Product development in the beauty space is not what it used to be. Brands today are held to higher standards than ever before when it comes to what ingredients they use, what’s in their supply chain and how well they serve diverse skin tones. The same old packaging and formulations don’t fly, either, as social media channels are better suited to products that stand out, making texture, color and special details like glitter more important.
For product developers — the strategists, scientists and designers who work behind the scenes to dream up the latest beauty items — that means there are a lot more factors to consider, and checking off every box is often tough, if not impossible. “Fast beauty,” spearheaded by brands like E.l.f. Cosmetics and Winky Lux, has also changed consumer expectations, forcing development teams to move as quickly as possible.
For our latest confessions, in which we grant anonymity to someone in the industry to speak openly about their profession, we asked a developer who’s worked at a legacy beauty brand for six years to tell us what her job is really like.
What’s the biggest misconception about your job?
That it’s a creative dreamland! Yes, there are definitely fun, creative aspects to it, but it can really be a slog sometimes. We are in and out of meetings with so many other teams, like finance or marketing, and we really don’t have the final say in terms of what can get made. A lot of the ideas we love most end up being too expensive or laborious. We also travel a lot, which people idealize, but most of it is just to our factories where we tend to spend 12-hour days (sometimes weeks at a time) perfecting a formulation or product shade.
So is budget your biggest challenge?
That’s a big one, but I think the challenge we bump into the most lately as a team is convincing some of our older, traditionally minded colleagues of our ideas. They don’t always understand the need to update an old products’ packaging to perform better on social media, or why adding ingredients like coconut oil or Vitamin C might add buzz to a certain line. Our company has made this big to-do in the press about repositioning itself as forward-thinking, but that’s still not always the case behind the scenes.
How has the new emphasis on speed-to-market impacted your job?
I have a love-hate relationship with the whole concept. I like it in theory, but I also would rather have our shoppers buying certain products over and over again, rather than only liking us for the sense of newness we provide. I’m just not sure that churning out more, more, more is the best way to build a lasting brand. In terms of my own job, we’re definitely moving faster, but there are still a lot of hoops to jump through as a legacy brand, and I don’t feel like immediate results are our biggest concern.
Is social media appeal a key part of the development process?
It’s obviously become more important, and we definitely use it as a source for inspiration — looking at what’s trending and what consumers are loving right now. But we try to suss out what trends are fleeting and which ones are actually worth pursuing. With our history, we’re just never going to be the Zara of makeup, and we’re definitely not going to put out a product just because it could go viral. I think it’s impacted our packaging changes more than anything else. Glossier’s minimalism has rubbed off on us all.
How has the brand’s focus on diversity changed, if at all?
Fenty Beauty lit a fire under us, and I know so many other developers who feel the same way. There was definitely an increased focus on having diverse product options before then, but a lot more excuses from upper management about why that wasn’t possible, too. It’s always been something I’ve personally fought for, but, like I said, those decisions don’t fall on me. Fenty’s success gave us proof-of-concept that our executives just couldn’t argue with. We still have a ways to go as a brand, but our brand will be far more inclusive by the end of the year. [That inclusivity] has become a central point of discussion, and really a non-negotiable, instead of something that always gets pushed to the side.