CEW’s fourth annual Female Founder Awards took place virtually on May 17, in which the organization honored eight of the most creative beauty brand founders.
The honorees included Bobbi Brown of Jones Road Beauty, Shani Darden of Shani Darden Skin Care, Éva Goicochea of Maude, Jeanine Lobell of Neen, Deepica Mutyala of Live Tinted, Ju Rhyu of Hero Cosmetics, Rochelle Weitzner of Pause Well-Aging and Wende Zomnir of Urban Decay.
In her opening remarks, CEW chairwoman and chief executive officer of Beekman 1802, Jill Scalamandre, said of the honorees, “The women whose accomplishments we’re honoring today are not just remarkable entrepreneurs — they’re pioneers. They’re visionaries who saw opportunities to speak to women who may never have had their needs or desires met, let alone acknowledged by brands across the beauty landscape.”
Following opening remarks from Scalamandre and the event’s lead sponsor, The Sage Group, the event kicked off with a fireside chat between Jenny B. Fine, WWD’s executive editor, beauty, and Bobbi Brown, who founded Jones Road Beauty in 2020 after leaving her namesake brand years earlier.
Having launched Jones Road mid-pandemic just a couple of weeks before the 2020 presidential election, Brown’s line managed to be successful at a time of heightened uncertainty, when makeup sales were on the decline. “I just happened to have launched a beauty brand when everyone was at home and just wanted to look and feel better,” Brown said.
Jones Road’s hallmark is its lightweight, clean formulas and unique product formats that allow for practical, no-makeup makeup looks, “Jones Road is really for someone who doesn’t like wearing a lot of makeup,” Brown said. “I think a lot of women have shifted into being a little bit more relaxed in how they shop, what they wear, how they put their makeup on — anything goes, now more than ever.”
Brown attributes the brand’s success in part thanks to its goal of tackling consumer needs in such a way that the brand is not duplicating what already exists, advising aspiring entrepreneurs to employ the same strategy, “Don’t do it just because other people have it — what do you have that’s better than what’s on the market?” she said.
Following the fireside chat with Brown, Fine hosted a live discussion and Q&A with the other seven award winners to speak about their respective entrepreneurial journeys and how they each navigate pandemic-induced challenges in their businesses.
Goicochea founded sexual wellness brand Maude in 2018 and has since pioneered the fledgling prestige sexual health category. “It felt like a really fractured market when I started Maude,” Goicochea said. “It was hyper-gendered, very male-focused on the legacy, mass brand side and then hyper-feminine on the indie brand side.”
Through Maude, Goicochea introduced a more gender-inclusive take on sexual wellness, a decision that was informed by consumer feedback and is reflected in the brand’s evenly split male and female customer base.
Similarly, Weitzner founded Pause Well-Aging with the goal of meeting an unfulfilled consumer need — products that address the varying skin concerns that come with each stage of life, especially menopause. “I’m going through this life stage with my customer, so I can very much relate to what they’re going through,” Weitzner said.
Employing existing research on the physiological changes that occur as a result of age-related hormone fluctuations with her own menopause symptoms, Weitzner has addressed the needs of consumers who she says are, “underserved by the beauty industry.”
Rhyu of Hero Cosmetics also founded her brand with the intention of reaching a consumer whose needs are often overlooked: adults with acne. “We’re speaking to people who haven’t been spoken to in a really long time,” Rhyu said. “We’re a brand that’s really for anyone and everyone that has any type of pimple emergency.”
In serving such a broad consumer base, Rhyu says Hero has been able to build a reciprocated loyalty with its customers, which has been integral to the brand’s success.
Influencer-turned-entrepreneur Mutyala discussed how, in creating her brand Live Tinted in 2017, she sought to increase diverse representation in the beauty industry, having felt its absence herself.
“I grew up not seeing an Indian girl inside retail stores,” she said. “My brand can change that for the next generation of young girls.”
At a time when creator-led brands are seemingly around every corner, Live Tinted has managed to make its mark through uncompromising authenticity.
Having launched her eponymous line’s hero product, Retinol Reform, in 2013, and thus swiftly gaining the beauty industry’s attention, Darden discussed how social media allowed her company to thrive when the pandemic took hold.
“It was kind of amazing, because all we had was Instagram,” Darden said. “It was just about constantly making videos and educating people. I probably did more videos during that time than ever — people were really obsessed with taking care of themselves.”
Despite closing her Beverly Hills studio as a result of the pandemic, Darden leveraged her social media savvy to continue reaching consumers and pushing her brand forward.
Lobell, who launched her subscription-based makeup brand, Neen, in February 2022, spoke of how the beauty landscape has changed in the time since she founded Stila in 1994, thanks in part to the rise of social media. “Social media can be hard on brands and people, and it it can also be really positive in getting immediate feedback,” Lobell said.
Neen seeks to promote self-expression and creativity through makeup, an ideal Lobell feels is increasingly important among Gen Z consumers. “Today’s customer, they want you to be truthful. They want honesty, they want to be seen, they’re very liberated. They don’t want to be told how to fix everything about themselves.”
Zomnir, who cofounded Urban Decay in 1996 and has since shifted to her newest brainchild, Caliray, also touched on how different the process of breaking into beauty is now compared versus 30 years ago.
“There are so many brands out there that the barriers to entry are like, ‘How do you market this brand? How do you build awareness?’ The barriers to entry now are quite low in terms of figuring out how to develop things,” Zomnir said.
Resourcefulness, resilience and adaptability are among the qualities the eight founders agree are crucial to not only break into beauty, but leave a lasting impact.
“You’re gonna hear ‘no’ a lot of the time — just consider every ‘no’ as a ‘not yet,’” Rhyu said.
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