What if we told you that probably more than half of the makeup that you have in your collection is probably expired? Trust us, we're grossed out too and are refreshing our makeup bags thanks to the brainchild of Chelsa Crowley and Julie Fredrickson: Stowaway Cosmetics.
Chelsa and Julie's idea for Stowaway was born from necessity, and nurtured with hard work and determination. If you haven’t already heard, Stowaway Cosmetics is a perfect example of kickass female entrepreneurs wasting no time to produce a product that serves a very practical purpose and educates women about their cosmetics. Focusing on how makeup is never finished, which leaves users hoarding expired makeup in their makeup bags, Chelsa and Julie produced a line of cosmetics that are petite, practical, portable, and are meant to be finished before they expire. We caught up with Chelsa & Julie to find out what it means to survive and thrive in today’s beauty industry.
Some of the best business comes from spotting holes in the market, which seems like exactly what you ladies did - when did you have this revelation about how much make up goes to waste?
The idea sprouted over breakfast when we were discussing our very different frustrations about beauty. Julie at the time talked about her “gift with purchase and box of the month club” problem where she would scout out these smaller sizes that made more sense to her often mobile life. Whereas, I was talking about the size and safety issues in the industry. I hated spending so much cash on products that never stood the chance of being finished before they expired, let alone, not ever having a clear understanding of what was “safe” out there. Beauty is overall pretty self-regulated and that’s a scary thought.
What were your first steps in making this revelation into a business?
It really was one of those “once you see the problem, you can’t unsee it” for us. We continued to chat about and and to be honest, it all happened very quickly. Julie went head first into marking up docs on her thoughts, the industry, the opportunity, budgets we would need to get it off the ground, etc. Meanwhile, I headed out to meet with factories and began putting together what is now our first collection of products. It was important to us to feel super buttoned up, or as buttoned up you can feel in while venturing into the unknown, before we went out to raise capital for our company. For timing purposes, we worked on this and self-funded for 6 months until we felt we were in a good enough place to talk to investors, 3 months after that we had the capital, and 6 months from there we launched the company. So like I said, it all happened very fast considering the amount of things we had to get done in that time frame.
What challenges have you faced starting a business in the beauty industry in particular? How do they differ from your previous projects?
Delivering consumers incredible value by offering direct to consumer beauty requires capital and quick scaling, luckily, Julie had previous experience in starting something from scratch with her entrepreneurial spirit and I had the beauty knowledge. I guess you can say that ignorance is bliss, maybe if we knew ALL of the challenges before we started it would have deterred us but instead we tackled each one as they popped up.
How do you feel your experience in e-commerce benefited you? What would you advise an individual who doesn't have the same experience?
E-commerce is a very executionally and operationally challenging discipline. On the surface it seems sort of easy (just design a nice website, put it on Shopify and be loud on social media) but building scalable, cost efficient and consumer friendly experience requires a lot of focused tactical work. It is also quite technically demanding as a lot of best practices from data integration to user experience requires specialist knowledge.
Growth and acquisition in e-commerce is especially complex (ask me about using CRM data to build & prime lookalike audiences cross platform without having access to DMP by encoding pixel tracking via i-frames on your earned media!)
How do you balance each other out?
We really are the ying to each other's yang. Our skill set doesn’t overlap in the slightest which is really helpful at the stage where divide and conquer is crucial for our time and bandwidth constraints. We joke that it’s our super power.
How do you stay current with industry trends to evolve your business?
Julie is obsessed with trade publications like Beauty Packaging but also compulsively reads financial reports. You would be surprised just how much you can learn from the investor reports of the big conglomerates. They have to report to their investors (aka the public) every quarter and disclose their costs. If you read between the lines accounting will tell you the REAL story of what is and is not working.
What was your biggest initial investment?
Our products! A lot of time, care and of course money went into developing and manufacturing our line. Cosmetics isn’t like say the apparel industry where you can do a small run of a couple dozen products and see how it goes. You have to commit larger production runs or else the mixing and pourings of the formulations might not turn out right.
What do you wish you had known in the beginning of launching Stowaway?
Ignorance may actually be bliss! Sometimes not knowing how hard something is going to be helps you get it done!
What has been your proudest moment with the business?
Surviving and thriving. At every step there is always some new challenge that feels insurmountable (launching, scaling, keeping people interested) but somehow we always muscle our way through it!
"Ignorance may actually be bliss! Sometimes not knowing how hard something is going to be helps you get it done!"
How do you manage the 24/7 schedule of running a company?
Ha! Ask us when we’ve figured it out.
What have been some of the lessons learned since launching Stowaway?
If you put in the work you can build a business. Don’t get us wrong, it is way harder than it looks or sounds but if you are willing to sacrifice and put in the the hours, it is super rewarding.
As your company continues to grow, how do you stay in tune with your consumer's specific needs and market trends at the same time?
Our company is still so young (not even a year old!) that I'm not sure we have the best insight yet. We keep on top of market trends and especially take our customer feedback to heart but we also never plan to be a trendy sku-intensive company. We will also help women by giving them the best of the best in limited selections because decisions fatigue is real.
Stowaway stands out in the beauty market by focusing on being small. What tips would you give to anyone trying to find their own niche in a saturated market?
I’m not sure we even like to think of ourselves as niche--our whole concept is right-sized and these are the sizes you should have been using all along. If anything, our limited sku and vision to make women’s lives easier is the angle we want to tackle. We never plan to be super sku intensive, we know that decision fatigue is real so ensuring our customers that we did the research so they don’t have to goes a long way with today’s woman.
To answer your question however, I think it's important to find something that you really really want that's not already out there. Chances are, if you want it that badly, others probably do too.