In the digital age, independent beauty brands are able to leverage their resources in ways that they were never able to before. Social media and e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Instagram have given young entrepreneurs the chance to create their own lines of products, and be successful in doing so, while easy online access to manufacturers and private label companies overseas have given entrepreneurs ways to scale their brands in new ways. E-commerce is more accessible than ever with dozens of brands popping up on a regular basis that are able to use social media to their advantage to market products for little cost. In fact, the indie beauty market has become so big that an entire expo is dedicated to it.

How do indie brands stack up to major competitors?

While major beauty companies like Kendo have retailers like Sephora in their back pocket to sell their goods to, independent beauty brands often have to work much harder to be welcomed into a brick and mortar retailer. That being said, independent beauty brands are not without their own ways of leveraging the consumer industry because they have one thing on their side: personalization.

Where major competitors can mass produce and market products in little time, smaller, independent beauty brands are able to appeal toward niche markets by delivering the needs of a hyper-specific community. Brands focused on “clean beauty,” vegan, cruelty-free, or even women-owned are just a few of the common marketing niches you’ll see in the independent beauty industry.

It would be easy to say that the beauty industry, even without independent brands, is oversaturated—but the truth is that the constant influx of new, independent beauty brands has created a level of accountability in the beauty industry. The independent beauty industry is pushing mainstream giants to focus on diversity, sustainability, and public image in new ways.

Take Fenty Beauty, for example. The cosmetics line founded by Rihanna launched in 2017 under beauty giant Kendo, which is owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). Rihanna white labels the line through the company, which allows her creative control and use of its manufacturing facilities in exchange for some of the profits. Celebrity or celebrity-endorsed lines of beauty products are nothing new—Kylie Jenner, for example, launched her own company in 2015 which was, at the time, part of a white-label deal with Colourpop before she migrated to her own manufacturing facility in the Los Angeles area.

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When Rihanna launched her initial line of products, the brand was praised for its inclusivity across a wide range of skin tones. Where most beauty brands would have offered a handful of products that cater to a diverse group of consumers, Fenty Beauty launched its line with dozens of skin tone options. The move sent a very clear message across the beauty industry as a whole: that it must do better.

Though Fenty Beauty is not an independent brand, its launch represented for the first time a major beauty manufacturer catered to a diverse audience upon its launch, where most brands would start with only several shades and gradually add more later on—which is something that consumers were previously forced to look for in independent brands only. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty has since become a favorite among beauty consumers around the world, which the singer-turned-entrepreneur can likely attribute to simply paying attention to what consumers want: more inclusive options.

Independent beauty brands are personalizing their image to appeal to a niche market—and finding success in doing so

Diversity, though appealing to beauty consumers in 2020, is only one aspect of the ways that personalization in the independent beauty market has helped launch independent brands into the mainstream. Retailers such as Ulta, which often feature rising stars in the direct to consumer independent beauty market, currently have a wide range of indie beauty brands like Juvia’s Place, Beauty Bakerie, Morphe, and even popular skin care brands like Mario Badescu.

What many of these brands have in common—like Juvia’s Place and Beauty Bakerie, for example—is that their ownership is often part of their marketing. Both brands aim to uplift women entrepreneurs and use their marketing to do so. This sends a message to consumers that by purchasing their products, they are not only supporting women in business, but they’re paving the way for other, younger entrepreneurs to believe that they can do so too.

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Other independent beauty brands focus on the use of “clean” products and ingredients. For example, products are made without fragrance or entire lines are created based on the ethos of natural, clean skin care. This gives consumers the chance to feel as if they have the option to take control of their spending habits by only purchasing products that align with their values. Brands like Package Free, a retailer based in New York, offer a wide variety of indie beauty products that align with their mission to reduce the amount of waste in the world.

Brands like Lemonhead Los Angeles aim to uplift the professional makeup industry by employing makeup artists to assist in production. Much like Morphe, one of the world’s largest independent brands, Lemonhead’s ethos as a company is to provide additional income to professional makeup artists. Consumers are told that by buying their products, they’re not only purchasing products created by makeup artists, but they’re directly contributing to their income as well.

Morphe, on the other hand, seeks out key players in the public-facing side of the beauty industry to spearhead its products and market them. The company got its start selling affordable beauty tools to makeup artists, but quickly became popular when it partnered with notable figures on social media like James Charles, Jeffree Star, and Jaclyn Hill.

Indie beauty brands have found success on the internet—and in white labeling

White labeling, like we said before, is a way for brands to launch without having to invest massive startup costs into research and development, packaging, or formulation. In the beauty industry, specifically, white labeling allows companies to contact a manufacturer that will let them add their label to an existing product—or create a product from scratch using their existing manufacturing infrastructure.

The method enables budding startups to create products easily, allowing them to focus on marketing their products. Without a white labeling facility, brands would have to pay chemists to research and develop their formulas, buy the raw ingredients, buy warehouse space for production, staff a manufacturing team, source the packaging, as well as focus on the consumer-facing aspects of the brand. White labeling allows brands to cut corners by having most of the grunt work done for them. For things like lipsticks and eyeshadows that require a longer production process, white labeling often means the difference between being able to create your own brand, and only dreaming of it.

Many white labeling brands come out of China, but just like how the beauty industry is saturated with companies that cater to different consumer needs, so are white labeling companies. There are tons around the world that range from vegan and cruelty-free focused, to sustainably-sourced, and even locally made in countries like the United States and throughout Europe.

All of that being said, independent beauty brands are both necessary to keep pushing the boundaries of what is expected from major conglomerates, and for creating space for new entrepreneurs to find success. Technology has allowed the beauty industry to advance in new ways, but few innovations have been more important than the access to consumers that the web has given to budding beauty brands.