Coming To America: International Brands Talk About Breaking Into The U.S. Market

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 11 founders and executives of international brands: How difficult is it to break into the American market, and what’s your strategy?

Jonathan Keren Founder and CEO, Maapilim

Being an international brand, specifically from the Mediterranean, is what makes us special. We're targeting a market of American men who are looking for something a little bit different and unique in their grooming routine. They're not sold on these hyper-masculine brands, and want something more elegant and nuanced.

I believe our story captures that interest and builds upon it with the fact that all of our products are created with essential oils sourced from the Mediterranean coast. For us, an oil from Israel or Morocco or Italy is fairly local, but, for an American man, it's a point of interest, maybe even a point of pride.

We currently focus on PR, online marketing, and are planning on coming to IBE LA to kick off our wholesale efforts. We've been really lucky so far. American press has taken interest, either from the slow, intentional living angle, the Mediterranean angle or both. They really do go hand in hand.

Leila Aalam Founder, Beuti Skincare

I have found it easier to break into the American market than anywhere else, especially the U.K. I think this is partly due to the fact that Americans love Kate Middleton, who is a fan of our line, and also the U.S. market seems to be more drawn to innovative products and takes more risks with new brands.

Some markets are stuck on the safe big brand route, and I think America looks past that, as do consumers, and they want a more varied range of products. Beuti is based in the U.K. and has taken a much more strategic approach than most beauty brands in the U.S. market, launching in late 2015 with only one product, Beauty Sleep Elixir, which has become a bestseller at  Credo Beauty. In 2017, the brand introduced their second sku, Pomegranate Glow Enzyme Cleanser, proving that a slow roll-out can generate just as much buzz as launching a new product each quarter or year.

Kim Devin and Zoe Kelly Founders, Dr Roebuck's

As a brand founded in Australia now trying take on the U.S. — 25 million people versus 400 — we’ve learned several things along the way.  Although you must have a strong sense of who you are as a brand to maintain authenticity, you must also live and breathe the country you want to expand and grow in.

You need to connect with the market directly and on the ground. You must employ local experts who have worked there successfully and understand its unique dynamics. Allow for consistent feedback and adapt messaging to suit. Be humble and take advice from everyone you can.  For example, a lot what connects and makes sense in Australia doesn’t resonate in the U.S. This approach takes longer, but will ensure longevity.

Nick Saknitis Co-Founder, For Two

We started with door-to-door sales in United States. With this strategy, we wanted to introduce customers to our new product line and get the most feedback we could. Results were pretty good. We gained very positive feedback and our first-time customers became our regulars.

We found that the most challenging thing was educating the market and introducing them to freshwater mud because this type of mud is unique to our climate in Latvia. For us, it's really important for people to understand how valuable this ingredient is and educate them on the many ways it can be beneficial for one's skin and health.

Due to the fact that we identify ourselves as an indie brand, we found it crucial to take part in the Indie Beauty Expo. After the show we, had increased our brand awareness and managed to get mentions in reputable press. Thanks to our successful participation at the expo, we are currently in process of negotiation with distributors and some high-end retailers and skincare studios.

Mirella Crovetto Founder, AYPA

Although Aypa was born to be international - conceived in Peru, made in Europe and marketed globally — we decided to officially launch our natural skincare retail collection in the U.S. Why? The natural beauty industry has changed, and it’s not just enough to be natural. We were looking for a market that goes beyond natural and brings more value to the story behind the brand and to formulations with rare ingredients. And that happens in America.  

Through research we found that Indie Beauty Expo was the most targeted quality show to participate in and make a first approach to the U.S. It has given us the right visibility and support to start making contact with buyers and press.  

Nowadays, if you don’t have a local presence in the country, you definitely need to have a strong presence on social media. Otherwise, it makes it more difficult for the major buyers to bet on your brand, even if they love your concept, as they will not be sure that they will get the appropriate demand of their customers. So, it’s all about building your brand reputation and reaching out to your targeted audience.

Megan Douglas Founder, The Organic Skin Co.

We have treated our imminent entry into the American market — The Organic Skin Co. launches at IBE LA — with a healthy dose of respect and patience. As a tightly-run, family owned business, our emphasis over the last few years has been on building quality turnover in our local New Zealand market as well as fine-tuning the brand and logistics behind it in preparation for our entry into larger markets.

Logistics like ingredient sourcing, the organic and vegan certification process, manufacturing, and brand development take time to perfect, especially when you have a makeup and beauty range as extensive as ours. Our strategy for buyers and press is simple. We are dealing with professionals who know when a brand is polished, on trend, genuine in its sustainable credentials, and also able to deliver sales.

Hopefully, they will be persuaded by our products, our design ethic, and the personality we have attempted to infuse into the brand. If that’s the case, then we can continue to focus on what we do best, namely making organic beauty products for that ever-growing band of women and men who want makeup that is sustainably made, certified clean, high quality, and full of bangin’ colors.

Adriana Ruano Founder, Vervan Cosmetics

For us it has been very difficult, mainly because of the FDA certification since it is the main requirement to be able to import the product into the U.S. Without it, we run the risk that our shipment will be rejected at customs, causing undesired expenses.

Throughout a year-and-a-half, we have consulted with several firms to help us with the certification, but there are still great differences in terms of service quotes ranging from $30 to $2,000 for the review of each label. A few months ago, we found a logistics company here in Mexico that is helping us with this issue. As we are the producers of all our products, that also means that we have to get the FDA certification of our factory and that means investment, paperwork, time, etc.

We have several marketing strategies. Exhibitions: We intend to participate in two or three exhibitions focused mainly towards distributors and the press. Earned media and PR: We will send press kits to different media and influencers and, with this, we seek greater media coverage. Direct selling: We are currently venturing into direct sales here in Mexico, and we are considering using the same marketing strategy for the United States.

Finally, word of mouth: Currently our growth in Mexico has been mainly by word of mouth, but this strategy can be very slow without the support of the media. We are very excited to participate in IBE Dallas and officially begin our foray into the U.S. market.

Kamela Hurley Founder, Madison and White

I’m a born and raised Southern California girl that married a Canadian and moved north of the border. When the idea for my business came to me, I was focused on busy women like myself that needed simple multitasking beauty tools to improve their beauty game. Since we spend one-third of our lives in bed, I researched and designed pillowcases that work like beauty tools to improve hair and skin as we sleep.

I had to learn to jump hoops on doing business in Canada and the States. Thanks to social media, trade shows, and buyers at boutiques and/or online beauty retailers, our entry to market is taking off faster in the American market than in Canada. In fact, 90% of our business is in the States.

Our success in breaking out in the American market is also because we are selling products that simply do not exist anywhere else in the global beauty market like our Clean Skin Kit. Currently, our approach is more retail-focused because it’s these amazing boutiques in Newport Beach, Calif., to Little Rock, Ark., that get the word out to woman that beauty sleep should be part of every beauty routine.

Deb Pereira Owner and Founder, Neon & Co. and TLW Products

The American market has taken so well to our products and, while part of it can be attributed to the curiosity surrounding Australian brands that’s trending at the moment, I really do think the other reason is that we’ve really leveraged the lifestyle aspect of our brand. People are starting to see through companies that are just trying to make money out of whatever is trending and, then, change their values again as soon as the trend changes.

We’re all about slow fashion. It’s about fitting into our customers’ lifestyle in the long term. Meaning our values surrounding wellbeing and good ingredients are set in stone and won’t be influenced by all the fast movement in the beauty industry. Of course, we do adapt to what customers want and the growth of our line reflects that, but I think in this day and age Americans are just looking for genuine, authentic brands that say what they mean, and that’s what we are.

Sophie Allouche Founder, KOS Paris

We are actually in the midst of launching, so this question is very apropos. We have a unique place in the market as a natural luxury beauty brand. The U.S. market is different from the European market and, because we are not as familiar with the U.S. market, it was important to customize each aspect of our brand for the U.S. market specifically.

The first thing we did when we were looking into expanding into the States was hire a global consultant to research distributors and find our perfect partner in North America. I was looking for a partner with the same passion for natural skincare and body care as well as a strong network within the retail and spa industry. We believe that, in order to launch successfully in any market, you need the right partners with the same heart and passion for the brand and services.

Second, creating brand awareness within the media and among key beauty influencers within the U.S. market for us is all about working with the right PR and sales team. We chose to work with d2 publicity, a boutique agency with offices in New York and L.A., two of the biggest markets in the U.S., and the hubs of national media and celebrity influencers.

Another key piece of our strategy was to create an e-commerce site for the U.S. specifically, which we recently launched at A good site is so important as it allows us to control the image of the brand as well as a constant place of distribution where we can test product popularity and collect analytics on our customer base.  

Regarding social media, which has become significant in the beauty world, we have decided to focus on Instagram and Facebook in the U.S. as these are the strongest platforms for beauty right now. Instagram and Facebook have different audiences, and we want to market to both of them.

Lastly, working with the right spa and retail partners to deliver an amazing guest experience is something that we spend a great deal of time working on. We are excited to be launching several unique body experiences at the beginning of the year with the Peninsula Hotel and Spa in Los Angeles. We look forward to growing our brand in this very important market.

Mariano Spiezia Founder and Formulator, Inlight Beauty  

After great success in Europe for several years, Inlight Beauty made it to the U.S. market via distributor Hug Your Skin and Lucy Husarkova. She had been successfully working with our line in Europe before moving to the States. Hence, it was a great opportunity to be introduced to the U.S. market. However, I quickly discovered that organic skincare is a very challenging niche in the States.

First, there is a lot of competition and consumers have endless choices. But, perhaps more than that, people do not distinguish so much between 100% organic skincare and, for example, 10% natural skincare that is still loaded with water that dilutes powerful concentration and chemicals to make the product cheap.

Instead, they are easily sold on what celebrities endorse and do not investigate the share of actual organic or natural ingredients. So, despite having a top-quality product, certified organic, cruelty-free with nothing synthetic at all and completely handmade in small batches, it is very difficult to win over customers without this type of backing.

A celebrity could tell them that X product is fabulous and the public is quick to trust without realizing the business behind most celebrity endorsements. Even though I have a scientific background with 40 years of medical practice experience and know exactly what I am doing, I'm not a movie star yet.

This lack of education on ingredients and their provenance so far has proven to be one of the most challenging aspects of breaking into the U.S. market. That being said, I know that the organic demand is increasing and so is the awareness of using dangerous chemicals on the skin, so I am hopeful. Perhaps soon a celebrity will fall in love with my skincare and take a pay cut to promote cleaner, ethical products. This has happened already in Italy, the U.K. and Czech Republic. So, it’s not a dream, but just a matter of time.

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