When Ashley Prange founded her clean beauty business, Au Naturale Cosmetics, in 2011, the indie beauty boom hadn’t quite reached fever pitch. Prange conceived and created her natural beauty brand with little knowledge about the existing industry players: She was working as a nuclear analyst in Washington D.C. at the time.
“As a founder and CEO starting from nothing, the hardest thing was and is finding the right people to work with, from primary manufactures to marketing to design,” she said.
NPD data showed sales for indie beauty brands increased by 43 percent in the last year, and McKinsey reported in April 2018 that niche color cosmetics challengers account for 10 percent of the market and are growing approximately four times faster than legacy brands. In Kline & Company‘s most recent reporting, the management consulting and market research firm stated: “Beauty indies are the most sought-after brands by cosmetics marketers and retailers. Recording high double- digit to triple-digit growth for the past several years, these privately-owned gems outpace the total market growth.”
Independent beauty players are leading an industry boom, thanks to unique product and ingredient stories, as well as highly engaged digital and social media marketing.
Still, Prange’s experience launching Au Naturale Cosmetics suggested there is still a disconnect between indie beauty brands finding the appropriate vendors and service providers to help scale their businesses — especially alongside market demands.
Indie Beauty Media Group, which runs the Indie Beauty Expo and events company BeautyX, saw an opportunity. Today marks the launch of its latest venture, Uplink — a matchmaking tool for beauty brands looking for services and vendors hoping to act as ground support for the next wave of beauty brands.
The Uplink directory provides solutions across six major functional vertical for new businesses: manufacturing and production; public relations and influencers; strategy, marketing and branding; logistics, distribution and sales; business operations; and technology and technical development.
The marketplace will exist on the homepage of Beauty Independent, which is the digital publishing arm of IBMG launched in August 2017. Beauty Independent has an average of 30,000 unique visitors per month, said publisher Nader Naeymi-Rad.
“We talked to a lot of brands and a lot of people who serve the brands, and what we consistently heard was two different sides of the same story. The brands would complain that it was very hard to find qualified vendors and they were basically Googling to find the right people to work with,” said Naeymi-Rad. “Service providers, like contact manufactures and fulfillment centers, meanwhile, see how fast the indie market is growing and they want to participate in that growth.”
Besides being inefficient from a time perspective for both parties, indie beauty brands, like Au Naturale Cosmetics, were also unable to distill if a vendor could do the needed work in a timely manner and at an appropriate rate, said Prange.
With Uplink, she hopes to steadily solve the aforementioned problems. Beauty Independent has over 16,000 industry leaders in its existing database, with about 60 percent coming from indie beauty brands themselves. Eighty-four percent of these brands have fewer than 10 employees, underscoring the need to outsource these highly specialized functions.
At launch, 600 vendors will be listed. Within Uplink’s first 90 days, 120 of those vendors will become “verified,” meaning they have been screened for performance and quality by IBMG and received a “stamp of approval,” for a one-time added fee of $400 and a $495 annual listing fee. Beauty Independent readers and brands will pay a nominal monthly subscription fee of $8.95 for access to Uplink.
Launch vendor partners include marketing firm Oyl+Water, science-backed skin-care manufacturer Solesence and Texas Beauty Labs, which creates natural and organic personal care products in bulk bases and in reverse and custom formulas. IBMG will be cross-promoting Uplink to both brands and vendors at this afternoon’s entrepreneur summit, BeautyX, in New York.
Naeymi-Rad expects the majority of vendor-specific projects to be short-term, meaning they will be fulfilled within weeks and months, and range in contract costs from a few thousand dollars to $200,000. However, with nearly 10,000 indie beauty brand executives already visiting Beauty Independent, the volume of projects could be “infinite.”
“I don’t know every single option out there to help grow my brand,” said Prange, who besides searching online was relying on friends in the industry for recommendations. “This is something the market and indie beauty needed.”