Years in beauty industry: 10
I have had the pleasure of knowing Susan Chyi for years and it's a joy to while away hours with her over cups of green tea to discuss the beauty industry – I always leave feeling completely inspired and armed with new information. Susan talks to Your Beauty Industry about creating a beauty brand on a budget, changes in the beauty industry and opportunities created by international markets.
Tell me a bit about your career background.
I started out distributing niche cosmetics brands like Watosa from Japan & Dollface Beauty Cocktails from the States. It was a way for me to get into the business and learn from the ground up, without huge startup costs normally associated with product-based industries.
How did you build a beauty brand from your bedroom into the success it is today?
With a lot of creative thinking and careful budgeting. I sourced packaging from factories with overrun stocks which they could give me in the hundreds instead of the thousands, I had my sister do the design and I took stock formulations from private label manufacturers. I also had to learn how to create a press kit and cold-call beauty editors in order to get the word out there. Blogging and social media were literally non-existent then.
When I got my first order from a retailer in Covent Garden, it was for 5,000 units. It was then that I approached a friend to invest in the business so that I could mass-manufacture all the products, which gave me a larger profit margin. Things just naturally took off from there.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to create their own beauty range?
Ensure you have enough capital set aside, as well as an emergency fund, as cosmetics is a very product-intensive business (i.e. capital-heavy). Due to all the competition that’s out there today, it has become an extremely volatile business; retailers are demanding shorter sell-through timelines, and you therefore need to have your emergency fund to see you through tougher times.
"Ensure you have enough capital set aside, as well as an emergency fund, as cosmetics is a very product-intensive business - i.e. capital-heavy"
Jelly Pong Pong has recently expanded internationally – tell me more about that.
Jelly Pong Pong is now in Sephora Asia, which gives us an opportunity to grow and learn about beauty preferences here. Although I am Malaysian, Jelly Pong Pong has never been sold in this region before, and our products and colours reflect that. Being here, speaking to retailers and end consumers enables me to build a stronger brand that reaches a wider audience.
What opportunities do you think international beauty markets represent?
The ability to grow and to extend the reach of your brand beyond your comfort zone. You now have the opportunity to learn how to appeal to a completely different set of consumers, along with their unique buying patterns.
"International beauty markets allow brands to grow and to extend the reach of their brand beyond their comfort zone"
|Jelly Pong Pong cosmetics |
are fun, quirky and unique
Believe it or not, it used to be quite difficult starting a beauty brand. Nowadays, there are new companies popping up every other day, and I’m reading about new brands constantly - some which I genuinely applaud for making a difference, and some which I feel are there because they’ve heard about the generous margins that can be made.
I was never in the business to build 1,000 SKUs, and this holds true to today. In the face of competition, I try to work harder, do more intensive research into new approaches to ingredients and packaging innovations, I foster stronger relationships with my suppliers and customers, and I surround myself with passionate people in the business.
What inspires you when you are creating your quirky products?
Anything from desserts, design blogs (Creature Comforts is particularly inspiring), great stationery and adverts (loving the new Kate Spade ad campaign).
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt in business?
Always keep a close eye on cashflow and set aside strict budgets for each division of your business.
Who inspires you in your career?
Maureen Kelly at Tarte cosmetics for knowing how to build an awesome brand.