Niche Beauty Insights: Interview with Kate Shapland, Award-Winning Journalist and Founder of Legology
The move from curator of beauty brand news at The Telegraph to launching her own company has opened Kate Shapland’s eyes to the opportunities and challenges facing niche start-up brands.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Kate to the blog and share our conversation on the role of a beauty editor, brand curation and what’s changing for niche beauty brands.
When Kate first wrote “Beauty Notebook” for The Telegraph 14 years ago, there was nothing else like it. Kate’s blend of reviews of big and niche brands was unique, as was her desire to feature not just the latest product, but the story behind each one.
The column eventually changed its name to The Wellbeing Beauty Column to reflect emerging trends. As digital developed, Kate had the opportunity to evolve it further.
“The way editorial print and digital content has exploded is wonderful,’ she says.
Kate saw her role as a curator, giving great small brands a voice in a crowded market, while helping readers to navigate the growing numbers of beauty brands out there. It was all about balancing what’s good amongst mainstream and niche/sub niche brands.
“I was so lucky with that column and I found something fascinating in these microscopic brands that had such soul, even if the packaging wasn’t up to much,” Kate remembers.
“Niche has been evolving for so long but what interested me was the sub-niche market. Back then, there were only a handful of companies compared to now. It was a very different environment and there wasn’t much opportunity.”
Over the years, Kate has witnessed how much easier it has become for brands to launch. “You can launch a brand from your kitchen or salon with three SKUs on Instagram or Facebook now. There aren’t the restricted parameters any more.”
But there’s a catch. Many brands disappear after three or four years because they fail to take that final step: investment in the products and proactive marketing.
And there’s a further problem for the enthusiastic start-up. “Manufacturers aren’t geared up to the small fledgling brands. They have to buy ingredients in bulk so are looking for brands of 500 skus. It’s challenging,” she warns.
“There needs to be proper mentoring to help these small brands. After all, they are the lifeblood of business.”
Kate knows first-hand the problems of launching a brand with Legology, which still has no obvious competitors.
“Cellulite represents leg care and this cheesed me off. There’s so much more to it,” says Kate, explaining that many women suffer from fluid retention that can lead to heaviness and tightness.
She was determined not to launch just another cellulite cream and it took her three years working on a formulation that properly worked on fluid retention and heaviness.
A different challenge, Kate found, was the approach taken by retailers to start-ups such as Legology. With so many competing brands and products, curation is the only answer and it takes an expert eye to single out likely winners.
It can be done, as she discovered in her negotiations with Liberty, who are renowned for their entrepreneurial approach in getting behind small start-ups. “We made 500 products and Liberty bought two thirds of the stock. To me, they will always be launch champions,” says Kate.
Key to Liberty’s success in this field is their expertise and understanding of their audience in order to bring together core brands and niche brands. Many have a cult following but are hard to find in regular retail outlets, residing mainly online.
We concluded our talk with a discussion of what constitutes a niche brand.
Not that long ago, brands such as NARS and Jo Malone were counted as niche, but with big multinational backers on their side they operate on similar lines to many larger premium beauty brands.
Today’s sub niche brands are different and have a distinctive place in the beauty market.
Kate left me with some invaluable advice for start-up brands:
Love it or leave it. You need to be completely obsessed with your product – in love with every last detail from what it does to how it looks and feels. People pick up on and engage with passion and conviction. If you’re questioning whether the packaging/fragrance/name is OK, it’s not, because you’re not convinced.
Listen and learn. People are usually so generous with their time and will give you all kinds of useful nuggets along the way, so don’t beat yourself up about not knowing stuff, just ask questions and be ready to slay some dragons and adapt.
Do it your way. Be single-minded about what you want to achieve and don’t compare your brand and progress to others. Your business is where you are. Immerse yourself fully in it.