Interested in learning how to make a cosmetics line? Or are you curious how it’s done? Read this article from our founder, Sarah Biggers, on the steps she took to build the vegan, clean, and cruelty-free cosmetics line, CLOVE + HALLOW!
From the time that I decided I was going to make a cosmetics line, there was a period of at least four months when I had absolutely zero clue where to start. During this time, I typed vague searches like “how to make a cosmetics line” and “how to create makeup” into Google and called everyone I knew in manufacturing to get the scoop on terms I may need to know.
It was obvious that I needed to pick up the phone and start calling potential partners. Most of them shut me down after 30 seconds of explaining my business; a few outright laughed at me and said I had a lot of chutzpah before hanging up. In-between all of the rejections, a few of them gave me a moment of their time for direction and guidance. I am convinced they were angels in disguise.
If you know me in real life, you know I always say that after I got the ball rolling with those phone calls, I really don’t know how things went from point A to B. It just kind of happened. Having only launched on March 27th, 2017, I fully understand how overwhelming everything is, so I am going to break this down as best as I can with insight into the steps I took to make a cosmetics line.
Side note: beyond the following overview on how to make a cosmetics line, please understand that, just like any other business, getting off the ground is an intense process. I made some big mistakes and had bigger doubts. You will too. I wasted time and money. You will too. I sobbed, laughed, panicked, and celebrated too many times to count along the way – sometimes all within the same day. You will too. There were – and still are – many late nights. You will have them too. There is no way to escape the rollercoaster. Buckle up, take a deep breath, and enjoy the hell out of this ride!
Before you make any big decisions in terms of manufacturing, partners, and packaging, you need a crystal clear vision of what products you want to produce, your branding, and your target market. These details will influence every decision you make moving forward; if you forget this step or overlook its importance, you will sink a lot of money into a line that lacks cohesion and people to sell it to. Lastly, you need to determine your goal.
- Do you want a small cosmetics line that you run almost like a hobby?
- Do you want to run a small business, online or with small retail partners?
- Or, do you want to run a large cosmetics line that works with major retail partners?
For CLOVE + HALLOW, this step occurred organically – pun intended. I knew that I wanted to get a modern, pigmented, and affordable clean cosmetics line into the hands of as many women as possible. I also had a strong idea of who my ideal customer was. A vision board that I’d worked on for months helped me convey the physicality and aesthetic I was looking for, and a detailed presentation covering data points and market trends that I pulled from my own research helped me make early decisions easily. Later, I utilized a market research firm to validate my concept; If you’re going to make a cosmetics line by cannonballing into the deep end like I did with an enormous (and expensive) launch, I highly recommend this step.
There are many different ways to get a product line out the door, but I’ve broken down the three main approaches below. There are pros and cons of each, but I find that the best way to order them is from the least control and customization to the most:
Private Label. This strategy involves finding a company that produces its own formulas of cosmetics that you purchase from them at extremely discounted prices and apply your own branding. Private labeling is really useful for small businesses such as studios/spas/salons as it is quick and low cost, but is also surprisingly common amongst big name brands. If the idea for your product and packaging is standard, finding a private labeler who fits your needs isn’t difficult. Sometimes these companies will even allow you to sort through their catalog and tweak products as needed in order to create a semi-custom experience. The main pitfalls to this approach are as follows: you lack flexibility and creative control, and in today’s internet-enthused world, most people can spot a private labeled product simply by googling the ingredient list.
Contract Manufacturing. Most major cosmetic lines use this approach, in which you partner with a company that has its own manufacturing facility as well as R&D lab to create custom products from scratch. This option is fantastic for brands that want full control or have a unique vision for their packaging/branding. The downsides to this approach are time (projects can take 6 months to 2 years to make their way through R&D), logistics management (once a product is approved, it still takes a long time to get through production, so you have to ensure you have an optimized flow of inventory, orders, and production happening simultaneously), and cost (the cost per item is usually quite cheap, but most manufacturers require a minimum of 2500-5000 units per shade per product, so it adds up fast.)
In-House Manufacturing. This option has really taken market share in the last couple years; if you’ve come across brands that call themselves “hand poured” or “small batch”, they likely use this method. It is exactly as it sounds: they do R&D, ingredient sourcing, production, filling, packing, and labeling in-house. This option is awesome for smaller businesses that want total control, flexibility, and customization of their products without having to rely on a partner. (It also has a lot of marketing power – consumers love this concept!) However, this approach is not without its drawbacks: operations like this can be hard to scale if the line gains real momentum, quality control/batch consistency can be tough to nail down without a full-scale lab, and costs per item can be high since raw materials are purchased in much smaller quantities. It also requires a lot of logistics management.
As you can see, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re stuck at this point, go back to step one and think about what your consumer would be attracted to. There is a reason I said you need crystal clear vision before continuing!
Now to the fun part! This step will vary depending on which manufacturing method you go with, but regardless, this is the time when you get to play with products, packaging ideas, etc. Since CLOVE + HALLOW uses a contract manufacturer for totally custom products, I always go into this process with a brief that summarizes everything I’m looking for from a product – qualities, price point, ingredients, etc. Simultaneously, I am working with a packaging vendor and design agency to come up with the physical housing of each product. Samples are sent to our office for testing, then tweaked for perfection, and re-sent for edits. To make a cosmetics line is an iterative process that can take a long time if you’re doing contract or in-house manufacturing (I’ve been known to make 40+ tweaks on one shade of one product) but it is worth every minute to finally get the perfect product that you were envisioning.
Before continuing on into the fun world of marketing your cosmetics line, one last point needs to be considered. Where will you store finished products, and how will you get them to customers? Again, this is dependent on your manufacturing strategy. For CLOVE + HALLOW, we order bulk amounts of products at a time in order to hit manufacturer MOQs, so we have a large warehouse facility. In the beginning, I did all of the packing and shipping myself. Now, I have a team who help hand-pick and ship orders to our customers and retail partners. You will want to think about this well in advance of launch to ensure a smooth workflow.
Having trouble finding warehouse space or wrapping your head around the logistics of managing fulfillment? Consider using a 3PL (Third Party Logistics company) that specializes in dynamic storage and order fulfillment; there are plenty that work with small businesses/startups and can tolerate infrequent orders and exponential growth. (Honestly, between new product launches, reorders, and seasonality – space and hands-on-deck needed can fluctuate pretty wildly, so a 3PL has a lot of perks if you’re willing to relinquish some control!)
I know this is getting repetitive but go back to step one. Refresh your memory on who you wanted to make a cosmetics line for and why. Do a deep dive into who they are, what they like, where they live and shop, their struggles and pain points, etc. Now go find them – directly, or via retail partners they shop with – and show them why they need your products.
Overwhelmed by where to start? Here are a few standard marketing/sales avenues to consider for your business:
- Social Media – Instagram, Facebook, etc.
- Paid Ads – Google search, Facebook and Instagram, AdRoll, etc.
- Public Relations – agencies, freelancers, etc.
- Email – MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.
- Influencer – Affiliate and Ambassador programs, paid partnerships, etc.
- Tradeshows – Indie Beauty Expo, The Makeup Show, etc.
Whew! From a very high level, that’s really all there is to it – but of course, in reality, to make a cosmetics line is quite complicated. It’s challenging to explain in greater detail because it’s an ongoing learning process that different brands take at different paces to different places.
My goal was to write a high-level post that I would have found helpful when starting out, so hopefully, you found it helpful too.
Best of luck, friends!
Sarah Founder + CEO of CLOVE + HALLOW