How I Launched a Cosmetic Brand from Scratch

Hey everyone! This is Remi, the founder and CEO of Freck, the original realistic freckles makeup . I have a blog that’s extremely close to my heart coming at you today. I went to school for interior design and marketing, so I often get the question “how the ‘f’ did you figure out how to launch a freckles makeup brand?” Warning, this post is super long, but I don’t think there’s anything this in depth on the internet, and if this helps even one person get their hustle going, I’ll be happy. I tried to simplify this as much as humanly possible, but there’s a lot of stuff to cover here, bbs 🙂

Real quick pep talk: I would say that 95% of the job is resiliency and knowing that people are going to tell you “no” at every step of the way. A friend once called it “stick-to-it-tiveness” and I love that. Take every “no” as a challenge to figure out a creative solution to get to “yes.” I get high on that. And to anyone reading this, please don’t let my candor scare you away from starting your own line! Start growing some thick skin, because you might need it.


Me in Freck for the first time, August 2015

When Inspiration Strikes: The Original Realistic Freckles Makeup

Life long obsessions: luscious hair, full brows, lashes like woah, Alexa Chung, and above all else, freckles. I’m from Seattle, and even though kids were being teased for having Freckles, I would lust after them every day. Every drawing I made in class had freckles, even the sun and all the plants had freckles. I honestly don’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t obsessed with freckles. I think my honest obsession with creating a realistic freckles makeup brand for myself and my friends kept my spirits high during particularly difficult times. Make sure you really live for beauty so that you can come back to that part of yourself every time you hit a roadblock.


My favorite pin and our first IG post, April 2015

Find Yourself a Melissa

You know when you say “You know what they should make…?” Well, I waited for years and “they” never created a realistic faux freckles makeup, so I started talking to people about the idea. Eventually I was introduced to Melissa, who had years of experience in cosmetics and eventually became my mentor. She was in NY and I was in LA, so I would wake up and get on calls with her at 5 am once a week. Also, I’d send her huge emails about what I had been working on and what my hang-ups were.

I can’t stress this enough. Find yourself a Melissa. A mentor is going to amplify your energy about your project and save you TONS of time, mistakes and money. Because, hey, they know what they’re talking about, and if you’re reading this you probably don’t. I didn’t! My freckles makeup brand would absolutely not exist without Melissa.


Freck on Feral Creature (the first blogger to love Freck as much as I did), November 2015

The Freckles Makeup Invention Process

Develop Your Product Concept

In my opinion you should always be solving a problem or need, otherwise you’re just creating something that already exists in the market. In the instance of Freck, our positioning statement was: “For adventurous beauty lovers who want freckles, Freck is the only realistic freckles makeup on the market. Unlike existing faux freckles makeup methods, Freck’s patented long wear faux freckle formula melts into the skin rather than sitting on top.” At this point I had a couple ideas about how I might create the perfect freckles makeup, (henna, stain, oil based formula like a liquid lip, self tanner, etc), but I needed a lab to help me formulate it. (Article on positioning statements for startups, I’d recommend checking this out.)

Research labs

I’m not sure who’s reading this, but I’m assuming you don’t have $500k to start production. It’s cool. Everyone loves an underdog. Because of this, you’re going to find a lab that does SMALL minimum orders. When I started, I googled “cosmetics labs LA” and called everyone on the list to find who makes 1k unit runs. You might end up having to drive a bit out of the way, but it could be worth it because large production runs will be expensive (sometimes impossible) to start up, and will cause you endless cash flow issues, even after you launch. Also, make sure you ask what kinds of products the lab manufactures before you set an appointment, because a lot of labs specialize in liquids only, powders only, mascara only, etc.

Date Your labs

This part is kind of like finding a therapist. It’s super time consuming, but I would recommend meeting with all the small run vendors you find from your search. You almost need to sell them on yourself and your concept, because they’re taking on a risk, too — hoping that doing small runs for you will lead to bigger runs. I won’t get into the details of why small runs are so annoying for labs, but trust me they are.  So go into your meetings as your best self, excited about your project, and talk to the lab like they are a potential investor.

What to Bring to Your Lab Meetings

You’re going to want to bring a couple of things to your lab meetings to look heckin’ profesional:

 a) formula “benchmarks” (maybe you like the thickness of this moisturizer, and the smell of this moisturizer, and the feel of this moisturizer, bring little containers of all of those to give to the lab)
 b) physical color samples (duh)
 c) your commandments and claims (for example, Freck’s company commandments are that we’re cruelty free, vegan, gluten free, alcohol free, paraben & phthalate free, with a focus on natural ingredients being accelerated by science.)

Feel out your meeting and make sure they are a good fit because you’re going to be spending a LOT of time with them. As far as how labs typically charge for research & development, they’re all a little different.  Some will ask for a profit share once you launch, or R+D costs can range from $500 to $2500 per product, so weigh your options and figure out what model works best for you. You can also choose to start the R+D process with a couple of labs and figure out who sticks to timelines best, who is the most responsive, etc. I chose to pay for Freck’s R+D outright, which is a great way to go if you can swing the cash upfront and especially if you have an invention that is patent-able.

Identify Key Vendors and Manufacturers

Start gathering pricing, MOQs (minimum order quantities) and lead times for all the other parts of the puzzle. This includes things like:
 a) your components (the actual vials/ containers)
 b) unit cartons (the cardboard box that your components are inside of)
 c) screen printer (who’s going to print your vial with your ingredient list, etc. on it?)

Again, make sure you only work with vendors who can give you small initial orders because you can really quickly overextend yourself financially with large packaging orders.

Testing

Once you have your final product done, ask your lab about micro testing, accelerated stability testing, and anything else they recommend for your specific product. You don’t need to start testing in the early phases, but you’re going to need to get these going if you want to sell outside of the US or to major retailers. So just keep that on your radar for when the time comes.

Patents and Trademarks

PROTECT YOUR SHIT. Seriously. You wouldn’t believe the stuff people will do to make a quick buck. Any sort of legal stuff is damn expensive, so here’s what I did: 

a) Do a USPTO search before you even get started with you brand; you want to make sure you’re not copying someone’s hard work. Multiple discover is totally a thing, but we’re in the age of the internet now so there’s no excuse. Do your research.

 b) I filed trademarks directly through the USPTO before we even launched. It costs around $275 per filing. Next, I trademarked Freck’s name, slogan, logo, and logo icon. Only one of them was done correctly and approved by the USPTO, who reached out saying the rest would require a lawyer to take a look, at which point you have one year to get everything in line before your trademarks expire. Phew, a year to get this kinda money together.

 c) Then about six months later we had the money to hire a lawyer to update and fix all the problems I had created by filing myself. That was about $600 per. Yes, it would  have been less expensive overall to get the lawyer from the get-go, but I didn’t have the cash on hand so what you gonna do?

 d) File a provisional patent! This is something you’re going to want to get a lawyer to do, and do it as quickly as humanly possible before your launch if possible. Filing a provisional is usually about $1500-2000, which will buy you a year before you have to file your actual patent (which costs about $6500-7500). Damn this shit gets expensive. One note about filing a provisional: In cosmetics you have 365 days from the first day of sale to file a provisional, so don’t wait too long to get this started.


Los Angeles affirmations, May 2017

The Regulatory Process

Okay, so here’s the thing about cosmetics and skincare. It’s a really hard industry to get started into because the FDA regulates the cosmetic industry. You don’t need to get approved by the FDA to start selling, but you do need to follow strict guidelines about your claims and labeling. These rules are so strict that they will call out what size text your fill weight needs to be at, and which side of the carton your ingredient list can & can’t be on.

Don’t try and figure this out yourself. Find a Cosmetics Regulatory Consultant. Your lab can recommend a good option, but you can also find them yourself online. Again, make sure to get your NDA game on because these people are going to have every detail of your product.

That’s for the US & Canada. For every other country, there are different regulatory rules that you need to comply with, so if you want to sell internationally you also need to go through a regulatory consultant agency that works with the country. Your consultant will be able to advise you best on this.

Sure, you could totally start your company on Etsy and the likelihood of getting caught is extremely low. However, my lab has always stressed to me that there are “bottom feeding lawyers” (their words, not mine) who could completely bankrupt your company in its early stages. Their whole job is to find products that don’t comply with the FDA guidelines. Someone has a “reaction” to the product and you basically have to settle out of court or incur major legal fees (that would probably end up costing you more in the end). I didn’t want to take that gamble and wouldn’t want any of my friends to, but it’s your call.


Freck in Allure Magazine, March 2016

Starting The Actual Freckles Makeup Business

Starting an eCommerce shop is talked about a lot more on the internet, but I wanted to run over a couple things that have been really helpful for me.

Margins

If you’re planning to go wholesale in the future this is super important. You have your cost (what it costs you to make one unit). Wholesale price (what a retailer will buy your product for). Finally, your retail cost (the cost you will sell direct to consumer, the cost your retailers will sell for).

Here’s the formula: You want to have a 2x or 3x markup to your wholesale price. Then they are going to want to have a 2.5x markup to retail price. For example: if it costs you $10 to make your product, your markup would ideally be 3x. The wholesale cost would be $30. Then add the 2.5x markup, which brings your retail cost to $75. If you start selling your $10 product for $30 direct to consumer, you’re going to have a really hard time finding retailers because their margins will be too low.

Lead Times

All the vendors we talked about earlier have different lead times and MOQs. It ends up being a very complicated tetris game to get everything in at the same time. Make yourself a calendar and favor vendors that have short lead times, even if they cost a little bit more.

Fulfillment

We ship everything in house, which I prefer because I know that every order is getting the proper care when it’s being packed and shipped out. My friend @Girrlscout told me about ShipStation and it literally changed my life because it integrates directly to USPS and is a really easy interface to navigate. There is no minimum order to get started with ShipStation, and it saves me so many hours every week. Definitely check them out.

Where to Sell

I run Freck off WordPress, but I’ve heard amazing things about Shopify. If I were to do it again, I’d go with Shopify. You don’t have to spend as much time learning WordPress. Make your life easy in the beginning and go with Shopify.


From the Freck Yourself Kickstarter Archives, Jayme Darling November 2015

Final Thoughts

WOAH! That was a lot of info. One final thing I want to mention is that this is just how I started making freckles makeup. I’m not saying it’s the right or only way to start a line. This is what has worked for me so far. I’ve been developing Freck for about 3.5 years, and we launched a little over a year ago. It takes a lot of time, but it’s the most rewarding experience I’ve had. And, as of 2 months ago, Freck is finally my full time job! I think with some of these tips I could have launched sooner. So, I hope this helps anyone who’s starting their journey.

Thank you so much for reading, I appreciate each and everyone of you. If there is anything I can do to give back to this amazing community, then you know I’m about that! I want to be a resource to young entrepreneurs as much as I can. If you have questions or thoughts, then please hit the comments section below. Let’s keep this conversation going!

xoxo Remi

Cover image credits: Makeup Artist | Photographer | Model


My favorite photo of Freck ever, May 2018
Image credits: Makeup Artist | Photographer | Model

Published on: