to thrive amidst the competitive landscape.

Kari Gran Founder, Kari Gran

When we started most everyone in indie beauty was doing clean beauty. We bonded challenging conventional beauty and were a close community. I still have these connections, but things have definitely changed.

What is the true definition of indie beauty anymore? It seems like new and upcoming brands are backed by larger companies or investment dollars, and I don’t see the traditional beauty giants carrying indie products.

Annie Tevelin Founder, SkinOwl

I think indie beauty is everywhere everyone is watching. It’s saturated and growing every day. While I am loving indie beauty’s ability to reach a niche audience especially on social, I am hoping for a return to relatable storytelling. A compelling brand story that connects the customer to the product and mission.

The celebrity is telling the indie story and influencing much like they did in the early 2000s, which always helps drive big missions and philanthropic efforts, yet lacks relatability. That’s how indie beauty began, and I’m hoping it will circle back.

Joy Ekhator Founder, Lovinah

Indie beauty today is going through a revolution. Brands can no longer just offer the same rose hip oil balm and expect today's savvy consumers to pay $100 for it.

With a saturated and highly competitive market, for indie brands to stand out, combining science with nature, using high-performing ingredients to create innovative must-have problem-solving products combined with user education, leveraging the internet by connecting with consumers online via social media and building a community of loyal customers is very effective way to sell products.

Shrankhla Holocek Founder and CEO, Uma Oils

I think the word has evolved somewhat, and the scale of what was considered "indie" has gotten bigger because it's much tougher to launch a brand in that truly "indie,” organic way as it may have been 10 or so years ago.

The space is cluttered. It often does take money (read as “funding” or most) to survive, and many of the then nascent channels of opportunity are now arbitraged away.

However, I also think that the flip (and positive) side is that customers are much more open to swapping out their traditional high-priced cream with an "indie" brand. So, in many ways your barrier to converting the die-hard (insert big prestige brand name) fan is also much lower.

Emily Yeston Co-Founder and CEO, Doré

It’s a really saturated space, and market dynamics are challenging, so I do think this will be a period of survival of the fittest. I’m excited to see retailers editing down and leaning into brands that have found traction so they can support a tighter curation of brands in a more impactful way. And I think what helps an indie brand find success with either DTC or at retail is having great product and a true raison d’être that’s filling a void in the market.

At the same time, what social media has shown us is the beauty of niche markets, and I think that bodes well for indie brands. It probably doesn’t bode as well for VC-backed indie brands that need to scale fast, but, if you redefine success beyond hyper growth and lean into slower, profitable growth within a specific niche, I think there’s still so much success to be had. That’s the beauty of the indie space—the formula for success isn’t the same for everyone, and I think it’s great that indie beauty celebrates that.

RAEKA MORAR Founder, Raeka

The indie beauty landscape is highly competitive, with new brands entering the market regularly. Building brand awareness, establishing distribution channels and gaining market share can be challenging. Additionally, as the industry continues to evolve, indie brands face the task of maintaining their authenticity and unique positioning while scaling their operations.

Overall, the state of indie beauty today is dynamic and promising. The increasing consumer demand for niche and clean beauty products presents opportunities for indie brands to thrive. However, navigating the market requires strategic branding, effective marketing and a strong understanding of evolving consumer preferences.

Tara Pelletier Co-Founder, Meow Meow Tweet

I think that the market is oversaturated, and it's difficult to get a foothold or to rise above the homogenous beauty industry chatter.

I am excited by the brands that are here because of real passion and excitement. Many of those are struggling to pay the bills. I hope that we can all hold on and make it through these next couple of years until things shift (inevitably) again.

Nancy Wingham Co-Founder, Nuez Acres

Indie beauty finds itself in a battle for survival. Rising costs of raw materials, shipping, advertising and more have put beauty founders in a precarious position as profits dwindle.

For indie brands, which often offer unique, non-mass-produced products, the cost to create can be higher. Staying true to their roots can be a challenge, too, as eco-consciousness and fair-trade practices often come with a higher price tag.

With numerous indie brands and small retailers struggling to stay afloat, this year is all about survival. So, how do we make it through?

Our approach has been to connect directly with consumers, embracing DTC events like farmers’ markets and pop-up events. These cost a fraction of traditional marketing efforts and has allowed us to engage with customers firsthand, gathering valuable feedback and generating instant cash flow. This approach enables us to keep marketing and shipping costs down while steadily growing our brand presence in more retail stores and social media.

The shift in our wholesale strategy has also played a crucial role. Independent retailers are hesitant to make big purchases, prompting us to offer consignment-based agreements in order to secure new shelf space and increase our current retail offerings.

In the era of social media, we're diligently building our online presence by collaborating with micro-influencers who graciously accept product offerings as their only cost.

As a small Indie brand, we know that flexibility is key. We swiftly adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers and navigate the current socioeconomic circumstances to not just survive, but thrive in an uncertain market.

MAY LINDSTROM Founder, May Lindstrom Skin

I love indie beauty, and I've never been more proud that our family business remains independent and 100% customer-funded all these years in. It means something to me to operate without influence from inventors or shareholders.

I know the freedom to define what's important is everything to me as a maker, and as a consumer, a human voice and a story behind the brand is something I look for. I insist on passion, and indie beauty is ripe with changemakers who inspire.

RACHEL WINARD Founder, Soapwalla

Over the last 14 years I've been in the natural skincare world, and it's changed tremendously. What once was just a few of us has exploded into one of the fastest growing segments in the personal care industry.

Large corporations have seen the value of quality natural formulations as well as the purchasing power that our customers wield. In the next couple years, I think we'll see a narrowing of the field, with more mergers as large companies purchase smaller, but mighty brands.

KAPUA BROWNING Founder, Honua Hawaiian Skincare

When I launched Honua as a brand, I had already been formulating for my facial clients for five to 10 years. I only created a "brand" so that I could continue healing and caring for the skin of my customers/families even while away from Hawaii, and my hopes were that this big step would help our local farms to thrive.

At the time of my launch, I had no idea what the indie/clean beauty space was, but I learned quickly as I became a part of the family. It truly felt like an ohana. We all supported each other, and each brand/founder story was so genuine and authentic to the movement.

Today, the sense of family is gone, and the true clean/brands that have not taken big investment are drowning due to the wave of huge-budgeted celebrity or investment-backed "indie brands" that seemed to have just created a brand because the space would make them more money.

NAA-SAKLE AKUETE Founder, Eu'Genia and Mother's Shea

Independent beauty brands are experiencing a super surge in popularity and consumer interest. People are far more curious about the who, what, when, where, why for most brands, and can you blame them? In these post-pandemic times, health and wellness is at the top of everyone's mind.

With their emphasis on unique formulations, innovative products and niche target markets, indie beauty brands offer a refreshing alternative to traditional mass-market options. They often prioritize clean and sustainable practices, which aligns with the growing demand for conscious beauty choices.

From the perspective of Eu'Genia, we offer multitasking, all-natural, eco-friendly skincare options to meet the demands of our eco-conscious consumers. And thanks to the rise of e-commerce, indie brands like ours have become more accessible and visible than ever. All and all, we're finding that this industry is a rapidly evolving one that's rewarding consistent, sustainably minded and values-driven entrepreneurs.

LAURA XIAO Founder, Henné Organics

I'm still very much proud to be in the indie beauty space these days and love the community and amazing brand founders I've had the pleasure of getting to know since Henné's inception.

One thing others have mentioned recently that I will echo is the saturation of celeb-backed beauty brands. It feels like a new one launches every week, which does make it a bit tougher of a playing field for real indie beauty brands like us.

Although these aren't really “indie” brands per se, they still often enter many indie and clean beauty stores immediately upon launch, which inevitably results in less space available for actual indie brands.

FABIAN LLIGUIN Co-Founder and Hairstylist, Rahua

Indie beauty industry is still the best industry to be in. Challenges are high, but solutions are available everywhere.

If any brand in the beauty industry puts aside some profits to resolve any pollution problem, the world will be a cleaner place. Indie brands are independent to do whatever they see the world needs and are able put a solution without being political.

Tribal indies could always opt for a solution to help the whole world such as the environment.

KATHARINE L'HEUREUX Founder, Kahina Giving Beauty

I love how much the indie beauty world has expanded and grown, but am rather discouraged at how prevalent greenwashing still is in the marketplace.

When we started, we believed that, by educating consumers, they would pressure brands into being more transparent. While there are many brands doing it right, there are still more that are inauthentically slapping green and clean labels on their products without backing them up.

MIA FIONA KUT Founder and CEO, Luna Nectar

The state of indie beauty today is still a Wild West, with many white-labeled products that may include harmful synthetics and different definitions of "clean beauty" being thrown around.

I believe, with the upcoming required FDA compliance regulations with cosmetics, there will be more standardization across the board.

CHASE POLAN Founder, Kypris

Indie brands are, in theory, independently owned and purpose-driven, but I think things are getting a bit blurry as the space expands.

Some “indie” brands are actually backed by big private money, and some others are more profit-driven than purpose-driven. I guess I’d say we’re in a stage where the term may not mean as much as it once did. We’ll see where it goes from here!

Mary Lennon Co-Founder, Côte

Having been in the indie beauty space for almost 10 years now, it’s been fun and rewarding to watch how it’s grown, especially in the clean beauty segment.

Customers are really embracing what it means to read labels and be conscious of what they are putting on their bodies. Côte has always believed in the importance of the educational component of indie beauty and to watch this consumer shift has been amazing!

Rachel Reid Founder, Subtl

We're in an exciting time for indie beauty. Consumers are hungry for unique, solution-driven products from brands; no one does that better than Indie.

Conversely, consumers have become incredibly wallet-conscious over the past six months. Each year consumers level up within their beauty products and industry knowledge.

This is actually a tremendous plus for indie beauty brands. Consumers understand more and more how products should be used, are generating new ways to use old products, and are much more conscious not only about the ingredients used inside of their products, but also if they like who is behind those products regarding company values.

Demonstrating your value to today's beauty consumers by showcasing your unique methodology to eliminate their beauty problems for your consumer concisely will give you an edge. Where and how you communicate this value is of exceptional importance.

It's best to reach your consumers where they are as an indie brand. Where are they learning to apply their makeup? YouTube, TikTok, and more. Beauty today is much more in your face and everywhere you go now than it was, say, 10 years ago.

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