I attended the first-time-in-London expo last week in Shoreditch because I was curious to see the potential for new and small brands to somehow work their way into this very complex beauty arena so dominated by big, established brands. The Indie Beauty Expo has already run successfully in the US.
It’s a tale of two halves because while I did very much enjoy it and did discover some new brands that I’d never seen before (and want to see more of), there were numerous things that could have been better. The first evening was for press and content creators (although I did spot on one of the days, it stated ‘no bloggers allowed’ which isn’t friendly!) and given that, being made to queue outside well past the start time because ‘they weren’t ready’ just isn’t okay. They invited us and had about a year to be ready. Actually, I had a nice time outside bumping into some people I knew and hadn’t seen for ages, but still, that’s not the point.
In terms of who was there – well, it was mixed. There was presence from Kryolan, Pop Bands and Essence (also I was happy to see LOV looking for distributors – it’s a sister brand to Essence), none of which you’d consider start ups or indie. So, there were some big-ish brands like that alongside really small brands (my heart nearly broke for the Thai lipstick brand that came all the way from Thailand to show six lipsticks when those stands cost £3k). The brands hadn’t really been well briefed, in my view, on the opportunities that could arise from press and content creator backing, and it was never clear to us how the sampling worked. I bought my own samples which of course I am very happy to do because supporting small brands is a big deal and a duty in some ways, but if I’d known there was a bag of products to photograph and write about given out at the end I might have checked with the stand owner first. The issue is difficult, because I’d never ask for samples – never – but without them, it’s hard to do brand reviewing at that number of brands.
I had a bit of a moment with a brand charging EU70 for some crystal infused face oil to offer you a circle of protection because I just can’t and didn’t feel anything useful could come of a conversation. If anything, it made me question how much we are paying for face oils and why exactly we are asked to pay so much – and then of course, why we actually do get our cards out! Far from protecting on a subtle dimension like a circle of light and offering succour when my skin and soul’s resilience is challenged, I felt it was more of a challenge to credulity and put my circle of light on red alert. Goop will probably scoop them up.
I did see the lovely Balade En Provence (remember the pear hand creams?), so it was super to meet the founder (him: Jane! Can I kiss you? Me: Absolutely not, tell me about your products instead 😉) and look at their upcoming offerings (soaps!). Brands I think it’s worth you taking a further look at are: Bili Beauty (US based make up brand inspired by the founder’s Indian heritage), Emulsion Skin Care that creates fragrance free skin care bases that you can add fragrance, essential oil blends or exfoliants to, Zenz – a very cool organic Scandi brand, and of course you know Verdant Alchemy from Monday’s post and also Balade En Provence from previous posts.
An expo like this works because small brands are looking for retailers and buyers to take them on. However, I’ve subsequently spoken to a couple of brands who said there really weren’t very many buyers present but plenty of researchers. It was fairly obvious who would appeal and who wouldn’t – I felt bad for the brands that just weren’t ready for mainstream retail because its such a huge investment in both money and hope. The expo was open to the public after a certain time, I kept my fingers crossed they sold plenty on the day. I just felt that some brands should have had honest guidance in the beginning that they weren’t quite ready for this – the outlay has serious consequences for fledglings.
All of that aside, we are in the busiest ever beauty market – small brands have such a struggle to be seen or heard so opportunities like this are rare. If it works out, it’s invaluable. If not, maybe it’s a valuable lesson in being ready and that throwing crystals over olive oil isn’t necessarily your path to enlightenment. I really hope the Indie Expo comes back next year – I’m trying to be constructive in feedback because it really, really matters to the smaller brands to get it as absolutely right as they possibly can. I had a slight feeling the organisers had just tried to fill the expo up as much as possible regardless and ignored the repercussions for brands that would struggle. Better briefing and more consideration of the human faces behind the brand names would have been kinder.
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