COSSMA: Indie brands rise to the challenge

COSSMA: Indie brands rise to the challenge

Creating a cosmetics brand is the dream of many entrepreneurs, but bringing this dream into reality is another matter entirely, proving to be the downfall of many an indie brand. However, the desire to bring something new and different to the market continues to inspire would-be brand owners and hardly a day goes by without another new launch searching for that elusive USP.

Sam Farmer, founder of eponymous unisex personal care brand for young adults, sees the rise of indie brands as revolutionary, invigorating what he sees as a rather tired traditional cosmetics industry. However, he has noted that many newcomers use a strategy based on fear and misinformation as a way of cutting through the endless product launches. “Indie brands have created a problem which is becoming increasingly destructive to the industry,” he maintains. “This is perfectly summed up in the recent growth of ‘clean beauty’, a fantastically asinine marketing term used to describe complex chemical formulations. If one brand is ‘clean’, it infers there are ‘dirty’ brands.” His approach is to communicate honestly and directly with customers by placing his mobile number on the webpage and on the back of every product. It’s a bold approach and certainly helps the Sam Farmer brand to stand out.

Skin issues that cannot be addressed by existing products are often the driver for new brands. Although the cosmetics market is awash with products for sensitive and allergy-prone skin, Kate Harper found it hard to know what would really work. She tried everything from celebrity brand face wipes and essential oil-infused balms labeled “suitable for sensitive skin” to French pharmacy brands, but nothing met her needs. “With as many as 41% of people in Europe describing their skin as sensitive, it seemed there was a need for more choice,” maintains Harper. And to make that happen, she went in search of scientists to work with who really understand the causes of skin reactions. “The aim is to create products that address the needs of those with reaction-prone skin, yet still have that feel-good factor, both in terms of sensorial qualities and brand ethics.” This led to the launch of the first product in The Harborist range in 2017, a balm-gel cleanser, which won recognition at the Free From skincare awards in 2018. Two new products have been developed and the plan is to launch with UK retailers over the next few months. Harper is also seeking Cosmos certification for all formulations, a partnership with an environmental charity and new collaborations with UK labs to expand the range and substantiate “sensitive skin” claims.

Gemma Colao recently entered the burgeoning CBD market with OTO, a range of CBD roll-ons designed to reduce anxiety, sleepnessness and pain. This autumn, Colao expanded the OTO range into facial and body skincare with CBD-based products. “We wanted to create a premium alternative to other CBD products in the market that mostly lacked efficacy and enjoyment,” states Colao. “During our competitor analysis, we found that that a lot of brands are falling short when it comes to the dosage of pure CBD oil in their products. Unfortunately, that means that consumers are confused by the dosage requirements of CBD in their products … and often are not clear on whether they are made with CBD or hemp oil.” Colao recognises that launching into the CBD market is the start of a long journey, but will ensure her place by testing every product with extensive consumer trials to gather more feedback and testimonials on the benefits which they publish. “This is critical to building trust and reassurance with CBD users.”

Luxury beauty brand Malée was launched in 2010 by South African entrepreneur Zeze Oriakhi-Sao, who drew on generations of African healing rituals and time-honoured beauty traditions for her formulations. In 2020, she will launch an 11 SKU range of high performance, plant based facial skincare, backed up by consumer tests and trials. “The market is always growing and evolving and I believe there is room for brands that solve specific needs for their audience,” states Oriakhi-Sao. “We have grown as a result of word of mouth which, in my opinion, is the best form of marketing.” She has learnt that the time taken to build a brand should not be underestimated and advises: “Don’t invest excessively in inventory if you do not have pre-orders or clear commitment from customers. The money spent in holding excess inventory will reduce your ability to be nimble and market effectively. Focus on having ten repeat customers, then 100 and then 1,000. You will be surprised how many repeat customers it takes to succeed.”

The road to success for indie brands can be long and challenging: those succeed do so through a mixture of passion, hard work and belief.


The indie panel discussion, featuring beauty brand owners, will be moderated by Angelika Meiss at next year’s in-cosmetics Global Marketing Trends presentations in Barcelona, from March 31-April 2, 2020.

The Marketing Trends theatre is the most popular educational feature at the event. Priority Passes are available visitors to book and get a guaranteed seat in the sessions. To register and book a pass, visit


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